10 Significant Events Following the American Patriots' Victory at Yorktown
10 Significant Events Following the American Patriots’ Victory at Yorktown

10 Significant Events Following the American Patriots’ Victory at Yorktown

Khalid Elhassan - July 25, 2018

In October of 1781, American forces and their French allies trapped and besieged a British army in Yorktown. On October 19th, the British surrendered, bringing to a close the final major battle of the American Revolutionary War. However, it took years between that victory and the actual birth of the United States of America.

Following are ten significant events that took place in the aftermath of the Patriots’ victory at Yorktown.

Thousands of Slaves Who Had Fought For Their Freedom Were Forced to Flee the New United States

One of the greatest contradictions of the American colonists’ quest for liberty was pithily summed up by Samuel Johnson in 1775: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negros?” Many proponents of liberty and equality amongst the rebels, such as Thomas Jefferson, owned hundreds of other human beings as chattel slaves. Jefferson lived quite well in his mountain estate, Monticello, because hundreds of slaves toiled for his benefit, driven by the lash and the threat of extreme violence, or even death, if they balked.

When the Revolutionary War began in earnest, the British, unsurprisingly, sought to discomfit rebel slave owners by turning their slaves against them. In November of 1775, the British governor of Virginia offered slaves from rebel plantations freedom in exchange for service to the Crown. Thomas Jefferson decried that, and the Declaration of Independence, notwithstanding the “All men are created equal” part, heatedly denounces the British for offering the colonists’ slaves a chance at that equality.

Thousands of slaves ran away, hoping to trade bondage under their American owners for freedom with the British. In South Carolina, for example, 25,000 slaves – a quarter of the colony’s slave population – escaped to British held territory. Many runaways were caught and savagely punished by their masters, then returned to slavery, but those who reached the safety of British lines were free.

The freed slaves worked for the British as laborers, guides, spies, and fighters. Many served with conspicuous courage, sporting sashes that read “Liberty to Negroes” – freedom fighters in the most literal sense of the word. Unsurprisingly, many of the former slaves, having lived through a lifetime of mistreatment and indignities, were quite eager to spill the blood of their former masters when they finally got the chance.

10 Significant Events Following the American Patriots’ Victory at Yorktown
An escaped slave fighting for the British during the American Revolution. Pintrest

Unfortunately from the black loyalists’ perspective, the side that offered them freedom lost, and their former masters prevailed. As the war wound down, thousands of slaves-turned-freedom-fighters found themselves bottled up with the British in enclaves such as Charleston and New York, unsure whether the Crown would honor its promises to them. They had good reason to worry: American negotiators had added a last minute clause to the 1783 Treaty of Paris, forbidding the British from “carrying away” American property. Said “property” included the runaway slaves who had fought for the British.

After the signing of the treaty that ended the war, the fate of those slaves became a bone of contention between the Patriots and British commanders in the former colonies. By the terms of the treaty, the British were bound to deliver their black comrades in arms to their former masters, but the British on the ground balked. That incensed George Washington, and hostilities threatened to erupt anew over the issue.

The British in New York finally resolved the issue, to the ire of the slave owners, by issuing thousands of “Certificates of Freedom” to black loyalists. The documents entitled their bearers to decamp to British colonies such as Nova Scotia “or wherever else He/She may think proper.” In South Carolina, the British also honored their commitment to the slaves who had fled to their lines. They took them with them when they evacuated the state, and resettled them in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

10 Significant Events Following the American Patriots’ Victory at Yorktown
A 1780 cartoon depicting Lord North (on his knees) and his colleagues as incompetent tinkerers, attempting to repair the British national kettle. Wikimedia

The Pro-War British Government Fell

Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford and better known as Lord North (1732 – 1792), was British Prime Minister from 1770 to 1782. As such, he was in charge throughout the entirety of the American War of Independence, except for its final year. His management of affairs before the war, then during the conflict, was marked by muddle and ineptness, which contributed greatly to Britain’s defeat.

