United States Struggle for Independence

By | February 18, 2022

The Peace of Paris of February 10, 1763 had decided, after a long war, whether North America was to be French or English. With the expulsion of the French from Canada and the Mississippi valley and its tributaries, and of the Spaniards from Florida, a vast field opened up to the colonial action of England. But twelve years did not pass and here we acted in rebellion against England and began an independent life in those 13 colonies (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, the two Caroline, Georgia) and for their origin and their ethnic composition, for their spiritual and material ties with the motherland, for the common struggles sustained in the last war against the French, they seemed to have been the most vital and expansive nucleus of English colonial action. But the spirit, in fact, and the ways in which the motherland was conducted in respect of these colonies proved, in this twelve years, irreconcilable with the spirit and the ways, to which the colonies wanted to standardize their life (for the phase prior to the war of independence, v.America: History of Anglo-Saxon America, II, p. 934 et seq.). It is worth noting that, in this development, the action of the motherland rather than that of the colonies is found to be revolutionary. These simply want to hold fast to those freedoms, rights and privileges, which had presided over the foundation of many of them and which now, due to a misunderstood sense of egalitarianism and centralism, wanted by parliament and above all by the crown, in conformity with the systems which inspired it. colonialism of the time, they were every day more overwhelmed in an indistinct subjection to the criteria and interests of London. The principle to which the colonists relied – no measure, especially of a fiscal order to be able to adopt that has not been approved by the representatives of those who are called to observe it – certainly could not be said, for English, a revolutionary principle; otherwise they would have denied their own history. In opposing the colonial policy of the motherland these colonists were rather inspired by conservative principles; the revolution began when, faced with the need to choose between loyalty towards the motherland and the defense, even at gunpoint, of their rights, they ended up embracing the latter party with that resoluteness and almost obstinacy which was in their character as pioneers, of religious persecuted, of fanatics. But at first it wasn’t like that. When, at the proposal of the Virginia assembly, he met in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, the first congress of representatives of the then 12 colonies (Georgia joined later), the intentions were anything but incendiarî. According to his confession, Congress simply wanted to “deliberate on the present state of the colonies, take those wise measures proper to the integrity of their rights and freedoms and the restoration of harmony between Great Britain and the colonies, a yearning of all honest men. “. The mood was very different from colony to colony; most exalted in Massachusetts and Virginia. There, Samuel Adams, a notable political writer, and Patrick Henry, an effective speaker, had great influence on public sentiment. In Massachusetts there was already no reluctance at the thought of a fight with arms: troops were organized, military depots were set up. The first conflict broke out in Lexington (April 19, 1775) just as a good body of English troops were about to seize one of these warehouses. Volunteers rushed from the neighboring colonies; the English governor was squeezed into Boston, while other volunteers seized the forts scattered along the Hudson Valley and towards Lake Champlain, on the way to Canada.

Thus, a spontaneous movement forced the hand of the delay of Congress; who, having returned to meet in Philadelphia in May, as planned the year before, did not hesitate, now, to take the direction of the troops besieging Boston and to entrust the command of the “continental army” to George Washington, of Virginia. The gesture of the Congress was grave of responsibility; but within it the idea of ​​leaving the decision to arms was not yet prevailed, nor were the feelings of loyal subjection to the crown extinguished. While providing for the weapons, Congress sent the king a petition outlining the rights of the colonies. Greater understanding and flexibility on the English side could still have avoided the worst; on the contrary, especially by the will of King George III, he responded by sending reinforcements of troops to Boston. The members of Congress, offended in the sense of their rights violated and now taken into responsibility that England wanted to consider crimes of high treason, were necessarily pushed to extreme resolutions. In January 1776 a famous booklet by Thomas Paine, Common sense, of which more than one hundred thousand copies were sold among the two and a half million residents of the colonies, gave expression to public sentiment by proposing independence from the English crown. A few months later, Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson (July 4, 1776). It was now up to arms to give substance to this statement of principle.

Considered in the light of purely military criteria, the outcome of the struggle must have seemed undoubted: too much was the superiority of the English, who had, under the command of Sir William Howe, well-trained and armed troops, no less and often more numerous. the somewhat chaotic voluntary militia of the insurgents; of a powerful fleet, ready to block the American coasts and isolate them from the world. In fact, from August to December 1776 it was a series of failures for the arms of the insurgents. Washington’s ability to maneuver around New York to preserve the Hudson line is undeniable, very important in maintaining the conjunction between the colonies of New England (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island) and the southern colonies. But at the end of August, Howe was able to occupy New York, much to the relief of that population, mostly loyalist, and hostile to the revolutionary innovations that spoiled their businesses. The English, leaving the boast of some partial success, of secondary importance, to the American Benedict Arnold, towards Lake Champlain, concentrated their operations on the lower Hudson. In November-December 1776 Washington, also shaken by the betrayal of his fellow soldier Charles Lee, was forced to clear out New Jersey and flee to Pennsylvania. General Howe, a conciliatory character, whig in politics, determined not to burden his hand too much against the rebels and confident of recomposing the peace more with the ostentation of his patent superiority than with the use of it, believed that the time had come to suspend the campaign and provide for winter quarters. Washington took advantage of this to resume the offensive and achieve some success against Howe’s units (in Trenton on December 26, in Princeton on January 3, 1777), to revive the wavering spirit of the New Jersey settlers. He wintered in the hills of Morristown.

