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The American Revolution: From British Subjects to US Citizens

England’s refusal to grant American colonists fair representation led to war – and a new nation.

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Long before there was a United States of America, explorers from Europe arrived on the land and established colonies. By the 1700s, the area now known as the Eastern United States was controlled by 13 British colonies. For a long time, the 13 colonies had been allowed to rule themselves, even though they were technically still under the authority of the king in England. When the British Parliament began passing laws to regulate shipping and make new taxes, however, the colonists protested. Eventually, war broke out, and the American Revolution began.

Legislation Without Representation

Leading up to the American Revolution, the colonists objected to British rule because it didn’t provide them with much representation in England, where the laws were formulated. For most of the 17th century, the British didn’t have any regulations in place for the colonies. They viewed the colonies as an investment. They had sent people across the ocean, and it was up to those colonists to either succeed or fail, mostly on their own. The problem came when England began passing new rules and taxes that were intended to obtain money from the colonies.

This method of governing the colonies by leaving them alone was called salutary neglect. The phrase came from a speech given by Edmund Burke at the British House of Commons on March 22, 1775. But the period of salutary neglect ended in 1651 with the Navigation Act. England was coming out of an expensive war with France and needed money. The Navigation Act required all goods transported from the American colonies be carried on English ships. It was an attempt to keep Americans from trading with other countries.

While the British government felt the colonies belonged to England, the people who had spent their lives building up those colonies felt they were being exploited. As the British passed more laws and taxes after the Navigation Act, the colonists protested. Most colonists didn’t want war – they just wanted a say in the laws that governed them.

War and Independence

As the colonists responded to new laws with new protests, and the British responded to each protest by either sending more troops to America or passing new laws and taxes, the situation just got worse as time went on. In 1774, the governments of each colony sent people to represent them at the First Continental Congress.

The first actual battles of what would later be called the Revolutionary War were at Lexington and Concord in 1775 – and the colonists hadn’t even declared independence yet! On July 5, 1775, the Continental Congress passed the Olive Branch Petition, which was the last effort to reconcile with England. But before the petition reached King George III, the monarch declared the colonists rebels and asked other countries for help in defeating them.

On July 4, 1776, the 13 colonies – now without any hope of fixing things with England – officially declared independence and became states rather than colonies. This allowed them to form alliances with other countries, like Spain and France. The foreign assistance helped the colonists fight off the British long enough that, in 1782, the Parliament in England voted to concede American independence. This began the long process of discussing peace, which ended in the Treaty of Paris of 1783 and a free United States of America.

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