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The United States of America

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On the east the boundary is formed by the St. Croix River and an arbitrary line to the St. John, and on the north by the Aroostook Highlands, the 45th parallel of N. lat., the St. Lawrence, and the Great Lakes. West of Lake Superior, the Rainy River, Rainy Lake, and the Lake of the Woods form the boundary; thence to Puget Sound the 49th parallel. Thereafter it drops down to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, leaving Vancouver Island to the Dominion of Canada. The Atlantic Ocean washes the entire eastern shore. On the south the Gulf of Mexico serves as the boundary to the mouth of the Rio Grande del Norte. That river separates the United States from the Republic of Mexico until at the city of El Paso it turns northward; from that point to the Colorado River an arbitrary line marks the boundary of the two republics. The Pacific Ocean forms the western boundary.

The total area is 3,026,789 sq. miles. The United States is divided into two unequal parts by the Mississippi River, which flows almost directly south from its source in a lake below the 49th parallel. The portion east of that great river is subdivided into two parts by the Ohio and the Potomac Rivers. The section west of the Mississippi is divided into two very unequal parts by the Missouri River.

In a physiographic view, however, the area of the United States may be divided into the Appalachian belt, the Cordilleras, and the central plains.

The first of these divisions includes the middle Appalachian region, or that between the Hudson and the James Rivers; the north-eastern Appalachian region, which overlaps New England at many points; the south-western Appalachian, which includes the country from Maryland to the Carolinas. In North Carolina the mountain belt reaches its greatest altitude, falling away in Georgia and Alabama. Much of the early history of the United States is concerned with the Atlantic coastal plain. In New England the mountains almost front the sea, and harbour and hill are within sight of each other. From New York, however, the interval which separates them gradually widens toward the southward, until in the State of Georgia it extends into the interior about 120 miles, after which it unites with the Gulf coastal plain. In New York is the rugged Adirondack region, which was very late in being settled. The characteristics of the region of the Great Lakes, which is a projection of the Laurentian Highlands in eastern Canada, are well known.

Of almost inexhaustible fertility and of immense area is the region included by the Prairie States. Roughly speaking, it may be bounded by the Ohio and Missouri Rivers on the south, and by the Great Lakes on the north. The Prairies are the gift of the glacial period. The Gulf coastal plain has been alluded to. Authorities on physical geography also distinguish a Texas coastal plain.

Passing by the great valley of the Mississippi, the next division is the region known as the Great Plains, which extends from the 97th meridian of W. longitude to the base of the Rocky Mountains. To the elevated section between the Great Plains and the Pacific is given the name Cordilleras. This includes the Rocky Mountains, the Basin range, the plateau province, and the Pacific ranges (Cascade and Sierra Nevada).

Around desirable harbours and in situations favourable for defence the first European settlements were made in what is now the United States. In this connexion are suggested the names: Boston, Salem, Plymouth, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston. For a long time the waterways not only influenced the social and political life of the people, but determined the direction of their movements when they went to new regions. Thus were the early westward movements of population conditioned by the river systems. This, too, explains the irregular character of the frontier line until railways became numerous, when it moved regularly toward the west.


The Laurentian uplift, seen in the Adirondacks and the region of the Great Lakes, was clearly in the earliest geological periods. The rock structure and the character of the deposits tend to support this opinion. The Cordilleras, on the contrary, are of comparatively recent formation, and exhibit evidences of late volcanic action. The volcanoes of Mexico and of Alaska, indeed, are not yet extinct. Many of the valleys in the Cordilleras are vast lava beds. The entire region, including New England, New York to the Ohio River, and westward to the prairies and the great plains, exhibits evidences that a great glacial sheet had in practically recent times spread over it. In its retreat were left fertile prairie in the United States and unnumbered lakes and water-courses as well in that country as in Canada.

In 1902 the United States produced about one third of the entire coal supply of the world. In the east it is generally distributed, except the anthracite variety, which is found in only a limited field. It is also found in many sections of the west. Still more valuable than the production of coal is that of iron, which in the year mentioned amounted to $367,000,000. Approximately the value of the gold produced yearly in the United States is $80,000,000; copper comes next with an estimated value of $77,000,000. Silver amounts to $29,000,000, lead to $22,000,000, and zinc to $14,000,000. Aluminium and quicksilver are less important. Montana and the Lake Superior region lead in the output of copper; gold is found in many of the western states, and silver is widely distributed. The zinc deposits in northern New Jersey are among the richest in the world. The non-metallic mineral products are also of great value, e.g. petroleum, clay, gypsum, salt, and natural gas. Of the tin, antimony, sulphur, and platinum consumed in the United States much is imported.


