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Current R., Williams T. H., Freidel F., Brinkley A. American History: a survey. 7th edition; New York, 1987.


 

PART TWO. The New Nation, 1775-1820

The shots fired at Lexington and Concord represented only one of many steps along the road to the creation of an independent American nation. The first steps had been taken many years before 1775, when the first European settlements in the New World had begun to develop ideas and institutions different from those of the societies they had left behind. And the steps continued for many years after 1775, as Americans fought first to win their independence and then to build a new government and a new society.

There was a series of vital stages in the progression toward nationhood after the outbreak of hostilities. First was the decision to demand independence. In the spring of 1775, that decision still seemed far away. Many Americans continued to believe that they were fighting simply to protect their proper position within the British Empire. To them, all that would have been necessary to resolve the conflict would have been a retreat by England from its unpopular policies. But as the war continued and expanded in the ensuing monthsand as political agitation for a complete break with England grewsentiment for independence gained favor. Finally, in July 1776, the leaders of the thirteen colonies, meeting in Philadelphia, declared America to be a new, autonomous nation.

Much remained to be done. To secure their independence, the American people had to fight a long and difficult war against the greatest military power in the world, a war that few objective observers believed they could win. For nearly seven years it continued, with the American cause at first on the verge of collapse. Gradually, however, the new nation gained strength; and finally, in 1781, it secured a decisive military victory over the British. Two years later, a peace treaty confirmed the end of the war and the independence of the American republic. Britain remained a far more formidable power than the United States. But English military power had proved poorly suited to the new kind of war being fought in North America. And the fledgling American forces had displayed a spirit and persistence that few could have anticipated.

The War for Independence resolved the question of whether the new nation would survive. It did not, however, resolve the question of what it would be. In political terms, at least, the answer to that question emerged from an extraordinary process, beginning during the war itself and culminating in 1789 with the creation of a new federal government. There were few precedents in history for this self-conscious effort by Americans to create a political system for themselves, a system based on carefully argued ideas about the role of government and the nature of man. From the deliberations first of the individual states and then of the nation as a whole, came one of the stablest and most enduring political systems in the world.

The framing of the Constitution, however, still did not complete the process of nation building. For the next three decades, the United States engaged in a series of intense and often bitter political conflicts, as competing factions fought with one another to determine the directions the new nation would take. Would the central government be strong or weak? Would the nation's economy be agrarian or industrial? Would the United States play an active role in the world or remain isolated from it? Such questions produced controversies that at times threatened to tear the new nation apart. And when, beginning in 1812, the United States found itself engaged in another war with Great Britain, the survival of the republic appeared precarious indeed.

By 1820, many of these initial controversies had been, if not fully resolved, then at least made manageable. And the threat from overseas had been for the moment dispelled. The American nation was not yet complete. It could be argued that it never would be. But the initial stage of development had come to an end. The United States sensed itself secure in its nationhood and ready for a period of rapid expansion and changea period that would ultimately produce new crises of its own.

 

Chapter 5. The American Revolution

Two struggles occurred simultaneously during the seven years of war that began in April of 1775. One was the military conflict with Great Britain. The second was a political conflict within America. The two struggles had profound effects on each other.

The military conflict was, by the standards of later wars, a relatively modest one. Battle deaths on the American side totaled fewer than 5,000. The technology of warfare was so crude that cannons and rifles were effective only at extraordinarily close range; and fighting of any kind was virtually out of the question in bad weather. Yet the war in America was, by the standards of its own day, an unusually savage conflict, pitting not only army against army, but at times the population at large against a powerful external force. It was this shift of the war from a traditional, conventional struggle to a new kind of conflicta revolutionary war for liberationthat made it possible for the United States finally to defeat the vastly more powerful British.

At the same time, Americans were wrestling with the great political questions that the conflict necessarily produced: first, whether to demand independence from Britain; then, how to structure the new nation they had proclaimed. Only the first of these questions had been resolved by the time of the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781. But by then the United States had already established itselfboth in its own mind and in the mind of much of the rest of the worldas a nation with a special mission, a society dedicated to new, enlightened ideals. Thomas Paine, himself an important figure in shaping the Revolution, reflected the opinion of many when he claimed that the American War for Independence had "contributed more to enlighten the world, and diffuse a spirit of freedom and liberality among mankind, than any human event . . . that ever preceded it."

The States United

Although many Americans had been expecting a military conflict with Britain for months, even years, the actual beginning of hostilities in 1775 found the colonies generally unprepared for the enormous challenges awaiting them. A still-unformed nation, with a population less than a third as large as the 9 million of Great Britain, and with economic and military resources proportionately still smaller, faced the task of mobilizing for war against the world's greatest armed power. And Americans faced that task deeply divided about what they were fighting for.

Defining American War Aims

Three weeks after the battles of Lexington and Concord, when the Second Continental Congress met in the State House in Philadelphia, the delegates (again from every colony except Georgia, which was not represented until the following autumn) agreed to support the war. But they disagreed about its purpose. At one extreme was a group led by the Adams cousins (John and Samuel), Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, and others, who already favored independence; at the other extreme was a group led by such moderates as John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, who hoped for an early reconciliation with Great Britain. Most of the delegates tried to find some middle ground between these positions. Their uncertainty was reflected in the nature of two very different declarations, which they adopted in quick succession. Although they dismissed Lord North's Conciliatory Propositions as insincere, they voted for one last appeal to the king: the so-called Olive Branch Petition. Then, on July 6, 1775, they adopted a Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. It proclaimed that the British government had left the American people with only two alternatives, "unconditional submission to the tyranny of irritated ministers or resistance by force." The Americans had chosen resistance.

Throughout the first year of the war, most Americans believed they were fighting not for independence but for a redress of grievances within the British Empire. During that year, however, many of them began to change their minds, for several reasons. First, the costs of the warhuman and financialwere so high that the original war aims began to seem too modest to justify them. Second, what lingering affection they retained for the mother country greatly diminished when the British began trying to recruit Indians, black slaves, and foreign mercenaries (the hated "Hessians") against them. Third, and most important, they felt that they were being forced toward independence when the British government rejected the Olive Branch Petition and instead enacted the Prohibitory Act, which closed the colonies to all overseas trade and made no concessions to American demands except an offer of pardon to repentant rebels. The British enforced the Prohibitory Act with a naval blockade of colonial ports. And Americans were confronted with a choice between submitting meekly to British authority or defying the blockadewhich they could not hope to do effectively without creating a sovereign nation.

The publication in January 1776 of an impassioned pamphlet clarified and crystallized these feelings. It was called, simply, Common Sense. Its author, unmentioned on the title page, was Thomas Paine, who had emigrated from England to America less than two years before (with letters of introduction from Benjamin Franklin, whom he had met in London). Long a failure in various trades, Paine now proved a brilliant success as a revolutionary propagandist. His pamphlet, reprinted month after month by the thousands, passed from hand to hand, read and reread, debated and discussed, helped change the American outlook toward the war. Paine's purpose was to expose the folly of continuing to believe reconciliation with Britain was possible. He wanted to turn the anger of Americans away from the specific parliamentary measures they were resisting and toward what he considered the root of the problem the English constitution itself. It was not enough, he argued, for Americans to continue blaming their problems on particular ministers, or even on Parliament. It was the king, and the system that permitted him to rule, that was to blame. Thus it was simple common sense for Americans to break completely with a government that could produce so corrupt a monarch as George III, a government that could inflict such brutality on its own people, a government that could drag Americans into wars in which America had no interest. The island kingdom of England was no more fit to rule the American continent than a satellite was fit to rule the sun. "O! ye that love mankind! ye that dare oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth!" Paine declared.

The Decision for Independence

Common Sense  had an enormous influence on American thinking. It sold more than 100,000 copies in only a few months, and to many of its readers it was a revelation. Although sentiment for independence was still far from unanimous, the first months of 1776 saw a rapid growth of support for the idea.

In the midst of all this, the Continental Congress (meeting again in Philadelphia) was moving slowly and tentatively toward a final break with England. It opened American ports to the ships of all nations except Great Britain, entered into communication with foreign powers, and recommended to the various colonies that they establish governments without the authority of the empire, as in fact most already were doing. Congress also appointed a committee to draft a formal declaration of independence. On July 2, 1776, it adopted a resolution: "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 connexion between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved." Two days later, on July 4, Congress approved the Declaration of Independence itself, which provided the formal justifications for the actions the delegates had in fact taken two days earlier.

The Declaration was largely the work of Thomas Jefferson, a thirty-three-year-old Virginian, although it was slightly revised by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, his colleagues on the drafting committee. Congress made more drastic changes, striking out passages that condemned the British people and the slave trade. As Adams afterward observed, Jefferson said little in the document that was new. Its virtue lay in the eloquence with which it expressed beliefs already widespread in America.

The document was in two parts. In the first, Jefferson restated the familiar contract theory of John Locke: the theory that governments were formed to protect the rights of life, liberty, and property; Jefferson gave the theory a more idealistic tone by referring instead to the rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." In the second part he listed the alleged crimes of the king, who, with the backing of Parliament, had violated his contract with the colonists and thus had forfeited all claim to their loyalty.

The Declaration of Independence exerted an incalculable influence on later history. Its ringing endorsement of the idea that "all men are created equal" helped stimulate humanitarian movements of many kinds in the United States; abroad it helped to inspire the French Revolution's own Declaration of the Rights of Man. More immediately, the Declaration and its claim of American sovereigntyled to increased foreign aid for the struggling rebels and prepared the way for France's intervention on their side. It steeled American Patriots, as those opposing the British called themselves, to fight on, to reject the idea of a peace that stopped short of winning independence. And at the same time it created deep divisions within American society.

At the news of the Declaration of Independence, crowds in Philadelphia, Boston, and other places gathered to cheer, fire guns and cannons, and ring church bells. But there were many in America who did not rejoice. Some had disapproved of the war from the beginning. Others had been willing to support it only so long as its aims did not conflict with their basic loyalty to the king. Such people were a minority, but a large one; and whether openly or secretly, they remained Loyalists, as they chose to call themselves, or Tories, as they were known to the Whig or Patriot majority.

