7.2 Revolution in America - T -

AGE 7. The Time of Wigs and Revolutions
7.2 The American Revolution

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This lesson contains 32 slides, with interactive quizzes, text slides and 8 videos.

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AGE 7. The Time of Wigs and Revolutions
7.2 The American Revolution


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What is this lesson about?
Between 1765 and 1775, taxation issues led to tensions in the Thirteen Colonies. Between 1775 and 1783, the Americans fought for independence, which they declared in 1776, creating the United States of America, a federative republic. In 1789, the United States Constitution secured the power of the federal government.

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After this lesson you can explain:
  •  what the relationship was between Great Britain and the American colonies.
  • why the American colonies rebelled against Great Britain
  • how several incidents led to the forming of a Continental Congress
  • how the war between Britain and the colonists led to the birth of the USA.
  • the influence of the Enlightenment on the Declaration of Independence
  • why the USA is a federation.

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people in this lesson
George Washington
later: 1st president of the USA

Thomas Jefferson
writer Declaration of Independence
+ 3rd president USA
George III
king of Britain

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Word Duty

American Revolution: the struggle for independence by British colonists in America
Thirteen colonies: British colonies along the east coast of North America
Militias: civilian armies established to defend against Native Americans and other colonists
Patriots: colonists who used methods of direct action to oppose the taxation acts
The Boston Tea Party: ships carrying tea were attacked and the tea was dumped into the harbour as an act of protest against the taxation acts
Continental Congress: a convention of delegates from all the Thirteen Colonies
Declaration of Independence: a document declaring the Thirteen Colonies independent
United States of America: a country consisting of the former American British colonies
Federation: a country that consists of states, each with their own government, which are ruled on a national level by a federal government
The Constitution: the supreme law describing the relationship between the citizens and the 
government and the way the government works
The Bill of Rights: the first ten amendments to the constitution which describe individual 
rights of citizens and limit the power of the government


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Important dates in this lesson:

1770: Boston Massacre
1773: Boston Tea Party
1775: War between Britain and American colonists begins
1776: Declaration of independence
1789: Congress accepts the Constitution

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In the middle of the 18th century, another European war led to the American Revolution: the struggle for independence by British colonists in America. The colonists used many of the Enlightenment ideas to support their claim. Why were these ideas so appealing?

First, watch the video in the next slide

Colonists at Yorktown are ready to fight the British army.

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Slide 9 - Video

American colonies

Since the establishment of Virginia, the first British colony in America in 1607, twelve more colonies had been founded along the east coast of North America. These colonies, also referred to as the Thirteen Colonies, were part of the vast British Empire. The settlers were mostly of British and German origin. The Dutch Republic, France and Spain also had colonies in North America.
Most settlers lived as farmers, who owned their land. These farmers enjoyed a great deal of independence and they were allowed a high degree of self-government. This is understandable, since messages to and from the colonies took months to arrive, making it very hard for the government in London to actively interfere in colonial affairs. An effect of this situation was that the colonies each provided for their own protection by establishing civilian armies or militias to defend against Native Americans and other European colonists.

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Taxation of the colonies

In 1763, a war in Europe ended with a British victory over France. This war had spread to the French, British and Spanish colonies in North America.
The Thirteen Colonies had fought against the French and their Native American allies, and won; effectively they had captured and conquered all of France’s colonial territory in North America.
However, this British victory in Europe came at a high price. The government in London turned to the colonies to come up with a part of the residual costs after the war by imposing a series of taxation acts. This caused a lot of protests and resistance from the colonists. Their main issue was the fact that they had no say in or power over the way that they were governed because they were not represented in the British parliament. They argued that these taxes were not fair as long as they had no say in the way that their tax money was spent.

William Penn’s peace treaty with natives, when he founded the Province of Pennsylvania in 1682. This peace treaty led to significantly better relations with local natvie tribes than most other colonies had. Painting by Benjamin West (1771).

The territories acquired by the British from the French and the Spanish via the peace treaty in 1763.

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The Boston Massacre

In 1767, the British passed new laws putting taxes on glass, oil, lead, paint and paper - all goods in everyday use that would go up in price. 
Bad feeling between the colonists and the British grew worse. There were regular demonstrations and outbreaks of violence against the British and their troops. 