North was educated at Eton, then Trinity College, Oxford, before getting elected to Parliament at age 22. He steadily climbed the political rungs, getting appointed Lord of the Treasury at age 27, joining the Privy Council at 34, and became Chancellor of the Exchequer a year later, in 1767. In 1770, king George III was glad when North became Prime Minister, as he viewed the new head of government to be a congenial Tory, in contrast to earlier Whigs who had been a thorn in the king’s side.

North’s 12 years as Prime Minister were dominated by his dealings with the North American colonies. One of his first acts in that regards was to confirm his predecessor’s policies towards the colonies. That turned out to be a mistake, as it ensured that the colonists’ resentments continued to simmer. North then made things worse with his response to the 1773 Boston Tea Party. He passed the Coercive Acts in 1774 – dubbed the Intolerable Acts by the colonists – which shut down the Boston government and cut off the city’s trade, in the hopes of dispiriting the colonists and restoring order. It only inflamed things further, and led to the outbreak of open warfare in 1775.

North underestimated the colonists’ determination and power of resistance, and attempted a policy that oscillated erratically between coercion and conciliation. It achieved neither. His war management was also disorganized and muddled, entrusting the army to one subordinate, the conduct of its operations in the colonies to another, and the Royal Navy to a third, without coordination or clear chains of command.

North’s approach to war steadily eroded his prestige and political power. Unlike William Pitt, Britain’s steely and determined Prime Minister in the recent Seven Years War, North was halfhearted and easily depressed by setbacks. Indeed, by 1777, following the British defeat at Saratoga, he thought the war was hopeless and unwinnable. Time and again he asked the king for permission to resign, but George III implored him each time to not quit and leave his sovereign open to attacks from the Whigs.

The surrender of Lord Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown in October of 1781 was the final straw, however. Upon hearing the news, North wrote despairingly in his journal “Oh my God! It’s all over!” It was for the war, and also for North’s government. On February 27th, a motion of no confidence in North and to end the war was passed in Parliament, forcing North to tender his resignation a few weeks later.

10 Significant Events Following the American Patriots’ Victory at Yorktown
‘Attack on Savannah’ by A.I. Keller, depicting an allied American and French attack on British-held Savannah. Pintrest

The Patriots Regained the Lost State of Georgia

The surrender of Cornwallis in 1781, followed by the fall of Lord North’s government a few months later, spelled the doom of Britain’s attempt to retain control of the thirteen colonies. However, the Patriots still had to consolidate their victory, and nowhere was the need for that more urgent than in the south, which had become the focus of British military efforts starting in 1779.

When British efforts in the northern colonies stalemated following their defeat at Saratoga in 1777, their high command attempted to turn things around with a southern strategy. Particularly as the many viewed the southern colonies as more loyalist than the northern ones. So in late 1778, a British army landed near Savannah, Georgia, swiftly overwhelmed that city’s defenders, and seized it.

The southern strategy got off to a good start, and its assumption that there were plenty of loyalist sympathies in the southern colonies was borne out as the British advanced into Georgia’s interior, and were joined by Loyalist volunteers in droves. Within months, the British had regained control of much of Georgia, and reestablished a colonial civil government, with an elected loyalist Assembly. Georgia thus became the first, and as it turned out only, state of the thirteen rebellious colonies to get restored to royal allegiance.

However, Britain’s southern strategy collapsed when its main army in the region, under the command of Lord Cornwallis, was trapped, besieged, and forced to surrender at Yorktown in October of 1781. Soon thereafter, the rebels dispatched general Anthony Wayne to bring Georgia back to the Patriot cause, and he began a campaign of attrition against the British, who were forced to hunker down in Savannah.