However, there was no illusion: the situation was very critical for the insurgents. Their army already had something elusive: very little discipline, contingents fluctuating from 15 to 10 to 6 thousand men and even less, because, according to the needs of the seasons, many of the volunteers tried to take a trip to the farm to give a look and a hand to business; Harvard students came to shoot in the summer and then back to their classes in the fall. Washington compared his army to Providence, whose designs remain inscrutable; and he confessed that he had “too few men to fight, too many to disappear”. But to the fire, excellent fighters, although short of weapons, ammunition, artillery, the most essential services. If this army held up, for better or for worse, together, it was by virtue of Washington; who was not a military genius, but a hero of perseverance and patience. With these gifts he won the English: no defeat discouraged him, no partial success emboldened him beyond measure; beaten withdrew, but recovered and the English found themselves in front of him, tenacious, circumspect, prudent, ready to escape from a dangerous grip, but always also determined not to loosen it, to wait patiently for his hour. Nor did Congress support it as it should, because it suspected in everything that military was an instrument of tyranny. He barely tolerated Washington; he skimped on the means, which, moreover, it was very difficult to collect, because the rebels, almost cut off from the world, did not enjoy credit, and the individual colonies considered themselves sovereign states nor did they allow Congress the power to levy taxes for the common cause. And then the spirits were far from being equally heated for the cause of independence. The American Revolution was also the work of a resolute minority. A good third of the population remained extraneous to the movement; another third, of Tories, of loyalists, did not conceal his antipathy towards the rebels and, especially in the south, even took up arms alongside the English. That resolute minority, made up of shipowners and traders from New England, of Virginia agrarian aristocrats (Washington was one of them), all imbued with philosophical, humanitarian, Masonic, liberal ideas, men of the Philadelphia committee, which punch the city seat of Congress, he could impose his will. The idea was entered into to interest the fate of the rebel colonies in the European states; and yet, in December 1776, Benjamin Franklin, the most prominent man in American journalism, was sent on a diplomatic and propaganda mission to France, where sympathies for the American cause were known to be both in hatred of England and for the enthusiasm that the ideas and actions of these “free men” aroused in you. Through Masonic relations, he was able to perform a subtle, tenacious, penetrating work, for which he won the French intellectual world and, in particular, the Count of Vergennes, Louis XVI’s foreign minister, for the American cause. The myth of the virtuous revolution, of the revolution against tyranny as a sacred duty, was born and spread in France under the influence of the American Revolution and the very fine action of B. Franklin, who envisions the American struggle as the cause of humanity. Even the most impetuous and ambitious youths break their hesitation and follow the young Marquis of Lafayette who, at his expense, arms a ship and rushes to America in defense of the rebels.

By the spring of 1777, a plan had been arranged from London whereby, while Sir W. Howe would ascend the Hudson Valley, another English army, under the command of J. Burgoyne, was to be joined by the loyalist Northern Tories and Indian auxiliaries., would descend from Canada to join Howe in Albany. The maneuver, too elaborate, failed, because there was no agreement between the two generals; as Burgoyne descended from the north, Howe moved south and entered Philadelphia (September 26, 1777), whence Congress, at the height of the disorder, took refuge first at Lancaster, then at York. But in this way Burgoyne remained isolated and even those settlers who were not at all fond of the rebels ended up revolting against his bulky Indian allies. Encircled in the hills of Saratoga by the American troops of General H. Gates, Burgoyne had to surrender (October 17, 1777). It was certainly a notable success, but not such that it could lead to a reversal of the situation. The bulk of the American troops were held in check in Pennsylvania by General Howe and it was only to Washington’s prudence and tenacity that the army had not completely disbanded. Having known how to keep his tiny army of 6-7,000 men disheartened in the positions of Valley Forge, against the Howe camps, during a hard winter (1777-78), constitutes the finest page of Washington’s military career.. By virtue of him, moreover, the qualities of this backbone of men had improved: greater soldier style, a decent body of staff around him, a first order of services, artillery, stewardship, also thanks to the experience of enthusiastic foreigners or adventurers, who had gathered in the ranks of Washington: the Germans FW von Steuben and J. Kalb, the Poles T. Kościuszko and K. Pułaski, etc. Saratoga’s capitulation was interpreted in Europe, and especially in France, as a great military success, and in the able hands of the Franklin it was an excellent means of overcoming the hesitations of the court of Versailles. On February 6, 1778, a close military alliance was established between France and the Confederation of New American States and in the following April a strong French fleet, with a landing army, set sail for the shores of America. The rebels were no longer alone: ​​their cause, inserted in a new act of the centuries-old Franco-English duel, could have some hope of success. In almost two years of war the England had neither known how to tame the rebels nor to arrive at an honorable composition with them, as in vain had suggested Lord Chatham (William Pitt the Elder) who was dying just in these days. Late came the recall of General Howe and his replacement by Sir H. Clinton.

