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Chapter 10 Section 4 Colonial Empires and the American Revolution
In the sixteenth century, Portugal came to control Brazil, while Spain established an empire in the Western Hemisphere that included parts of North America and most of Latin America. Portugal and Spain held onto their Latin American colonies for over 300 years. During that time, they profited richly by exporting Latin American gold, silver, and other natural resources and farm products. Spanish and Portuguese officials and Christian missionaries played important roles in Latin American societies. In North America, British control over its colonies began to unravel over issues of taxation. Multiple crises led the Americans to declare their independence in 1776 and to fight Britain until its defeat in 1783. The Articles of Confederation that formed the United States were soon replaced with a Constitution, which created a stronger central government. The Bill of Rights added important freedoms derived from the natural rights expressed by the philosophes.
Colonial Empires in Latin America
British and British North America
By 1750, a string of 13 prosperous colonies stretched along the eastern coast of North America. They were part of Britain’s growing empire. Colonial cities such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were busy commercial centers that linked North America to the West Indies, Africa, and Europe. Colonial shipyards produced many vessels for this trade.
Britain applied mercantilist policies to its colonies in an attempt to strengthen its own economy by exporting more than it imported. To this end, in the 1600s, Parliament had passed the Navigation Acts to regulate colonial trade and manufacturing. For the most part, however, these acts were not rigorously enforced. Therefore, activities like smuggling were common and not considered crimes by the colonists.
By the mid-1700s, the colonies were home to diverse religious and ethnic groups. Social distinctions were more blurred than in Europe, although wealthy landowners and merchants dominated government and society. In politics, as in much else, there was a good deal of free discussion. Colonists felt entitled to the rights of English citizens, and their colonial assemblies exercised much control over local affairs. Many also had an increasing sense of their own destiny separate from Britain.
John Adams, "Liberty will reign in America," 1:30
What countries made up Great Britain in the 1700s? To whom does the British refer?
The American Revolution
The Seven Years’ War and the French and Indian War in North America had drained the British treasury. King George III and his advisors thought that the colonists should help pay for these wars. To increase taxes paid by colonists, Parliament passed the Sugar Act in 1764, which imposed import taxes, and the Stamp Act in 1765, which imposed taxes on items such as newspapers and pamphlets. “No taxation without representation,” the colonists protested. They believed that because they had no representatives in Parliament, they should not be taxed. Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766, but then passed a Declaratory Act that said it had complete authority over the colonists.
A series of violent clashes intensified the colonists’ anger. In March 1770, British soldiers in Boston opened fire on a crowd that was pelting them with stones and snowballs. Colonists called the death of five protesters the Boston Massacre. Then in December 1773, a handful of colonists hurled a cargo of recently arrived British tea into the harbor to protest a tax on tea. The incident became known as the Boston Tea Party. When Parliament passed harsh laws to punish Massachusetts for the destruction of the tea, other colonies rallied to oppose the British response.
As tensions increased, fighting spread. Finally, representatives from each colony gathered in Philadelphia and met in a Continental Congress to decide what action to take. Among the participants were the radical yet fair-minded Massachusetts lawyer John Adams, who had defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre in their trial; Virginia planter and soldier George Washington; and political and social leaders from all 13 colonies.
Paine’s Common Sense
Early in 1776, English colonists in North America eagerly read the newly published Common Sense, by Thomas Paine. This pamphlet called on them to declare their independence from Britain and echoed the themes of the Enlightenment.
“Tis repugnant to reason, to the universal order of things, to all examples from former ages, to suppose that this Continent can long remain subject to any external power.”
—Thomas Paine, Common Sense
The War Begins
In April 1775, the ongoing tension between the colonists and the British exploded into war in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. This war is known as the Revolutionary War, or the American Revolution. The Congress met soon after and set up a Continental Army, with George Washington in command. Although many battles ended in British victories, the colonists were determined to fight at any cost. In 1776, the Second Continental Congress took a momentous step, voting to declare independence from Britain. Thomas Jefferson of Virginia was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, a document that reflects John Locke’s ideas of the government’s obligation to protect the people’s natural rights to “life, liberty, and property.”
On the Saturday of Patriot's Day weekend, the Battle Road event takes place in Minute Man National Historical Park, MA. This honors the first battle of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, 2:26
Declaration of Independence
stands as one of the most important documents in all of history. It still serves as inspiration for people around the world. Where did some of the ideas of the Declaration originate?
John Adams' speech before the Continental Congress on Freedom and the reading of The Declaration Of Independence, 7:00
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
—Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
The Declaration included another of Locke’s ideas: people had the right “to alter or to abolish” unjust governments—a right to revolt. The principle of popular sovereignty, which states that all government power comes from the people, is also an important point in the Declaration. Jefferson carefully detailed the colonists’ grievances against Britain. Because the king had trampled colonists’ natural rights, he argued, the colonists had the right to rebel and set up a new government that would protect them. Aware of the risks involved, on July 4, 1776, American leaders adopted the Declaration, pledging “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” to creating and protecting the new United States of America.