The Declaration of Independence simply confirmed what circumstances had already ensured: that the American people, at war with Great Britain, would have to devise a means of governing themselves and supporting their military struggle. To meet these new demands, new institutions emerged at both the local and the national levels.

The individual colonies now began to call themselves statesa reflection of their belief that each province was now in some respects a separate and sovereign entity. And as states, they had to create new governments to replace the royal governments that independence had repudiated. By 1781, most states had produced written constitutions for themselves that established republican governments; some of these governments survived, with only minor changes, for decades to come.

At the national level, however, the process was more uncertain and less successful. For a time, Americans were uncertain whether they even wanted a real national government; the Continental Congress had never been considered more than a coordinating mechanism, and virtually everyone considered the individual colonies (now states) the real centers of authority. Yet fighting a war required a certain amount of central direction, and Americans began almost immediately to try to reconcile these two contradictory assumptions.

No sooner had the Congress appointed a committee to draft a declaration of independence than it appointed another to draft a plan of union. And after much debate and many revisions, the Congress adopted the committee's plan in November 1777. The document (which was not formally ratified by the states until 1781) was known as the Articles of Confederation; and it did little more than confirm the weak, decentralized system already in operation. The Continental Congress would survive as the chief coordinating agency of the war effort, but its powers over the individual states would be extraordinarily limited. Indeed, the Articles did not make it entirely clear that the Congress was to be a real government at all. The war was won as much in spite of as because of its efforts. (See pp. 144148 for a fuller discussion of the structure of the new state and national governments.)

Mobilizing for War

Congress and the states faced overwhelming tasks in raising and organizing armies, providing the necessary supplies and equipment, and paying the costs of war. Supplies of most kinds were scarce at the outset, and shortages persisted to the end. America was a land of hunters and thus contained numerous gunsmiths, But these craftsmen were not able to meet the wartime demand for guns and ammunition; nor were they able to produce heavy arms. Congress in 1777 established a government arsenal at Springfield, Massachusetts. Even so, Americans managed to manufacture only a small fraction of the equipment they used. They supplemented their own manufactures with materiel that fell into their hands on the seizure of British forts, the surrender of British armies, and the capture of supply ships by American privateers. But they got most of their war materials from European nations, particularly from France.

One of the nation's severest problems was finding a way to finance the war. Congress lacked the authority and the states generally lacked the inclination to impose taxes on the public. Hard currency (gold and silver) was scarce in America, as it always had been; and when Congress requisitioned money from the states, none of them contributed more than a small part of its expected share. Congress had only limited success raising money by floating long-term loans at home, since few Americans could afford war bonds and those few usually preferred to invest in more profitable ventures, such as privateering. So it had no choice in the end but to issue paper money. Continental currency came from the printing presses in large and repeated batches. The states added sizable paper-currency issues of their own.

The result, predictably, was inflation. Prices rose to fantastic heights, and the value of paper money fell proportionately. Many American farmers and merchants began to prefer doing business with the British, who could pay for goods in gold or silver coin. (That was one reason why George Washington's troops suffered from severe food shortages at Valley

Forge in the winter of 1777-1778; many Philadelphia merchants would not sell to them.) Congress tried in vain to stem the inflationary spiral. It recommended price control regulations, but soon realized the futility of that approach. It tried to retire its paper currency by accepting it for payment of taxes at a fortieth of its face value and declaring it worthless for any other purpose. Ultimately, however, it was able to finance the war effort only by borrowing heavily from other nations.

Only a small proportion of eligible American men were willing to volunteer for the American armies once the first surge of patriotism ebbed after 1775. The states had to resort to persuasion and force, to bounties and the draft. Once recruited, militiamen remained under the control of their respective states. Congress very early recognized the disadvantages of this decentralized system and called for a Continental army with a single commander in chief. George Washington, a forty-three-year-old Virginia planter-aristocrat who had commanded colonial forces during the French and Indian War, possessed more experience than any other American-born officer available. He had also been an early advocate of independence. Above all, he was admired, respected, and trusted by nearly all Patriots. He was the unanimous choice of the delegates, and he took command in June 1775.

Congress had chosen well. Throughout the war, Washington kept faithfully at his task, despite difficulties and discouragements that would have daunted a lesser man. He had to deal with serious problems of morale among soldiers who consistently received short rations and low pay; open mutinies broke out in 1781 among the Pennsylvania and New Jersey troops. During the discouraging winter of Valley Forge, moreover, some congressmen and army officers apparently began conspiring (in the so-called Conway Cabal, named for Thomas Conway, one of its alleged leaders) to replace Washington as commander in chief. And the Continental Congress, Washington's "employers," always seemed too little interested in supplying him with manpower and equipment and too much interested in interfering with his conduct of military operations

Washington was not without shortcomings as a military commander; indeed, he lost more battles than he won. Yet for all his faults and failures, he was indisputably a great war leader. With the aid of foreign military experts such as the Marquis de Lafayette from France and the Baron von Steuben from Prussia, he succeeded in building and holding together a force of fewer than 10,000 men (not counting the militias of the separate states) that ultimately prevailed against the mightiest power in the world. Even more important, perhaps, in a new nation still unsure of either its purposes or its structure, with a central government both weak and contentious, Washington was the indispensable man whose steadiness, courage, and dedication to his cause provided the armyand the peoplewith a symbol of stability around which they could rally. He was not the most brilliant of the country's early leaders. But in the crucial years of the war, at least, he was the most successful in holding the new nation together.

The War for Independence

On the surface, at least, all the advantages in the military struggle between America and Great Britain appeared to lie with the British. They possessed the greatest navy and the best-equipped army in the world. They had access to the resources of an empire. They had a coherent structure of command. The Americans, by contrast, were struggling to create an army and a government at the same time that they were trying to fight a war.

Yet the United States had advantages that were not at first apparent. Americans were fighting on their own ground, far from the center of British might. They were more committed to the conflict; the British people were only half-heartedly supporting the war. And beginning in 1777, the Americans had the benefit of substantial aid from abroad, after the American war had merged with a world contest in which Great Britain faced the strongest powers of Europemost notably Francein a struggle for imperial supremacy.

But the American victory was not simply the result of these advantages, or even of the remarkable spirit and resourcefulness of the people and the army. It was a result, too, of a series of egregious blunders and miscalculations by the British in the early stages of the fighting, when England could (and probably should) have won. And it was, finally, a result of the transformation of the warthrough three distinct phasesinto a new kind of conflict that the British military, for all its strength, could not hope to win.

The First Phase: New England

For the first year of the fightingfrom. the spring of 1775 to the spring of 1776the British remained uncertain about whether or not they were actually engaged in a war. Many English authorities continued to believe that what was happening in America was a limited, local conflict and that British forces were simply attempting to quell pockets of rebellion in the contentious area around Boston. Gradually, however, the colonial forces took the offensive and proved to England that the war was not confined to Massachusetts, that the entire territory of the American colonies was becoming a battleground.

After the British withdrawal from Concord and Lexington in April 1775, American forces besieged the army of General Thomas Gage in Boston. The Patriots suffered severe casualties in the Battle of Bunker Hill (actually fought on Breed's Hill) on June 17, 1775, and were ultimately driven from their position there. But they inflicted far greater losses on the enemy (indeed, the heaviest casualties the British were to suffer in the entire war) and thereafter continued to tighten the siege. By the first months of 1776, the British finally concluded that Boston was not the best place from which to wage a continental war. Not only was it in the center of the most fervently anti-British region of the colonies; it was also tactically indefensiblea narrow neck of land, easily isolated and besieged. By late winter, in fact, Patriot forces had surrounded the city and had occupied strategic positions on the heights. And so, on March 17, 1776 (a date still celebrated in Boston as Evacuation Day), the redcoats departed Boston for Halifax with hundreds of Loyalist refugees. Within a year from the firing of the first shots, the enemy had been driven temporarilyfrom American soil.

Elsewhere, the war was proceeding fitfully and inconclusively. To the south, at Moore's Creek Bridge in North Carolina, a band of Patriots crushed an uprising of Loyalists on February 27, 1776, and thereby discouraged a British plan to invade the Southern states. The British had based those plans on the expectation of substantial aid from local Tories; they realized now that such aid might not be as effective as they had hoped. To the north, the Americans themselves undertook an invasion of Canada hoping to remove the British threat and to win the Canadians to their cause. Benedict Arnold, the intrepid commander of a small American force, threatened Quebec in late 1775 and early 1776 after a winter march of incredible hardship. He was joined by Richard Montgomery, who combined his forces with Arnold's and took command of both. Montgomery was killed in the assault on the city; and although a wounded Arnold kept up the siege for a time, the Quebec campaign ended in frustration. A civilian commission sent to Canada by Congress and headed by the seventy-year-old Franklin met with no more success in its efforts to win the allegiance of the northern colonists. Canada was not to become the fourteenth state.

The British evacuation in 1776 was not, therefore, so much a victory for the Americans (although their accomplishments so far had been impressive) as a reflection of changing English assumptions about the war. By the spring of 1776, it had become clear to the British that the conflict was not a local phenomenon in the area around Boston. The American campaigns in Canada, the agitation in the South, and the growing evidence of colonial unity all suggested that England must be prepared to fight a much larger conflict. The departure of the British marked, therefore, a shift in strategy more than an admission of defeat.

The Second Phase: The Mid-Atlantic Region

The next phase of the war, which lasted from 1776 until early 1778, was when the British were in the best position to win. Indeed, had it not been for a series of blunders and misfortunes, they probably would have crushed the rebellion then. For during this period the struggle became, for the most part, a traditional, conventional war. And in that, the Americans were woefully overmatched.

The British regrouped quickly after their retreat from Boston, and they soon managed to put the Americans on the strategic defensive (a position they maintained for the rest of the war). During the summer of 1776, in the weeks immediately following the Declaration of Independence, the waters around the city of New York became filled with the most formidable military force Great Britain had ever sent abroad. Hundreds of men-of-war and troopships and 32,000 disciplined soldiers arrived, under the command of the affable Sir William Howe. Howe felt no particular hostility toward the Americans. He hoped to awe them into submission rather than shoot them; and he believed that most of them, if given a chance, would show that they were loyal to the king. In a parley with commissioners from Congress, he offered them a choice between submission with royal pardon and a battle against overwhelming odds.