In the meantime, pro independence lawmakers assembled and formed an alternate Patriot legislature in Augusta, in competition with the loyalist one in Savannah. The Patriot Georgia legislature appointed a Patriot governor, who issued a proclamation pardoning Loyalists if they jumped ship and joined the independence cause. In May of 1782, the Patriot legislature passed a Confiscation and Banishment Act, declaring hundreds of Loyalists guilty of treason. True to the legislation’s name, it confiscated their property and banished them from Georgia.

With the royal cause going down the tubes in Georgia, the British evacuated Savannah in July of 1782. The Patriots entered the city, and on July 13th, 1782, the pro independence Georgia Assembly convened in that city. An exodus of Loyalists ensued, with thousands of pro British Georgians, both white and black, migrating to Jamaica or crossing the border to British East Florida. However, the Loyalists’ stay in East Florida proved short, as that territory was restored to Spain under the terms of the 1783 peace treaty. The Loyalists were forced to decamp once again in another mass migration to the British Caribbean colonies, or all the way back to the British Isles.

10 Significant Events Following the American Patriots’ Victory at Yorktown
Evacuation of Charleston by the British on December 14th, 1782, by Howard Pyle. Beverley Mitchell

The British Evacuation of Charleston

George Washington and the bulk of the Continental Army operated in the northern colonies during most of the American Revolution. However, South Carolina saw over 200 battles during the conflict – more than any other state. The battles were smaller in scale than those fought up north, but often more vicious, as the fighting was mostly an intra-state civil war pitting neighbors in Patriot and Loyalist militias against each other.

The British had followed up the early successes of their southern strategy and the capture of Savannah, Georgia, in early 1779, by expanding their military operations northward into neighboring South Carolina. They landed an expeditionary force south of Charleston in February of 1780, then marched on and besieged the port city, forcing its defenders to surrender on May 12th.

The British found Loyalist sentiment to be strong in South Carolina, especially in its coastal regions whose economy relied heavily on trade with the British West Indies. About 5000 South Carolinians – a significant portion of its adult white male population of arms bearing age – fought in Loyalist units against the Patriots. Thousands more collaborated with the British in a variety of ways, furnishing them with supplies and intelligence.

As in neighboring Georgia, the British position in South Carolina seemed to be excellent, despite frequent fighting in the colony’s backcountry between Loyalists and Patriots. Then it all went to pieces for the British when Cornwallis was defeated at Yorktown. In December of 1782, while a preliminary peace deal was pending between Britain and the American colonies, the Redcoats agreed to evacuate Charleston and not destroy the city, in exchange for the Patriots’ promise of safe passage.

Accordingly, the Redcoats and their allies made an orderly withdrawal from the city’s fortifications, which were occupied soon thereafter by the Continental army. On December 14th, 1782, the British and their Loyalists, including 5000 slaves who had fled to British lines, completed their embarkation on a British fleet and sailed away. Until then, the city had been named “Charles Town”, but after the British evacuation, it was rechristened to its present “Charleston”, because that sounded less British.

Nearly 5000 white Loyalists had left with the British, but most South Carolinian Loyalists had stayed behind. The restored Patriot state government adopted a policy of reconciliation towards them that stood in stark contrast to the vindictiveness in neighboring George, and proved to be the most moderate of all the states. Pardons had been freely offered during the war to Loyalists who switched sides, and those who failed to do so were fined 10% of the value of their property. Legislation was passed declaring the property of 232 Loyalists liable for confiscation, but most of them successfully appealed for an exemption.

10 Significant Events Following the American Patriots’ Victory at Yorktown
‘American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Agreement With Great Britain’, by Benjamin West. Wikimedia

Peace Negotiations in Paris

After the British defeat at Yorktown in 1781, the government of Prime Minister Lord North proposed a Conciliation Plan, promising to end all disagreeable acts if the American colonists ended the war. It was too little, and far too late. The colonies rejected the proposal out of hand, as their goal by then had hardened into a quest for full independence.

