The First Civil War; 1775 - 1782
A closer look at the American War of Independence
Some call it the War of Independence or the Revolutionary War. It began in 1775 over the lack of representation in the British Parliament.
Citizens of the Thirteen Colonies considered that their rights as Englishmen were violated as they had no representation in the Parliament of Great Britain.
The First Continental Congress was made up of thirteen self-governing provinces which petitioned King George III of England in 1774 requesting his intervention in what they felt was a simple matter of non-representation, assuming that he would grant a seat or two in Parliament.
To underline their importance to the Empire, they organised a boycott. They decided they would not buy British goods.
However, they affirmed their loyalty to the British Crown.
After a year of talking, boycotting, publishing articles and sending petitions, nothing happened except the Brits sent more soldiers to Boston.
In 1775 the Second Continental Congress met. After debate they authorized the formation of a Continental Army.
The British Parliament perceiving this as a provocative action, declared all those involved in the Congress to be traitors and the colonies were declared to be in rebellion.
There was no alternative for the Continental Congress.
They had been declared traitors, which meant they were under a death sentence; for treason is punishable by death.
The colonies were said to be in Rebellion, hence more British Troops would be arriving to put down the insurgency.
The only route was to declare Independence from Britain, and combine the thirteen colonies into one nation.
In 1776 a formal Declaration of Independence was made, renouncing allegiance
to the British monarchy.
What began, officially, in 1774, with the First Continental Congress, had not been
an Independence movement.
It had been the demand of 'Freeborn Englishmen' to exercise the rights that belonged to Freeborn Englishmen.
Obvious to any student of history, the Thirteen Colonies were not composed
exclusively of 'Freeborn Englishmen.'
There were those from other European countries, some who had voluntarily
migrated to the 'New World', and those who had been involuntarily
transported as 'indentured servants' or slaves.
The Continental Congress was not representative of those who lived in the colonies.
Many of the residents had never had any rights to vote nor expected to have any rights.
Considering slavery was legal and practiced in all of the colonies, and there were a good many 'indentured servants' the term 'Freedom' would not be useful.
As those who sat in the Continental Congress were Englishmen, not Dutch, nor French, nor Irish, nor members of any other ethnic or racial group, and saw themselves as subjects of the English Crown, Independence from Britain had
not been on the agenda.
It was the response of King George, or perhaps the lack of it, and his subsequent
branding of those who petitioned for rights as traitors, which created the crisis.
Simply put, those who had been involved in the Continental Congress were now
having to fight for their lives as the choice was;
a) wait for the British Army to arrive to arrest them, charge them for treason
and hang them,
b) take arms and fight for survival.
They chose b)
The War was not between the Colonists and England, but between two factions of Colonists. Those who were loyal to the King, (Loyalists) and those who were in
The Loyalists fought along side the British against the Revolutionaries. But the War
was not confined to the Thirteen Colonies as other Global powers entered.
France, under King Louis XVI, secretly provided supplies, ammunition and weapons to the Revolutionaries starting in 1776 until openly entering the war in early 1778.
Spain and the Dutch Republic, which were allies of France joined the war against Britain.
There were threats of invasion of England, there were campaigns in Europe, attacks on Minorca and Gibraltar. Spain's involvement culminated in the expulsion of British armies from West Florida, which had the effect of securing the American colonies' southern flank.
War spilled over into the West Indies, with the major powers grabbing what they could and Britain and Spain warred over Central America. As far away as India there were conflicts between the British and French.
The conflict was Global.
Although it is not easy to calculate, considering the political connotations and that people tend to align with the winners, historians have estimated that probably no more than 40 to 45% of the colonists actively supported the rebellion.
About 15 to 20% remained loyal to the British Crown.
The remaining 35 to 45% attempted to remain neutral. That meant they would play both sides, opting for the best returns.
Slaves joined the British as they were promised freedom. This caused contention between the Brits and the Loyalist slave owners.
Because of manpower shortages, George Washington lifted the ban on black enlistment in the Continental Army in January 1776.
Small all-black units were formed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts; and copying the British recruitment promise, slaves were told they would be set free if they joined.
An all-black unit came from Haiti with French forces.
At least 5,000 black soldiers fought for the Revolutionary cause and almost 20,000 black soldiers fought on the British side, though more than 100,000 freedmen were with the British at war's end.
These ex-slaves were relocated in Canada and Trinidad as well as the Bahamas.
Native Americans who were affected by the war questioned how to respond. Very few were on friendly terms with the Americans, most opposed the United States as a threat to their territory.
About 13,000 Native Americans fought on the British side, the largest group from the Iroquois tribes.
Hence most Native Americans and Africans fought against the Americans and for the British.
One of the problems the Brits faced was keeping the Loyalists happy.
As previously mentioned, far more slaves could have been used, but this cut into Loyalist pockets. Far more Native Americans were willing to join to prevent the expansion of the United States, but the Loyalists were against this.
The Loyalists were against the hiring of German mercenaries, but considered it the lesser of the evils.
The need to retain Loyalist allegiance also meant that the British were unable to use the harsh methods of suppressing rebellion they employed in Ireland and Scotland.
to be blunt, those who kept Loyalty to the British Crown were detrimental to the British war effort. Had there been less 'loyalists' then the most efficacious methods would be adopted, meaning the majority of slaves and as many Indians as wished to join would be enlisted.
After the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, King George lost control of Parliament. The push for peace was inevitable.
In 1782 the House of Commons voted to end the war with the Americas.
Preliminary peace articles were signed in Paris at the end of November, 1782. The formal end of the war did not occur until the Treaty of Paris and Treaties of Versailles on September 3, 1783.
Loyalists and others who had supported the British Crown were evacuated from the 13 Colonies
The last British troops left New York City on November 25, 1783, and the United States Congress of the Confederation ratified the Paris treaty on January 14, 1784.
Those Loyalists and slaves who remained, had their land confiscated, and for the second group, a return to slavery.
Slavery remained legal in America, and would continue until 1864.
Native Americans were exceedingly unhappy. Britain did not consult them before ceding all territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River to the United States.
This, of course led to constant wars with the Indians.
The idea that Britain was behind the unrest of the Native Americans, the reports that they were arming and encouraging them to fight the Americans led to the War of 1812.
As one can see from current events in the Middle East, the parallels with America's first Civil War. The involvement of foreigners, whether as suppliers of weapons, donators of provisions or tactical support were crucial in enabling the Revolutionaries to triumph.
The Loyalists were too short sighted to appreciate that using the Indians, even if that meant smaller colonies would be in their immediate interest, and once the Rebellion was put down, they could enact other treaties.
The American Revolution need not have happened if a few persons were able to sit in the British Parliament and have some say in the management of the colonies. Which was all the Continentials had demanded.