To oppose Howe's awesome array, Washington could muster only about 19,000 poorly armed and trained soldiers, including both Continentals and state troops; he had no navy at all. Yet without hesitation, the Americans rejected Howe's offer and chose continued warwhich meant inevitably a succession of defeats. The British pushed the defenders off Long Island, compelled them to abandon Manhattan, and then drove them in slow retreat over the plains of New Jersey, across the Delaware River, and into Pennsylvania.

For eighteenth-century Europeans, warfare was a seasonal activity. The British settled down for the winter with occupation forces at various points in New Jersey and with an outpost of Hessians (German mercenaries) at Trenton on the Delaware. But Washington did not content himself with sitting still. On Christmas night 1776, he daringly recrossed the icy river, surprised and scattered the Hessians, and occupied the town. Then he advanced to Princeton and drove a force of redcoats from their base in the college there. But Washington was unable to hold either Princeton or Trenton, and he finally took refuge for the rest of the winter in the hills around Morristown. As the campaign of 1776 came to an end, the Americans could console themselves with the thought that they had won two minor victories, that their main army was still intact, and that the invaders were no nearer than before to the decisive triumph that Howe had so confidently anticipated. The heavy British advantages in men and supplies, however, remained.

For the campaigns of 1777 the British devised a strategy that, if Howe had stuck to it, might have cut the United States in two and prepared the way for final victory by Great Britain. Howe would move from New York up the Hudson to Albany, while another force, in a gigantic pincers movement, would come down from Canada to meet him. One of Howe's ambitious younger officers, the dashing John Burgoyne, secured command of this northern force and elaborated on the plan by preparing for a two-pronged attack along both the Mohawk and the upper Hudson approaches to Albany.

But after setting this plan in motion, Howe made a major (and many believed inexplicable) blunder and adopted a different plan for himself. He decided to launch an assault on the rebel capital Philadelphia an assault that would, he hoped, discourage the Patriots, rally the Loyalists, and bring the war to a speedy conclusion. He removed the bulk of his forces from New York by sea, landed at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, brushed Washington aside at the Battle of Brandywine Creek on September 11, and proceeded north to Philadelphia, which he was able to occupy with little resistance. Meanwhile, Washington, after an unsuccessful October 4 attack at Germantown (Just outside Philadelphia), went into winter quarters at Valley Forge. The Continental Congress, now dislodged from its capital, reassembled at York, Pennsylvania.

Howe's move to Philadelphia left Burgoyne to carry out his twofold campaign in the north alone. He sent Colonel Barry St. Leger with a fast-moving force up the St. Lawrence River toward Lake Ontario and the headwaters of the Mohawk, while Burgoyne himself advanced directly down the upper Hudson Valley. He got off to a flying start. He seized Fort Ticonderoga easily and with it an enormous store of powder and supplies; that caused such consternation in Congress that the delegates removed General Philip Schuyler from command of American forces in the north and replaced him with Horatio Gates.

By the time Gates took command, Burgoyne had already experienced a sudden reversal of his military fortunes as a result of two staggering defeats. In one of themat Oriskany, New York, on August 6a Patriot band of German farmers led by Nicholas Herkimer held off a force of Indians and Tories commanded by St. Leger. That gave Benedict Arnold time to go to the relief of Fort Stanwix and close off the Mohawk Valley to St. Leger's advance. (Oriskany also marked the dissolution of the three-century-old Iroquois Confederation. The Senecas, Cayugas, and Mohawkswho believed a British victory would help stem white encroachments on their landsallied themselves with the English; the other two nations either supported the Patriots or remained neutral.) In the other battleat Bennington, Vermont, on August 16New England militiamen under the Bunker Hill veteran John Stark severely mauled a detachment that Burgoyne had sent out to seek supplies. Short of materials, with all help cut off, Burgoyne fought several costly engagements and then withdrew to Saratoga, where Gates surrounded him. On October 17,1777, Burgoyne ordered what was left of his army, nearly 5,000 men, to lay down their arms.

The amazing news from the woods of upstate New York reverberated throughout the United States and Europe. The British surrender at Saratoga was; the great turning point in the warabove all, per-, haps, because it led directly to an alliance between the United States and France.

The British failure to win the war during this period, a period in which they had overwhelming advantages, was in large part a result of their own mistakes. And in assessing them, the role of William Howe looms large. Howe's problems were not entirely of his own making. He was hobbled in part by his instructions from his superiors in England: He was told to conciliate the Americans, and he was told, at the same time, to defeat them. His efforts to fulfill that contradictory mandate accounted for many of his problems. But it also seems clear that Howe himself was ill suited to serve as commander in a war of revolution. Time and again, he showed not only serious deficiencies in tactical and strategic judgment, but a lack of aggressive instincts. With the Continental army weakened and in disarray, Howe refrained from moving in for the final attack, although he had several opportunities. Instead, he repeatedly allowed Washington to retreat and regroup; and he permitted the American army to spend a long winter unmolested in Valley Forge, whereweak and hungrythey might have been easy prey for British attack.

Some believed that Howe did not want to win the war, that he was secretly in sympathy with the American cause. His family had close ties to the colonies; and he himself was linked politically to those forces within the British government that opposed the war. Others pointed to personal weaknesses: Howe's apparent alcoholism, his romantic attachments (he spent the winter of 1777-1778 in Philadelphia with his mistress when many were urging him to move elsewhere). But the most important problem, it seems clear, was lack of judgment.

Whatever the reasons, the failure of the British to crush the Continental army in the mid-Atlantic states, combined with the stunning American victory at Saratoga (which was a direct result of Howe's strategic incompetence), transformed the war and ushered it into a new and final phase.

Securing Aid from Abroad

Central to this transformation of the war was American success in winning the indirect assistance of several European nations, and the direct support of France. Even before the Declaration of Independence, Congress drew up a plan for liberal commercial arrangements with other countries and prepared to send representatives to the capitals of Europe to negotiate treaties with the governments there. Such treaties would, of course, require European recognition of the United States as one of the sovereign nations of the world. "Militia diplomats," John Adams called the early American representatives abroad; and unlike the diplomatic regulars of Europe, they knew little of the formal art and etiquette of Old World diplomacy. Since transatlantic communication was slow and uncertain (it took from one to three months to cross the Atlantic), they had to interpret the instructions of Congress very freely and make crucial decisions entirely on their own.

Of all the possible foreign friends of the United States, the most promising and the most powerful was France, which was still smarting from its defeat at the hands of Great Britain in 1763. King Louis XVI of France, who had come to the throne in 1774, had an astute and determined foreign minister in the Count de Vergennes; and Vergennes quickly realized that France had a great deal to gain from the creation of an independent United States. If Britain were to lose that crucial part of its empire, the relative power of France would increase.

From the beginning, therefore, there was interest in an alliance on both the American and French sides; and diplomatic efforts began almost as soon as the first shots in the war were fired. For a time, however, France remained reluctant to provide the United States with what it most wanted: diplomatic recognition. Through a series of covert bargains, facilitated by the creation of a fictional trading firm and the use of secret agents on both sides (among them the famed French dramatist Caron de Beaumarchais), the Americans secured large quantities of much-needed supplies. But they wanted more.

After the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin himself went to France to lobby for further aid and for diplomatic recognition of the United States. A natural diplomat, the equal if not the superior of the world's best at that time, Franklin became a popular hero among the Frencharistocrats and common people alike. (He also became a particular favorite of many Parisian women.) But Vergennes was at first reluctant to accede to Franklin's requests; he wanted some evidence that the Americans had a real chance of winning before he would agree to open French intervention. The news that Vergennes and Franklin were waiting forthe news from Saratoga arrived in London on December 2 and in Paris on December 4, 1777. In London, the reports of Burgoyne's surrender persuaded Lord North to launch a new peace offensive: an offer of complete home rule within the empire for Americans if they would quit the war. In Paris, Franklin learned of Lord North's intentions from a British spy and made certain that Vergennes heard of them as well. The news worried the foreign minister. He feared the Americans might accept the offer and thus destroy France's opportunity to weaken Britain's imperial power; and he realized that French assistance might help persuade the Americans to continue the struggle. On February 6, 1778, therefore, Vergennes signed a series of agreements with the American diplomats that signaled the formal recognition of the United States as a sovereign nation and laid the groundwork for greatly expanded French assistance to the American war effort.

The entrance of France into the conflict substantially altered the British approach to the war. It was now an international conflict involving England's traditional European rivals. In the course of the next two years, France, Spain, and the Netherlands all drifted into another general war with Great Britain in Europe. France and the Netherlands allied themselves openly with the United States; all three nations contributed indirectly to the ultimate American victory by complicating England's task and directly by offering financial and material assistance. But it was France that served as America's truly indispensable ally. Not only did it furnish the new nation with most of its money and munitions, but it also provided a navy and an expeditionary force that proved invaluable in the final, successful phase of the revolutionary conflict.

The Final Phase: The South

The last phase of the military struggle in America was fundamentally different from either of the first two. The British government had never been fully united behind the war in the first place; after the defeat at Saratoga and the intervention of the French, it imposed new limits on its commitment to the conflict. Instead of a full-scale military struggle against the American army, therefore, the British chose a different strategy. They would attempt to enlist the support of those elements of the American populationa majority, they continued to believewho were still loyal to the crown; they would, in other words, work to undermine the Revolution from within. Since Loyalist sentiment was considered to be strongest in the Southern colonies, the main focus of the British effort shifted there; and it was thus in the South, for the most part, that the war was fought to its conclusion.

The new strategy was a ludicrous failure. British forces spent three years (from 1778 to 1781) moving through the South, fighting small battles and larse, and attempting to neutralize (or to use the terminology of a later American war, "pacify") the territory; through which they traveled. All such efforts ended; in frustration. The British badly overestimated the extent of Loyalist sentiment. While it was true that in Georgia and the Carolinas there were numerous To-ries, some of them disgruntled members of the Regulator movement, it was also true that Patriot sentiment was far stronger than the British believed. In Virginia, support for independence was as fervent as in Massachusetts. And even in the lower South, Loyalists often feared to offer aid to the British because they realized they might face reprisals from the Patriots around them. There were also severe logistical problems facing the British in the South. Patriot forces could move at will throughout the region, living off the resources of the countryside, blending in with the civilian population and leaving the British unable to distinguish friend from foe. The British, by contrast, suffered all the disadvantages of an army in hostile territory.

