An Eye on
History The American Revolution Timeline
Sugar Act. Parliament, desiring revenue from its North
American colonies, passed the first law specifically aimed at raising colonial
money for the Crown. The act increased duties on non-British goods shipped to
Currency Act. This act prohibited American
colonies from issuing their own currency, angering many American colonists.
Beginnings of Colonial Opposition. American colonists
responded to the Sugar Act and the Currency Act with protest. In
Massachusetts, participants in a town meeting cried out against taxation
without proper representation in Parliament, and suggested some form of united
protest throughout the colonies. By the end of the year, many colonies were
practicing nonimportation, a refusal to use imported English goods.
Quartering Act. The British further angered American
colonists with the Quartering Act, which required the colonies to provide
barracks and supplies to British troops.
Parliament's first direct tax on the American colonies, this act, like those
passed in 1764, was enacted to raise money for Britain. It taxed newspapers,
almanacs, pamphlets, broadsides, legal documents, dice, and playing cards.
Issued by Britain, the stamps were affixed to documents or packages to show
that the tax had been paid.
Organized Colonial Protest.
American colonists responded to Parliament's acts with organized protest.
Throughout the colonies, a network of secret organizations known as the Sons
of Liberty was created, aimed at intimidating the stamp agents who collected
Parliament's taxes. Before the Stamp Act could even take effect, all the
appointed stamp agents in the colonies had resigned. The Massachusetts
Assembly suggested a meeting of all the colonies to work for the repeal of the
Stamp Act. All but four colonies were represented. The Stamp Act Congress
passed a "Declaration of Rights and Grievances," which claimed that
American colonists were equal to all other British citizens, protested
taxation without representation, and stated that, without colonial
representation in Parliament, Parliament could not tax colonists. In addition,
the colonists increased their nonimportation efforts.
Repeal of the Stamp Act. Although some in Parliament
thought the army should be used to enforce the Stamp Act (1765), others
commended the colonists for resisting a tax passed by a legislative body in
which they were not represented. The act was repealed, and the colonies
abandoned their ban on imported British goods.
Act. The repeal of the Stamp Act did not mean that Great Britain was
surrendering any control over its colonies. The Declaratory Act, passed by
Parliament on the same day the Stamp Act was repealed, stated that Parliament
could make laws binding the American colonies "in all cases
Resistance to the Quartering Act in New
York. New York served as headquarters for British troops in America, so
the Quartering Act (1765) had a great impact on New York City. When the New
York Assembly refused to assist in quartering troops, a skirmish occurred in
which one colonist was wounded. Parliament suspended the Assembly's powers but
never carried out the suspension, since the Assembly soon agreed to contribute
money toward the quartering of troops.
Townshend Acts. To help pay the expenses involved in
governing the American colonies, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, which
initiated taxes on glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea.
In response to new taxes, the colonies again decided to discourage the
purchase of British imports.
"Letters from a Farmer in
Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies." Originally
published in a newspaper, this widely reproduced pamphlet by John Dickinson
declared that Parliament could not tax the colonies, called the Townshend Acts
unconstitutional, and denounced the suspension of the New York Assembly as a
threat to colonial liberties.
Massachusetts Circular Letter. Samuel Adams wrote a
statement, approved by the Massachusetts House of Representatives, which
attacked Parliament's persistence in taxing the colonies without proper
representation, and which called for unified resistance by all the colonies.
Many colonies issued similar statements. In response, the British governor of
Massachusetts dissolved the state's legislature. British Troops Arrive in
Boston. Although the Sons of Liberty threatened armed resistance to arriving
British troops, none was offered when the troops stationed themselves in
Virginia's Resolutions. The Virginia House of Burgesses
passed resolutions condemning Britain's actions against Massachusetts, and
stating that only Virginia's governor and legislature could tax its citizens.
The members also drafted a formal letter to the King, completing it just
before the legislature was dissolved by Virginia's royal governor.
Townshend Acts Cut Back. Because of the reduced profits
resulting from the colonial boycott of imported British goods, Parliament
withdrew all of the Townshend Act (1767) taxes except for the tax on tea.
