Exam preparation materials

Chapter 6: The American War for Independence



First of a series of Navigation Acts passed


Molasses Act passed


French and Indian War begins


George III becomes King of England


Treaty of Paris ends French and Indian War  •  Proclamation of 1763 issued


Sugar Act passed  •  Currency Act passed


Quartering Act passed  •  Stamp Act passed • Declaration of Rights and Grievances issued • Stamp Act Congress meets • Sons and Daughters of Liberty formed


Stamp Act repealed  •  Declaratory Act passed • Townshend Acts passed


Writs of Assistance issued


Boston Massacre occurs  •  Townshend Acts repealed, except for the tax on tea


Tea Act passed  •  Boston Tea Party takes place


Intolerable (Coercive) Acts passed  •  Quebec Act passed  •  First Continental Congress called


Battle of Lexington and Concord takes place  •  Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill occurs  •  Second Continental Congress called


Thomas Paine’s Common Sense published  •  Declaration of Independence issued


Second Battle of Saratoga occurs


French declares war on England and joins U.S. efforts


Spain declares war on England


Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown  •  Articles of Confederation ratified


Treaty of Paris is signed, ending the Revolutionary War


actual representation

Boston Massacre

Declaration of Rights and Grievances

Thomas Jefferson

mercantile system

Proclamation of 1763

Stamp Act

Treaty of Paris (1763)

Writs of Assistance

Samuel Adams

Boston Tea Party

First Continental Congress

King George III

Molasses Act

Quartering Act

Stamp Act Congress

Townshend Acts

Crispus Attucks

Currency Act

General William Howe

Lexington and Concord

Navigation Acts

Second Continental Congress

Sugar Act

virtual representation

Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill

Declaration of Independence

Intolerable Acts

John Locke

Thomas Paine

Sons and Daughters of Liberty

Tea Act

George Washington

“Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; That they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

—Richard Henry Lee, 1776


With the words quoted above, the English colonies in America began the process of severing their ties with England. While supported by only about one-third of the populace, the founding fathers proceeded to draft a formal declaration of independence that set forth their philosophy of government and their grievances against the king. The British practice of mercantilism and the change in British policy from salutary neglect to involvement after the French and Indian War had infuriated the colonists. The colonists appeared to regard Britain as a domineering mother who refused to allow her children to grow up.


The conflict between Britain and its American colonies revolved around two main issues: political power and taxation. The philosophers of the Enlightenment, such as John Locke, had developed ideas of government that dealt with popular consent and limitation of power. The colonists believed that they had certain basic rights as British subjects and that the British Crown was denying them these rights.

Taxation was a key issue in the conflict between England and the colonies. The colonists believed that Britain did not have the right to tax them because they were not represented in Parliament. The British government argued that the colonists, in fact, were represented by virtual representation; each member of Parliament represented all British subjects, no matter where they lived. The colonists, on the other hand, desired actual representation, wherein they were entitled to a member of Parliament from the colonies to represent colonial interests.

There were also other factors. Colonial planters and merchants were upset with the economic restraints placed on them by the British. Under the mercantile system, the colony existed for the good of the mother country; British economic restrictions were designed to make sure the colonial economy benefitted England. Among the most important restrictions on the colonists were the restrictions on trade with other nations that hurt colonial businesses.

There was also social discontent in the colonies. The nonpropertied class and poorer groups viewed revolution as a means to acquire more land and a greater say in government, as it would take such benefits away from the privileged classes. In addition, many immigrants to the colonies had no particular loyalty to the British Crown. The Scotch-Irish had disputed with the English for many years on the British Isles, and the German and Dutch immigrants did not share the culture or customs of the English.

Finally, the colonies had by now developed a national consciousness. The lives of the American colonists greatly differed from those of their brethren in England. There was a lack of common interests and goals shared between the two groups.

From the end of the French and Indian War in 1763 until 1776, when independence was declared, the attempts by the king to control the American colonies resulted in increased hostility and the eventual dissolution of Britain’s control of the colonies.