It was this phase of the conflict that made the war truly "revolutionary"not only because it introduced a new kind of warfare, but because it had the effect of mobilizing and politicizing large groups of the population who had previously remained aloof from the struggle. With the war expanding into previously isolated communities, with many civilians forced to involve themselves whether they liked it or not, the political climate of the United States grew more heated than ever. And support for independence, far from being crushed as the British had hoped, greatly increased.

That was the backdrop against which the important military encounters of the last years of the war occurred. In the North, where significant numbers of British troops remained, the fighting settled into a relatively quiet stalemate. Sir Henry Clinton replaced the hapless William Howe in 1778 and moved what had been Howe's army from Philadelphia back to New York. There the British troops stayed for more than a year, with Washington using his army to keep watch around them. The American forces in New^ York did so little fighting in this period that Washington sent some troops west to strike back against hostile Indians who had been attacking white settlers During that same winter, George Rogers Clark, with orders from the state of Virginianot from either Washington or Congressled a daring expedition over the mountains and captured settlements in the Illinois country from the British and their Indian allies.

During this period of relative calm, the America forcesand George Washington in particularwere shocked by the exposure of treason on the part of General Benedict Arnold. Arnold had been one of the early heroes of the war; but now, convinced that the American cause was hopeless, he conspired with British agents to betray the Patriot stronghold at West Point on the Hudson River. In the nick of time, the scheme was exposed and foiled; and Arnold fled to the safety of the British camp, where he spent the rest of the war.

But the decisive fighting took place in the South. The British did have some significant military successes during this period. On December 29, 1778, they captured Savannah, on the coast of Georgia; and five months later, on May 12, 1779, they took the port of Charleston, South Carolina. They even inspired some Loyalists to take up arms and advance with them into the interior. But although the British were able to win conventional battles, they were constantly harassed as they moved through the countryside by Patriot guerrillas led by such resourceful fighters as Thomas Sumter, Andrew Pickens, and Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox." Penetrating to Camden, South Carolina, Lord Cornwallis (Clinton's choice as British commander in the South) met and crushed a combined force of militiamen and Continentals under Horatio Gates on August 16, 1780. Congress recalled Gates, and Washington gave the Southern command to Nathanael Greene, a former Quaker blacksmith from Rhode Island and probably the ablest of all the American generals of the time next to Washington himself.

Even before Greene arrived in the war theater, the tide of battle already had begun to turn against Cornwallis. At King's Mountain (near the North Carolina-South Carolina border) on October 7, 1780, a band of Patriot riflemen from the backwoods killed, wounded, or captured an entire force of 1,100 New York and South Carolina Tories, upon whom Cornwallis had depended as auxiliaries. Once Greene arrived, he confused and exasperated Cornwallis by dividing the American forces into fast-moving contingents while refraining from a showdown in open battle. One of the contingents inflicted what Cornwallis admitted was "a very unexpected and severe blow" at Cowpens on January 17, 1781. Finally, after receiving reinforcements, Greene combined all his forces and maneuvered to meet the British on ground of his own choosing, at Guilford Court House, North Carolina. After a hard-fought battle there on March 15, 1781, Greene was driven from the field; but Cornwallis had lost so many men that he decided at last to abandon the Carolina campaign.

Cornwallis withdrew to the port town of Wilmington, North Carolina, to receive supplies being sent to him by sea; later he moved north to carry on raids in the interior of Virginia. But Clinton, concerned for the army's safety, ordered him to take up a position on the peninsula between the York and James rivers and wait for water transport to New York or Charleston. So Cornwallis retreated to Yorktown and began to build fortifications there.

At that point, George Washington decided to try to trap Cornwallis at Yorktown. He coordinated his efforts with the Count de Rochambeau, commander of the French expeditionary force in America, and Admiral de Grasse, commander of a French fleet in American waters. Washington and Rochambeau marched a French-American army from New York to join Lafayette in Virginia, while de Grasse sailed with additional troops for the Chesapeake Bay and the York River. These joint operations, perfectly timed and executed, caught Cornwallis between land and sea. After a few shows of resistance, he asked for terms on October 17, 1781 (four years to the day after the capitulation ofBurgoyne at Saratoga). Two days later, as a military band played the old tune "The World Turn'd Upside Down," he surrended his whole army of more than 7,000.

Except for a few skirmishes, the fighting was now over; but the war was not yet won. British forces continued to hold the seaports of Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington, and New York. Before long, a British fleet met and defeated Admiral de Grasse's fleet in the West Indies, ending Washington's hopes for further French naval assistance. For more than a year, then, although there was no significant further combat between British and American forces, it remained possible that the war might resume and the struggle for independence might still be lost.

Winning the Peace

The victory at Yorktown had immediate repercussions in England. Cornwallis's defeat provoked outcries against continuing the war and raised demands for cultivating American friendship as an asset in international politics. Lord North resigned; Lord Shelburne emerged from the political wreckage as prime minister; and British emissaries appeared in France to talk informally with the American diplomats there. Benjamin Franklin outlined for them what he called the "necessary" terms of peace, including independence and the establishment of the Mississippi as the western boundary of the United States. He also added several "desirable" terms, including the cession of Canada.

The three principal American diplomats-Franklin, John Jay, and John Adamswere under instructions to cooperate fully with France in their negotiations with England. But the French soon proved less reliable as diplomatic allies than they had as military supporters. Vergennes insisted that France could not agree to any settlement of the war with England until its ally Spain had achieved its principal war aim: winning back Gibraltar from the British. There was, moreover, no real prospect of that happening soon. And the American diplomats began to fear that their alliance with France might keep them at war indefinitely. Disillusionment with the French increased when Jay learned that Vergennes's private secretary had gone on a secret mission to England; there were rumors that the French and Spanish were planning to bargain away American independence in a larger settlement with the British.

As a result. Franklin, Jay, and Adams soon ceased to keep Vergennes informed of their diplomatic efforts. They proceeded on their own and soon drew up a preliminary treaty with Great Britain. After the preliminary articles were signed on November 30, 1782, Franklin skillfully pacified Vergennes (who had, in any case, been kept informed of the American efforts by his own spies) and avoided an immediate rift in the French-American alliance.

The final treaty was signed September 3, 1783, when both Spain and France agreed to end hostilities. It included a number of provisions that Franklin, Jay, and Adams had opposed, some of which were to lead to serious friction with Great Britain and Spain in the years ahead. And it failed to include most of Franklin's "desirable" terms (including the cession of Canada to the United States). But the treaty did endorse the "necessary" terms Franklin had outlined; and it was, on the whole, remarkably favorable to the United States in granting a clear-cut recognition of independence and a generous, though ambiguous cession of territoryfrom the southern boundary of Canada to the northern boundary of Florida and from the Atlantic to the Mississippi. With good reason the American people celebrated as the last of the British occupation forces embarked from New York and General Washington, at the head of his troops, rode triumphantly into the city.

War and Society

Historians have long debated whether the American Revolution was a social as well as a political revolution. Some have argued that the colonists were struggling not only over the question of home rule, but over "who should rule at home." Others claim that domestic social and economic concerns had little to do with the conflict. (See "Where Historians Disagree," pp. 138-139.) Whatever the motivations of Americans, however, there can be little doubt that the War for Independence had important effects on the nature of American society.

Loyalists and Minorities

Any war produces both winners and losers. The losers in the American Revolution included not only the British but American Loyalists. Estimates differ as to how many Americans remained loyal to England during the Revolution, but it is clear that there were manyat least a fifth (and some estimate as much as a third) of the white population. Their motivations were varied. Some were officeholders in the imperial government, who stood to lose their positions as a result of the Revolution. Others were merchants whose trade was closely tied to the imperial system. (Most merchants, however, supported the Revolution.) Still others were people who lived in relative isolation and who thus had not been exposed to the wave of discontent that had turned so many Americans against Britain; they had simply retained their traditional loyalties. There were also cultural and ethnic minorities who feared that an independent America would not offer them sufficient protection. And there were those who, expecting the British to win the war, were simply currying favor with the expected victors.

What happened to these men and women during the war is a turbulent and at times tragic story. Hounded by Patriots in their communities, harassed by legislative and judicial actions, the position of many of them became intolerable. Up to 100,000 fled the country during the war. Those who could afford tofor example, the hated Tory governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinsonfled to England, where many lived in difficult and lonely exile. Others of more modest means moved to Canada, establishing the first English-speaking community in the province of Quebec. Some returned to America after the war and, as the early passions and resentments faded, managed to reenter the life of the nation. Others remained abroad for the rest of their lives.

Most Loyalists were people of average means, but a substantial minority consisted of men and women of wealth. They left behind large estates and vacated important positions of social and economic leadership. Even some who remained in the country saw their property confiscated and their positions forfeited. The result was new opportunities for Patriots to acquire land and influence, a situation that produced important social changes in many communities. It would be an exaggeration, however, to claim that the departure of the Loyalists was responsible for anything approaching a social revolution. The Revolution did not create a general assault on the wealthy and powerful in America. When the war ended, those who had been wealthy at its beginning were, for the most part, still wealthy. Those who had wielded social and political influence (which often accompanied the possession of wealth) continued to wield it. Indeed, the distribution of wealth became more uneven in the aftermath of the war than it had been in the decades preceding it.

The war had a significant effect on other minorities as well, and on certain religious groups in particular. No sect suffered more than the Anglicans, many of whose members were Loyalists and all of whom were widely identified with England. In Virginia and Maryland, where the colonial governments had recognized Anglicanism as the official religion and had imposed a tax for its maintenance, the new Revolutionary regimes disestablished the church and thus eliminated the subsidy. In other states, Anglicans had benefited from aid from England, which also ceased with the outbreak of war. By the time the fighting ended, many Anglican parishes no longer even had clergymen, for there were few recruits to take the places of those who had died or who had left the country as Loyalist refugees. Since there had never been an American bishop or an intercolonial organization of the church, there was little institutional strength from which those Anglicans who remained could rebuild their church; and although Anglicanism survived in America, it was to remain permanently weakened from its losses during the Revolution. Also weakened were the Quakers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, who won widespread unpopularity because of their pacifism. Their refusal to support the war destroyed much of the social and political prestige they had enjoyed, and the church was never to recover fully.