Congress approves the Declaration of Independence, 5:55
At first, the American cause looked bleak. The British had a large number of trained soldiers, a huge fleet, and greater resources. About one third of the American colonists were Loyalists, or those who supported Britain. Many others refused to fight for either side. The Americans lacked military resources, had little money to pay soldiers, and did not have a strategic plan.
Still, colonists had some advantages. One was the geography of the diverse continent. Since colonists were fighting on their own soil, they were familiar with its thick woods and inadequate roads. Other advantages were their strong leader, George Washington, and their fierce determination to fight for their ideals of liberty.
To counteract these advantages, the British worked to create alliances within the colonies. A number of Native American groups sided with the British, while others saw potential advantages in supporting the colonists’ cause. Additionally, the British offered freedom to any enslaved people who were willing to fight the colonists.
Foreign Support and British Defeat
The first turning point in the war came in 1777, when the Americans triumphed over the British at the Battle of Saratoga. This victory persuaded France to join the Americans against its old rival, Britain. The alliance brought the Americans desperately needed supplies, trained soldiers, and French warships. Spurred by the French example, the Netherlands and Spain added their support.
Hard times continued, however. In the brutal winter of 1777–1778, Continental troops at Valley Forge suffered from cold, hunger, and disease. Throughout this crisis and others, Washington was patient, courageous, and determined. He held the ragged army together.
In 1781, the French fleet blockaded the Chesapeake Bay, which enabled Washington to force the surrender of a British army at Yorktown, Virginia. With that defeat, the British war effort crumbled. Two years later, American, British, and French diplomats signed the Treaty of Paris, ending the war. In that treaty, Britain recognized the independence of the United States of America. The Americans’ victory can be attributed to their resilient dedication to attaining independence.
Why did foreign countries support the American cause?
The Birth of a New Nation
Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) was a philosopher, scientist, publisher, legislator, and diplomat. Sent by Congress to France in 1776 to seek financial and military support for the war, he soon became popular in France because of his intellect and wit. Those who admired America’s goal of attaining freedom also admired Franklin. When Franklin returned to America after nine years, he served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention as the eldest of the delegates.
"A Republic Madame, if you can keep it," 10:36
When George Washington (1732–1799) was chosen to lead the American army, the British thought he would be a failure. Washington indeed faced many challenges, including an army that did not have weapons, uniforms, or bedding. He struggled to incorporate order and discipline and to instill pride and loyalty in his soldiers. Washington persevered to American victory. His success as a leader continued when he became the nation’s first President. How did Washington hold the army together through difficult times?
James Madison (1751–1836) arrived at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in May 1787 with his thick notebooks on history and government. Madison chose a seat in front of the president’s chair and kept detailed notes of the debates. Madison was greatly respected and quickly became the Convention’s floor leader. His notebooks remained unpublished for more than 50 years, but they are now our main source of information about the birth of the Constitution. What did the Framers of the Constitution have in common?
The Articles of Confederation was the nation’s first constitution. It proved to be too weak to rule the new United States effectively. To address this problem, the nation’s leaders gathered once more in Philadelphia. Among them were George Washington, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin. During the hot summer of 1787, they met in secret to redraft the articles of the new constitution. The result was a document that established a government run by the people, for the people.
The Bill of Rights
The Framers of the Constitution had studied history and absorbed the ideas of Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. They saw government in terms of a social contract into which “We the People of the United States” entered. They provided not only for an elective legislature but also for an elected president rather than a hereditary monarch. For the first President, voters would choose George Washington.
The Constitution created a federal republic, with power divided between the federal, or national, government and the states. A central feature of the new federal government was the separation of powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, an idea borrowed directly from Montesquieu. Within that structure, each branch of government was provided with checks and balances on the other branches.
The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was important to the passage of the Constitution. It recognized the idea that people had basic rights that the government must protect, such as freedom of religion, speech, and the press. The Bill of Rights, like the Constitution, put the philosophes’ Enlightenment ideas into practice. In 1789, the Constitution became the supreme law of the land, which means it became the nation’s fundamental law. This remarkable document has endured for more than 200 years.
The Constitution of the United States created the most freest government of its day, and most likely for all time. From the start, the new republic was a symbol of freedom to European countries and reformers in Latin America. Its constitution would be copied or adapted by many lands throughout the world. The Enlightenment ideals that had inspired American colonists brought changes in Europe too. In 1789, a revolution in France toppled the monarchy in the name of liberty and equality. Before long, other Europeans would take up the cry for freedom as well.