The fall of Lord North’s government in March of 1782 cleared the path for peace negotiations to end the conflict on the basis of American independence. Accordingly, peace talks began in Paris in April of 1782 between American Peace Commissioners John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay, who were joined late in the proceedings by Henry Laurens. Britain was represented by Richard Oswald and David Hartley.

Things were touch and go for a while, as the negotiations were not merely between the American colonists and Britain: by then, the war had dragged in France, Spain, and the Netherlands, all of whom had their own war objectives. The Spanish primarily wanted Gibraltar back, while the French, by then exhausted and nearly bankrupt, simply wanted out of the war. In September of 1782, the French proposed a package deal acceptable to Spain by offering an alternative to Gibraltar, but disagreeable to the Americans: it would have granted the colonists independence, but confined them east of the Appalachians.

The American negotiators declined, and offered to negotiate directly with Britain instead for a better deal. That was music to British ears, who jumped at the opportunity to fracture the hitherto united front presented by her adversaries, and to split the emerging United States from her European allies. The British also wanted to resume and enhance their economic and trade ties with their former colonies. Accordingly, Britain offered the US all the territory north of Florida and west of the Appalachians up to the Mississippi River, all the way up to the Canadian border.

The colonists’ split from their European allies was disadvantageous to France, Spain, and the Netherlands. It left them in the lurch, forced to pursue their own bilateral deals with Britain with less leverage than if they had negotiated as a united front. Accordingly, each of them negotiated a separate peace treaty with Britain, more favorable to the British than it might have been otherwise. Understandably, America’s European allies felt betrayed, but from an American perspective, looking out for American interests, the deal offered by Britain had simply been too good to pass.

The American Peace Commissioners accepted the British offer, and forwarded the preliminary articles of peace across the Atlantic to their government. On April 11th, 1783, the Continental Congress issued a proclamation “Declaring the Cessation of Arms” against Britain. That was followed on April 15th by congressional approval of the preliminary articles. The final Treaty of Paris was formally ratified by Congress on January 14th, 1784.

10 Significant Events Following the American Patriots’ Victory at Yorktown
An 1883 wood print commemorating the centenary of the Union Jack’s replacement with an American flag in Battery Park. Wikimedia

The British Evacuation of Their Main North American Base in New York

Today, few Americans pay any particular attention to November 25th, but there was a time when that date used to be quite a big deal, particularly in New York City. Indeed, for more than a century, no holiday was celebrated with greater gusto by New Yorkers than November 25th, the anniversary of the British evacuation of their city in 1783. It did not fall into abeyance until World War I, when the British became our allies.

New York was widely viewed as one of the most Loyalist towns during the American Revolution, and it served as the headquarters and main base of the British war effort during the conflict. The British stayed put in the city after the 1781 defeat at Yorktown, the fall of Lord North’s government in 1782, and during the ensuing peace negotiations that lasted well into 1783. Finally, in August of 1783, the British commander in New York received orders from London to evacuate the city.

It was a complicated task, as the British shut down their major base in North America. In addition to embarking officials, men, and materiel, the British also evacuated nearly 30,000 Loyalists who preferred to not take their chances with the victorious Patriots. Thousands of Black Loyalists – former slaves who had escaped their masters to join the British – were also evacuated, despite the victors’ demands that they be surrendered to their owners in accordance with the terms of the peace treaty.

Final evacuation was set for noon, November 25th, 1783. George Washington was scheduled to lead the Continental Army into the city on a triumphal procession at that time, ending at Battery Park, in the southern tip of Manhattan. However, that was delayed by a British gesture that combined humor with pettiness: the departing Redcoats nailed a Union Jack atop a flagpole in Battery Park, then greased the pole. Many men tried to climb the pole and tear down the British colors, but were defeated by the grease. Finally, an army veteran named John Van Arsdale, with the help of specially cut wooden cleats, managed to ascend the pole, tear down the British flag, and replace it with Old Glory before the British fleet had sailed out of sight. Once the American flag flew in place of the British, Washington was finally able to ride at the head of his men into New York, in one the city’s greatest victory parades.