While the war was weakening the Anglicans and the Quakers, it was improving the position of the Roman Catholic church. On the advice of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a Maryland statesman and Catholic lay leader, most American Catholics supported the Patriot cause during the war. The French alliance brought Catholic troops and chaplains to the country, and the gratitude with which most Americans greeted them did much to erode old hostilities toward Catholics, whom Americans had in the past often denounced as agents of the devil. The church did not greatly increase its numbers as a result of the Revolution, but it did strengthen itself considerably as an institution. Shortly after the peace treaty was signed, the Vatican provided the United States with its own Catholic hierarchy. (Until then, the American church had been controlled by the English bishops.) Father John Carroll (also of Maryland) was named head of Catholic missions in America in 1784 and, in 1789, the first American bishop. In 1808 he became archbishop of Baltimore. Hostility toward Catholics had not disappeared forever from American life, but the church had established a solid footing from which to withstand future assaults.

For the largest of America's minoritiesthe black populationthe war had limited, but nevertheless profound, significance. For some, it meant freedom. Because so much of the fighting occurred in the South during the last years of the war, many slaves came into contact with the British army, whichin the interests of disrupting and weakening the American causeemancipated thousands of them and took them out of the country. For other blacks, the Revolution meant exposure to the idea, although not the reality, of liberty. In the towns and cities of the South, where large groups of both free and enslaved blacks lived, the ideology of the Revolution had a pronounced effect. Although most blacks could not read, few could avoid exposure to the new and exciting ideas; and in many cases, they attempted to apply those ideas to themselves. The result was a series of incidents in several communities in which blacks engaged in open resistance to white control. In Charleston, South Carolina, Thomas Jeremiah, a free black, was executed after white authorities learned of elaborate plans for a slave uprising. It would be many years before blacks would be in a position to make more than sporadic efforts on behalf of their freedom; but the experience of the Revolution produced distinct stirrings of discontent.

That was one reason why Revolutionary sentiment was more restrained in South Carolina and Georgia than in other colonies. Blacks constituted a majority in South Carolina and almost half the population in Georgia, and whites in both places feared that revolution would foment slave rebellions. The same fears helped prevent English colonists in the Caribbean islands (who were far more greatly outnumbered by black slaves) from joining with the continental Americans in the revolt against Britain.

Women's Rights and Women's Roles

The Revolutionary emphasis on liberty and the "rights of man" led some American women to question their position in society as well. "By the way," Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John Adams in 1776, "in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of husbands."

Other women argued similarly for enhancing the status of their sex. Judith Sargent Murray, one of the leading essayists of the late eighteenth century, wrote in 1779 that women's minds were as good as those of men and that girls as well as boys therefore deserved access to education. Murray later served as one of the leading defenders of the works of the English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, whose Vindication of the Rights of Women was published in America in 1792. After reading it, Murray rejoiced that "the Rights of Women" were beginning to be understood in the United States and that future generations of women would inaugurate "a new era in female history."

But in most respects the new era did not arrive. Some political leadersamong them Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rushvoiced support for the education of women and for other feminist reforms. Yale students in the 1780s debated the question, "Whether women ought to be admitted into the magistracy and government of empires and republics." And there was for a time wide discussion of the future role of females in the new republic. But few concrete reforms were enacted into law or translated into practice; and indeed, women lost certain protections and privileges under the new regime that they had enjoyed under the old.

In colonial society, under the doctrines of English common law, an unmarried woman had certain legal rights, but a married woman had had virtually no rights at all. She could own no property and earn no independent wages; everything she owned and everything she earned belonged to her husband. She had no legal authority over her children; the father was, in the eyes of the law, the autocrat of the family. Because she had no property rights, she could not engage in any legal transactions (buying or selling, suing or being sued, writing wills). She could not vote. Nor could she obtain a divorce; that too was a right reserved almost exclusively to men. That was perhaps what Abigail Adams (who herself enjoyed a very happy marriage) meant when she chided her husband not to put "such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands."

The Revolution did little to change any of these legal customs. In some states, it did become easier for a woman to obtain a divorce. And in New Jersey, women obtained the right to vote (although that right was repealed in 1807). Otherwise, there were few advances and some setbacksincluding the loss of the right of a widow to regain her dowry from her husband's estate. That change left many widows without any means of support and was one of the reasons for the increased agitation for female education; such women needed a way to support themselves.

The Revolution, in other words, far from challenging the patriarchal structure of American society actually confirmed and strengthened it. Few American women ever doubted that they should continue to occupy a sphere distinct from men or that their place remained in the family. Nevertheless, the Revolutionary experience did contribute to an alteration of women's expectations of their status within the family. In the past, they had often been little better than servants in their husbands' homes; both men and women had generally viewed the wife as a clear subordinate, performing functions in the family of far less importance than those of the husband. But the Revolution encouraged people of both sexes to reevaluate the contribution of women to the family and the society.

Part of this change was a result of the participation of women in the Revolutionary struggle itself. Some women had played an active and influential role in the politics of the Revolution. Mercy Otis Warren of Massachusetts, for example, was one of the leading pre-Revolutionary propagandists and pamphleteers. But more important were the new domestic and economic tasks that women began to perform, by necessity, in the course of the war. Some (Abigail Adams, for example) managed farms and businesses in the absence of their husbands. Others (among them Martha Washington, who spent the winter of 1778-1779 at Valley Forge with her husband) traveled with the Patriot army, helping to keep the soldiers fed and clothed and occasionally themselves engaging in battle. The legendary "Molly Pitcher"so named because she carried pitchers of water to soldiers on the battlefieldwatched her husband fall during one encounter and immediately took his place at a field gun. After the war, most such women returned to their traditional domestic roles. But the wartime experience had raised a challenge to the idea of the wife's complete subordination within the family.

As the republic searched for a cultural identity for itself during and immediately after the Revolution, it also began to place additional value on the role of women as mothers. The new nation was, most Americans liked to believe, producing a new kind of citizen, steeped in the principles of liberty. Mothers had a particularly important task, therefore, in instructing their children in the virtues that the republican citizenry was now expected to possess. Wives were still far from equal partners in marriage, but their ideas and interests were increasingly considered worthy of respect.

The War Economy

Inevitably, the Revolution produced important changes in the structure of the American economy. After more than a century of dependence on the British imperial system, American trade suddenly found itself on its own. No longer did it have the protection of the great British navy; on the contrary, English ships now attempted to drive American vessels from the seas. No longer did American merchants have access to the markets of the empire; those markets were now hostile portsincluding, of course, the most important source of American trade: England itself.

Yet while the Revolution was responsible for much disruption in traditional economic patterns, it served in the long run to strengthen the American economy. Well before the war was over, American ships had learned to evade the British navy with light, fast, easily maneuverable vessels. Indeed, the Yankees began to prey on British commerce with hundreds of privateers. For many a shipowner, privateering proved to be more profitable than ordinary peacetime trade. More important in the long run, the end of imperial restrictions on American shipping opened up enormous new areas of trade to the new nation. Colonial merchants had been violating British regulations for years, but the rules of empire had nevertheless served to inhibit American exploration of many markets. Now, enterprising merchants in New England and elsewhere began to develop new commerce in the Caribbean and South America. By the mid-1780s, American merchants were developing an important new pattern of trade with the Orient; and by the end of that decade, Yankee ships were regularly sailing from the eastern seaboard around Cape Horn to California, there exchanging manufactured goods for hides and furs, and then proceeding across the Pacific to barter for goods in China. There was also a substantial increase in trade among the American states.

When English imports to America were cut off first by the prewar boycott, then by the war itself there were desperate efforts throughout the states to stimulate domestic manufacturing of certain necessities. There was no great industrial expansion as a result, but there were several signs of the economic growth that was to come in the next century. Americans began to make their own cloth"homespun," which became both patriotic and fashionableto replace the now unobtainable British fabrics. It would be some time before a large domestic textile industry would emerge, but the nation was never again to rely exclusively on foreign sources for its cloth. There was, of course, pressure to build factories for the manufacture of guns and ammunition. And there was a growing awareness that America need not forever be dependent on other nations for manufactured goods. Having broken politically with the British Empire, citizens of the new nation began to dream of breaking economically with it tooof developing a strong economy to rival that of the Old World.

The war stopped short of revolutionizing the American economy. Not until the nineteenth century would that begin to occur. But it did serve to release a wide range of entrepreneurial energies that, despite the temporary dislocations, encouraged growth and diversification.

The Creation of State Governments

At the same time that Americans were struggling to win their independence on the battlefield, they were also struggling to create new institutions of government for themselves, to replace the British system they had repudiated. The construction of these new political institutions occurred in several stages and continued over a period of more than fifteen years. Yet its most crucial phase occurred in the very first years after independence, during the war itself; and it occurred not at the national but at the state level.

The formation of state governments began early in 1776, even before the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. It was the most creative period of American political development; for in it was determined the basic structure of the republic, and in it were resolved many of the early problems of republicanism. At first, the new state constitutions reflected primarily the fear of bloated executive power that had become so pronounced during the 1760s and early 1770s. Gradually, however, Americans began to become equally concerned about the instability of a government too responsive to the popular will. In a second phase of state constitution writing, therefore, they gave renewed attention to the idea of balance in government.

The Assumptions of Republicanism

If Americans agreed on nothing else when they began to build new governments for themselves, they agreed that those governments would be republican. To them, that meant a political system in which all power was derived from the people, rather than from some supreme authority (such as a king) standing above them. The success of any government, therefore, depended on the nature of its citizenry. If the population consisted of sturdy, independent property owners, then the republic could survive. If it consisted of a few powerful aristocrats and a great mass of dependent workers, then it would be in danger. From the beginning, therefore, the ideal of the small freeholder became basic to American political ideology.

Another crucial part of that ideology was the concept of equality. The Declaration of Independence had given voice to that idea in its most ringing phrase: "all men are created equal." It was a belief that stood in direct contrast to the old European assumption of an inherited aristocracy. Every citizen, Americans believed, was born in a position of equality with every other citizen. It would be the innate talents and energies of individuals that would determine their roles in society, not their position at birth. The republican vision did not, in other words, envision a society without social gradations. Some people would inevitably be wealthier and more powerful than others. But all people would have to earn their success. There would be no equality of condition, but there would be full equality of opportunity.

