To distract his men from their misery, Washington put Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a volunteer from Prussia, in charge of training. The Prussian’s method, wrote Martin, was “continual drill.” It worked wonders. “The army grows stronger every day,” wrote one officer. “There is a spirit of discipline among the troops that is better than numbers.”
Another foreign volunteer, the Marquis de Lafayette, also helped raise the troops’ spirits. Although he was one of the richest men in France, Lafayette chose to share the hardships of Valley Forge. He even used his own money to buy the men warm clothing. “The patient fortitude [courage] of the officers and soldiers,” Lafayette wrote, “was a continual miracle.”
When at last spring arrived, Washington received news that the British were about to abandon Philadelphia. The time had come to put his newly trained army to the test.
The Battle of Monmouth By this time, Sir Henry Clinton had replaced General Howe as commander of the British forces in America. In Clinton’s view, taking over Philadelphia had gained the British nothing. He ordered his army to retreat to New York City, where the Royal Navy could keep it supplied by sea.
Now it was Washington’s turn to chase an army across New Jersey. On June 28, 1778, he caught up with the retreating British near Monmouth, New Jersey. In the battle that followed, Washington was everywhere, constantly rallying his men to stand and fight. “Cheering them by his voice and example,” wrote Lafayette, “never had I beheld [seen] so superb a man.”
Late that night, the British slipped across the Hudson River to safety in New York City. Washington camped with his army nearby. It was pleasing, he wrote, “that after two years maneuvering…both armies are brought back to the very point they set out from.” Neither army knew it yet, but the war in the North was over.
At the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey, George Washington led his troops in an attack on retreating British forces. Although the Americans won, the British were able to slip away during the night and sail safely to New York.
7.7 The War Goes South
After failing to conquer any state in the North, the British changed strategies yet again. Their new plan was to move the war to the South. There, they believed, thousands of Loyalists were just waiting to join the king’s cause.
Clinton began his “southern campaign” with a successful attack on Savannah, Georgia. From Georgia, he moved on to take control of North and South Carolina. At that point, Clinton returned to New York City, leaving Lord Charles Cornwallis to run the war in the South.
Saving the South Cornwallis soon learned that he did not really control the Carolinas after all. Guerrillas—soldiers who are not part of a regular army—kept the American cause alive. One of them was Francis Marion, who was also known as the “Swamp Fox.” Marion’s band of rebels harassed the British with hit-and-run raids. Then they faded into the swamps and forests like foxes.
Late in 1780, Washington sent General Nathaniel Greene to slow the British advance through the South. Greene’s army was too small to meet Cornwallis in a major battle. Instead, Greene led Cornwallis’s troops on an exhausting chase through the southern backcountry. He wrote of his strategy, “We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.”
Greene’s strategy worked wonderfully. In April 1781, Cornwallis wrote that he was “quite tired of marching about the country.” He moved his army to Yorktown, a sleepy tobacco port on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, for a good rest.
A Trap at Yorktown By the time Cornwallis was settling into Yorktown, France had sent nearly 5,000 troops to join Washington’s army in New York. In August, Washington learned that another 3,000 troops were scheduled to arrive soon in 29 French warships.
Washington used this information to set a trap for Cornwallis. Secretly, he moved his army south to Virginia. When they arrived, they joined the French and surrounded Yorktown on land with more than 16,000 troops.
Meanwhile, the French warships showed up just in time to seal off the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. Their appearance was a crucial help to the Americans. Now Cornwallis was cut off from the British navy and any hope of rescue by sea.
This engraving shows Francis Marion crossing the Pee Dee River in South Carolina. Marion, known as the Swamp Fox because of his tactic of ambushing the British from the marshes of the South, never led a force of more than 70 men.
guerrillas soldiers who operate on their own and are not part of a regular army
The trap was sprung on October 6, 1781. Joseph Martin watched as a flag was raised to signal American and French gunners to open fire on Yorktown. “I confess I felt a secret pride swell in my heart,” he wrote, “when I saw the ‘star-spangled banner’ waving majestically.” The shelling went on for days, until “most of the guns in the enemy’s works were silenced.”