In the following century, a main feature of Evacuation Day celebrations was a descendant of Arsdale reenacting the event by shimmying up a flagpole to replace the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes. However, the greased pole was not the final gesture of defiance from the departing British: that occurred when a gunner in a British warship sailing past jeering crowds on Staten Island’s shore fired his cannon at them. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, as the shot fell short. That (literal) parting shot was viewed by many as the final shot of the American Revolutionary War.

10 Significant Events Following the American Patriots’ Victory at Yorktown
A Patriot mob tarring and feathering a British Loyalist. Alpha History

Thousands of British Loyalists Were Forced to Leave the Newly Independent United States

At one level, the American Revolution was what it purported to be: locals fighting for their independence from a distant overseas imperial power. At another level, it was also a civil war between the locals who wanted independence and the ones who did not. Conventional wisdom during the American Revolution had it that about a third of the colonists favored the Patriot cause and independence, a third remained loyal to the British crown, and another third were uncommitted and simply wanted to be left alone. Modern scholarship estimates the actual Loyalist figure at around 20%, but whatever it was, it was a considerable percentage of the population.

The uncommitted could jump on the bandwagon of whichever side won, and most of them probably discovered their inner Patriot in a hurry when the rebels won. But for those Loyalists who favored or even fought for the British, the surrender of King George III’s men at Yorktown in 1781 was bad news. Not just because their side lost, but because it meant that they, too, were about to personally lose – and for quite a few of them, they were about to lose in a big way.

That is because the decisions of revolutions are seldom like the decisions of elections, with the losers getting another chance in a few years. The losers in revolutions often lose for good, especially when it comes to violent revolutions that drag on for years of fighting and bloodshed and suffering, like the American Revolution. Even more so in those parts of the country where the fighting had turned into guerrilla warfare, with neighbors forming into pro and anti British militias that raided and terrorized their opponents. The victors, with memories of prolonged suffering and just how much it cost them to secure victory still fresh on their minds, are seldom magnanimous. So it was with the victorious Patriots, who frequently proved anything but magnanimous towards the losing Loyalists.

In small groups or in huge mobs, Patriots and those who felt the need to demonstrate their Patriot chops – particularly those who had remained uncommitted during the war – fell upon known Loyalists. Some Loyalists were dragged out of their homes and beaten. Others were tarred and feathered – a punishment that often left its victims scarred and disfigured for life from the hot tar, while some were so badly burned that they died of their injuries. Some were robbed. Others had their houses and places of business put to the torch. Yet others were unceremoniously kicked out of their homes and chased out of their community at gunpoint, and their property was seized by the victors. Others were simply killed out of hand.

With the Loyalists’ neighbors turning on them due to patriotic zeal or opportunism, the immediate aftermath of the Patriots’ victory was not a good time to have been one of the colonists who had sided with the British. The hostility of the victors, and fears of even worse to come once the British finally withdraw, convinced many Loyalists that the new United States was not the place of them. So as the British withdrew, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Loyalists upped stakes and withdrew with them, most of them resettling in Canada or British colonies in the Caribbean.

10 Significant Events Following the American Patriots’ Victory at Yorktown
‘General George Washington Resigning His Commission’, by John Trumbull, 1824. Wikimedia

George Washington Laid Down His Command of the Continental Army

When the American Revolutionary War broke out, George Washington was appointed to command the Continental Army, and he served as its commander in chief throughout the conflict. He was never a brilliant battlefield commander, but he was a brilliant leader who took disorganized militia mobs, and forged them into a disciplined standing national army. Despite hardships, shortages, political intrigues, backstabbing, and outright treason from some politicians in Congress and some of his own officers in the field, he kept the Continental Army as a going concern until victory was won.