In reality, of course, these assumptions could not always be sustained. The United States was never able to become a nation in which all citizens were independent property holders. From the beginning, there was a sizable dependent labor forcethe white members of which were allowed many of the privileges of citizenship, the black members of which were allowed virtually no rights at all. American women remained both politically and economically subordinate, with few opportunities for advancement independent of their husbands. Nor was it possible to ensure full equality of opportunity. American society was more open and more fluid than that of most European nations; but it remained true that wealth and privilege were often passed from one generation to another. The conditions of a person's birth survived as a crucial determinant of success.

Nevertheless, in embracing the assumptions of republicanism, Americans were adopting a powerful, even revolutionary new ideology, one that would enable them to create a form of government never before seen in the world. Their experiment in statecraft became a model for many other countries and made the United States for a time the most admired and studied nation on earth.

The First State Constitutions

Two of the original thirteen states saw no need to produce new constitutions. Connecticut and Rhode Island already had corporate charters which provided them with governments that were republican in all but name; they simply deleted references to England and the king from their charters and adopted them as constitutions. In the other eleven states, however, it was necessary to create entirely new governments. In doing so, Americans at first devoted their greatest efforts to avoiding what they considered to be the problems of the British system they were repudiating.

The first and perhaps most basic decision was that the constitutions were to be written down. In England, the constitution was not a document but a vague understanding about the way society should be structured. Americans believed that the vagueness of that understanding had allowed the British government to become corrupted. To avoid a similar fate, they insisted that their own government rest on clearly stated and permanently inscribed laws, so that no individual or group could pervert them.

The second decision was that the power of the executive, which Americans believed had grown bloated and threatening in England (and even, at times, in the colonies), must be limited. Only one state went so far as to eliminate the executive altogether; Pennsylvania. But most states inserted provisions sharply limiting the power of the governor over appointments, reducing or eliminating his right to veto bills, and preventing him from dismissing or otherwise interfering with the legislature. Above all, every state forbade the governor or any other executive officer from holding a seat in the legislature, thus ensuring that the two branches of government would remain wholly separate, that the English parliamentary system would not be re-created in America. The constitutions also added provisions protecting the judiciary from executive control, although in most states the courts had not yet emerged as fully autonomous branches of government,

In limiting the executive and expanding the power of the legislature, the new constitutions were moving far in the direction of direct popular rule. They did not, however, move all the way. Only in Georgia and Pennsylvania did the legislature consist of one house. In all the other states, there was an upper and a lower chamber; and in most cases, the upper chamber was designed to represent the "higher orders" of society. In all states, there were property requirements for votersin some states, only the modest amount that would qualify a person as a taxpayer, in other states somewhat greater requirements. Such requirements tended to have little impact, since property ownership was widespread among the white male population. But universal suffrage was not yet an accepted part of American government.

The initial phase of constitution writing proceeded rapidly. Ten of the states completed the process before the end of 1776. Only Georgia, New York, and Massachusetts delayed. Georgia and New York completed the task by the end of the following year, but Massachusetts did not finally adopt its version until 1780. By then, the construction of state governments had moved into a new phase.

Revising State Governments

By the late 1770s, Americans were already growing concerned about what they perceived as the excessive factiousness and instability of their new state governments. Legislatures were the scene of constant squabbling. Governors were unable to exercise sufficient power to provide any real leadership. It was proving extraordinarily difficult to get the new governments to accomplish anything at all. To many observers, the problem began to appear to be one of too much democracy. By placing so much power in the hands of the people (and of their elected representatives in the legislature), the state constitutions were inviting disorder and political turbulence.

As a result, most of the states began to revise their constitutions to cope with these problems. Massachusetts was the first to act on the new concerns. By waiting until 1780 before finally ratifying its first constitution, Massachusetts allowed these changing ideas to shape its government; and the state produced a constitution that was to serve as a model for the efforts of others.

Two changes in particular characterized the Massachusetts and later constitutions. The first was a change in the process of constitution writing itself. In the first phase, the documents had usually been written by state legislatures. As a result, they could easily be amended (or violated) by those same bodies. By 1780, sentiment was growing to find a way to protect the constitutions from the people who had written them, to make it difficult to change the documents once they were approved. The solution was the constitutional convention: a special assembly of the people that would meet only for the purpose of writing the constitution and that would never (except under extraordinary circumstances) meet again. The constitution would, therefore, be the product of the popular will; but once approved, it would be protected from the whims of public opinion and from the political moods of the legislature.

The second change was similarly a reflection of the new concerns about excessive popular power: a significant strengthening of the executive. In Massachusetts, the governor under the 1780 constitution became one of the strongest in any state. He was to be elected directly by the people; he was to have a fixed salary (in other words, he would not be dependent on the good will of the legislature each year for his wages); he would have expanded powers of appointment; and he would be able to veto legislation. Other states soon followed. Those states that had weak or nonexistent upper houses strengthened or created them. Most states increased the powers of the governor; and Pennsylvania, which had had no executive at all at first, now produced a strong one. By the late 1780s, almost every state had either revised its constitution or drawn up an entirely new one to make allowances for the belief in the need for stability.

Opportunity, Toleration, and Slavery

The new state governmentsboth under the first constitutions and under the later, revised ones adopted a number of policies that increased opportunities for social and political mobility. In one way or another, they multiplied opportunities for land ownership and thus enlarged the voting population. For example, they eliminated the legal rights of primogeniture (the requirement that a father's estate be passed intact to his first son) and entail (whereby a man kept his estate intact from generation to generation by willing that it never be sold). In fact, neither practice had ever been widespread in America; but in a few places, the new laws did contribute to the erosion of landed aristocracies.

The new states also moved far in the direction of complete religious freedom. Most Americans continued to believe that religion should play some role in government; but they did not wish to give special privileges to any particular denomination. In some states, religious tests survived as a qualification for officeholding. (Atheists, and in a few places Catholics, were barred from office; but since there were few of either in most of the states in question, the requirements were largely meaningless.) More characteristic, however, was the erosion of the privileges that many churches had once enjoyed. New York and the Southern states, in which the Church of England had been tax-supported, soon saw to the complete disestablishment of the church; and the New England states stripped the Congregational church of many of its privileges. Boldest of all was Virginia, which in its Declaration of Rights announced the principle of complete toleration. And in 1786, Virginia enacted a Statute of Religious Liberty, written by Thomas Jefferson, which called for the complete separation of church and state.

More difficult to resolve was the question of slavery. The rhetoric of the Revolutionwhich emphasized the importance of liberty and the danger of enslavementcould not help but direct attention to America's own institution of bondage. And in some places, it cast the institution into disrepute. In areas where slavery was weakin New England, where there had never been many slaves, and in Pennsylvania, where the Quakers were outspoken in their opposition to slaveryit was abolished. Pennsylvania passed a general gradual-emancipation act in 1780; and the supreme court of Massachusetts ruled in 1783 that the ownership of slaves was impermissible under the state's bill of rights. Even in the South, there were some pressures to amend the institution (a result, in part, of the activities of the first antislavery society in America, founded in 1775). Every state but South Carolina and Georgia prohibited the further importation of slaves from abroad, and even South Carolina laid a temporary wartime ban on the slave trade. Virginia passed a law encouraging manumission (the freeing of slaves), and other states encountered growing political pressures to change the institution.

In the end, however, most of the pressures came to naught. Slavery survived in all the Southern and border states; and it would continue to survive for nearly a century more. The reasons were many. Racist assumptions about the natural inferiority of blacks persuaded many Americans that there was nothing incompatible in asserting innate human rights while denying those rights to blacks. And economic pressures made it difficult to free slaves. Many Southerners had enormous investments in their black laborers i and were unwilling to consider losing them.

An equally important obstacle was that few Southernerseven such men as Washington and Jefferson, who expressed deep moral misgivings about slaverycould envision any alternative to it. If slavery were abolished, what would happen to the blacks? Some argued that they should be sent back to Africa, but that was clearly unrealistic. The black population was too large; and many slaves were now so many generations removed from Africa that they felt but little identification with it and had no wish to return. Few whites believed that blacks could be integrated into American society as equals. Even those most opposed to slavery usually shared the general assumptions about the unfitness of blacks for citizenship. In maintaining slavery, Jefferson once remarked, Americans were holding a "wolf by the ears." However unappealing it was to hold on to, letting go promised to be even worse. Jefferson himself, for all his qualms, never let go. He continued to own slaves until he died; and unlike George Washington, he made no provision for their freedom on his death.

There was, finally, a more subtle obstacle to the elimination of slavery. The economy of the South depended, most Southerners believed, on a large, servile labor force. Yet the ideals of republicanism required a homogeneous population of independent, property-owning citizens. Were slavery to be abolished, the South would find itself with a substantial unpropertied laboring class; and whether that class were black or white, its existence would raise troubling implications for the future of democracy. The social tensions that would inevitably ensue would, Southerners feared, ultimately destroy the stability of society.

Thus, just as in the early years of settlement, so during the Revolution: Americans encountered only vague, philosophical pressures to abolish slavery but powerful social and economic pressures to maintain it. As a result, slavery survived.

The Search for a National Government

Americans were much quicker to agree on the proper shape of their state institutions than they were to decide on the form of their national government. At first, most believed that the central government should remain a relatively weak and unimportant forceindeed, it should remain something less than a government at all. Each state would be virtually a sovereign nation. National institutions would serve only as loose, coordinating mechanisms, with little independent authority. Such beliefs reflected the assumption that a republic operated best in a relatively limited, homogeneous area; that were a republican government to attempt to administer too large and diverse a nation, it would founder. It was in response to such ideas that the Articles of Confederation emerged.

The  Confederation

No sooner did the Continental Congress appoint a committee to draft a declaration of independence in 1776 than it appointed another to draft a plan of union. After much debate and many revisions, the Congress adopted the committee's proposal in November 1777 as the Articles of Confederation.