Then, in 1770, British soldiers shot five unarmed civilians during a protest in Boston. The news spread fast through all the 13 colonies. More and more colonists called the "Red Coats", the British soldiers, the enemy of the American colonists.

source A
The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th, 1770, a copper engraving by Paul Revere modeled on a drawing by Henry Pelham,1770.

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The Boston Tea Party

Some colonists used methods of direct action to oppose the taxation acts, calling themselves Patriots. A famous act of protest, known as the Boston Tea Party, happened in the Boston Harbour in 1773. The British colonies were officially required to import tea exclusively from Great Britain in order to reduce competition and support the British East India Company. The British government also used the tax on tea exported to the colonies to pay the salary of government officials in the colonies. This made these officials dependent on the government and assured their loyalty. The rebelling colonists regarded this as just another way for the government to keep the colonies in check. The Patriots protested against this by attacking ships in Boston harbour transporting tea. They dumped the tea in the harbour, destroying the entire shipment.

This iconic picture from 1846 was entitled ‘The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor’; the phrase ‘Boston Tea Party’ had not yet become standard. Contrary to Currier’s depiction, few of the men dumping the tea were actually disguised as Native Americans. Lithograph by Nathaniel Currier (1846).

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This incident was met by harsh measures from the British government. They closed the Boston harbour so no ships could leave or enter. Furthermore, a large British force was sent to America to keep the Patriots under control. These measures made the British government into a common enemy for the colonists from all the Thirteen Colonies. The colonists united against this threat in 1774, forming the Continental Congress, a convention of delegates from all the Thirteen Colonies. This Congress coordinated the resistance efforts against Britain.

September 5-October 26, 1774, the First Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia

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War with Britain

In April 1775, tensions between the British government and the Patriots in Massachusetts turned into a violent clash, which led to the siege of Boston by colonial militia troops. During this siege, the Continental Congress decided that the colonies would form an army called the Continental Army. Under the leadership of General George Washington, the colonists were able to drive the British out of Boston. Over the course of the following five years, many battles were to be fought all over the American east coast, until the British forces were effectively defeated. It would, however, take two years of negotiating to come to a peace treaty, officially ending the war in 1783.

British soldiers were called "Redcoats", for an obvious reason.
This photograph shows modern people acting as British soldiers during the War of Independence

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George Washington crossing the Delaware River in 1776. Painting by Emanuel Leutze (1851).

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Over the course of the first year of the war, it became clear that the British were not inclined to give up or even share power in the colonies. The Continental Congress decided therefore that the colonies would become independent and appointed Thomas Jefferson to draw up the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was adopted by the Congress on July 4th 1776, thereby giving birth to the United States of America. The text of the declaration clearly reflects the ideas of the Enlightenment:

The books written by European Enlightenment thinkers were widely available in the colonies. The idea of basic human rights, which even kings could not take away, was very popular in the colonies.

The fourth of July is still celebrated today as Independence Day.

Continental Congress signs the Declaration of Independence on july 4th, 1776.

John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence. His name has therefore become synonymous with the word ‘signature’ in American slang. So, when asked for your John Hancock while visiting the US, you now know your signature is needed!

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On  June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress adopted in a resolution the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the newly formed United States of America. 

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Forming a government

The newly formed United States was a federation. This is a country that consists of states, each with their own government, which are ruled on a national level by a federal government. At first the government of the United States was weak, mainly because it lacked funding and each state acted individually. A stronger federal government was needed to insure the union of the states and the safety of the new- born country. In order to achieve this, the Congress accepted a constitution in 1789, which was the supreme law describing the relationship between the citizens and the government and the way the government works.

British soldiers were called "Redcoats", for an obvious reason.
This photograph shows modern people acting as British soldiers during the War of Independence

Howard Chandler Christy's Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States

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The writers of the constitution were heavily influenced by the ideas of French philosophers, especially Montesquieu’s idea of the Trias Politica. 
This constitution originally consisted of seven articles, but has been amended twenty-seven times since. The first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, describe individual rights of citizens and limit the power of the government. The US constitution has served as an example for other constitutions that have been written since.

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"fill in the gap" summary

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Upload a picture of the (printed and) finished summary.

Slide 27 - Open question

Write down a question about something from this lesson that you don't understand.

Slide 28 - Open question

you can use the next video as a visual overview of this lesson

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