Washington had the satisfaction of leading that army in delivering the final blow, and with French help, he trapped and besieged the British in Yorktown in 1781. The ensuing surrender of Lord Cornwallis brought major fighting in North America to an end. However, although major combat had ended, the war was still on, and the British still had about 26,000 troops occupying New York, Savannah, and Charleston, plus a powerful fleet. In the meantime, the allied French army and navy had left, so the Americans were on their own.

The war would not come to a definitive end until the Paris Peace treaty of 1783 was finally accepted by Congress, and during that period, Washington remained in command of the army. He had no shortage of anxieties and worries to keep him up at nights, not least them of a threatened mutiny by his officers, who proposed to march against Congress for its failure to pay their wages. Washington managed to overcome those difficulties, and keep the Continental Army from overthrowing the civilian government. That might have been his greatest service to America, by saving it from the precedent of soldiers seizing power. That kept the new country from starting along along the path of banana republics.

Britain recognized American independence in the Paris Peace Treaty, which was signed in September of 1783. George Washington then demobilized and disbanded his army, and on December 4th, 1783, after leading the Continental Army for eight and a half year, he bade his officers farewell. He then resigned his commission, effective December 23rd, and like a new Cincinnatus, he returned to his Virginia Plantation at Mount Vernon. Upon hearing that Washington had voluntarily given up power, king George III did not believe it at first. When he was finally convinced of the report’s veracity, the British monarch stated that such a selfless act made the American general “the greatest character of the age“.

10 Significant Events Following the American Patriots’ Victory at Yorktown
Protesters witnessing a debtor taking down a tax collector near the courthouse at Springfield, Massachusetts. Fine Art America

Economic Distress Led to Rebellions in the Newly Independent Country

The newly independent country began the process of rebuilding after the successful conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, and prosperity began to gradually return to the war torn states. Nonetheless, the first few years after independence were rocky, and it was touch and go for a while whether the new country could survive its growing pains.

An economic crisis in the 1780s fell hard upon farmers, who found themselves drowning in debt as they tried to recover and rebuild following the devastations and disruptions of the war years. Many farms had ran up debts during the war, while their menfolk and breadwinners were away fighting to free their country. Many of those farmers, such as war veteran Daniel Shays of Massachusetts, were unable to pay their debts because the government had stiffed them by failing to pay their military wages in full.

The economic crisis struck particularly hard at rural and newly settled areas in western and central Massachusetts. Unlike other state legislatures, that of Massachusetts did not attempt to alleviate the economic suffering by pro debtor measures such printing more paper money or forgiving debts. As a result, local sheriffs in rural Massachusetts started foreclosing upon and seizing farms, as well as seizing the farmers themselves and throwing them into debtors’ prisons.

Understandably, that infuriated many, seeing as how they were in debt because they had opted to serve their country, and were then unable to pay off their debts because their country then failed to pay them for their service. Many in the affected communities were veterans of the recently concluded war, and the instinct to protest governmental injustices that had led them to take up arms in 1775 was still sharp. Once again, Americans of the Founding Fathers generation resisted high taxes and an unresponsive government by rising up in armed rebellion. This time against the Massachusetts government in Boston, rather than the British one in London.

After special meetings to decry conditions and coordinate their actions, the protesters coalesced under the leadership of Daniel Shays and turned into armed rebels, organizing themselves into regional regiments run by elected committees. In the fall of 1786, they started to forcibly close the courts in their communities, and to free their neighbors from debtor prisoners. The rebellion grew and spread, until the insurgents’ numbers eventually rose to about four thousand.

In January of 1787, about 1200 rebels, now called Shaysites, attacked the federal arsenal at Springfield in an attempt to seize its weapons and use them to overthrow the government. The attempt failed, and the rebels were forced to retreat, pursued by private militias paid for by merchants and bankers. The pursuers surprised the rebels with an early morning attack on February 4th, 1787, and scattered them, bringing the rebellion to an inglorious end.