In April, 1606, King James I created a company with two branches, viz, the London and the Plymouth. The former was given permission to make settlements between 34 and 41 N. lat., and was to receive grants of land extending fifty miles north and south from its first settlement, -- a coast front of 100 miles and the same distance inland. The Plymouth merchants were permitted to make their first settlement between 38 and 45 N. lat., and were also given a block 100 miles square. To prevent disputes, the branch making the second settlement should locate at least 100 miles from the colony first established. Each branch was very careful to fix its first settlement on territory to which the other had no right whatever. The two branches are always mentioned as two companies. King James's patent of 10 April, 1606, is a document of interest. It provides that English colonists and their posterity "shall have and enjoy all liberties, franchises, and immunities within any of Our other dominions, to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and born within this Our realm of England or any other of Our said dominions". A similar provision was found in the earlier patent granted to Raleigh, and even in that obtained by Gilbert. On the other hand, the colonists of France, Spain, and other nations were regarded as persons outside the laws, privileges and immunities enjoyed by those who continued to dwell in the mother land. It will thus appear that English settlers carried with them as much of the common law of their country as was applicable to their new situation. In colonization this principle marked an epoch.

The London company was composed of merchants and gentlemen in the vicinity of London, and the Plymouth company of persons dwelling in the west of England. In some respects the British government had no more enlightened a conception of colonization than did contemporary governments. England was "to monopolize the consumption of the colonies and the carriage of their produce". This led to the enactment of the celebrated Navigation Laws. Commercial legislation affecting colonial trade falls under two heads: acts controlling exportation and importation, and those controlling production. By a law of 1660 certain enumerated commodities, being all the chief products of the colonies, could be landed only in British ports. Two later acts further extended this restriction. Under the Navigation Act of 1660, European goods could not be imported into the colonies except in ships of Britain or of British colonies, sailing from British ports. We are not now concerned with the Act of 1733. If strictly enforced this would have oppressed the New England colonies, but, fortunately for them, the revenue officers winked at their frequent infractions of the law.

The London Company was the first to establish a settlement, viz, that at Jamestown in 1607. The vicissitudes of that colony and the general outline of English colonial development will be found in the articles on the thirteen original states, viz. Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina , New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. This summary can touch upon them but briefly. On 6 May, 1607, the first Virginia settlers, 120 in number, entered Chesapeake Bay, and sailed about thirty miles up the James River, so named after the king. Toward evening they landed, and were attacked by the Indians. In a few months Captain Newport, who had brought out the first settlers, returned to England, collected supplies and recruits, and in January, 1608, was again at James Fort, as the settlement was then called. Fever, hunger, and Indian arrows had swept off more than half of those he had first brought over, among them some members of the council. Wingfield, the first president, was under arrest, and John Smith, an influential man in the colony, was awaiting execution.

At the end of three months, when Newport again sailed for England, one-half of those who were alive in January had died. Edward Maria Wingfield, the first president of the local council, was the only person among the patentees who came with the colonists. With suffering came dissension. Ratcliffe, Martin, and Smith removed Wingfield not only from the presidency but from the council. In the circumstances his overthrow was easy. It was charged that he was a Catholic, some authorities say an atheist, that he brought no Bible with him, and also that he had conspired with the Spaniards to destroy Virginia. In April, 1608, Wingfield left Jamestown, and later in England made to the authorities an interesting statement in his own defence. For considerably more than two hundred years Captain John Smith was universally regarded as the ablest and the most useful of the first Jamestown settlers. Indeed, he was believed to have been the founder and the preserver of the colony. As a matter of fact, he was a mere adventurer, responsible for much of the dissension among the first settlers. His "General History" is an absurd eulogy of himself and an unfair criticism of his fellows. Perhaps it was no misfortune to Virginia when the accidental explosion of a bag of gunpowder compelled him to return to England for medical treatment. Smith was never afterward employed by the Virginia Company. The five hundred new settlers sent to Jamestown in 1609 were "a worthless set picked up in the streets of London or taken from the jails, and utterly unfit to become the founders of a state in the New World ". This, however, while true of a particular band of immigrants, will not serve for a description of those who came later. During the seventeenth century there arrived numerous knights, and numbers of the nobility of every rank, representatives of the best families and the best intellect in England.

In the beginning the population of Virginia was almost exclusively English; indeed, Virginia was very much like an English shire. As early as 1619 the company had sent out a few Frenchmen to test the soil for its capacity to produce a superior variety of grapes. Other French immigrants continued to arrive in the colony throughout the seventeenth century. After the English took New Amsterdam, in 1664, many Dutchmen went from New Netherland to Virginia. Germans and Italians were never numerous in that province. During the era of Cromwellian ascendency many Irish were sent to Virginia. Again in 1690 and afterwards there arrived many Irishmen who were captured at the Boyne and on other battlefields. These non-English elements in the population do not appear, however, to have exerted much social or other influence. They soon melted into the population around them. The name of Edward Maria Wingfield has been mentioned as that of the only patentee who came over with the colonists. If there is any doubt as to the Catholicism of the first president of the council there is none concerning the religious belief of the Earl of Southampton. That nobleman had a keen interest in English colonization.

