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What was the American Revolution?


1774 Continental Congress Pamphlet

The First Continental Congress, held in Philadelphia in 1774, set the American colonies on a path of confrontation with the British government that led almost inevitably to the outbreak of war less than a year later. This printing of “Extracts From The Votes and Proceedings of the American Continental Congress, …” will be exhibited at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, planned for completion by late 2016.

What do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.

John Adams, 1818

What do we mean when we talk about the “American Revolution”? If you asked most Americans today, they probably would mention some of the better-known battles – Bunker Hill, Saratoga or Yorktown. Some also would think of the Boston Tea Party or the suffering soldiers at Valley Forge. Historians might include political and economic factors as well as military developments.

In his old age, John Adams had a different perspective on the subject. Looking back from the vantage point of 1818, he believed the American Revolution took place in the “minds and hearts” of the people. What did he mean? Adams seems to be saying that the real American Revolution began sometime in the 1760s and was essentially over by the spring of 1775 when British troops fired on the farmer militiamen at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts – or by July 1776 at the latest.

What followed, according to Adams, was the war fought for independence – the military struggle to defend our newly established, evolving nation. This struggle would not end until 1783 when Great Britain gave up its attempt to reclaim the American colonies and begrudgingly recognized the United States. If the “minds and hearts” of enough Americans had not already reached the conclusion that they needed to take up arms to defend their rights, property and liberties, it is doubtful that the military phase would have succeeded. This was the revolution that sustained the long, arduous war effort after 1776

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