End to Nonimportation. In response to Parliament's relaxation of its
taxation laws, the colonies relaxed their boycott of British imported goods
Conflict between Citizens and British Troops in New
York. After a leading New York Son of Liberty issued a broadside attacking
the New York Assembly for complying with the Quartering Act (1765), a riot
erupted between citizens and soldiers, resulting in serious wounds but no
Boston Massacre. The arrival of troops in
Boston provoked conflict between citizens and soldiers. On March 5, a group of
soldiers surrounded by an unfriendly crowd opened fire, killing three
Americans and fatally wounding two more. A violent uprising was avoided only
with the withdrawal of the troops to islands in the harbor. The soldiers were
tried for murder, but convicted only of lesser crimes; noted patriot John
Adams was their principal lawyer.
Attack on the "Gaspee." After several
boatloads of men attacked a grounded British customs schooner near Providence,
Rhode Island, the royal governor offered a reward for the discovery of the
men, planning to send them to England for trial. The removal of the "Gaspee"
trial to England outraged American colonists.
Correspondence. Samuel Adams called for a Boston town meeting to create
committees of correspondence to communicate Boston's position to the other
colonies. Similar committees were soon created throughout the colonies.
Tea Act. By reducing the tax on imported British tea,
this act gave British merchants an unfair advantage in selling their tea in
America. American colonists condemned the act, and many planned to boycott
Boston Tea Party. When British tea ships arrived in
Boston harbor, many citizens wanted the tea sent back to England without the
payment of any taxes. The royal governor insisted on payment of all taxes. On
December 16, a group of men disguised as Indians boarded the ships and dumped
all the tea in the harbor.
Coercive Acts. In response to the Boston Tea Party,
Parliament passed several acts to punish Massachusetts. The Boston Port Bill
banned the loading or unloading of any ships in Boston harbor. The
Administration of Justice Act offered protection to royal officials in
Massachusetts, allowing them to transfer to England all court cases against
them involving riot suppression or revenue collection. The Massachusetts
Government Act put the election of most government officials under the control
of the Crown, essentially eliminating the Massachusetts charter of government.
Act. Parliament broadened its previous Quartering Act (1765). British
troops could now be quartered in any occupied dwelling.
Colonies Organize Protest. To protest Britain's actions, Massachusetts
suggested a return to nonimportation, but several states preferred a congress
of all the colonies to discuss united resistance. The colonies soon named
delegates to a congress -- the First Continental Congress -- to meet in
Philadelphia on September 5.
The First Continental Congress.
Twelve of the thirteen colonies sent a total of fifty-six delegates to the
First Continental Congress. Only Georgia was not represented. One
accomplishment of the Congress was the Association of 1774, which urged all
colonists to avoid using British goods, and to form committees to enforce this
New England Prepares for War. British troops began
to fortify Boston, and seized ammunition belonging to the colony of
Massachusetts. Thousands of American militiamen were ready to resist, but no
fighting occurred. Massachusetts created a Provincial Congress, and a special
Committee of Safety to decide when the militia should be called into action.
Special groups of militia, known as Minute Men, were organized to be ready for
New England Restraining Act. Parliament passed an act
banning trade between the New England colonies and any other country besides
New England Resists. British troops
continued to attempt to seize colonial ammunition, but were turned back in
Massachusetts, without any violence. Royal authorities decided that force
should be used to enforce recent acts of Parliament; war seemed unavoidable.
and Concord. British troops planned to destroy American ammunition at
Concord. When the Boston Committee of Safety learned of this plan, it sent
Paul Revere and William Dawes to alert the countryside and gather the Minute
Men. On April 19, Minute Men and British troops met at Lexington, where a shot
from a stray British gun lead to more British firing. The Americans only fired
a few shots; several Americans were killed. The British marched on to Concord
and destroyed some ammunition, but soon found the countryside swarming with
militia. At the end of the day, many were dead on both sides.
Second Continental Congress. The Second Continental Congress convened in
Philadelphia on May 10. John Hancock was elected president of Congress.