The alliance meant, on the French side, the formal recognition of the new American states. But the nature of this new political aggregate was not clear. Federal state or confederation of 13 sovereign states? The individual states felt sovereign and united only for the objective of independence; with the reservations deriving from this sentiment, the representatives of the individual states were delegated and acted in Congress; and by states, not by number of delegates, we voted in Congress. Nor did Congress have real executive bodies; for such were not the many war commissions, etc. Indeed, since the summer of 1776, after the declaration of independence, a project had been proposed to better determine the nature of collaboration between states; the word confederation had appeared. But distracted from other more urgent concerns, Congress dropped the project; and only took it back after Saratoga. The resumption of military operations in the following spring did not find the discussion yet over.

The French intervention revived American hopes, and gave some greater concern to the English who, having cleared Philadelphia (June 1778), concentrated on New York and on the Hudson line. But the clashes at Monmouth and Newport were unsuccessful for the Americans. And yet the rebels did not give up; on the contrary, their cause was gaining greater sympathy in the same circles that at first had remained extraneous to the struggle. It is that the attitude of the English seemed to be made on purpose to discourage their partisans: uncertainty in London, uncertainty in America, no program that could rally at least the well-disposed and loyalists around the English flag. It was tried in the south, with the hope of detaching it materially and spiritually from the northern colonies; at the end of 1778 the English recovered Georgia and a good part of South Carolina; but they were not very skilled and sometimes brutal with the population and they created enemies among the loyalists themselves. The fight took on an unusual bitterness up to this point; in the following May (1779) the English fleet bombed and nearly destroyed Norfolk and Portsmouth in Virginia; American sailors rush into war, capture, set fire to, sink English vessels to the ports of England. The situation worsened due to the intervention of Spain (April 1779), linked to France by the family pact and eager to climb north from the lower Mississippi; for the attitude of Holland and, in general, of the neutral states of the north, hostile to England, which abuses the right or rather the will to visit neutral vessels; for the flaring up of hotbeds of struggle throughout the immense territory of the north-west, between the Appalachian Mountains, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. By a law passed by the English Parliament in 1774 (the Quebec Act) this whole region was to be precluded from the colonizing work of the 13 colonies and included in the Canadian province of Quebec. This is the law; but the state of affairs is different. Well before the start of the open struggle between the colonies and the motherland, it had happened that, especially from the central and southern colonies, resolute and adventurous men went, in spite of the law, beyond the mountains and settled, hunters, farmers, traders in forbidden lands, in Kentucky, in Tennessee, in Illinois, ready to defend their possession against everyone, against the English and the Indians. These outlaws enthusiastically embraced the cause of the insurgents and fought with strenuous valor. Over the course of two campaigns, in 1778-79, these prairie settlers, led by George Rogers Clark, a native of Virginia, they were right of the Indians incited and armed against them by the Anglo-Canadians and they succeeded in winning and taking prisoner in Vincennes the English commander gen. Henry Hamilton. The spread of the revolution to the vast regions of the north and west confronted the 13 states with a serious question, which could become a source of profound dissension. It was evident, in fact, that this resulted in an enlargement of the states that were already resting their western frontiers on the Appalachians: New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the Carolines, Georgia. But from any possibility of extending westward, the smaller states locked up along the Atlantic were excluded by their very posture. Hence the fear, in the latter, of remaining overwhelmed by the general staff in a future confederal link. Especially Maryland, also concerned with the defense of its catholicity, he insisted that any future extension of the confederal territory would not give rise to an enlargement in the neighboring states, but rather constitute a common territory of the whole Confederation. Maryland made the acceptance of this solution a clause sine qua non to approve the confederation project which, from November 1777, had begun to discuss. Finally, with the approval of the Maryland delegates as well, the federal constitution was enacted. The attitude of the small states in this circumstance, the particularistic sentiment of all were a faithful symptom of the feelings and needs of the moment rather than a common life program for the future. So much so that there was not even a real executive body; and the functions attributed to Congress related almost only to the contingent needs of the war. And also in this field, with a thousand reservations that would save the rights of the states; only the states were responsible for deciding on taxes and duties; Congress could only indicate the need for expenses; the states then think about finding the means. Throughout the war, the treasurer of the Confederation, the very skilled Robert Morris, had to work wonders to save situations, at certain times, desperate. The British military preponderance is evident. In October 1779 the Franco-Americans suffer a check in front of Savannah, in the following May Charleston falls into the hands of the English, in August Gates, the winner of Saratoga, is beaten in Camden (South Carolina); in September, General Benedict Arnold passes treacherously to the English. Only towards the end of 1780 does luck seem to turn more benign for the Americans; while the army of the north, commanded by Washington, manages to maintain its positions not seriously damaged by some revolts, that of the south, although much more chaotic, now led by Nathanial Greene, he obtained some brilliant successes: on 7 October 1780 he inflicted a significant defeat on the English at King’s Mountain; January 17, 1781 to the Cowpens (South Carolina); on March 15, after very wise moves through a region covered with scrub, lined with rivers and marshes, he obtained a half success in Guilford, very bloody. After that the Englishman Ch. Cornwallis retired to Virginia. In the north, Washington, supplied with financial means thanks to a French loan, also obtained a good backbone of French troops, and, after much insistence, also the help of a French fleet, was preparing, in mid-June 1781, to play a big card against Clinton in New York. Then, if this were a ploy to attract the bulk of the British to New York and weaken Cornwallis, or thought the attack too risky, he suddenly turned south, into Virginia where Cornwallis with 7,000 men had locked himself up in Yorktown. The city was blocked on the land side by 7000 Americans and 9000 French under the Lafayette and J.-B.-D. Rochambeau; on the sea side from the French fleet of Admiral F.-J.-P. de Grasse. After a valiant defense and a desperate attempt to sortie, the English had to surrender (October 19, 1781). The defeat was significant, but it would certainly not have been such as to break the English resistance. All in all, by holding New York and Georgia, threatening Philadelphia, still having 40,000 or more men on American soil, dominating the seas, England could, with good reason, still consider itself militarily superior. But this virtual superiority had no effect until even the insurgents stooped to acknowledge it. After Yorktown their will to resist was even more indomitable; if in six years, for them more than half defeats than successes, they had not yielded, was it conceivable to find them more compliant after this authentic and sensational success? Thus the surrender of Yorktown, not decisive in itself, became the decisive fact of the war of independence.