Cornwallis Surrenders With Yorktown exploding around him, at first Cornwallis clung to the hope that the British navy would come to his rescue. When no ships arrived, he finally agreed to surrender.
On October 19, 1781, American and French troops formed two long lines that stretched for more than a mile along the road to Yorktown—the French on one side, the Americans on the other. The two lines could not have looked more different. The French were dressed in elegant uniforms that gleamed with gold and silver braid in the afternoon sun. The Americans’ uniforms—and not everyone even had uniforms—were patched and faded. Behind the lines stood civilians who had traveled for miles to witness this glorious event.
After hours of waiting, the crowd watched as 8,000 British troops left Yorktown to lay down their arms. The defeated troops moved “with slow and solemn step.” They were accompanied by a slow tune known as “The World Turned Upside Down.” This same sad tune had been played at Saratoga after the British surrender.
Cornwallis did not take part in this ceremony, saying that he was ill. In reality, the British commander could not bear to surrender publicly to an army that he looked down on as “a contemptible and undisciplined rabble [mob].” While Cornwallis sulked in his tent, his men surrendered their arms. Many of them wept bitter tears.
To the watching Americans, there was nothing sad about that day. “It was a noble sight to us,” wrote Martin, “and the more so, as it seemed to promise a speedy conclusion to the contest.”
This painting by John Trumbull shows the British surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. At the center is General Benjamin Lincoln leading the British. On the right is General Washington in front of the American flag. On the left are French, Polish, and Prussian soldiers.
Key Battles of the American Revolution
1. Identify at least four interesting details on this map.
2. What do the blue, white, and red sections of the map represent?
3. In which region(s)—New England Colonies, Middle Colonies, or Southern Colonies—did the key battles of the American Revolution take place?
4. How does this map show why the British were not able to defeat the Americans in the American Revolution?
Battle of Yorktown
1. Identify at least four interesting details on this map.
2. Which three countries were involved in this battle?
3. According to the map, what did American and French forces do to defeat the British at the Battle of Yorktown?
4. How do you think Americans responded to the outcome of the Battle of Yorktown? The British? The French? Explain.
7.8 The War Ends
The conclusion of the war was not quite as speedy as Martin had hoped. When Lord North, the British prime minister, heard about Cornwallis’s defeat, he paced up and down the room repeating, “Oh God! It is all over!” The British public agreed. Yorktown took the heart out of whatever support was left for the war. Still, months dragged by before King George was finally forced to accept defeat.
For most Americans, the end of the war was a time for joy and celebration. They had gained the freedom to govern themselves and create their own future. But liberty came at a high price. At least 6,200 Americans had been killed in combat. An estimated 10,000 died in camp of diseases, and another 8,500 as British prisoners. As a proportion of the total population, more Americans died fighting the Revolutionary War than in any other conflict except the Civil War, in which Americans fought one another.
The Treaty of Paris Early in 1783, representatives of the United States and Britain signed a peace treaty (agreement) in Paris. The Treaty of Paris had three important parts. First, Great Britain agreed to recognize the United States as an independent nation. Second, Britain gave up its claims to all lands between the Atlantic Coast and the Mississippi River, from Canada south to Florida. Third, the United States agreed to return all rights and property taken from Loyalists during the war.
Many Loyalists did not trust the treaty’s promise of fair treatment—and for good reason. During the war, Loyalists had been badly treated by Patriots. More than 80,000 black and white Loyalists left the United States to settle in British Canada.
The Influence of the American Revolution The Revolutionary War had a major impact in other parts of the world. In the 1800s, it would help inspire revolts against European rule in South America. In Europe, it thrilled liberals who dreamed of creating their own democracies. The American example was especially influential in France, which soon had its own revolution. As one Frenchman wrote, “They [Americans] are the hope of the human race; they may well become its model.”