While England was engaged in developing the Province of Virginia , four other European powers, Spain, France, Holland, and Sweden, were establishing themselves on parts of the Atlantic coast of North America. In 1655 the Dutch conquered New Sweden, and nine years later New Netherland was acquired by the English. The latter conquest was facilitated by the former, because New Netherland had reduced itself to a condition of bankruptcy in order to send its warlike armament into Delaware Bay. After the failures of Ribaut and Laudonnière the French made no attempt to settle the south Atlantic coast. That nation, however, did not abandon American colonization. From the founding of Quebec, in 1608, great activity was manifested in Canada and later in Louisiana. On the Atlantic coast, therefore, Spain and England were the chief rivals. The former manifested little interest to the northward of the Mexican Gulf, and after 1664 England was free to develop her maritime colonies in her own way. In the meantime France was exploring the interior, establishing garrisons, and in other ways strengthening her hold on the most desirable part of the continent. Between the outposts of the two nations collisions were inevitable.


It is not possible to discuss here either the causes or the conduct of those wars which in 1763 ended in the complete triumph of British arms. Between 1689 and 1763 four separate struggles took place between these ancient enemies.

King Williams' War

The first, which began in 1689, is known as King William's War, ending in 1697 by the treaty of Ryswick.

Queen Anne's War1

The second conflict was Queen Anne's War, known in European history as the War of the Spanish Succession. Though not so widespread as the preceding one, in America it was marked by the same characteristics. In 1710, with the assistance of ships sent from England, Port Royal was again captured. With it the whole of Acadia passed into the hands of the English. The name of the town was changed to Annapolis Royal, in honour of Queen Anne. Acadia became Nova Scotia, or New Scotland. In 1713 this war was ended by the treaty of Utrecht. The extent of the country designated as Acadia was somewhat vague, and as to the regions included under that name new disputes were destined to arise.

King George's War

The War of the Austrian Succession (1744-1748), occurring in the reign of George II, is known in American history as King George's War. The French promptly swept down on and captured the little town of Canso, in Nova Scotia. They carried off its garrison and then attacked Annapolis, but were repulsed. The most important event of this war was the expedition against Louisburg, on Cape Breton Island. Though Louisburg had been fortified at an expense estimated at $10,000,000, it was compelled to surrender. Later there came the alarming report that a French armada was on the way to retake Acadia and Louisburg, and to destroy Boston. Though the armada reached American waters, it was dispersed by a tempest off the coast of Nova Scotia , and its crest-fallen crews soon returned to France. At this stage of the war both sides were freely assisted by savages. One of the French expeditions attacked the outpost of Saratoga, killed thirty persons, and took a hundred prisoners. By the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in July, 1748, all conquests were mutually restored. The news of the surrender of Louisburg, which had been chiefly won and defended at the expense of New England, caused the greatest dissatisfaction throughout the colonies, and strained somewhat the relations with the mother country.

The French and Indian War

Having emerged from the last war without loss of territory, France went to work more vigorously than ever with her preparations for excluding the British altogether from the Mississippi valley. In 1749 the Governor of Canada despatched Céloron de Bienville with a band of men in birch-bark canoes to take formal possession of the Ohio valley, the only highway still unguarded. Once on the Allegheny River, the ceremony of taking possession began. The men were drawn up by their commanders, and Louis XV was proclaimed king of all the country drained by the Ohio. Then the arms of France were nailed to a tree, at the foot of which was buried a leaden plate with an inscription claiming the Ohio and all its tributaries for the King of France. At various points along the Ohio similar plates were hidden. Forts were built along the Allegheny. This activity on the part of the French alarmed Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia. He determined to demand the withdrawal of the French, and for his messenger chose George Washington, then an officer of the Virginia militia. Washington proceeded to Fort Le Boeuf, where he delivered Dinwiddie's letter to the commandant, Saint-Pierre, who promised to forward the letter to the authorities in Canada. In the meantime he would continue to hold the fort.

When Dinwiddie received the reply of Saint-Pierre, he knew that the time for action had come. He sent forward to the forks of the Ohio a party of forty men, who began the erection of a stockade, intended to surround a fort, on the site of the present city of Pittsburgh. On 17 April, 1754, while the English were still engaged at their work, a body of French and Indians from Fort Le Boeuf ordered them to leave the valley. The English commander was allowed to march off with his men. The French then completed the work thus begun, and in honour of the Governor of Canada called it Fort Duquesne. The surrender at the forks of the Ohio was soon known to the governors of Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Virginia acted promptly and raised a force, of which Frye was commander, with Washington as lieutenant-colonel. Near a place called Great Meadows, Washington with a few men killed or captured a small party of French. On 4 July, 1754, he was himself besieged by a party of French and Indians, and after a brave resistance compelled to surrender. Thus was begun what the English colonists called the French and Indian War. The British in 1755 sent over Major-General Braddock as commander-in-chief in America. The colonial governors met him at Alexandria, Virginia. Four expeditions were agreed upon:

  • an expedition from New York to Lake Champlain, to take Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and to move against Quebec;
  • an expedition to sail from New England and make such a demonstration against the French towns to the north-east as would prevent the French in that quarter from going off to defend Quebec and Crown Point;
  • an expedition, starting from Albany, up the Mohawk toward its source, to cross the divide to Oneida Lake, then by the Oswego River to Lake Ontario and the Niagara River;
  • an expedition from Fort Cumberland, in Maryland, across Pennsylvania to Fort Duquesne. Braddock himself took command of the fourth expedition.