Washington is named commander-in-chief. On June 10, John Adams proposed
that Congress consider the forces in Boston a Continental army, and suggested
the need for a general. He recommended George Washington for the position.
Congress began to raise men from other colonies to join the army in New
England, and named a committee to draft military rules. On June 15, Washington
was nominated to lead the army; he accepted the next day. To pay for the army,
Congress issued bills of credit, and the twelve colonies represented in the
Congress promised to share in repaying the bills.
Hill. On June 12, British General Gage put martial law in effect, and
stated that any person helping the Americans would be considered a traitor and
rebel. When Americans began to fortify a hill against British forces, British
ships in the harbor discovered the activity and opened fire. British troops --
2,400 in number -- arrived shortly after. Although the Americans -- 1,000 in
number -- resisted several attacks, eventually they lost the fortification.
Branch Petition. Congress issued a petition declaring its loyalty to the
king, George III, and stating its hope that he would help arrange a
reconciliation and prevent further hostilities against the colonies. Four
months later, King George III rejected the petition and declared the colonies
Congress Treats with the Indians. Acting
as an independent government, Congress appointed commissioners to create peace
treaties with the Indians.
Congress Creates a Navy.
Congress began to plan for aggressive action against British ships stocked
with ammunition. It authorized the building of four armed ships, and began to
formulate rules for a navy. On December 22, Congress named Esek Hopkins
commodore of the fledgling American navy. Soon after, Congress authorized
privateering, and issued rules for dealing with enemy vessels and plunder.
Searches for Foreign Aid. When a congressional committee began to
investigate the possibility of foreign aid in the war against Great Britain,
France expressed interest.
"Common Sense." Thomas Paine moved many to
the cause of independence with his pamphlet titled "Common Sense."
In a direct, simple style, he cried out against King George III and the
monarchical form of government.
The British Evacuate Boston.
American General Henry Knox arrived in Boston with cannons he had moved with
great difficulty from Fort Ticonderoga, New York. Americans began to entrench
themselves around Boston, planning to attack the British. British General
William Howe planned an attack, but eventually retreated from Boston.
Authorizes the Colonies to Write Constitutions. In May, the Second
Continental Congress adopted a resolution authorizing the colonies to adopt
new constitutions; the former colonial governments had dissolved with the
outbreak of war.
Congress Declares Independence. When
North Carolina and Virginia empowered their delegates to vote for American
independence, Virginian Richard Henry Lee offered a resolution stating that
the colonies "are, and of right ought to be, free and independent
States." A committee was appointed to draft a declaration of
independence, and Thomas Jefferson was chosen to write it. On July 2, Congress
voted in favor of independence, and on July 4, the Declaration of Independence
was approved. Copies were sent throughout the colonies to be read publicly.
of Long Island. After leaving Boston, British General Howe planned to use
New York as a base. The British captured Staten Island and began a military
build-up on Long Island in preparation for an advance on Brooklyn. Washington
succeeded in saving his army by secretly retreating onto Manhattan Island.
Washington eventually retreated from Manhattan, fearing the prospect of being
trapped on the island, and the British occupied New York City.
Names Commissioners to Treat with Foreign Nations. Congress sent a
delegation of three men to Europe -- Silas Deane, Benjamin Franklin, and
Arthur Lee -- to prepare treaties of commerce and friendship, and to attempt
to secure loans from foreign nations.
The Battle of White
Plains. British and American forces met at White Plains, New York, where
the British captured an important fortification. Washington once again
retreated, still attempting to save his army from the full force of the
Retreat through New Jersey. Washington and
his army retreated across New Jersey, crossing the Delaware River into
Pennsylvania. Congress, fearing a British attack on Philadelphia, fled to
Battle of Trenton. On December 26, Washington
launched a surprise attack against a British fortification at Trenton, New
Jersey, that was staffed by Hessian soldiers. After one hour of confused
fighting, the Hessians surrendered. Only five American soldiers were killed.