The British government, having considered the pros and cons, considering the American war in the broader framework of the British military situation in the face of the coalition of France, Spain, Holland, worried about the troubled Irish situation, began to give way to the thought of renouncing the sovereignty over the 13 colonies. Public opinion, especially the Whig, had long been convinced of the futility of shedding new blood. English honor, moreover, was saved precisely in the most sensitive point, on the sea. The tenacious defense of Gibraltar, the victory of Admiral GB Rodney over the Frenchman de Grasse at Guadeloupe (12 April 1782) well compensated for the loss of Menorca. In February and March 1782, motions for peace were presented to the municipalities; on March 20, Lord F. North handed over power to a Whig cabinet. Almost by tacit agreement, war activity stagnated after Yorktown; the English cleared Charleston and stood idle in New York. The word was to the diplomats (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay for America) who were attempting the first approaches to peace in Paris. On November 30, 1782 the preliminaries were marked; on 3 September 1783 the definitive peace. The United States obtained the recognition of their full independence and sovereignty over a territory that stretched from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and from the 31st parallel (what was left to the south was Spanish) to the course of the Saint Croix and along an undefined line. at noon of the Great Lakes. The word was to the diplomats (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay for America) who were attempting the first approaches to peace in Paris. On November 30, 1782 the preliminaries were marked; on 3 September 1783 the definitive peace. The United States obtained the recognition of their full independence and sovereignty over a territory that stretched from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and from the 31st parallel (what was left to the south was Spanish) to the course of the Saint Croix and along an undefined line. at noon of the Great Lakes. The word was to the diplomats (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay for America) who were attempting the first approaches to peace in Paris. On November 30, 1782 the preliminaries were marked; on 3 September 1783 the definitive peace. The United States obtained the recognition of their full independence and sovereignty over a territory that stretched from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and from the 31st parallel (what was left to the south was Spanish) to the course of the Saint Croix and along an undefined line. at noon of the Great Lakes.

United States Struggle for Independence