Monday, July 3, 2017

Revolution Timeline

The Declaration of Independence came 442 days after the first volleys of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. It was a long time coming.

The first major colonial opposition to British policy came in 1765 after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a measure to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. Under the banner of “no taxation without representation,” colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the tax. With its enactment in November, most colonists called for a boycott of British goods, and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest in the colonies, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766.

It was a while before the next problem, the result of the British effort to aid the faltering East India Company.  Parliament enacted the Tea Act in 1773 which greatly lowered its tea tax and granting the Company a monopoly on the American tea trade. Many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny. In response, militant Patriots in Massachusetts organized the “Boston Tea Party,” which saw British tea valued at some 18,000 pounds dumped into Boston Harbor.

Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant acts of destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops in their homes. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.

In April 1775, Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Concord, Massachusetts, where a Patriot arsenal was known to be located. On April 19, 1775, the British regulars encountered a group of American militiamen at Lexington, and the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.

June 17, 1775 Major General William Howe defeated the Americans at Bunker Hill, the first time the Americans stood and fought. It was a Pyrrhic victory. 140 colonists were killed and 271 wounded. 226 British were dead and 828 wounded. The vast majority of Rebel deaths came from bayoneting the wounded in the field by British soldiers, furious at their losses. The behavior of the British soldiers enraged the colonists and tipped most away from reconciliation with the crown and into separation. Historian Richard Ellis says that the Battle at Bunker Hill scarred Gen. Howe, one of the crown's elite generals. Never again would he be comfortable with assaulting rebel fixed positions and he yearned for reconciliation--a feeling many believe hampered his generalship, especially in the siege of New York.

In January 1776, Thomas Paine published Common Sense, an influential political pamphlet that convincingly argued for American independence and sold more than 500,000 copies in a few months. In the spring of 1776, support for independence swept the colonies, the Continental Congress called for states to form their own governments, and a five-man committee was assigned to draft a declaration.

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to approve a Virginia motion calling for separation from Britain. The dramatic words of this resolution were added to the closing of the Declaration of Independence. Two days later, on July 4, the declaration was formally adopted by 12 colonies after minor revision. New York approved it on July 19. On August 2, the declaration was signed.

The American War for Independence would last for five more years. Yet to come were the Patriot triumphs at Saratoga, the bitter winter at Valley Forge, the intervention of the French, and the final victory at Yorktown in 1781. In 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Britain, the United States formally became a free and independent nation.

Under America’s first governing document, the Articles of Confederation, the national government was weak and states operated like independent countries. The debate over the power of a unifying federal government went on until 1787 when a convention was held in Philadelphia presided over by George Washington. There delegates devised a plan for a stronger federal government with three branches–executive, legislative and judicial–along with a system of checks and balances to ensure no single branch would have too much power. It was signed on September 17, 1787. The Bill of Rights–10 amendments guaranteeing basic individual protections such as freedom of speech and religion–became part of the Constitution in 1791.

The first presidential election electing Washington was held from Monday, December 15, 1788 to Saturday, January 10, 1789, five years after the Treaty of Paris.

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