With the French now involved, the British, still believing that most Southerners were Loyalists, stepped up their efforts in the Southern colonies . A campaign began in late 1778, with the capture of Savannah, Georgia . Shortly thereafter, British troops and naval forces converged on Charleston, South Carolina, the principal Southern port . They man- aged to bottle up American forces on the Charleston peninsula . On May 12, 1780, General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered the city and its 5,000 troops, in the greatest American de- feat of the war .

But the reversal in fortune only emboldened the American rebels . South Carolinians began roaming the countryside, attacking British supply lines . In July, American Gen- eral Horatio Gates, who had assem- bled a replacement force of untrained militiamen, rushed to Camden,

South Carolina, to confront British forces led by General Charles Corn- wallis . But Gates’s makeshift army panicked and ran when confronted by the British regulars . Cornwallis’s troops met the Americans several more times, but the most signifi- cant battle took place at Cowpens, South Carolina, in early 1781, where the Americans soundly defeated the British . After an exhausting but unproductive chase through North Carolina, Cornwallis set his sights on Virginia .


In July 1780 France’s King Louis XVI had sent to America an expe- ditionary force of 6,000 men under the Comte Jean de Rochambeau . In addition, the French fleet harassed British shipping and blocked re- inforcement and resupply of Brit- ish forces in Virginia . French and American armies and navies, total- ing 18,000 men, parried with Corn- wallis all through the summer and into the fall . Finally, on October 19,

1781, after being trapped at York- town near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, Cornwallis surrendered his army of 8,000 British soldiers .

Although Cornwallis’s defeat did not immediately end the war — which would drag on inconclusively for almost two more years — a new British government decided to pur- sue peace negotiations in Paris in early 1782, with the American side represented by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay . On April 15, 1783, Congress approved the fi- nal treaty . Signed on September 3, the Treaty of Paris acknowledged the independence, freedom, and sover- eignty of the 13 former colonies, now states . The new United States stretched west to the Mississippi River, north to Canada, and south to Florida, which was returned to Spain . The fledgling colonies that Richard Henry Lee had spoken of more than seven years before had fi- nally become “free and independent states .”

The task of knitting together a nation remained . 9





The American Revolution had a significance far beyond the North American continent. It attracted the attention of a political intelligentsia throughout the European continent. Idealistic notables such as Thaddeus Kosciusko, Friedrich von Steuben, and the Marquis de Lafayette joined its ranks to affirm liberal ideas they hoped to transfer to their own nations. Its success strengthened the concept of natural rights throughout the Western world and furthered the En- lightenment rationalist critique of an old order built around hereditary monar- chy and an established church. In a very real sense, it was a precursor to the French Revolution, but it lacked the French Revolution’s violence and chaos because it had occurred in a society that was already fundamentally liberal.

The ideas of the Revolution have been most often depicted as a triumph of the social contract/natural rights theories of John Locke. Correct so far as it goes, this characterization passes too quickly over the continuing importance of Calvinist-dissenting Protestantism, which from the Pilgrims and Puritans on had also stood for the ideals of the social contract and the self-governing com- munity. Lockean intellectuals and the Protestant clergy were both important advocates of compatible strains of liberalism that had flourished in the British North American colonies.

Scholars have also argued that another persuasion contributed to the Revolution: “republicanism.” Republicanism, they assert, did not deny the existence of natural rights but subordinated them to the belief that the main- tenance of a free republic required a strong sense of communal responsibility and the cultivation of self-denying virtue among its leaders. The assertion of individual rights, even the pursuit of individual happiness, seemed egoistic by contrast. For a time republicanism threatened to displace natural rights as the major theme of the Revolution. Most historians today, however, concede that the distinction was much overdrawn. Most individuals who thought about such things in the 18th century envisioned the two ideas more as different sides of the same intellectual coin.

Revolution usually entails social upheaval and violence on a wide scale. By these criteria, the American Revolution was relatively mild. About 100,000 Loyalists left the new United States. Some thousands were members of old elites who had suffered expropriation of their property and been expelled; others were simply common people faithful to their King. The majority of those who went into exile did so voluntarily. The Revolution did open up and further liberalize an already liberal society. In New York and the Carolinas, large Loyalist estates were divided among small farmers. Liberal assumptions became the official norm of American political culture — whether in the dis- establishment of the Anglican Church, the principle of elected national and state executives, or the wide dissemination of the idea of individual freedom. Yet the structure of society changed little. Revolution or not, most people re- mained secure in their life, liberty, and property. 

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