Battle of Princeton. British General Howe reacted to
the Battle of Trenton by sending a large force of men to New Jersey. At
Princeton, Washington once again launched a surprise attack, and succeeded in
defeating the British. His efforts cleared most of New Jersey of enemy forces,
and greatly boosted American morale.
America Has a Flag.
On June 14, Congress declared that the flag of the United States would consist
of thirteen alternating red and white stripes, and a blue field with thirteen
The British Attack Philadelphia. British
and Americans met at Brandywine Creek, Pennsylvania. The Americans retreated,
and the British soon occupied Philadelphia, forcing Congress once again to
flee the city. After retreating further during the Battle of Germantown,
Washington settled his army for the winter in Valley Forge -- a winter of
extreme cold and great hunger.
Saratoga. On October 7,
British and American troops engaged in New York. Fatigued from battle and
short of supplies, British General John Burgoyne's troops were repulsed by
American forces under General Horatio Gates. On October 8, Burgoyne retreated
to Saratoga; by October 13th, he asked for terms of surrender. The
"Convention of Saratoga" called for Burgoyne's army to be sent back
to England, and for each soldier to pledge not to serve again in the war
against the colonies.
The "Conway Cabal." Many
in Congress were unhappy with Washington's leadership; some murmured the name
of General Horatio Gates as a possible replacement. Thomas Conway, the army's
inspector general, wrote a critical letter to Gates about Washington, leading
many to believe there was an organized effort to replace Washington. Conway
resigned from the army, and eventually apologized to Washington.
of Confederation. When Richard Henry Lee made a motion for independence
(1776), he also proposed a formal plan of union among the states. After a
discussion lasting more than a year, the Articles of Confederation were
adopted by Congress, although the states did not ratify the Articles until
France and America Become Allies. France and America
formed an alliance, negotiated by Benjamin Franklin, stating that each would
consider the other a "most favored nation" for trade and friendship;
France would be obligated to fight for American independence; and America
would be obligated to stand by France if war should occur between France and
Great Britain. Within four months, France and Great Britain were at war.
British Attempt to Make Peace. Threatened by the alliance between France
and America, Parliament proposed the repeal of the Tea Act (1773) and Coercive
Acts (1774), pledged not to tax the colonies, and sent peace commissioners to
America. However, most Americans were interested only in British recognition
of American independence. When a British commissioner tried to bribe
congressmen Joseph Reed, Robert Morris, and Francis Dana, Americans became
even less interested in reconciliation. Competing for support from the
American people, both Congress and the desperate commissioners appealed
directly to them with broadsides, but the British commissioners soon returned
to Great Britain, their mission a failure.
John Paul Jones
Wins Victories. Although Esek Hopkins was never very successful with the
American navy, Captain John Paul Jones won several victories against the
British with his ship, the "Ranger."
The Battle of
Monmouth. When the British headed for New York, Washington left Valley
Forge to follow. At the Battle of Monmouth, American General Charles Lee gave
several confused orders, and then ordered a sudden retreat. Washington's
arrival on the scene saved the battle, although the British escaped to New
York during the night. Lee was later court-martialed.
The British Attack in North and South. Fighting
continued in both the northern and southern states. In the frontier
settlements of Pennsylvania, Loyalists and Indians led by Mohawk Joseph Brant
attacked American settlers. The Loyalists soon were defeated, and Americans
went on to destroy many Native American villages whose residents were fighting
on the side of the British.
Spain Joins the War. Spain
asked Britain for Gibraltar as a reward for joining the war on the British
side. When Britain refused, Spain joined with France in its war against
Britain, although refusing to recognize American independence.
The British Take Charleston, South Carolina. After a
brief fight, the British took Charleston, capturing 5,400 men and four
American ships in the harbor. It was the worst American defeat of the war.
Mutiny in the Continental Army. When the value of Continental currency
sank to a new low, Congress had problems supplying the American army. Great
shortages of food led to a short-lived mutiny among some Connecticut soldiers
at Washington's camp in New Jersey.