There was no opposition until his troops had crossed the Monongahela River and had arrived within eight miles of Fort Duquesne. Suddenly they came face to face with an army of the Indians and French. It was not in any sense an ambuscade, but the French and their Indian allies instantly disappeared behind bushes and trees, and poured a merciless and incessant fire into the ranks of the British. Braddock would not allow his men to fight in Indian fashion; therefore they stood huddled in groups, targets for the Indians and the French, till the extent of his loss compelled him to order a retreat. Had it not been for Washington and his Virginians the British force would probably have perished to a man. Braddock, wounded in the battle, died soon afterwards. The expedition against Niagara was a failure. That against Crown Point was partially successful.

The French Government now appeared to see vaguely the great importance of the contest in America. The demands of the European war had kept the French armies employed at home; therefore, no considerable force could be sent to America. The king, however, sent over the Marquess de Montcalm, the ablest French officer that ever commanded on this continent, and there followed for the British two years of disastrous war. Montcalm won over the Indians to the side of France, captured and burned the post at Oswego, and threatened to send a strong fleet against New England. Until the elder William Pitt became influential in the councils of Great Britain, no progress was made against the French. In the year 1758 the strong fortress of Louisburg surrendered to a joint military and naval force under Amherst and Boscawen. In the same year Washington took Fort Duquesne, which was renamed Fort Pitt. Fort Frontenac, on Lake Ontario, was destroyed by a provincial officer named Bradstreet. With the loss of Fort Duquesne this second disaster cut off the Ohio country from Quebec.

On 8 July, 1758, General Abercrombie, with an army of at least 15,000 men, made a furious and persistent assault on the strong post of Ticonderoga. The fort was defended by Montcalm with about 3100 men. The battle raged all day in front of Ticonderoga, its outlying breastworks, and its formidable abattis of fallen trees. When the British, under cover of darkness, withdrew, they left behind them 1944 killed, wounded, and missing. The French reported a loss of 377.

In a fiercely contested battle on the plains of Abraham, 13 Sept., 1759, the French were defeated, and Wolfe and Montcalm were among the dead. In the following year Montreal was taken, and the American phase of the war came to an end. In Europe the conflict continued until peace was made at Paris in February, 1763. By that treaty France gave to Spain for her assistance in the war, all that part of the country lying west of the middle of the Mississippi River from its source to a point almost as far south as New Orleans . To Great Britain she surrendered all her territory east of this line.

After the French and Indian War (1759-1774)

From the beginning of the inter-colonial wars, in 1689, the Middle Colonies gave assistance to New England in its expeditions against the French strongholds in Canada. When the last conflict broke out the lower states of the south sent troops into Pennsylvania. Some of these served under Washington at Fort Necessity. Whenever troops from the different colonies acted together, as they frequently did, they used the name "provincials" to distinguish themselves from the British troops. There is a popular notion that all the proposals after 1643, when the United Confederation of New England was formed, were suggested by military necessity. In a measure, but not wholly, such necessity was the sole influence tending toward their union. As early as 1660 an agreement was entered into by Maryland, Virginia, and Carolina to restrict the production of tobacco. Even though nothing came of this commercial agreement, it indicates the existence among the colonies of interests other than military. As early as the eighteenth century (1720) Deputy-governor Keith, of Pennsylvania, submitted to the Lords of Trade and Plantations a plan, or a recommendation, for a union of England's North American colonies. In the treatises on the development of the idea of union this document is overlooked. It will be found, however, among the printed papers of Sir William Keith.