The ideals of the American Revolution helped inspire calls for “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” in France. In addition, France's support for the American war deepened its national debt and caused suffering among its people. In 1789 France’s monarchy was overthrown. This image shows a violent clash between French commoners and King Louis XVI’s troops.
treaty a formal agreement between nations
7.9 Chapter Summary
In this chapter, you read how the American colonies won their independence from Great Britain. You used a visual metaphor to record factors that helped to decide the outcome of the Revolutionary War.
At the start of the war, the Americans seemed sure to lose the fight with Britain. The poorly trained and poorly equipped American forces were no match for Britain’s professional army and huge navy. But patriotic feeling, help from overseas, and a magnificent commander helped to overcome British strengths. In addition, fighting a war in far-off America posed major problems for the British.
Still, the British enjoyed a string of victories in the early part of the war. After the loss of New York, only Washington’s leadership kept the Americans going. Then, beginning with the victory at Saratoga, the tide began to turn. When France and Spain joined in the conflict, the Americans had the help they needed to outlast the British.
The war’s climax came when the Americans, with the help of the French, trapped Cornwallis’s army at Yorktown. After Cornwallis surrendered, it was only a matter of time until Britain gave up the fight.
The conflict ended officially with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. In this agreement, Britain recognized the United States as an independent country.
At great cost in lives and property, Americans had won their freedom. They had also set an example that inspired people in other countries to dream of winning their own liberty. Now they faced the task of organizing a government for their new nation.
The Revolutionary War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. British troops agreed to leave American soil “with all convenient speed.”
Creating the Constitution
Why would the delegates want George Washington to lead the Constitutional Convention?
Why would Benjamin Franklin be a good delegate to the Constitutional Convention?
What might these men be thinking?
When the Revolutionary War ended, no one was happier than a small, bookish Virginia Patriot named James Madison. And no one was more worried about the future of the United States. While serving in Congress during the war, Madison had tried and failed to get the states to work easily together. He doubted that things would improve now that the war was over.
After declaring independence in 1776, Congress had tried to unite the states under one national government. This proved to be a difficult task. Most members of Congress were nervous about creating a strong central government. They feared that such a government would trample the very rights they were fighting to preserve.
Their solution was a plan of government known as the Articles of Confederation. The Articles created “a firm league of friendship” in which “each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence.” This “league of friendship” was a loose union in which the 13 states cooperated for common purposes. It was run by Congress, in which each state had one vote.
On paper, the Articles of Confederation gave Congress several important powers. It could make war and peace, raise an army and a navy, print money, and set up a postal system.
In reality, however, these powers were limited by the inability of Congress to impose taxes. Instead, Congress had to ask the states for funds to do anything. All too often, the states ignored Congress’s “humble requests.” The result, said Madison, was that the Articles were no more effective at binding the states into a nation than “a rope of sand.”
In this chapter, you will read about the new nation’s shaky start under the Articles of Confederation. You will also learn how Madison and other leaders came together in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in 1787 in the hope of forming “a more perfect union.”
Graphic Organizer: Illustration
You will annotate this drawing of the Assembly Room at Independence Hall to organize information about the Constitutional Convention.
8.2 Early Quarrels and Accomplishments
Even before the Revolutionary War ended, the states began quarreling among themselves. Many of their quarrels were about taxes on goods that crossed state borders. New York, for example, taxed firewood from Connecticut and cabbages from New Jersey. The states also quarreled over boundaries. The inability of Congress to end such disagreements was one of the key weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.
Developing Western Lands Congress did get the states to agree on one important issue: how to develop the western lands acquired by the United States in the Treaty of Paris.
At that time, there was no orderly way of dividing up and selling these lands. Settlers walked into the wilderness and claimed the land they liked. Disputes over who owned what land clogged the courts.
To end this confusion, Congress passed the Land Ordinance of 1785. Under this law, western lands were divided into six-mile squares called townships. Each township was then divided into 36 sections of 640 acres each. One section of each square was set aside to support the township’s public schools. The other sections were to be sold to settlers.
Surveyors proceeded to lay out townships in the Ohio Valley, then known as the Northwest Territory. By 1787, the government was ready to sell sections to settlers. This raised the question of how these areas should be governed. Were they to be colonies of the United States or new states?