British Action and Colonial Reaction

Beginning in 1651, the British passed a series of Navigation Acts, which restricted colonial trade. The colonists were forbidden to export sugar and tobacco to any country other than England, and all goods had to be shipped on British ships. The Molasses Act in 1733 placed a tax on molasses. Due to the policy of salutary neglect, the colonists smuggled products and disregarded regulations without serious attempts on the part of the crown to enforce the laws.

After the French and Indian War in 1763, the British Crown issued the Proclamation of 1763, which forbade the colonists from crossing the Appalachians for the purpose of settlement. The colonists also ignored this order.

In 1760, George III was crowned King of England. He desired greater control over the colonies. After the French and Indian War, he felt that the colonies should shoulder some of the monetary burden for fighting the war—a war that he felt had greatly benefited the colonies.

In 1764, under the British minister Lord Grenville, the Sugar Act was passed, placing a tax on sugar, molasses, textiles, coffee, iron, and other goods imported to the colonies. The British crown also began to enforce the laws, ending the colonial practice of smuggling. Also passed in 1764 was the Currency Act, which forbade the colonies from issuing their own paper money. In addition, the colonists were made to pay all taxes in gold and silver. This drained money from the colonies.

When there appeared to be some resistance to these measures, the British government passed the Quartering Act in 1765, by which the colonists were directed to provide barracks and supplies for British troops stationed in the colonies. This created more tension.

In 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, requiring that a stamp be placed on any form of paper, from newspapers and liquor licenses to almanacs and playing cards. Protesting this direct tax, the colonists issued the Declaration of Rights and Grievances in 1765, which stated that only colonists had the right to tax colonists. In addition, they asserted that the British should not try colonial cases in admiralty courts.

In 1765, 27 delegates from 9 colonies met in the Stamp Act Congress in New York City to determine a response to these British actions. This first step toward a united colonial response was significant. Crying, “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” the colonists enacted a nonimportation agreement; that is, a colonial boycott of British goods. In addition, the Sons and Daughters of Liberty were formed to disseminate information on actions being taken by the colonies. The British, under great pressure, repealed the Stamp Act in 1766. However, they reasserted their right to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever” by the passage of the Declaratory Act.

In 1766, a series of acts were passed by Parliament at the request of Lord Townshend, the successor to Lord Grenville. Collectively known as the Townshend Acts, they placed duties on glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. Reasoning that the colonists opposed the Stamp Act because it used direct, internal taxes to raise revenues, Townshend thought the external duties placed on imported goods—essentially hidden costs—would be acceptable. He was wrong. The colonists again were enraged and refused to pay. They also began another boycott of British goods.

The people in Boston were especially vocal in their protests, and they smuggled tea into the city. The British government issued the Writs of Assistance in 1769, which allowed customs officials to search colonial homes without explanation. British troops were sent into Boston, leading to a series of clashes between the colonials and the British soldiers. On March 5, 1770, British troops fired on a group of colonists who had been harassing British soldiers. This clash between British troops and the citizens of Boston ended in the death of Crispus Attucks, a colonial black, and two others. Two more wounded men died later. British Captain Thomas Preston and his soldiers were placed on trial for this event, called the Boston Massacre. Ably defended by John Adams and Josiah Quincey, Preston and all but two of his soldiers were acquitted of all charges.

The Townshend Acts were repealed in 1770 on all items except tea. The colonists began to form Committees of Correspondence to spread propaganda and disseminate information.

The Tea Act of 1773 was an agreement between the British Crown and the East India Company that allowed the latter to sell tea directly to the colonies. Although the price of tea was reduced, the colonial tea merchants were faced with bankruptcy because they couldn’t compete with the lower prices. One response was to boycott tea, but Samuel Adams led a group of protesters who dumped a shipment of tea into Boston Harbor. The Boston Tea Party resulted in the passage of the Intolerable (Coercive) Acts in 1774. The British were attempting to punish this troublesome colony for its flagrant actions against British policy. These acts provided for the following:

•  Closing of Boston harbor

•  Suspension of town meetings in Massachusetts

•  Suspension of the charter of Massachusetts

•  Quartering of soldiers in colonial homes

•  Trials of British officials who broke the law to take place in England

•  Placement of General Thomas Gage in Massachusetts to enforce the laws

In addition, the Quebec Act was passed as part of the Coercive Acts, although not as a direct response by the British to the Boston Tea Party. This act guaranteed the French in Canada religious freedom and the ability to retain their customs and institutions. It was an issue that should have been dealt with by the British earlier, and the timing irritated the colonists further.

