The War Of Independence: Introduction
"We hold these truths to be selfevident
that all men are created equal, that
they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienabfr rights, that
among these are lift, liberty, and
the pursuit of happiness."
The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
John Adams, second President of the United States, declared that the history of the American Revolution began as far back as 1620. "The Revolution," he said, "was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people." The principles and passions that led the Americans to rebel ought, he added, "to be traced back for two hundred years and sought in the history of the country from the first plantation in America."
As a practical matter, however, the overt parting of the ways between England and America began in 1763, more than a century and a half after the first permanent settlement had been founded at Jamestown, Virginia. The colonies had grown vastly in economic strength and cultural attainment, and virtually all had long years of self-government behind them. Their combined population now exceeded 1,500,000-a sixfold increase since 1700.
The implications of the physical growth of the colonies were far greater than mere numerical increase would indicate. The 18th century brought a steady expansion from the influx of immigrants from Europe, and since the best land near the seacoast had already been occupied, new settlers had to push inland beyond the fall line of the rivers. Traders explored the back country, brought back tales of rich valleys, and induced farmers to take their families into the wilderness. Although their hardships were enormous, restless settlers kept coming, and by the 1730s frontiersmen had already begun to pour into the Shenandoah Valley.
Down to 1763, Great Britain had formulated no consistent policy for her colonial possessions. The guiding principle was the confirmed mercantiIist view that colonies should supply the mother country with raw materials and not compete in manufacturing. But policy was poorly enforced, and the colonies had never thought of themselves as subservient. Rather, they considered themselves chiefly as commonwealths or states, much like England herseff, having only a loose association with authorities in London.
At infrequent intervals, sentiment in England was aroused and efforts were made by Parliament or the Crown to subordinate the economic activities and governments of the colonies to England's will and interest - efforts to which the majority of the colonists were opposed. The remoteness afforded by a vast ocean allayed fears of reprisal the colonies might otherwise have had.
Added to this remoteness was the character of life itself in early America. From countries limited in space and dotted with populous towns, the settlers had come to a land of seemingly unending reach. On such a continent natural conditions stressed the importance of the individual.