The American Revolution, also known as the Revolutionary War, took place between 1775 and 1783. It was a battle between the original 13 British colonies in North America and their British rulers, which resulted in American independence and the formation of a new country – the United States.

The colonies’ break from the British Empire in 1776 wasn’t a sudden event but came after they grew tired of conforming to unpopular British policies. For example, they were required to pay taxes to the British government but weren’t allowed to vote in British elections.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at some of the key moments that led to the American Revolution.

1. The Stamp Act, March 1765

The Seven Years’ War (1756-63) ended the long rivalry between Britain and France for control of North America. But afterwards, the British Empire found itself in significant debt, and so began looking to British colonies living in North America as a source of revenue.

On 22nd March 1765, the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which placed a direct tax on various forms of papers, documents, and playing cards in the colonies. Unlike previous policies, including the Sugar Act of 1764 – which aimed to end the smuggling of trade goods – the Stamp Act was the first direct tax on colonists.

The British argued that, since their victory in the Seven Years War had benefited British colonists living in North America as much as anyone else (by ending 80 years of on-and-off warfare), they should contribute towards the war debt. However, the colonists felt differently.

Many argued that only their local representative assemblies had the authority to levy direct, internal taxes – and a radical minority began spreading the word that the tax was part of a longer-term plot to enslave colonists in a tyrannical regime.

Resistance broke out across the colonies – with the most famous event taking place in Boston when a mob marched through the streets carrying an effigy of Boston’s stamp distributor, Andrew Oliver. After hanging and beheading the effigy, the crowd mobbed Oliver’s home.

By 1766, the majority of stamp distributors had resigned their positions and, with colonial resistance making it impossible for the Stamp Act to be enacted, it was reversed. This event was significant in itself because the colonists saw that they could successfully push back against the British.

2. The Townshend Acts, June 1767

Despite the unrest it caused, the failure of the Stamp Act didn’t end Parliament’s belief in its authority to tax colonists. And so, in a second attempt to raise extra income, the Townshend Acts were passed on 29th June 1767.

Named after Charles Townshend, British chancellor of the Exchequer, the acts taxed a collection of goods imported into the colonies, including British china, lead, glass, paper, paint, and tea. Townshend knew that colonists were planning to start manufacturing their own goods, and so picked those items he believed would be the most difficult for them to produce.

Colonists began to take action and, by January 1768, with the help of the Sons of Liberty (a secret society of American business leaders who coined the term “taxation without representation”), 24 towns in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island had agreed to boycott British goods.

In response, the British Parliament sent over 2,000 troops to Boston in an attempt to restore order.

3. The Boston Massacre, 1770

After British troops arrived in Boston, unrest between colonists and the British became more and more common.

Protesting against the continuing taxes, colonists began vandalising stores selling British goods and harassing store owners. Things came to a head on the evening of 5th March 1770, when a deadly riot broke out on King Street in Boston, where Private Hugh White was the only British soldier guarding British money. A group of angry colonists surrounded him, throwing insults and threatening violence.

At some point, White fought back and struck a colonist, which led to a full-blown counterattack – with ice, snowballs, and oyster shells being thrown at him. White eventually fell to the ground and called for reinforcements in fear of mass riots and a loss of the King’s money. A group of soldiers came to help him, taking up a defensive position in front of the Custom House and, after the violence continued to escalate, the soldiers opened fire on the crowd.

Five colonists, including African American sailor Crispus Attucks, were killed, and six more wounded. Within hours, propaganda was in full force on both sides – including the famous works of colonial silversmith, Paul Revere, who produced an engraving that inaccurately portrayed the British as instigators of the attack.

Ironically, unbeknown to either side, Great Britain’s Prime Minister, Lord North, had asked Parliament to reverse the Townshend Acts on the same day as the Boston Massacre.

The Boston Massacre

4. The Boston Tea Party, 1773

In the years following the Boston Massacre, Britain eventually removed the taxes – all except the tax on tea, which raised approximately £1.2 million a year. In May 1773, the British Parliament passed the Tea Act, which allowed the British East India Company to sell tea to the colonies duty-free, but still tax it.

In retaliation, on 16th December 1773 at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts, a group of colonists led by the Sons of Liberty threw 342 chests of tea imported by the British East India Company into the harbour. The event later became known as the Boston Tea Party.

While other protests had preceded the Boston Tea Party, it marked the first major act of defiance of British rule by colonists, and helped to rally patriots across the colonies to fight for independence.

In June 1774, George Washington famously wrote, “the cause of Boston…ever will be considered as the cause of America.”

A second Boston Tea Party took place in March 1774, when around 60 colonists dumped nearly 30 chests of tea into the harbour. While the event wasn’t nearly as famous as the first, it did encourage other tea-dumping protests in New York, Maryland, and South Carolina.

5. The Coercive Acts, May 1774

Despite the lack of violence at the Boston Tea Party, the act of defiance didn’t go unnoticed.

In May 1774, the Coercive Acts (later known as the Intolerable Acts) were put into action. Among other things, these laws moved judicial authority to Britain; closed the Massachusetts Constitution, ending free elections of town officials; and allowed French-Canadian Catholics under British rule freedom of worship, which angered the mostly Protestant colonists.

The Coercive Acts were intended to finally quell rebellion and prevent the remaining colonies from uniting. However, the opposite happened, as colonists took the new laws as further evidence of British tyranny. They rushed to Massachusetts’ aid – offering supplies and planning for future resistance.

6. The Battles of Lexington and Concord and the beginning of the American Revolution, April 1775

The Battles of Lexington and Concord, fought on 19th April 1775, marked the beginning of the American Revolution.

Tensions had been building for many years, particularly in Massachusetts. So, to suppress the possibility of further rebellion once and for all, British troops marched into Lexington and Concord to seize weapons from the colonists.

However, having heard of this plan from an inside source, colonists prepared for the arrival of the British. At dawn on 19th April, 700 British troops were met by 77 colonial militiamen on the town green in Lexington.

To this day, no one knows which side fired first. But soon after, a sea of British bullets were released. After the smoke cleared, eight militiamen were dead and nine more injured – while only one British soldier was wounded.

The British set fire to the remaining firearms held in Concord, but by the time they were preparing to return to Boston via Lexington, almost 2,000 more militiamen had arrived.

At first, the men simply followed the British column, but further fighting broke out after colonists began firing at the British from behind trees, walls, and houses. Approximately 250 British were killed or wounded at Lexington and Concord, compared to 90 wounded or killed colonists.

The relatively low casualties proved that the colonists were able to stand up to one of the world’s most powerful armies. The same was true a few months later when the British only narrowly defeated colonists in the Battle of Bunker Hill (17th June 1775).

Final thoughts…

The American Revolution marked a significant turning point in American history. Following the Declaration of Independence in 1776, a land once ruled by an overseas power was transformed to become the sovereign United States of America.

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