The Articles provided for a national political structure very similar to the one already in operation. Congress was to survive as the centralindeed the onlyinstitution of national authority. But its powers were to be somewhat expanded. It was to have the authority to conduct wars and foreign relations, and to appropriate, borrow, and issue money. But it could not regulate trade, draft troops, or levy taxes directly on the people. For troops and taxes it would have to make requisitions of the states; it would, in effect, have to address formal requests to the state legislatures, which could and often did refuse them. There was to be no separate, single, strong executive (the "president of the United States" was to be merely the presiding officer at the sessions of Congress). Congress itself was to see to the execution of laws through an executive committee of thirteen, made up of one member from each state; through ad hoc and standing committees for specific functions; and through such administrative departments as it might choose to create. There were to be no Confederation courts, except for courts of admiralty; disputes among the states were to be settled by a complicated system of arbitration. States were to retain their individual sovereignty, each of the legislatures electing and paying the salaries of two to seven delegates to Congress, and each delegation, no matter how numerous, having only one vote. At least nine of the states (through their delegations) would have to approve any important measure, such as a treaty, before Congress could pass it; and all thirteen state legislatures would have to approve before the Articles could be ratified or amended.

Ratification was delayed by differences of opinion about the proposed plan. The small states insisted on equal state representation, but the larger states wanted representation to be based on population. More important, the states claiming Western lands wished to keep them, but the rest of the states demanded that all such territory be turned over to the Confederation government. The "landed" states founded their claims largely on colonial charters. The "landless" states, particularly Maryland, maintained that as the fruit of common sacrifices in war the Western lands had become the rightful property of all the states. At last New York gave up its rather hazy claim, and Virginia made a qualified offer to cede its lands to Congress. Then Maryland, the only state still holding out against ratification, approved the Articles of Confederation, and they went into effect in 1781. The Confederation thus came into being in time to conclude the war and make the peace. Until then, during the years of fighting from 1775 to 1781, the Second Continental Congress had served as the agency for directing and coordinating the war effort of the thirteen states.

In later years, it became popular to characterize the performance of the Confederation, which existed from 1781 until 1789, as an almost total failure. Such judgments are not entirely fair. The Confederation did manage to solve some of the problems facing the new nation. It performed particularly creditably in organizing America's territories in the West. Yet the new government was far from a success. Lacking adequate powers to deal with interstate issues, lacking any effective mechanisms that would have permitted it to enforce its will on the states, and lacking sufficient stature in the eyes of the world to be able to negotiate effectively, it suffered a series of damaging setbacks.

Diplomatic Failures

Evidence of the low esteem in which the rest of the world held the Confederation was its difficulty in persuading Great Britain (and to a lesser extent Spain) to live up to the terms of the peace treaty of 1783. That treaty had recognized the independence of the United States and granted the new nation a vast domainon paper. But Americans found it hard to exercise their full sovereignty in fact.

Even though the treaty had pledged the British to evacuate American soil, British forces continued to occupy a string of frontier posts along the Great Lakes within the United States. The Canadians and the British wanted to maintain points of contact with Indian tribes in the Northwest for the conduct of the fur trade and the continuance of defensive alliances with them. Nor did the British honor their agreement to make restitution to slaveowners whose slaves the British army had confiscated. The British justified these violations of the treaty by pointing to American violations. The United States had not honored its promise to make restitution to the Loyalists; and it had reneged on the agreement to honor debts to English creditors.

There were disputes as well over boundaries. The two countries argued over the northeastern boundary of the new nation. And the peace arrangements led also to a boundary dispute between the United States and Spain. Britain ceded Florida back to Spain in the 1783 settlement (it had acquired Florida in the 1763 treaty) but made no precise definition of the territory's northern boundary. The Spanish and the Americans disagreed sharply over that definition.

The peace with Great Britain failed in other ways to give Americans the benefits they desired and expected. Above all, American shippers and traders wanted commercial arrangements that would give them privileges of trading and shipping on equal terms with British subjects in all parts of the British Empire. American merchants now had new opportunities for exploiting worldwide routes of trade, which before the war had been legally closed to them. But while commerce was expanding in new directions, most American trade continued in the prewar, imperial pattern. To earn the British funds needed to pay for British imports, Americans wanted full access to British markets; England, however, placed sharp postwar restrictions on that access.

In 1784, Congress sent John Adams as minister to London with instructions to get a commercial treaty and speed up the evacuation of the frontier posts; but that effort simply produced more humiliation for the Confederation. Taunted by the query whether he represented one nation or thirteen, Adams made no headway in England. And throughout the 1780s, the British government refused even to return the courtesy of sending a minister to the American capital.

In dealing with the Spanish government, the Confederation demonstrated similar weakness. Spain, unlike England, was willing to discuss its differences with the United States, and in 1785 its representative, Diego de Gardoqui, arrived in New York (where Congress had moved from Philadelphia) to negotiate with the secretary for foreign affairs, John jay. After months of friendly conversations, Jay and Gardoqui initialed a treaty in 1786. It called for the Spanish government to grant Americans the right to trade with Spain but not with its colonies; it accepted the American interpretation of the Florida boundary; and (in a secret article) it called for a Spanish-American alliance to protect American soil from British encroachments. The United States would guarantee Spanish possessions in America and would agree to "forbear" (although not officially to abandon) its right to navigate the Mississippi for twenty years. But the treaty came to naught. Southern states were incensed at the idea of giving up their access to the Mississippi in exchange for trading privileges that would benefit only Northern merchants. Jay could not win ratification of the treaty by the necessary nine states.

The Needs of the West

The Confederation's principal accomplishment was its successful resolution of some of the explosive controversies involving settlement and development of Western lands. During and after the Revolution, an unprecedented number of American settlers moved into the areas that were the focus of postwar dispute. When the war began, only a few thousand lived west of the Appalachian divide; by 1790 their numbers had increased to 120,000providing evidence of the tremendous potential for growth and development in the West. But the colonial governments had long ignored these Western settlements. So, for a time, did the Continental Congress, and it now faced a daunting task as it tried to include them in the political structure of the new nation. The settlers needed protection from the Indians into whose lands they were moving, access to outside markets for their surplus crops, and courts with orderly processes of law. At the beginning of the 1780s, they had received none of those things from the European settlements on the eastern seaboard. At times, in fact (as with the Paxton Boys uprising in Pennsylvania in 1763 and the Regulator movement in North Carolina in 1771), there had been overt hostilities between the eastern and western settlements.

For a time, Congress faced the additional difficulty of not having clear-cut jurisdiction over the trans-Appalachian region. For several years after independence, conflicts of authority persisted among Congress, the states, and the frontier settlements themselves. With Virginia's agreement in 1781 to cede its Western territory to Congress, the landed states began to yield their claims to the Confederation. But the process was a slow one, and one state after another found grounds on which to resist or delay its cession. Not until 1802 did the last of the states, Georgia, give up its claim.

Nevertheless, by 1784 the states had ceded enough land to the Confederation to permit Congress to begin making policy for the national domain. The most momentous decision was that settlements in the territory would be transformed ultimately into states with the same rights and privileges as the original thirteen. The Ordinance of 1784, based on a plan advanced by Thomas Jefferson, outlined a process for transition to statehood of the territory between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes. The territory would be divided into ten self-governing districts, each to be represented by a delegate in Congress as soon as its population reached 20,000, and each to be admitted as a state when its population equaled the number of free inhabitants of the smallest existing state.

Having prepared a scheme of territorial government, Congress in the Ordinance of 1785 provided a system for surveying and selling the Western lands - an activity the Confederation was eager to begin, since it was in desperate need of money. The land to the north of the Ohio was to be surveyed and marked off into neat rectangular townships before any of it was sold. Each township was to be six miles square and was to contain thirty-six sections of equal size. (This grid system established a pattern that would dominate Western land policy in America for many decades to come.) In every township, four sections were to be set aside for the U.S. government and one for a public school. The rest of the sections were to be sold at auction for not less than $1 an acre. Since there were 640 acres in a section, the prospective buyer of government land had to have at least $640a very large sum by the standards of the dayin ready cash or in United States certificates of indebtedness.

These terms favored the large speculators too much and the ordinary frontiersman too little to suit Jefferson, who believed that the West ought to belong to actual settlers on the ground. But the large speculators desired still further advantages, and Congress, eager to realize returns from its new domain and disappointed by the slow progress of the survey, soon gave in to lobbying groups composed of some of its own members and various former army officers. It disposed of several million unsurveyed acres to the Ohio and Scioto companies (land speculation businesses) by accepting as payment the loan certifycates that had been issued during the war to American soldiers. Those certificates were by now almost worthless, and most of the soldiers had long since sold them to speculators at a fraction of their original worth; but Congress agreed to accept them at face valuea tremendous boon for the speculators. Millions of acres besides had been reserved at the time of cession by Virginia and Connecticut to be granted their Revolutionary war veterans as a bounty. Thus even before the government surveys had been well started, most of the choicest land north of the Ohio River was already spoken for (as was all the land south of the Ohio, to which the ordinances of Congress did not apply).

To protect their interests in the Northwest, the directors of the Ohio and Scioto companies demanded a territorial government that would give less power to the inhabitants than Jefferson's Ordinance of 1784 had envisioned; and the companies' skillful lobbyist, Manasseh Cutler, carried their case to Congress. Some of the congressmen themselves disliked Jefferson's idea of creating as many as ten new states north of the Ohio, since these states in time might gain political ascendancy. Soon Congress replaced the original lawwhich had never gone into actual effectwith the Ordinance of 1787. This famous "Northwest Ordinance" established one Northwest Territory for the time being, provided for its subsequent division into several territories (not fewer than three or me re than five), and laid out three stages for the evolution of each territory into a state. In the first stage, officials appointed by Congress would govern the territory; in the second, an elected legislature would share power with them; and in the third, once the population reached 60,000, the people might frame a constitution and apply for statehood. Slavery would be outlawed in all of the new territory.

The Northwest Ordinance and other efforts by Congress did not provide a perfect solution to the problems of Western lands. For one thing, Congress was unable to resolve the virtually insoluble problem of white incursions into Indian lands. Congress negotiated treaties with the Iroquois and others in 1785 and 1786 by which the Indians ceded much of their land to the United States in exchange for relatively worthless trinkets. But when the Indians became aware of how badly they had been misused, they repudiated the treaties and opened hostilities against the Western settlers. The Confederation mobilized its now diminished armed forces to quell the uprising, but with little successespecially when a similar conflict broke out on the Southwestern frontier as a result of similar Indian grievances.

