The American Revolution
King George was now facing the threat of widespread rebellion in the North American colonies. The Continental Congress, which had been meeting since September of 1774, was debating how to supply this new provincial army and who should lead it. On June 14, 1775, the Second Continental Congress appointed George Washington to assume command of the disorganized militias that had surrounded Boston a month prior. But it was not in time. On June 17, 1775, General William Howe launched an assault on Charlestown and Breed’s Hill just north of Boston. The battle opened with a barrage from British warships stationed around the colonial entrenchments at Breed’s Hill. Taking command of the Continental Army was Israel Putnam, who ordered the militiamen to stand their ground against the assault. It would take the British regulars three frontal assaults to secure a victory at Bunker Hill.
Now, it was apparent to all that this would be a long and costly war. Following the appointment of George Washington to lead the Continental Army, the Second Continental Congress drafted a Declaration of Causes stating why it was necessary to take up armed resistance against the British Army. In addition, they assumed the role of government by issuing paper money to pay for the troops, and even assigned a committee to negotiate with foreign powers. While doing so, members of the Continental Congress still clung to the hope that there could be reconciliation between the thirteen colonies and the mother country.
In May of 1775, only weeks after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, members of the Continental Congress debated sending King George an Olive Branch Petition. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania believed that the opening of hostilities was due to a misunderstanding. Dickinson, like many of his eighteenth century contemporaries, believed that a group of wicked ministers clouded the King’s judgment, and if the colonies wrote to him directly, he might understand that it was not the fault of the North American colonists, but the English Parliament. John Adams on the other hand believed that war was inevitable, and the petition would not be well received.
Richard Penn and Arthur Lee left for England with the petition in hand, and arrived on August 21, 1775. They first met with Lord Dartmouth, the Secretary of State for the North American colonies. But their real objective was to bring the petition to King George so they could state their case. The king rejected them on the grounds that the Continental Congress was an unlawful assembly, and their dealings up to that point had been illegal.
By now, King George and Parliament had learned of the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the continued encirclement of Boston by the nascent Continental Army. But the King was more concerned with the mixed messages he was receiving from the Continental Congress. While delegates to the Continental Congress were debating the Olive Branch Petition in May, John Adams wrote a letter to a friend expressing the inevitability of war. In this letter, he suggested that the colonists should capture royal officials, and build a navy to protect the eastern seaboard. This letter was in the hands of King George only days before Arthur Lee and Richard Penn arrived in England. John Adams’ belligerent tone undermined all efforts by patriots to reach a peaceful accord with Parliament and King George III. By the time Lee and Penn were received, King George understood that all of the colonists were taking up arms against the Crown.
In response to the petition, on August 23 the king issued A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition. The royal proclamation declared that the colonies were in a state of rebellion, and that the Crown would do its utmost to bring an end to hostilities. King George blamed the delegates of the Continental Congress stating the colonists were “misled by dangerous and ill-designing men.” Further, the king announced that the Crown will “accordingly strictly charge and command all of Our Officers as well Civil as Military; and all Our obedient and loyal subjects, to use their utmost Endeavors to withstand and suppress such rebellion.” The British government and the North American colonies were now at war.
In the early days of the conflict, the colonists struggled to wage war effectively. But in May 1775, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold seized a retinue of canons from Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point. By March of 1776, these canons were in the hands of George Washington, who took them to Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston, and aimed them at the British force occupying the town. General Howe planned to lead a force to retake the heights, but due to bad weather, he was forced to reconsider. On March 17, General Howe and the British Army evacuated the Shawmut Peninsula, leaving Boston in the hands of the Continental Army.
In August of 1776, Howe and his force reappeared off the coast of New York. Howe planned to seize New York from the Continental Army, where he would be able to regroup, and then march his army north to meet General Burgoyne who was leading a sizeable force down from Quebec. As Burgoyne moved south through the thick brush of the countryside, he was intercepted at Saratoga, where he was decisively defeated on October 7, 1777. This victory gave the Continental Army hope, as France now joined the Americans in the War of Independence. Shortly after, Spain and the Dutch Republic joined the United States and France in their fight against the British Empire.
In spite of this King George was encouraged by Howe’s success in New York. George Washington and the Continental Army were on the retreat, and Howe’s force was numerically superior. In the winter of 1777-78, George Washington hunkered down at Valley Forge, his army on the brink of collapse. Although the British Army was vastly superior in numbers as in martial talent, Howe did not follow up his victories. In June of 1778, Washington’s Army emerged from the cold and sickness that characterized Valley Forge with a reinvigorated fighting spirit. On October 19, 1781, a Franco-American forced surrounded the British Army by land and sea at Yorktown, effectively ending any chances for a British victory in North America. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris secured a victory for the United States.