Declaration of Independence (1776): The American Revolution began in April 1775. Despite this, many Americans hoped for rapprochement with the Britain. They attempted diplomacy, but were rebuffed by King George. When it became evident conciliation was impossible, the Continental Congress established a committee to draw up a Declaration of Independence. The declaration synthesized nearly a century of Enlightenment thought. The document justified rebellion against tyrannical government and clearly stated that all men had distinct political rights. It also included a list of grievances against George III. The Declaration of Independence ended any chance of reconciliation with the British and has inspired revolutions to this day.
Saratoga (1777): The American war effort struggled through the first phase of the Revolution. For two years, the revolutionaries struggled on the battlefield and in attempts to gain recognition. In October 1777, the Continentals under Benedict Arnold captured an entire British army under John Burgoyne. The shocking victory compelled French entry into the war transforming the American Revolution into a global war. French involvement forced the British to defend their empire on a global scale as opposed to a engaging in a localized North American campaign.
Yorktown (1781): After six long years of conflict, the American Revolution ended at Yorktown, Virginia. George Washington and the French navy trapped a British army under Lord Cornwallis. The defeat convinced the British government to release the North American colonies in order to concentrate on the war against France. As a result, the Americans won their independence, Britain went on to form an even greater empire, and France went bankrupt.
Shay’s Rebellion (1786): Many American politicians, bureaucrats, and political thinkers realized the Articles of Confederation needed revision. The document served as the basis for the American government. Under the articles, the federal government could not tax, raise an army, regulate commerce, or settle disputes between states. Despite the deficiencies, many refused to acquiesce to revising the articles. Shay’s Rebellion changed the dynamic. A group of Western Massachusetts farmers rebelled against their creditors. The federal government could not raise an army to put down the rebels. Eventually, the Massachusetts militia ended the rebellion. The federal government’s impotence in the face of a farmer’s rebellion convinced enough people of the need for a new constitution.
Constitutional Convention (1787): After two years of dithering, the states agreed to hold a convention for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation. Instead, the delegates decided to scrap the document altogether. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton assumed control of the convention and steered it toward a centralized system. In the end, the delegates corrected the mistakes made in the writing of the Articles of Confederation and created a document designed to balance personal liberty with governmental necessity. After the convention, those supporting the new document and those opposed entered into a newspaper war for public opinion. In the end, the forces arraigned against the document failed. The Constitution went into effect in 1789.