The Western lands to the south, moreover, experienced little of the orderly development that the Ordinance of 1787 provided for the Northwest Territory. Beginning in the late 1770s, there was rapid settlement in the region that became Kentucky and Tennessee; by the 1780s, the settlers and speculators there were trying to set up governments of their own without guidelines from Congress and then asking for recognition as states. Congress was never able to sort out and resolve the conflicting claims in that region.

Despite all the problems, however, the Western land policies of the Confederation imposed a degree of order and stability on the unorganized territories of the new nation that decades of colonial and British efforts had been unable to create. In 1780, it had not been at all clear that the Western lands could be incorporated effectively into the United States. By the end of the decade, although difficulties persisted, little doubt remained that these territories would continue to be part of the new nation.

Debts, Taxes, and Daniel Shays

At the end of the war, foreign ships crowded into American seaports with cargoes of all kinds, and the American people bought extravagantly with cash or creditsatisfying a desire for foreign goods that had found few outlets during the Revolution. As a result, there was a rapid and substantial flow of hard currency out of the country. Consumer indebtedness to importing merchants increased greatly. And a postwar depression, which lasted from 1784 to 1787, was intensified. The depression increased the perennial American problem of an inadequate money supply, a problem that bore particularly heavily on debtors. It was in dealing with this increasingly serious problem of debts that Congress was perceived as having most seriously failed.

The Confederation itself had an enormous outstanding debt, and few means with which to pay it. It had borrowed money during the war that was now due to be repaid; it owed money to its Revolutionary soldiers; it had substantial debts abroad. Its powers of taxation, in the meantime, were limited. Because it could not impose taxes directly on the people, it had to make requisitions of the states, which the states often refused to meet. On the whole. Congress received only about one-sixth of the money it requisitionedbarely enough to meet the government's ordinary operating expenses. The nation was faced with the prospect of defaulting on its obligations, a possibility that threatened to destroy the fragile new government.

This alarming prospect brought to the fore a group of leaders who would play a crucial role in the shaping of the republic for several decades. Committed nationalists, they were seeking ways to increase the powers of the central government and to permit it to meet its financial obligations. Robert Morris, the head of the Confederation's treasury; Alexander Hamilton, his young protege; James Madison of Virginia; and others were soon lobbying for a "continental impost"a 5 percent duty on imported goods, to be levied by Congress and used to fund the debt. The impost would, the nationalists believed, not only preserve the financial integrity of the new nation; it would strengthen the national government by making it principally responsible for the nation's debts.

But their schemes met with substantial opposition. Many Americans feared that the impost plan was the first step toward the creation of a corrupt center of privilege, that it would concentrate too much financial power in the hands of Robert Morris and his allies in Philadelphia. The first effort to secure the impost, in 1781, received the approval of twelve state delegations in Congress; but it required unanimity, and Rhode Island's refusal to agree killed the plan. A second effort in 1783 also failed to win approval. Angry and discouraged, the nationalists largely withdrew from any active involvement in the Confederation. But some of themmost notably Alexander Hamiltonwould return to fight virtually the same battles again in the first years of government under the Constitution.

In the absence of any effective action by Congress, the domestic debt problem remained in the hands of the states, which generally relied on increased taxation to deal with their financial difficulties. To the state creditorsthat is, the bondholdersthis was sound, honest public finance, which protected their legitimate interests. But poor farmers, already burdened by debt and now burdened again by taxes on their lands, considered such policies unfair, even tyrannical. They demanded that the state governments issue paper currency to increase the money supply and make it easier for them to meet their obligations. Resentment ran especially high among farmers in New England, who felt that the states were extorting money from them to swell the coffers of wealthy bondholders in Boston and other towns. Debtors who failed to pay their taxes found their mortgages foreclosed and their property seized; sometimes they found themselves in jail.

Throughout the late 1780s, therefore, mobs of distressed farmers rioted periodically in various parts of New England. They caused the most serious trouble in Massachusetts. Malcontents in the Connecticut Valley and the Berkshire Hills, many of them Revolutionary veterans, rallied behind Daniel Shays, himself a former captain in the Continental army. Organizing and drilling his followers. Shays put forth a program of demands that included paper money, tax relief, a moratorium on debts, the removal of the state capital from Boston to the interior, and the abolition of imprisonment for debt. During the summer of 1786, the Shaysites concentrated on the immediate task of preventing the collection of debts, private or public, and went in armed bands from place to place to keep courts from sitting and to prevent sheriffs' sales of confiscated property. In Boston, members of the legislature, including Samuel Adams, denounced Shays and his men as rebels and traitors.

When winter came, the rebels advanced on Springfield hoping to seize weapons from the arsenal there. An army of state militiamen, financed by a loan from wealthy merchants who feared a new revolution, set out from Boston to confront them. In January 1787, this army met Shays's ragged troops, killed several of them, captured many more, and scattered the rest to the hills in a blinding snowstorm.

As a military enterprise, Shays's Rebellion was a fiasco. But it had important consequences for the future of the United States. In Massachusetts, it resulted in a few immediate gains for the discontented groups. Shays and his lieutenants, at first sentenced to death, were soon pardoned, and some concessions to Shays's earlier demands were granted in the way of tax relief and the postponement of debt payments. Far more significant, however, the rebellion added urgency to a movement already gathering support throughout the new nationthe movement to produce a new, national constitution.


WHERE HISTORIANS DISAGREE

The American Revolution

One of the oldest and most enduring controversies among American historians involves the nature of the American Revolution. Two broad schools of interpretation have emerged. One group of scholars has argued, and continues to argue, that the Revolution was primarily a political and intellectual event; that Americans in the 1770s were fighting to defend principles and ideals. Others have maintained, and still maintain, that much of the motivation for the Revolution was social and economic; that Americans were inspired to fight because of economic interests and sodal aspirations. Although there is a wide range of views and approaches within each of these schools, the question of "ideas" versus "interests" remains the crucial divide in interpretation.

The emphasis on ideology as the cause of the Revolution reflects, to some extent, the view of those who were involved in the event itself. Early histories of the Revolution, written by participants and contemporaries, invariably emphasized the high ideals of the Founding Fathers. That approach continued in an almost unbroken line throughout the nineteenth century, culminating in the work of one of the first great American historians, George Bancroft, who wrote in 1876 that the Revolution "was most radical in its character, yet achieved with such benign tranquillity that even conservatism hesitated to censure." Its aim, he believed, was to "preserve liberty" against the threat of British tyranny.

In the early twentieth century, historians first began seriously to examine the social and economic forces that may have contributed to the Revolution. Influenced by the reform currents of the progressive era, during which the power of economic interests came under scorching criticism, a number of scholars adopted the ideas of Carl Becker, who wrote in 1909in a case study of New York that not one but two questions were involved in the struggle. "The first was the question of home rule; the second was the question, if we may so put it, ofwhoshould rule at home." In addition to the fight against the British, in other words, there was also in progress a kind of civil war, a contest for power between radicals and conservatives that led to the "democratization of American politics and society."}. Franklin Jameson, expanding on Beck-er's views, argued in an influential bookThe American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement (1926)that the "stream of revolution, once started, could not be confined within narrow banks, but spread abroad upon the land. ... Many economic desires, many social aspirations were set free by the political struggle, many aspects of society profoundly altered by the forces thus let loose."

Other "progressive" historians accepted the importance of economics as a cause of the Revolution but differed with Becker and Jameson over the form economic influences took. Arthur M. Schlesinger, for example, argued in an influential 1917 study that it was the colonial merchants who were chiefly responsible for arousing American resistance to the British; and that although they spoke of principles and ideals, their real motives were economic self-interest: freedom from the restrictive policies of British mercantilism. In the. end, however, the Revolution could not be controlled by the merchants and became a far more broadly based social movement than they had anticipated or desired.

Economic interpretations of the Revolution prevailed for several decades; but the relatively conservative political climate of the 1950s helped produce new studies that reemphasized the role of ideology. Robert E. Brown, in Middle-Class Democracy and the American Revolution in Massachusetts (1955), contended that long before 1776, Massachusetts was "very close to a complete democracy" and that the internal social conflicts that some historians ascribed to the era simply did not exist. Edmund S. Morgan, like Brown, argued in 1956 that most Americans of the Revolutionary era shared the same basic political principles, that the rhetoric of the Revolution could not be dismissed as propagandaas Schlesinger had claimedbut should be taken seriously as the motivating force behind the movement. The preeminent statement of the importance of ideas in the conflict came from Bernard Bailyn, in The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967). After reading hundreds of Revolutionary pamphlets, Bailyn concluded that they "confirmed my rather old-fashioned view that the American Revolution was above all else an ideological, constitutional, political struggle and not primarily a controversy between social groups undertaken to force changes in the organization of the society or the economy."

By the time Bailyn's book was published, however, a new group of historians was already reviving a social and economic approach to the Revolution. Influenced by the New Left of the 1960s, they claimed that domestic tensions between classes contributed in crucial ways to the development of the Revolutionary movement. Historians such as Jesse Lemisch and Dirk Hoerder pointed to the actions of mobs in colonial cities as evidence of the social concerns of resisting Americans. Joseph Ernst reemphasized the significance of economic pressures on colonial merchants and tradesmen. Gary B. Nash, in The Urban Crucible (1979), emphasized the role of increasing economic tension and distress in colonial cities in creating a climate in which the Revolutionary movement could flourish. Edward Countryman, in A People in Revolution  (1981) and The American Revolution (1985), also emphasized the social and economic roots of the Revolution. And Rhys Isaac suggested in The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790  (1982) that the religious and cultural changes in colonial life, and the relationship between those changes and class alignments, underlay the new political outlook that led to the Revolution.

Many of the new socioeconomic interpretations of the Revolution argue not that the struggle was a direct expression of the material interests of the participants but that social and economic concerns were important in shaping the ideology of the conflict. "Everyone," Gary Nash has written, "has economic interests; and everyone . . . has an ideology." Only by exploring the relationships between the two, he maintains, can historians hope fully to understand either.


 

 



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