The French and Indian War was the prelude to the American Revolution. It trained officers and men for that struggle. During its campaigns the commander-in-chief in the War for Independence acquired his first knowledge of strategy. This War released the colonies from the pressure of the French in Canada and developed in them a consciousness of strength and unity. Besides it gave to the colonies an unlimited western expansion. In this great acquisition of territory is to be found one of the earliest causes of the quarrel with the mother country. Though the provinces had fought for territorial extension, a royal proclamation was issued (1763) forbidding present land sales west of the Alleghenies, thus reserving the conquered territory as a crown domain. Though they did not clearly perceive it, the war had welded the thirteen colonies into one people. It was in this era that there grew up the feeling that this conquered territory did not belong to the Crown but to the colonies collectively. So afterwards, when independence was achieved, it was contended that these western lands did not belong to the respective states but to the union collectively, because the domain had been won by their joint exertions. By the proclamation of 1763 a line was drawn around the head-waters of all those rivers in the United States which flow into the Atlantic Ocean, and west of that line the colonists were forbidden to settle. All the valley from the Great Lakes to the Florida country and from the proclamation line westward to the Mississippi was set apart for the Indians. Out of the conquered territory England created three new provinces: in Canada the Province of Quebec; out of the country conquered from Spain, two provinces, namely, East Florida and West Florida. The Appalachicola separated the Floridas. The land between the Altamaha and the St. Mary's was annexed to the Province of Georgia.

In order to provide for the military defence of the colonies, it was decided to enforce the Navigation Acts. These required:

  • that colonial trade should be carried on in vessels built and owned in England or in the colonies, these ships to be manned, to the extent of two-thirds of the crew, by English subjects;
  • that important colonial products should not be sent to ports other than those of England. Products or goods not named in a certain list might be sent to any other part of the world;
  • if a product exported from one colony to another was of a kind that might have been supplied by England, it must either go to the mother country and then to the purchasing colony, or pay an export duty at the port where it was shipped, equal to the import duty it would have to pay in England ;
  • goods were not allowed to be carried from any place in Europe to America unless they were first landed at a port in England.

Not unconnected with this measure, perhaps, was an intention of establishing permanently in America a body of 10,000 British troops, for whose maintenance it was decided to provide at least in part by a Parliamentary tax in the colonies. These were among the measures which led ultimately to a division of the empire.

While these measures of Grenville's administration were in contemplation, information of the design of the ministry was received in Boston from the colonial agent in England, who asked counsel in the emergency. In the spring of 1764 a Boston town-meeting gave the subject special consideration. For the guidance of newly-elected members a committee was appointed to prepare instructions. This important work was assigned to Samuel Adams. While motives of policy suggested the language of loyalty and dependence, it is not difficult to see behind these instructions of Adams the spirit of a determined patriot who had long and thoughtfully considered the whole question of the relation of the colonies to the mother country, for he furnished Americans with arguments that never ceased to be urged till the separation from Great Britain was complete.

By drawing into question the right of the Crown to put an absolute negative upon the act of a colonial legislature, the Virginian orator merely revived in another form that struggle against prerogative which with varying success had long been maintained on both sides of the Atlantic. The resolutions of the Boston town-meeting, however, had a different purpose, marking, as they do, the first organized action against taxation.

Trade with the French and the Spanish West Indies not only stimulated the prosperity of the commercial centres in every colony, but was a chief source of wealth to all New England. For the abundant supply of timber standing in her forests, for her fish, and for her cattle, these islands furnished a convenient and profitable market. By the vessels engaged in this extensive trade, cargoes of sugar and molasses were unloaded at Boston and other New England ports. A Parliamentary statute of 1733 had imposed on both commodities a prohibitive duty, which but for the connivance of revenue officers would even then have accomplished the ruin of a flourishing commerce. When this law, after several renewals, was about to expire in 1763, the colonists actively opposed its re-enactment, but Grenville was resolved to improve the finances in his own way, and against the successive remonstrances of colonial agents, of merchants, and of even a royal governor, renewed the act, says Bancroft, in a form "greatly to the disadvantage of America". Commissioners of customs, regarding their places as sinecures, had hitherto resided in England. Now they were ordered at once to their posts; the number of revenue officers was increased, and, to assist in executing the new regulations, warships patrolled the harbours and the coast. These were instructed to seize all vessels suspected of smuggling. Army officers were commanded to co-operate. The jurisdiction of admiralty courts, in which cases were tried without juries, was greatly extended.

Both the promise of emolument from confiscated property and the fear of dismissal for neglect of duty sharpened the vigilance of those engaged in enforcing the acts of navigation, and it was soon perceived that their unusual activity and violence threatened to destroy not only contraband, but menaced the very existence of even legitimate, trade. At this time 164,000 sterling was the estimated annual value of the Massachusetts fisheries; and to supply the provisions, casks, and sundry articles yearly required in the business, there was needed an additional capital of 23,700. The importance of this industry may be easily estimated from the extent to which it had been carried by a single community. A rigorous execution of the Act of April, 1764, meant to Americans the annihilation of this natural and legal branch of commerce, for if the planters in the French West Indies could not sell their sugar and molasses, they would not buy fish, and any deficiency or any great irregularity in the supply of molasses would have been fatal to the distilleries of Boston and other New England towns. Ships would have been almost worthless on the hands of their owners, and the 5000 seamen employed yearly in carrying fish to Portugal and Spain would have been without an occupation. The severity of the new regulations, by which property amounting to 3000 was soon swept into prize courts, coupled with the declared intention of raising by imperial authority a revenue for the defence of the colonies, created a constitutional question of the gravest character.