The Treason of Benedict
Arnold. American General Benedict Arnold, frustrated and ambitious, began
dealing with British General Sir Henry Clinton. After he was promised the
command at West Point by General Washington, Arnold told Clinton that he would
give the strategic American fortification to the British. But when British
Major John André, acting as messenger, was captured, Arnold fled to a British
ship, revealing his involvement in the treasonous plan. André was executed as
a spy, and Arnold was made a brigadier general in the British army.
Congress Creates a Department of Finance. American
finances were in such dire straits that Congress saw the need for a separate
department of finance. Robert Morris was appointed superintendent of finance.
Articles of Confederation Are Ratified. With the ratification of the
Articles of Confederation, under discussion since 1777, Congress assumed a new
title, "The United States in Congress Assembled."
Battle of Yorktown. French and American forces joined at Yorktown, on land
and at sea, and attacked British fortifications. Key British points were soon
held by the Americans and French, and British General Cornwallis soon
surrendered, giving up almost 8,000 men. With this defeat, Britain lost hope
of winning the war in America.
Peace Negotiations Begin in Paris. British, French, and
American commissioners met in Paris to discuss peace. The United States sent
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay. By November, the commissioners
had drafted a peace treaty. Its terms called for Great Britain to recognize
American independence and provide for the evacuation of all British troops.
Great Britain also gave up its territory between the Mississippi River and the
Allegheny Mountains, doubling the size of the new nation.
The Army Complains. When a delegation of army officers
complained to Congress about their unpaid salaries and pensions, Congress had
no quick solution. An anonymous letter urged officers to unite and attempt one
last appeal to Congress. If its attempt was ignored, the army was prepared to
revolt against Congress. Washington, addressing the army in person at its
headquarters in Newburgh, New York, convinced them to be patient, and not to
dishonor themselves after their glorious victory. Visibly moved, the officers
adopted resolutions to present to Congress, and pledged not to threaten
violence or rebellion.
Congress Ratifies the Preliminary
Articles of Peace. After Spain, France, and Britain successfully came to
terms, the treaty between France, Britain, and America was put into effect,
and warfare formally ceased. Congress ratified the Articles of Peace on April
The Loyalists and British Evacuate New York. New
York City was the last Loyalist refuge in America. Starting in April, nearly
30,000 Loyalists, knowing that the British soon would leave New York, packed
their belongings and sailed to Canada and England, followed shortly by the
British army. In November, when the British sailed away, Washington entered
the city and formally bade farewell to his officers. Soon after, he resigned
The American Army Disbands. In June,
most of Washington's army disbanded and headed for home just before the
British evacuated New York. A small force remained until all the British had
Congress Is Threatened. A group of soldiers
from Pennsylvania marched on Congress, demanding their pay. Armed and angry,
they surrounded Independence Hall. The members of Congress eventually were
allowed to leave the building; they fled to Princeton, New Jersey.
The Western Territories. Thomas Jefferson headed a
committee that proposed a plan for dividing the western territories, providing
a temporary government for the West, and devising a method for new western
states to enter the Union on an equal basis with the original states. The plan
was adopted, but not put into effect.
Congress Creates a
Board of Finance. When Robert Morris resigned as superintendent of
finance, he was replaced by a Board of Finance consisting of three
New York the Temporary Capital. Congress
decided to make New York City the temporary capital of the United States,
until the location of a permanent federal city was decided upon.
Congress Lacks Power over Commerce. When American
commissioners attempted to make trade arrangements with Britain, the British
Ambassador refused, because any state could decline to abide by Congress's
trade regulations. The inability of Congress to regulate commerce on a
national scale led to the formation of a committee dedicated to appealing to
the states to grant Congress enlarged powers over commerce. Despite these
attempts, no effective action was taken.
Conference at Mount
Vernon. Several commissioners from Virginia and Maryland met at Mount
Vernon, the home of George Washington, to discuss regulation of trade between
the two states. At the meeting's conclusion, the commissioners suggested that
all the states meet at a convention in Annapolis to discuss common commercial
Basic Land Ordinance. Congress arranged for
surveys to divide the western territories into townships, with one lot in each
town set aside as a site for a public school.
