Conclusion: The Fight for Independence

Conclusion: The Fight for Independence

Though the Continental Army faced funding and supply disruptions, the Patriots were able to win the fight for independence due to their strength of resolve, knowledge of terrain, more effective military leadership, and powerful alliances.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the general arc of the war and the reasons for colonial victory

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • King George III denied the colonists’ Olive Branch Petition and in August 1775, issued a Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition, declaring the 13 colonies to be in a state of revolt and calling upon British officers and loyal subjects to suppress the uprising.
  • By June 1776, the Second Continental Congress had appointed a “Committee of Five” to draft the Declaration of Independence, which was presented to Congress on June 28, 1776.
  • The Second Continental Congress established the Continental Army in June 1775, and elected George Washington as its commander-in-chief.
  • For the British, maintaining effective leadership was a greater challenge than raising troops, leading them to crippling losses.
  • The Patriot victory at the Battle of Saratoga, a major turning point in the war, effectively ended the British military presence in the North.
  • On February 6, 1778, France and the United States signed the Treaty of Alliance, a defensive alliance promising military support in case of attack by British forces.
  • The siege of Yorktown by combined French and American forces in the autumn of 1781 was the decisive battle of the American Revolutionary War.
  • With the crippling surrender at Yorktown, the British war effort ground to a halt. Negotiations between the United States and Great Britain began, resulting in the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

Key Terms

  • Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition: Officially titled “A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition,” this was the response of King George III of Great Britain to the news of the Battle of Bunker Hill at the
    outset of the American Revolutionary War.
  • Treaty of Alliance: A defensive alliance between France and the United States, formed in 1778, in the midst of the American Revolutionary War, which promised military support in case of attack by British forces indefinitely into the future.
  • Hessians: Eighteenth-century German soldiers hired from their rulers by the British Empire to supplement British armed forces.

Leading to War

In 1775, tensions in the American colonies over trade and tax regulations as handed down by the British Crown, were high. In July, the colonists proposed the Olive Branch Petition to reconcile with Britain and avert war. In the petition, the Second Continental Congress, as drafted by Pennsylvania delegate John Dickinson, swore loyalty to the Crown and requested tax reforms to ease existent tensions. The petition asked for one of two alternatives: free trade and taxes equal to those levied on the people in Great Britain, or alternatively, no taxes and strict trade regulations. The petition followed the Battle of Bunker Hill in which the British suffered massive casualties.

King George III, however, denied the Olive Branch Petition, and in August 1775, issued a Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition, declaring the 13 colonies to be in a state of revolt and calling upon British officers and loyal subjects to suppress the uprising. King George III’s hostility weakened many colonists’ attachment to Great Britain and ultimately strengthened the movement for independence. By June 1776, the Second Continental Congress had appointed a “Committee of Five,” consisting of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut. The Committee of Five drafted the text of the Declaration of Independence, which was presented to Congress on June 28, 1776.

The First Year of the War, 1775–1776

The Second Continental Congress established the Continental Army in June 1775, and elected George Washington as its commander-in-chief. Due to the lack of funds for the war effort, much of the financial burden of financing military operations was passed on to the states. Voluntary enlistment, short enlistment periods, and extremely harsh conditions contributed to the Army’s difficulties retaining soldiers. Declining enrollment, however, led to longer enlistment periods later in the war, and in 1776, Congress passed the “Eighty-eight Battalion Resolve,” ordering each state to contribute regiments in proportion to their population.

For the British, maintaining effective leadership was a greater challenge than raising troops, leading them to crippling losses. Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for the American Department, bore responsibility for strategy and coordination of British operations during the war and underestimated the difficulties posted by the North American terrain. He also underestimated the determination of the colonists. Additionally, many British officers did not support the war and declined to take command in the conflict. Though the British attracted almost 20,000 Loyalist recruits from the colonies, they had counted on greater support. As a result, the British supplemented their forces with approximately 30,000 German soldiers, known as Hessians. The many small victories the British achieved in the war were ultimately outweighed by the few devastating losses they suffered.

The Campaigns of 1777–1779

The Patriot victory at the Battle of Saratoga, a major turning point in the war, effectively ended the British military presence in the North. Saratoga provided the Continental Army a crucial opportunity to demonstrate their strength, which gave the French confidence to officially enter the war on the side of the Patriots. On February 6, 1778, France and the United States signed the Treaty of Alliance, a defensive alliance promising military support in case of attack by British forces. In response, Britain declared war on France on March 17, 1778. The power of French diplomatic relations with other nations, especially Spain, further assisted the Patriot cause.

Following Saratoga, the British looked to Loyalist supporters in the South as a last hope. Britain also attempted to negotiate for peace in June 1778, when Lord Frederick North, Britain’s Prime Minister, dispatched the Carlisle Peace Commission to North America. The Commission offered the colonists self-rule within the British Empire, but refused to acknowledge the full independence of the states. Congress predictably refused the British peace terms.

General George Washington and his army made camp at Valley Forge from December 1777 to June 1778 to protect Pennsylvania from the British. During this time, Washington’s army was strengthened with the help of Prussian drill master Baron Friedrich von Steuben, who greatly increased the discipline and precision of the Continental Army. However, many hardships befell the troops quartered at Valley Forge during the winter. Disease quickly spread in the terrible conditions of the crowded camp, and Washington lost 2,500 of his 12,000 troops. Washington petitioned Congress for supplies and provisions, but received no support. Approximately 500 Regimental Camp Followers, comprised primarily of family members of soldiers, however, did assist with foraging and cleaning for the troops. On June 19, 1778, after six months at Valley Forge, the Continental Army marched in pursuit of the British, who were moving toward New York.

The End of the Revolution, 1779–1783

The siege of Yorktown by combined French and American forces in the autumn of 1781 was the decisive battle of the American Revolutionary War. General Washington and French commander Rochambeau concentrated military actions in New York, but shifted attention to operations in Virginia in the summer of 1781, upon receiving the support of French commander comte de Grasse. Washington and Rochambeau departed New York on August 19, and led 4,000 French and 3,000 American soldiers to join de Grasse in Yorktown in what has since become known as the Celebrated March. The British underestimated the strength of the French fleet and in early September, were defeated by de Grasse in the Battle of the Chesapeake, after which they were forced to fall back to New York. On September 14, Washington arrived in Williamsburg, Virginia, and the revolutionary allies’ army and naval forces surrounded Cornwallis. The British situation began to deteriorate rapidly and Cornwallis asked for terms of capitulation on the 17th.

After two days of negotiations, Cornwallis surrendered his forces to Washington and Rochambeau. With the crippling surrender at Yorktown, the British war effort ground to a halt. Negotiations between the United States and Great Britain began, resulting in the Treaty of Paris in 1783.