Since 1763, when the war ended, the British Government had time to consider a system of revenue. The importunities of British merchants, who were creditors of American importers, as much at least as a feeling of tenderness for the colonists, influenced Grenville to suspend for almost a year his purpose of laying a stamp duty on America. An expectation of mastering the subject was undoubtedly an additional cause of delay. His purpose, however, remained unchanged, and neither petitions nor remonstrances, nor even the solemn pledges of the colonies to honour as hitherto all royal requisitions, availed to overcome his obstinacy, and on 6 Feb., 1765, in a carefully prepared speech, he introduced his fifty-five resolutions for a stamp act. In the colonies this aroused a bitter spirit; the stamp distributors were induced to abandon their offices by persuasion or intimidation, and delegates from nine colonies met in New York to express disapproval.

Patrick Henry, of Virginia, led the opposition with the resolutions: that the first Virginia colonists brought with them "all the privileges and immunities that have at any time been held" by "the people of Great Britain"; that their descendants held these rights ; that by royal charters the people of Virginia had been declared entitled to all the rights of Englishmen "born within the realm of England "; that one of these rights was that of being taxed "by their own assembly"; that they were not bound to obey any law taxing them without consent of their assembly. The Virginia Resolutions were passed 29 May, 1765. This action by the southern colony was followed on the part of Massachusetts by a call for a congress to meet at New York City. This assembly, known as the Stamp Act Congress, began its sessions in New York on 5 Oct., 1765, and was attended by delegates from nine of the colonies. New Hampshire, Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina were unrepresented. The representatives from six of the nine colonies present (Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New York, and Massachusetts ) signed a "Declaration of Rights and Grievances", setting forth that the Americans were subjects of the British Crown; that it was the natural right of a British subject to pay no taxes unless he had a voice in laying them; that Americans were not represented in Parliament; that Parliament, therefore, could not tax them, and that any attempt to do so was an attack on the rights of Englishmen and the liberty of self-government. The grievances were five in number: taxation without representation; trial without jury (in the admiralty courts); the Sugar Act; the Stamp Act; restrictions on trade.

The "Sons of Liberty" promptly associated for resistance to that measure. At first they demanded no more than that the stamp distributors should resign their offices. Their refusal was the occasion of violence and serious riots. 1 Nov., 1765, was the day fixed for the Stamp Act to go into force. During the next six months every known piece of stamped paper was seized and burned; handbills were posted denouncing the law, and public meetings were called; mobs frequently paraded the streets, shouting: "Liberty, property, and no stamps!" Merchants pledged themselves not to import English goods till the Stamp Act was repealed. These agreements among the mercantile classes were widespread. The effect was to leave on the hands of British exporters goods intended for America. By its restraint on production it threw out of employment multitudes of English labourers. This led English merchants to flood Parliament with petitions calling for the repeal of the Stamp Act. The distress occasioned in England forced Parliament to yield, and in March, 1766, the law was repealed. Both in America and England rejoicings and votes of thanks greeted the repeal.

The term of rejoicing was brief. In England the king as well as his friends conceived for the authors of that conciliatory measure the most bitter dislike, which expressed itself in the driving from power of the supporters of Rockingham, and soon after, under a more compliant ministry, adopting a new form of taxation. At this unexpected course the indignation among the colonists far surpassed the outbreak which marked the first attempt upon their liberties. The new measures of taxation were known as the Townshend Acts:

  • the legislature of New York was forbidden to pass any more laws until it had provided the British troops in the city with shelter, fire, and such articles as salt, vinegar, and candles ;
  • at Boston a Board of Commissioners of the Customs was established to enforce laws relating to trade;
  • taxes were laid on glass, painters' colours, lead, paper, and tea.

Though these taxes were not burdensome, they involved the important principle of the right of Parliament to tax people not represented in it, and once more the colonists rose in resistance; again there were non-importation agreements, correspondence between assemblies, and a revival of the Sons of Liberty. For the Massachusetts Assembly, Samuel Adams drafted a circular letter, which was sent to the other colonies. It contained expressions of loyalty, re-asserted the rights of the colonists, and appealed for united action in opposing the new taxes. Many of the legislatures were dismissed or dissolved for their connexion with the circular letter, or for complaining of the unfair treatment of some sister colony.