The Northwest Ordinance Congress answered this question in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. This law divided the Northwest Territory into smaller territories, each governed by a territorial governor. As soon as a territory had 5,000 free adult males, it could elect its own legislature, or lawmaking body. When the population reached 60,000, a territory could apply to Congress to become a state.
The Northwest Ordinance included a list of rights that gave settlers the same privileges as other citizens, except for one. Slavery was banned in the Northwest Territory.
This system of settlement served the nation well. Over time, the United States would continue to establish territories as it spread to the Pacific Ocean and beyond.
This is the title page from the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States. Under the Articles, the states held the most power. The national government could not collect taxes or settle disputes between states.
territory A region designated by Congress and organized under a governor. A territory may apply to become a state when it has a large enough population.
8.3 Shays’s Rebellion and the Need for Change
Under the Articles of Confederation, the new nation also had serious money problems. The paper money printed by Congress during the war was worthless. Congress had the power to make coins that would not lose their value. But it lacked gold or silver to mint into coins.
The states reacted to the money shortage by printing their own paper currency (money). Before long, bills of different sizes and colors were floating from state to state. No one knew what any of these currencies were worth, but most agreed that they were not worth much.
Massachusetts FarmersRebel The money shortage was particularly hard on farmers who could not earn enough to pay their debts and taxes. In Massachusetts, judges ordered farmers to sell their land and livestock to pay off their debts. Led by Daniel Shays, a hero of Bunker Hill, Massachusetts farmers rebelled.
First, Shays and his followers closed down courthouses to keep judges from taking their farms. Then they marched on the national arsenal at Springfield to seize the weapons stored there. Having disbanded the Continental Army, Congress was unable to stop them.
Massachusetts ended Shays’s Rebellion by sending militia troops to Springfield to restore order. To many Americans, however, the uprising was a disturbing sign that the nation they had fought so hard to create was falling apart. “No respect is paid to the federal [national] authority,” Madison wrote to a friend. “It is not possible that a government can last long under these circumstances.”
A Call for a Convention Shays’s Rebellion shocked Congress into calling for a convention to consider “the situation of the United States.” Each state was invited to send delegates to Philadelphia in May 1787, “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.”
Madison was ready. For the past year he had devoted himself to the study of governments, both ancient and modern. The lesson of the past was always the same. A nation that was made up of many groups needed a strong central government, or it was soon torn apart by quarrels. The question was, would Americans heed this lesson?
Daniel Shays, shown at the top right, and his followers closed down courthouses to prevent judges from seizing their land when they could not pay their debts. Many American leaders saw the rebellion as a sign that the government under the Articles of Confederation was not working.
arsenal a place where weapons and ammunition are stored
8.4 Opening the Constitutional Convention
Philadelphia was already hot and sticky when delegates began drifting into the city. On May 25, the Constitutional Convention met for the first time in the east room of the Pennsylvania State House (later known as Independence Hall). The Declaration of Independence had been debated in this very room just 11 years earlier. The delegates would meet in the east room all summer on days so steamy that, as one visitor wrote, “the slightest movement is painful.”
The delegates’ first action was to elect George Washington president of the convention. No man was more admired and respected than the former commander in chief of the Continental Army. When the war ended, Washington could have used his power and popularity to make himself a king. Instead, he went home to Virginia to resume his life as an ordinary citizen. But despite his reluctance to return to public life, Washington would play a key role by presiding over the convention and lending it his prestige.
The Delegates Fifty-five delegates from 12 states attended the convention. Rhode Island, which prided itself as “the home of the otherwise minded” and feared a strong national government, boycotted the meeting.
Some leaders of the revolution were missing. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were representing the United States in Great Britain and France. Others who did not attend included Sam Adams, John Hancock, and Patrick Henry. They feared a strong national government would endanger the rights of states.
The delegates to the Constitutional Convention met on May 25, 1787, in the same hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Today, the building is called Independence Hall.
