Birth of the USA

A sense of nationalism was developing by the mid-eighteenth century within the inhabitants of the original thirteen colonies in America. During this period, the British colonists had limited authority over the governance of the colonies. The inhabitants of those colonies were beginning to view themselves as Americans and not English, Scottish, Dutch, or French. The birth of the USA covers the events that led to the thirteen American colonies cutting their ties with Great Britain and founding the United States of America, or the USA.

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Table of contents

    History of America: a timeline

    15,000 BC: Arrival of Native Americans in North America.

    1607 AD: First English settlement established.

    The 1660s: The middle colonies of New York, New Jersey, and Delaware were established.

    1754-1763: The French and Indian War, part of the larger Seven Years’ War.

    1775: Start of the American Revolutionary War.

    1789: George Washington elected as America’s first President.

    ‘Turtle Island’ was a name used by some indigenous peoples, who believed their land was formed on the back of a turtle. The name referred to North and Central America. America is named for Amerigo Vespucci. He was an Italian explorer who theorised that the lands Christopher Columbus sailed to in 1492 were part of a distinct continent.


    British attitudes towards the Thirteen Colonies

    The Thirteen Colonies were British settlements on the Atlantic coast of America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although they were in America, they were controlled by the British. Just prior to the American Revolution, they were under the rule of King George III of Great Britain.

    As a result of the great cost of the French and Indian War, the British decided to tax the Thirteen Colonies. The colonists (as the inhabitants of the colonies called themselves) argued that they should not have to pay these taxes, as they had no representation in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Congress sent an appeal to King George III to repeal them, but it received no response. The colonists boycotted British goods as a result. The American Revolutionary War began soon after.

    Colonies

    Colonies are areas over which a foreign nation/state extends full or partial political control. Colonies are established by a group of people from one country building a settlement in another territory or land. Even though these areas are already inhabited, colonists claim the new land for their country. This is often financially advantageous as they can make money from the country's natural resources and channel that money into their own economy. However, for the preexisting inhabitants, colonialism results in land and resources being taken from them, oppression, and sometimes death (from fighting or diseases).

    The Seven Years War

    From the moment English colonists arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, they shared an uneasy relationship with the Native Americans. A series of wars known as the American Indian Wars broke out in the seventeenth century, mainly around the issue of land control.

    The eighteenth century saw the Seven Years War (1756–63), of which the French and Indian War was a part. Great Britain and France were vying for world supremacy, so the Seven Years War is often referred to as the first global conflict.

    The Seven Years War had doubled the British national debt, which in turn had driven taxation to levels never seen before. Money was needed to station a garrison permanently in the colonies, to guard against the threat of a possible attack by France. It was against this backdrop that George Grenville, the King’s minister charged with the task of imperial reorganisation, proposed a tax hike for the prosperous colonists. During this period the colonists began to reexamine their position in the imperial structure. These warnings of future trouble were largely ignored by the British and especially by Greenville.

    We will now look at some of the ways Great Britain tried to enforce the colonial relationship.

    The Royal Proclamation of 1763

    The Proclamation Line of 7 October 1763, a boundary imposed by the distant British government, was a temporary measure designed to stop Anglo-American colonists from settling on lands acquired from the French following the French and Indian War (1754-1763). That conflict pitted the North American colonies against those of the French, with each side aided by North American tribes. This proclamation was largely ignored by the colonists, who were not to be restrained by a line on a map drawn 3,000 miles away.

    The Stamp Act: 3 February 1765

    Colonial opposition remained localised until Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765. It was another means to raise money for the stationing of British troops along the Western frontier. It called for revenue stamps to be affixed to newspapers, broadsides, legal documents, insurance policies and even playing cards and dice. It produced a widespread and violent reaction from the colonists. Secret organisations known as the Sons of Liberty were formed throughout the colonies. The Stamp Act was eventually repealed in the spring of 1766 due to widespread opposition and the paralysis of American trade. The news of this victory was met with rapturous support by the colonists.

    The Townshend Duties, 1767–68

    In a fresh attempt to solve the ever-increasing revenue problems facing Great Britain, Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced new duties on colonial imports of glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. Townshend's measures would reignite the uproar in America. As they had with the Stamp Act, the colonists organised another economic boycott. The Townshend Duties eventually resulted in the Boston Massacre of 1770, where British troops shot and killed five Bostonians. The Townshend Duties were repealed on the same day, apart from the duty on tea, which was retained as a mark of Parliament’s supremacy.

    Ending the colonial relationship, 1774–76

    The widespread protests listed above encouraged colonial unity, as colonists began to realise they had more in common with each other than with the British. However, with the repeal of the Stamp Act and most of the Townshend Duties removed, the discontent amongst colonists had begun to simmer down and suspicions on both sides began to fade away. But as Samuel Adams, one of the founding fathers of the USA, remarked at the time:

    Where there is a spark of patriotic fire, we will rekindle it.

    The Tea Act, 1773

    The fragile peace between the colonies and Britain was again shaken by the Tea Act of 1773. This act was an attempt to relieve the financial stresses of the East India Company by allowing it to export tea to the colonies directly and retail it in America. Colonial merchants and smuggling rings felt threatened by this British monopoly. They were also still resentful that the tax on tea had been retained. The Boston Tea Party was a direct response to the Tea Act. Demonstrators boarded ships and threw chests of tea into Boston harbour. The Boston Tea Party has become an iconic event in American history. The episode led directly into the American Revolution.


    The Coercive Acts, 1774

    Facing American resistance for the third time, the British responded with a series of acts known collectively as the Coercive Acts. These acts were designed to punish the colony of Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party. Only food and firewood were allowed into Boston port until payment had been made for the lost tea. Far from isolating Massachusetts, the Coercive Acts united the colonies and emboldened resistance.