What was the main difference between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution?
Eyewitness to History
Pearson Success Net has an interesting note on a "Witness History" feature.
Cf. References and exercises on Sec. 4.
As an exercise, we can play the part of an American spy as a Patriot working to free America from England's rule.
We can view an online exhibit about the Revolutionary War.
Also, we can view newspaper accounts of the American Revolution with a time line and quiz.
We might also explore an interactive portrait of George Washington.
I had asked you to consider other references and exercises on Sec. 4.
Of the three I had you to take a look at, which was the class favorite?
1. We can view an online exhibit about the Revolutionary War.
2. Also, we can view newspaper accounts of the American Revolution with a time line and quiz.
3. We might also explore an interactive portrait of George Washington.
And now we can consider the situation of the 13 colonies.
For access at home:
Web Code: nap-1731
2) Which colony had two pieces of land?
3) What do almost all the colonial cities have in common based on the map?
What we did on our summer vacation, Summer 2009
USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. It was first launched in 1797. Constitution is one of six ships ordered for construction by George Washington to protect America's growing maritime interests. The ships greatest glory came during the war of 1812 when she defeated four British frigates which earned her the nickname "Old Ironsides," because cannon balls glanced off her thick hull. The ship was restored in 1927 with contributions from the nation's school children.
The Charlestown Navy Yard was built on what was once Mouton's or Morton's Point, the landing place of the British army prior to the Battle of Bunker Hill. It was one of the first shipyards built in the United States. During its 174 year history, hundreds of ships were built, repaired and modernized, including the World War II destroyer USS Cassin Young. Today, thirty acres of the Navy Yard are preserved by the National Park Service as part of Boston National Historical Park.
Do research on the U.S.S. Constitution. What can you find out about this remarkable ship, nicknamed "Old Ironsides?"
Be sure to detail where the cities are located, e.g., state whether they are in the North, South, Mid-Atlantic, etc.
2) Which colony had two pieces of land?
3) What do almost all the colonial cities have in common based on the map?
Abuses inherited as a result of a controlling aristocracy may be seen clearly in this work.
Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act by E.P. Thompson
Events That Changed the World
For: Interactive map, audio, and more
Web Code: nap-1733
The Enlightenment and the American Revolution (1700–1800)
Philosophy in the Age of Reason
Results of the quiz.
1. Who were the physiocrats?
* CORRECT: French thinkers who focused on economics
EXPLANATION: The physiocrats claimed that their ideas about economic reforms were based on the natural laws of economics.
2. According to laissez-faire economist Adam Smith, a government should
* CORRECT: let free market forces drive the economy.
EXPLANATION: In The Wealth of Nations, Smith tried to show how manufacturing, trade, wages, profits, and economic growth were all linked to the market forces of supply and demand.
3. Physiocrats rejected mercantilism in favor of a policy of
* CORRECT: laissez faire.
EXPLANATION: Physiocrats urged a policy of laissez faire, allowing business to operate with little or no government interference.
4. How did Jean-Jacques Rousseau's beliefs differ from many Enlightenment thinkers?
* CORRECT: Rousseau believed the good of the community as a whole was most important.
EXPLANATION: Rousseau believed in the "general will" or best conscience of the people, and that community should be placed above individual interests.
5. Which phrase best describes the concept of natural law?
* CORRECT: rules discoverable by reason
EXPLANATION: Natural law, or rules discoverable by reason, govern scientific forces such as gravity and magnetism.
6. Which term describes the love of, or the search for, wisdom or knowledge?
* CORRECT: philosophy
EXPLANATION: Philosophy, is the love of, or the search for, wisdom or knowledge.
7. What event revolutionized thinking and led to the Enlightenment?
* CORRECT: the Scientific Revolution
EXPLANATION: The scientific discoveries of the 1500s and 1600s led Europeans to believe in the power of reason. Science was transforming how people looked at the world.
8. Who is the author of Leviathan?
* CORRECT: Thomas Hobbes
EXPLANATION: Thomas Hobbes outlined his ideas in a work titled Leviathan.
9. "My trade is to say what I think." Who said this?
* CORRECT: Voltaire
EXPLANATION: Voltaire, probably the most famous of the philosophes, used biting wit to expose the abuses of his day.
10. Who described the era of the 1700s as "enlightened"?
* CORRECT: Immanuel Kant
EXPLANATION: The German philosopher Immanuel Kant, author of Critique of Pure Reason, was one of the first to describe his times as "enlightened."
Clip of Tea Parties, 3:18
American Tea Party Athem by Lloyd Marcus, 3:13
HW: email (or hard copy) me at email@example.com.
1. Friday HW
p. 324, Reviewing Key Facts, #14-16