The proroguing of colonial assemblies became frequent. The Massachusetts legislature was dissolved for refusing to recall the letter. In other words, the king had been defied. He ordered two regiments to Boston to assist the authorities in enforcing the new system of taxation. The people of Boston accused the soldiers of corrupting the morals of the town, "of desecrating the Sabbath with fife and drum; of striking citizens who insulted them; and of using language violent, threatening, and profane". This excited state of feeling led to frequent quarrels between the townspeople and the soldiers, and culminated on 5 March, 1770, in a riot known as the "Boston Massacre". More, perhaps, than anything which had yet happened this event hastened the revolution. A few years later (1773) a considerable quantity of tea which had arrived on ships from England was thrown into Boston Harbour. In Charleston, Annapolis, and Philadelphia also there was determined opposition to receiving the consignments of tea, which, though cheap, yet concealed a tax. When tidings of these events reached England, Parliament determined to punish Massachusetts, and proceeded to pass five laws so severe that the colonists called them the "Intolerable Acts". These were: the Boston Port Bill, which closed the port of Boston ; the Transportation Bill, which gave the authorities power to send persons, accused of murder in resisting the laws to another colony or to England for trial; the Massachusetts Bill, which changed the charter of the province, provided for it a military governor, and prohibited the people from holding public meetings for any purpose other than the election of town officers, without permission from the governor; the Quartering Act, which made it lawful to quarter troops on the people; and the Quebec Act, which enlarged the Province of Quebec to include all the territory between the Great Lakes, the Ohio River, the Mississippi River, and Pennsylvania. When the Puritan element in the colonies found that this law practically established the Catholic religion in the new territory, its traditional feeling of intolerance revived.

The news of these Acts of Parliament crystallized almost every element of union in the colonies. When, in May, 1774, the Virginia legislature heard of the passage of the Boston Port Bill, it passed a resolution that the day when the law went into effect in Boston should be one of " fasting, humiliation, and prayer " in Virginia. For this conduct the legislature was at once dissolved by the governor. Before separating, however, the members appointed a committee to correspond with the other colonies on the advisability of holding another general congress. There was a unanimous approval, and New York requested Massachusetts to name the time and place of meeting. To this request she agreed, selecting Philadelphia as the place, and 1 Sept., 1774, as the date. The Congress assembled in that city on 5 Sept. It included delegates from all the colonies except Georgia, and hence is commonly known as the First Continental Congress. It adopted addresses to the king, to the people of the colonies, of Quebec, and of Great Britain; passed a declaration of rights, summing up the various Acts of Parliament which were believed to be violative of those rights. This body had met, of course, in virtue of no existing law. In other words, it was a revolutionary assembly, though it assumed revolutionary functions slowly. In the matter of the petition it ignored Parliament; it prepared Articles of Association, to be signed by people everywhere, and to be enforced by committees of safety. The members of these committees were to be chosen by the inhabitants of the cities and towns. The articles bound the people to import nothing from Great Britain and Ireland, also to export nothing to those countries. Henceforth the Committees of Safety were to perform an important service in promoting the Revolution. On 8 Oct. the Congress adopted the following resolution: "That this Congress approve the opposition of the inhabitants of the Massachusetts Bay to the execution of the late Acts of Parliament; and, if the same shall be attempted to be carried into execution by force, in such case all America ought to support them in their opposition." Before the Congress adjourned it was ordered that another Congress should meet on 10 May, 1775, in order to consider the result of the petition to the king. It then adjourned.

When the king and his friends heard of the proceedings of the Congress, they were more determined than ever to make them submit. On the other hand, the friends of the colonists exerted themselves to promote conciliation, but neither the influence of Pitt nor the eloquence of Burke could alter the resolution of the king's party. The ultimatum of the First Continental Congress led to considerable military activity. When it was seen that force would be met by force, the people began to arm. As was generally foreseen, the conflict between the people and the royal forces occurred before the meeting of the Second Continental Congress. An encounter was likely to occur anywhere, but most likely to take place in Massachusetts. Up to the meeting of the First Continental Congress there were in America thirteen local governments. From that time there came into existence a new body politic, with aims and with authority superior to the local governments. These several governments had actually formed a new state. The Declaration of Independence was merely an announcement of an established fact.


War of the Revolution

When the Stamp Act was passed, the Congress which assembled acted as an advisory rather than as a legislative body. Perhaps the chief result of its meeting was that it accustomed the colonists to the idea of union. This feeling was confirmed when the First Continental Congress convened (1774). On 10 May, 1775, the Second Continental Congress assembled. By that time the notion of union was much more familiar; besides, the military phase of the war had begun three weeks earlier. Tidings soon came of the taking of Ticonderoga by a force under Ethan Allen. This was the key of the route to Canada. Thus far the chief object of the Americans had been to secure a redress of grievances. Independence was advocated by nobody, and a little earlier John Adams said that it would not have been safe even to discuss it. However, events moved rapidly. Separation was discussed, and on 4 July 1776 a Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Congress, which had already become a revolutionary body. It had ceased to be an advisory assembly, and for some time had been exercising the powers of a national government. A constitution, entitled "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union", was proposed, but it was not until March, 1781, that it was adopted by all the states. For the conduct of the war in which they found themselves engaged they were wretchedly prepared: they had no money, no system of taxation, no navy.