    Birth of the USA Boston Tea Party StudySmarterDepiction of chests of tea being thrown overboard at Boston Harbour.


    American Revolutionary War Period

    Thomas Paine was an English-born philosopher and writer who supported revolutionary causes in America. His pamphlet, ‘Common Sense’, advocated independence from Great Britain to people in the thirteen colonies. His vision of radical democracy was in stark contrast to the one promoted by John Adams, who favoured a system of checks and balances. Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, favoured limited government intervention, and the concept of ‘natural rights’ that no government could take away.

    The Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776

    In the spring of 1776, colony after colony instructed its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for separation from British rule. Samuel Adams stated,

    We have no other alternative than independence or the most ignominious and appalling servitude.

    The declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson, with some assistance from Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.

    The Revolutionary War

    When war broke out, Great Britain looked invincible. It outnumbered the United States in population by more than three to one. Moreover, Great Britain possessed naval and military superiority and had a significant advantage in war-making potential. However, the British had to transport and maintain a heavily equipped army across 3000 miles of ocean. By the time of the outbreak of the conflict the British Navy had been decaying for years and was being led by a less than stellar leadership.

    The battles of Lexington and Concord, 1775

    The battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements in the Revolutionary War. The battles were fought between British colonists and the angry resident militia. Political skirmishes and pitched battles had now evolved into outright warfare. American militia were alerted about an imminent attack from the British by Paul Revere. Paul Revere was a prominent silversmith who helped create an intelligence and alarm system to keep watch on the British military. Under intense attack by the Americans, the British retreated.

    The international context

    The Battle of Saratoga was a pivotal turning point in the Revolutionary War. It brought France into the conflict and turned a local rebellion into a world war. France viewed their involvement as an opportunity to reverse the outcome of the Seven Years War. The American victory at Saratoga had convinced France that the United States could win this conflict. The aid and supplies given to the colonists by France, coupled with the fact that Great Britain had no allies to call upon, swung the odds of victory substantially in the colonists' favour.

    The Treaty of Paris, signed on 3 September 1783, officially ended the American Revolutionary War. Article 1 acknowledged the United States as a free, sovereign, and independent state. The Articles of Confederation established the first national government for the United States. Within a few years, it was discarded in favour of a new government, set forth in the Constitution of 1788.

    Founding the Republic, 1776–89

    To the outside world, the victory of the American revolutionaries over the might of the British Empire seemed implausible. American success was due to many factors, such as the tenacity of the American patriots, French involvement, and the strategic difficulties facing Great Britain. The Revolution had a profound effect on the political, economic, and social life of all Americans. Now the debate would turn to which forms of government would best serve the newly independent republic.


    The Articles of Confederation

    The Articles of Confederation served as a written document that outlined the functions of the new national government of the United States after it declared independence from Great Britain. It was ratified by all thirteen states. Although created in 1777, it would be a further four years until the articles were signed off on. This was due to a few factors; the fear that the terms favoured wealthy speculators rather than actual settlers, the fear of central authority, and excessive land claims. By 1786, the articles of confederation had effectively been closed as a means of governing the United States. Congress was not yet strong enough to collect taxes or enforce laws, and the debt built up during the War was not being paid off. This severely weakened the effectiveness of the articles. The sense that a constitutional revision was needed was imperative by 1786.

    Birth of the USA First page of the original copy of the American Constitution StudySmarterFirst page of the original copy of the American Constitution.

    The Constitution of the United States

    Written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and in circulation since 1789, the United States Constitution enabled Congress to be responsible for the judicial and executive branches, along with making all laws and declaring war. Congress could also veto the President's decisions with a two-thirds majority from Congress and the Senate. The Constitution has provided a model of republican government.

    Ever since its ratification in 1788, there has been considerable debate among Historians about its strengths and weaknesses. The strengths include the Bill of Rights, the idea of checks and balances, and the amendment process. The weaknesses include some of the provisions from the eighteenth century that are no longer applicable today. For example, the right to bear arms and form militias. Furthermore, the ‘equality’ aspect of the constitution was intended to be solely applicable to white men, disenfranchising enslaved people, women, and Native Americans at the time.

    The Three-Fifths Compromise and the limitations of 'equality'

    Under the Three-Fifths compromise of the Constitution, every enslaved African-American would be counted as 3/5ths of a person for taxation and representation purposes.

    Birth of the USA - Key takeaways

    • A sense of American nationalism had been growing by the mid-eighteenth century. However, strong ties to Great Britain remained amongst a large proportion of Americans.

    • British reforms following the Seven Years War strained relations with the thirteen colonies. Great Britain was heavily in debt and desperately needed to raise finances.

    • Great Britain firmly believed that the colonists should pay their fair share for the defence of their country. Alongside this, Great Britain wished to tighten regulation and trade.

    • American victory in the Revolutionary War was unthinkable at the start. But as the conflict progressed, it became apparent the British were unable to sustain the war, especially after France became involved.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Birth of the USA

    What was the US called before 1776?

    The US was called the United Colonies until 1776. It was also referred to as the Thirteen Colonies. Native Americans sometimes called the land ‘Turtle Island.’

    When was the USA born?

    4 July 1776 is generally accepted as the nation’s birthday. That was when the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence.

    How was the United States born?

    The United States was formed as a result of the Revolutionary War when the Thirteen Colonies revolted against the rule of King George III.

    Why is the United States called America?

    America is named after Amerigo Vespucci. English speakers, in general, came to refer to the Thirteen Colonies as America.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Who was the King of Great Britain in 1760?

    Which Act passed by Parliament in 1765 imposed a direct tax on printed materials from London?

    Which battle during the Revolutionary War convinced France that America could win the conflict?

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