American Independence The Early Idea Essay

This essay has a total of 2184 words and 9 pages.


American Independence The Early Idea




During the American Revolution, the idea of independence spread like wildfire The news of
the fighting, which occurred in April of 1775, spread quickly across the New England
countryside. Across the region, companies of militiamen, known as Minutemen, assembled
and set off to Boston. Within a few days, more than 10,000 American Minutemen were
encamped outside of Boston and determined to show the British Army that they meant
business. Keep in mind that as of yet, there was no real authority in charge. The
Continental Congress in Philadelphia was about the closest thing to a national government
at the time, and even they hadn’t officially recognized the troops gathered in Boston as
any kind of formal army.

Throughout the spring of 1775, American troops were incredibly successful. The New
England militia was able to keep the main body of British troops at bay in Boston—British
authorities there didn’t really know what to do and were waiting on orders from their
superiors across the Atlantic. A small force of militia captured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake
Champlain in May of 1775, and captured artillery pieces from the British. In June, the
British tried to break out of the city of Boston and attacked the American force on
Breed’s Hill. Now let me say emphatically that the Battle of Breed’s Hill (or as it
became commonly known, the Battle of Bunker Hill) was a strategic failure for the
Americans—they failed to hold their position and the British secured the area. But more
important than military tactics at this point in the Revolution was the incredible showing
by the American troops. It took three almost suicidal attempts by British troops—proud
members of the most feared military force in the world—to take Breed’s Hill. And when
they did take, it the British suffered about 1,000 casualties (that’s dead and wounded)
out of a force of 2,500. The British general Henry Clinton wrote that this battle was a
“dear bought victory . . . another such would have ruined us.”

For the next ten months, British military forces avoid another engagement with American
troops. British General Thomas Gage, the officer who had ordered the march on Lexington
and Concord, admitted that he and other British officers had underestimated the fighting
spirit of the Americans. He wrote, “These People Show a Spirit and Conduct against us
they never showed against the French, and every body had Judged of them from their former
Appearance, and behavior . . . which has led many into great mistakes.”

The New England militia units used their good showing against the British to strengthen
their forces and in June of 1775 they asked the Second Continental Congress, which had
convened in May of 1776, for official recognition and reinforcements. Congress agreed and
sent militia units from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Congress also appointed a
general for this new Continental Army: George Washington. The same guy who had made the
tactical blunder at Fort Necessity. Washington was a bit more mature, and it was obvious
that he wanted the job. He showed up at meetings of the Continental Congress in his
militia uniform. And the Continental Congress thought it would be a good idea to appoint
Washington—they thought that having a southern general lead a force made mostly of New
England troops would have a unifying effect upon the colonies. Washington arrives in
Boston in early July of 1775 and is faced with a difficult task. He must make these
volunteers into an army. This was a problem because the New England troops were militia,
and not regular soldiers. Most had only signed up for nine months, and didn’t expect
their service to last even that long. Moreover, they thought they were defending their
homes from British tyranny and not joining an army and becoming professional soldiers.
Washington nonetheless begins to train his troops outside of Boston as if they were a
regular army—he flogs soldiers that step out of line, and some troops desert the cause.
But by the spring of 1776, the Americans place the cannons they had captured at Fort
Ticonderoga on hills within Boston and the British decide it is time to leave. On March
17, 1776, British forces evacuate Boston.

Meanwhile, American colonists are struggling with what to do with their Revolution. Are
they going to seek reconciliation with the British? Will they appeal to their friends in
Parliament? Should they strike out on their own? In July of 1775, the Second Continental
Congress actually drew up two appeals to the King of England. The first was called, The
Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, which argued that the colonists
were simply defending their rights. The Declaration of Causes said that “we do not mean
to dissolve that union which has so long and happily subsisted between us, and which we
sincerely wish to see restored. . . . We fight not for glory or conquest.” The second
appeal was known as the Olive Branch Petition, and it similarly appealed to the British
government to make some statement regarding the rights of the colonists in order to stop
the fighting. King George ignored these appeals, declared the colonies to be in open
rebellion, and ordered a major military mobilization. Parliament following the King’s
leadership—it stopped all trade to the colonies and ordered all American ships seized.
These actions—while indicative of how British authorities didn’t really understand the
conviction of the colonists—only confirmed what many Americans were beginning to believe:
there was a conspiracy to oppress them in the British government. Two events then pushed
American ideas of resistance into American ideas of independence.

The first was the publication of Common Sense, by former corset-maker and radical Thomas
Paine in January of 1776. There were three main aspects to Paine’s ideas that made it so
persuasive. The first was the idea that a republic, in which government officials are
elected by the people, is preferable to monarchy. When the King’s troops fired on
colonists at Lexington and Concord, Paine wrote:

“I rejected the hardened, sullen tempered Pharoah of England for ever; and distain the
wretch, that with the pretended title of Father of his people, can unfeelingly hear of
their slaughter, and composedly sleep with their blood upon his soul.” (68)

Some might say Britain is a parent country, but Paine argued that “Even brutes do not
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