As a group, the delegates were, in the words of a modern historian, “the well-bred, the well-fed, the well-read, and the well-wed.” Their average age was 42. At 81, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania was the oldest. He arrived at the convention each day in a sedan chair carried by four good-natured prisoners from a nearby jail.
Most of the delegates brought extensive political experience to the meeting. More than two thirds were lawyers. More than one in three owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson was so impressed by the ability and experience of these men that he called the convention “an assembly of demi-gods.”
The Father of the Constitution The best prepared of these “godlike” figures was James Madison of Virginia. One delegate wrote of Madison, “In the management of every great question he evidently took the lead in the Convention.” Indeed, Madison’s influence was so great that later he would be called the “Father of the Constitution.”
Madison addressed the convention more than 200 times. When he was not speaking, he took notes. Sitting near the front of the room so that he could hear everything that was said, Madison wrote down nearly every word. When collected together, his notes covered more than 600 printed pages. From this remarkable record, we know what went on inside the convention day by day.
The Rule of Secrecy At the time, however, no one outside the convention knew what was happening. After choosing a president, the delegates voted on rules for the convention. The most important was the rule of secrecy. The delegates wanted to feel free to speak their minds without causing alarm or opposition among the general public. They agreed to keep secret whatever was said in the meeting room until their work was done.
One day Washington was handed some notes that had been dropped in the hall outside the east room. Washington pocketed the paper until the end of debate the next day. Then, in his sternest voice, he lectured the delegates on the importance of secrecy. “I know not whose paper it is,” Washington said as he flung the notes on his desk. “But here it is, let him who owns it take it.” The notes were never claimed. Instead, they lay on Washington’s desk for days.
Like Washington, the delegates took the rule of secrecy very seriously. During that long summer, not a single word about the convention debates appeared in any newspaper.
Shared Beliefs and Clashing Views Once the convention was organized, the delegates got down to business. As a group, the delegates had much in common. But they also had very different views on many of the issues facing the new nation.
To be sure, all the delegates were committed to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. The basic purpose of government, they believed, was to protect the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of
Benjamin Franklin, the oldest delegate to the Constitutional Convention, had doubts about the final Constitution. However, he said, “The older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment and pay more respect to the judgment of others.”
happiness.” And they agreed, in the words of the Declaration, that the “just powers” of governments came from “the consent of the governed.”
In part, these beliefs reflected the liberal ideas of Enlightenment thinkers like England’s John Locke. Human institutions, these thinkers had argued, should be based on “laws of nature.” Among these laws were the rights to liberty and equality. The best way to protect these rights, the delegates agreed, was through some form of republic.
From New England’s town meetings to lawmaking bodies like the Virginia House of Burgesses, Americans had a long tradition of participating in their own government. After the Revolution, all the states had adopted constitutions that embraced republican ideals. Despite many differences in details, every state had some form of representative government. States had also expanded the right to vote and to hold office. These state constitutions helped to shape the delegates’ thinking.
Despite delegates’ broad agreement on a government “of the people,” many questions were left unanswered. For example, who exactly should have a say in a truly “representative” government? Even in liberal Pennsylvania, only free, white males could vote. Some states allowed only wealthier citizens to vote or hold office. Women could not vote in any state except New Jersey. (And New Jersey women would lose the right to vote in 1807.)
Perhaps the most troubling question of all was how powerful the national government should be. Many delegates wanted to keep government close to the people by preserving the rights of the states. They feared that a strong national government would threaten individual liberty. Others, including James Madison, argued just the opposite. Look at what has happened under the Articles of Confederation, they said. If the central government is too weak, it cannot do its job of protecting liberty and property.
As they met behind closed doors, the delegates wrestled with these and other issues. Tempers often flared. Several times it seemed that the convention might collapse in failure. But as you will see, in the end the delegates found ways to save the convention—and the nation.
Delegates with opposing views were Pennsylvania’s James Wilson (left) and New Jersey’s William Paterson (right). Wilson, one of the most vocal delegates at the convention, argued for a strong national government. Paterson tried to protect the rights of the states. Many delegates of small states shared his fear of being “swallowed up” by the larger states.