While small in scale, and eventually easily suppressed, Shays’ Rebellion had a great impact, both in Massachusetts and on the United States as a whole. Within the state, the Massachusetts legislature hurried to pass new laws easing the debtors’ economic straits. Across the country, nationalists cited the rebellion as illustrating the weakness of the federal government as it then stood under the Articles of Confederation. Similar rebellions on a smaller scale, had also occurred in Maine, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, among other places. Those insurrections were used by nationalists to make a persuasive argument for a stronger national government. That contributed greatly to the movement for a Constitutional Convention, which met in Philadelphia a few months after the collapse of Shays’ Rebellion.

10 Significant Events Following the American Patriots’ Victory at Yorktown
‘Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States’, by Howard Chandler Christy, 1939. Pintrest

The United States Were Solidified by a New Constitution

After the Treaty of Paris recognized the independence of the United States, the national government continued to operate under the wartime Articles of Confederation agreed to by the thirteen colonies at the start of the revolution. The Articles had served to help the Patriots muddle through the war, when they were united by their dislike of Britain and the desire for independence. However, they proved inadequate for a stable and viable national government after war’s end.

A major factor behind the new United States’ instability was the national debt. The national government was practically broke, and under the Articles of Confederation, it had no independent means of raising enough money to make itself solvent. It could neither pay the massive war debts owed to European nations or private banks, nor pay the millions in promissory notes given to Americans for supplies and services during the war. That made the United States too fragile to handle an international war, or even internal disturbances such as Shays’ Rebellion.

Concerned nationalists such as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, calling themselves “Federalists”, lobbied Congress and convinced it to call the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. There, from May 25th to September 17th of 1787, delegates from the various states met in the old Pennsylvania State House, later renamed Independence Hall because it had also been where Independence was declared in 1776. The conferees ostensibly sought to fix what ailed the government of the Articles of Confederation. In reality, however, prominent delegates such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison were determined from the outset to come up with an entirely new system of government, rather than fix the existing one.

George Washington was elected president of the Convention, and in the ensuing months, the delegates hammered out today’s US Constitution, minus its subsequent amendments. They created a compromise document that left none of the delegates entirely happy, but left most of them satisfied that it was the best that could be done in their generation, given the competing interests and constraints within which they operated.

Contentious issues that could not be resolved at the time, such as slavery, were kicked like a can down the road for future generations to deal with. In the meantime, a basic governmental framework was established, featuring an independent judiciary, a powerful executive, and a bicameral legislature collectively more powerful than both. A web of checks and balances was built into the system to keep any single branch from growing too mighty and eclipsing the others.

From the outset, a prerequisite for the new system’s survival was an involved and intelligent citizenry keeping itself well informed of its government’s activities, and keeping a close eye on its elected officials’ actions. At the close of the Convention, Benjamin Franklin was queried by a lady as he left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberations: “Well, doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” He replied: “A republic, if you can keep it“.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading

Alpha History – Loyalists

Carolana – The American Revolution in South Carolina: The Evacuation of Charleston

Encyclopedia Britannica – Shays’s Rebellion

History of Parliament Online – Lord North

Library of Congress – Primary Documents in American History: Treaty of Paris

New York Times, June 4th, 2006 – Sunday Book Review: Give Us Liberty

New York Times, November 25th, 2008 – Celebrating 225 Years Since the British Left Town

NPR, July 3rd, 2015 – What Happened to British Loyalists After the Revolutionary War?

Ranker – What Happened Directly After the American Revolution Ended

Schama, Simon – Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution (2006)

United States House of Representatives, History, Art, & Archives – Historical Highlights: General George Washington Resigned His Commission in Annapolis, Maryland

U.S. History Org – Shays’ Rebellion

Wikipedia – Georgia in the American Revolution

Wikipedia – South Carolina in the American Revolution

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