Although the Intolerable Acts were directed specifically at Massachusetts citizens as a punishment for their actions, other colonists became alarmed by the British actions. In September 1774, the First Continental Congress was called in Philadelphia to determine an appropriate response by the colonies to the actions and policies of the British crown. The colonists decided on a complete stoppage of trade with England, including the nonconsumption of British goods. They agreed to meet the following year.

On April 17, 1775, marked by the legendary ride of Paul Revere and William Dawes, the British attacked Lexington and Concord. The type of guerrilla warfare used by the colonists surprised the British in this first battle of the Revolutionary War.

In May of 1775, the Second Continental Congress was convened. By June, George Washington had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Also in June, the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill took place in which over 1,000 British soldiers were killed. The colonists also sent the Olive Branch Petition to King George, offering him peace. The king refused to read it. In January 1776, Thomas Paine published his pamphlet Common Sense, in which he argued that the colonies were destined to be independent. In June of 1776, the Second Continental Congress agreed with Paine.

By the time the formal Declaration of Independence was issued on July 4, 1776, colonists Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold had captured Ticonderoga and Crown Point; the British had burned Falmouth; and the Americans had attempted to take Canada, believing the French would join their struggle. By June of 1776, the Southerners had challenged the British fleet in Charleston harbor.

The Declaration of Independence

The task of writing a formal declaration of independence was delegated to Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman. However, Thomas Jefferson was the chief author.

Borrowing from the ideas of John Locke and the philosophers of the Enlightenment, Jefferson produced a document that was intended not only to declare the independence of the colonies from Britain but also to convince fellow colonists and foreign nations, particularly France, of the just intentions of the colonies.

Beginning with the ideas of basic human rights, Jefferson determined that government obtained its power from the consent of the governed and that when it failed to exercise the will of the people, the people had a right to overthrow the government. A list of grievances against George III followed this philosophical justification for independence. The document concluded, “That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent.” With a country divided among the loyalists, the revolutionaries, and the indifferent, the American Revolution, in effect, was a civil war.


Sorely lacking a government, the American colonies entered this war without a military, navy, trained soldiers, money, or the means to acquire these things. What they did have was a cause, the “home field” advantage, and a very capable leader in George Washington. Perhaps the greatest help the colonists had early on was the incompetence of the British General William Howe, who allowed Washington and his troops to escape at the Battle of Long Island.

Faced with enormous hardships, Washington led his troops in a surprise attack across the Delaware River on December 26, 1776, after which the British were defeated at the Battle of Trenton. Washington then moved on to garner another victory at the Battle of Princeton.

John Paul Jones proved to be effective against the British on the seas, harassing British merchant vessels. The Marquis de Lafayette, a French nobleman sympathetic to the American cause, and Baron von Steuben of Prussia gave valuable help to the colonies.

The turning point of the war came at the Second Battle of Saratoga, which took place in October of 1777. The American victory encouraged the French to give formal recognition to the independent colonies and to provide aid. The French fleet arrived in July of 1778, and the French declared war against Britain. By June of 1779, Spain declared war on Britain but did not join the war in the American colonies. When the British, under the command of General Cornwallis, surrendered at Yorktown in October of 1781, they realized that a defeat was possible. Faced with the growing French threat to England itself and the fatigue of the English people with this ongoing conflict with the colonies, the British sought peace with the Americans in February of 1782.

The Treaty of Paris (1783)

In addition to British recognition of the United States as free and independent, the Treaty of Paris did the following:

•  Established the boundaries of the United States; the Mississippi River became the western boundary, and North Florida, the southern boundary.

•  Allowed the British to retain control of Canada; however, Florida, which had been under British control since 1763, was given to Spain.

•  Required that the colonists return the property of loyalists and permitted the British to collect debt owed to them by the United States.

•  Allowed the Americans to share the fisheries in Newfoundland.

However, many of the provisions of this treaty were not fully carried out by either side. Those unresolved issues eventually led to the War of 1812 between England and the United States.