The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The
Virginia House of Burgesses passed a statute, written by Thomas Jefferson in
1779 and sponsored by James Madison, declaring that no person should be
discriminated against because of religious belief, or compelled to join or
support any church. This statute helped shape the First Amendment of the
United States Constitution.
Attempts to Revise the Articles
of Confederation. In Congress, Charles Pinckney proposed a revision of the
Articles of Confederation. A committee debated the question, and recommended
several changes, including granting Congress power over foreign and domestic
commerce, and enabling Congress to collect money owed by the states. Under the
Articles, unanimous approval from all thirteen states would be necessary to
pass the suggested changes. Doubting that all the states would ever agree,
Congress never acted.
Annapolis Convention. Nine states
agreed to send delegates to Annapolis to discuss commerce, but only five state
delegations arrived on time. Because of the poor attendance, the delegates
decided to invite the states to another convention. Alexander Hamilton drafted
an address to the states, inviting them to a convention to be held in
Philadelphia in 1787, to discuss not only commerce, but all matters necessary
to improve the federal government. After debate, on February 21, 1787,
Congress endorsed the plan to revise the Articles of Confederation.
The Constitutional Convention. Every state but Rhode
Island sent delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The
gathering included some of the most respected and talented men in America.
George Washington was named president.
Edmund Randolph proposed
the "Virginia Plan," drafted by James Madison -- a plan that
recommended an entirely new form of government, including an executive, a
judiciary, and a legislature composed of two houses and including a number of
representatives from each state based on their population.
came from the small states, which feared domination by the more populous
states in the legislature. William Paterson proposed the "New Jersey
Plan," which essentially revised the Articles of Confederation,
preserving equal representation of the states. After much debate, the
Convention rejected the New Jersey Plan, deciding instead to work toward an
entirely new form of government.
The issue of representation in
the two houses of the new national legislature became a major sticking point
for the Convention. Roger Sherman was helpful in framing the "Connecticut
Compromise," a plan that suggested representation in the lower house (the
House of Representatives) based on population, and equal representation in the
upper house (the Senate). With this compromise, the Convention succeeded in
completing a rough draft of a constitution.
A Committee of
Style was appointed to create a final draft; Gouverneur Morris was chosen to
write it. After carefully reviewing the draft, the Convention approved the
Constitution on September 17. After signing it and sending it to Congress, the
Northwest Ordinance. While the
Constitutional Convention debated a new government, Congress decided upon a
plan for governing all western territories north of the Ohio River. The
Northwest Ordinance provided for a plan of government, the creation of states,
the acceptance of each new state as an equal of the original states, freedom
of religion, right to a trial by jury, public support of education, and the
prohibition of slavery. Arthur St. Clair was named first governor of the
Congress Receives the Constitution. Although
some congressmen were displeased at the Convention for doing far more than
revising the Articles of Confederation, on September 28 Congress agreed to
pass the Constitution on to the states, so each could debate it in separate
ratifying conventions. Nine states had to agree to the new Constitution for it
to go into effect.
Supporters of the Constitution -- Federalists -- and opponents of the
Constitution -- Antifederalists -- fought fiercely in the press. Seventy-seven
essays, written anonymously by "Publius," appeared in New York
newspapers, explaining and defending the new Constitution. These essays,
published in book form with eight additional essays, were titled The
Federalist. Written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The
Federalist was the most organized, coherent effort to defend the Constitution.
The Constitution Is Ratified by Nine States. On June
21, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the new Constitution,
making its adoption official. Preceding New Hampshire were Delaware,
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, and
South Carolina. Virginia and New York ratified shortly after New Hampshire,
followed by North Carolina in November 1789. Rhode Island was last to ratify,
not joining the Union until May 1790.
Congress Steps Aside
for a New Government. On July 2, Congress announced that the Constitution
had been adopted. By September, a committee had prepared for the change in
government, naming New York City as the temporary official capital, and
setting dates for elections and for the meeting of the first Congress under
the new Constitution. Congress completed its business on October 10. Its last
action was the granting of ten square miles of land to Congress for a federal