Early in the war Congress sent to Canada a commission to win over its people to the side of the insurgent colonists. This body included Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and Charles Carroll. A cousin of the last-named, Rev. John Carroll, accompanied the commission to assist in promoting its patriotic purpose. By virtue of the Quebec Act the Canadians were enjoying religious liberty, and they must have wondered what they could gain from an alliance with a people who considered that measure of toleration as a ground of reproach to England. As to the enlargement of the Province of Quebec, already noticed, the people of Canada must have been somewhat indifferent. These and other considerations led them generally to adopt a policy of neutrality. The presence in the American army of one or two small battalions of Canadians did not to any considerable extent affect the sentiments of the French population. During the progress of the war their loyalty was often suspected by British officials, perhaps not without cause.

Under General Montgomery an army also was sent into Canada. A co-operating force under Benedict Arnold reached Canada by way of the Kennebec River and the Maine wilderness. Montgomery had won several small advantages, but the joint attack on Quebec, 31 Dec., 1775, resulted in his death, in the wounding of Arnold, and the defeat of their forces. Then was begun a disastrous retreat toward the State of New York. Either this step of Congress or the plans of the British War Office led to a counter invasion. A force under St. Leger, moving by way of Oswego and Fort Stanwix (Rome), was intended to create a diversion in favour of the main army under Burgoyne, which was advancing leisurely from Canada. With these two commands Clinton was expected to co-operate along the line of the Hudson. St. Leger's army was defeated or dispersed, and, instead of co-operating with Burgoyne, General Clinton had gone off to attack Philadelphia. A detachment from Burgoyne's army was defeated at Bennington, Vermont. This event left nearly all New England free to act on Burgoyne's line of communications. After two severe battles he surrendered, near Saratoga, on 17 Oct., 1777, his entire army of nearly six thousand men. Thus ended the struggle for the possession of the Hudson. The event influenced France to form an alliance, Feb., 1778, with the young Republic.

After the commission had returned from Canada, several agents were sent to represent the United States in Europe, and Franklin's ability had much to do with the establishment of friendly relations with France. When in March, 1776, Washington drove the British from Boston, he brought his army southward and occupied New York and Long Island. That portion of his force in Long Island met with disaster in the following August. To avoid capture, he turned northward, crossed the Hudson, entered New Jersey, and passed over into Pennsylvania. From his camp in that state he surprised a regiment of his pursuers at Trenton, 25 Dec., 1776, recrossed to Pennsylvania, and early in the following year again encountered the enemy at Princeton. This ended the first stage of the struggle for the Delaware. Cornwallis gradually retired towards New York.

In the West, Colonel George Rogers Clark took Kaskaskia, 4 July, 1778. The influence of Father Pierre Gibault , its parish priest, enabled Clark speedily to recruit two companies at that place and in the neighbouring settlement at Cahokia. A generous loan by François Vigo enabled him to complete his equipment for the march on Vincennes, which, after terrible hardships, was surprised and taken. These were the first steps in the winning of the West. That term included the region now covered by Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and a part of Minnesota. In this great achievement of Clark's, Catholics acted a very praiseworthy part. When that commander arrived at Kaskaskia, he was not unexpected; the terms of enlistment of many of his men had already expired, and in the battalions with which he marched to Vincennes there was a great preponderance of Catholics. In the conquest of that place he was also assisted by the inhabitants of the town. Indeed he felt encouraged during the entire campaign by the friendship of the Spanish governor beyond the Mississippi.

When General Clinton should have co-operated with Burgoyne he set out for the conquest of Philadelphia, the capital of the new union. Transporting his army by the Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay, he landed in Maryland, marched towards Philadelphia and, after defeating Washington's army on the Brandywine, occupied the capital. Though the fighting around Philadelphia was not decisive, the patriot army, as shown in the engagement at Germantown (Oct., 1777), was improving in efficiency. To defend the Continental military stores, as well as to menace Philadelphia, Washington went into winter quarters at Valley Forge. It is unnecessary to repeat the familiar story of the sufferings of the patriot army. One thing, however, was accomplished during that terrible winter. The little army of Washington was rigorously drilled by the German volunteer, Baron Von Steuben. Thereafter the Continentals were a match for the best-drilled troops of England. In the spring of 1778 there was a rumour that a French fleet had sailed for the Delaware. This consideration, together with the improvement in the condition of Washington's army, persuaded the British to return across New Jersey to New York City. During this march a severe engagement occurred at Monmouth Court House, N.J., 28 June, 1778. It was only the treachery of General Charles Lee that prevented Washington from winning a more complete victory.

The alliance with France has been noticed. The operations of its fleet at Newport are popularly regarded in America as having been somewhat useless. As a matter of fact, the activity of the allies put the British on the defensive at the very moment that they had decided to wage aggressive war. At an early stage Beaumarchais had forwarded military supplies to the United States. After Feb., 1778, his government loaned large sums of money ($6,352,500), used its armies wherever the opportunity offered, and into every quarter of the globe, even into the Indian Ocean, sent its warships to fight England.

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