Fought for a variety of political, economic, and social reasons, the American War of Independence proved that the American colonies had simply come of age. No longer the infants of the century before, these people had reached young adulthood, eager to be out on their own. When mother England attempted to prevent this, the colonies rebelled. In the words of John Adams in 1818, “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.”


•  Boston Tea Party: A defiant act of the colonies against the British government and its tea trade agreement with East India, which was causing colonial tea merchants to go bankrupt; protesters dumped an entire shipment of tea into the Boston Harbor

•  Navigation Acts: Laws made by the British government restricting colonial trade of sugar and tobacco to any country other than England or by any means other than on British ships

•  Virtual representation: The idea that each member of the British Parliament represented all British subjects, regardless of location


1.   The British government countered the colonists’ argument that they were not represented in Parliament and, therefore, could not be taxed by Britain, with the idea of

(A)    actual representation.

(B)    virtual representation.

(C)    divine right rule.

(D)    mercantilism.

(E)    a classed society.

2.   The French and Indian War, which ended in 1763, was significant because it

(A)    removed the Native American threat from the colonies.

(B)    severely drained the British treasury.

(C)    opened up new lands west of the Mississippi River.

(D)    gave Florida to France.

(E)    signaled a shift in the British policy of salutary neglect to one of British involvement in the affairs of the colonies.

3.   The Intolerable Acts passed in 1774

(A)    affected all the colonies in British North America.

(B)    affected only the city of Boston.

(C)    resulted in the suspension of the charter of Massachusetts.

(D)    led to Shays’s Rebellion.

(E)    were a direct result of the Townshend Acts.

4.   Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, was significant because it

(A)    outlined the reasons for the ratification of the Constitution.

(B)    outlined the reasons colonial independence from Great Britain was a logical step for the colonies to take.

(C)    was rejected by the colonists as a piece of propaganda.

(D)    stated a belief in democracy.

(E)    was written by a high-ranking British official who supported colonial independence.


1.    B

The British argued that all British subjects were represented in Parliament by virtual representation no matter where they lived. The colonists, on the other hand, argued that they wanted actual representation, with a colonial representative in the Parliament. Divine right rule refers to the belief that kings received their power to rule from God. Mercantilism was an economic system in which the colonies existed for the good of the mother country by creating a favorable balance of trade for the mother country. A classed society existed in the colonies, but the issues of class and representation were not argued by Britain and the colonies.

2.    E

The French and Indian War marked the end of the British policy of salutary neglect and marked the beginning of more involvement by the British crown in the affairs of the colonies. Native Americans were not removed as a threat to the colonies. In fact, the British government issued the Proclamation of 1763, which forbade the colonists from settling beyond the Appalachian Mountains largely due to the threat of Indian attacks. Although the British treasury was, in fact, drained, the significance of the war lay more in changed British policy. New lands were opened up east of the Mississippi River, not west of the Mississippi River. Florida was given to England, not France.

3.    C

The Intolerable Acts, also known as the Coercive Acts, affected the colony of Massachusetts. The charter of Massachusetts was suspended, and Boston Harbor was closed. The other colonies were not directly impacted by these acts. All of Massachusetts was affected by these laws, and Boston Harbor was closed. Shays’s Rebellion occurred in 1787, when Daniel Shays, a farmer from Massachusetts, led an uprising against the state of Massachusetts over taxation. His actions led to the calling of the Constitutional Convention, the purpose of which was to revise the Articles of Confederation. The Townshend Acts were passed in 1766 and placed duties on glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. They were repealed in 1770 on all items except tea.

4.    B

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense highlighted the arguments that made colonial independence the “commonsense” thing to do. Its purpose was to convince the colonists of the correctness of seeking independence from Britain. The writings that outlined reasons for the ratification of the Constitution were The Federalist Papers, written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Far from being considered propaganda, Common Sense was embraced by colonists and was one of American history’s bestselling books, taking into account the number printed and the colonial population. Though it implicitly stated a belief in democracy, Common Sense’s main purpose was to justify independence. Paine was born in England and emigrated to America in 1774, but he was an impoverished, self-educated person, not a high-ranking British official.

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