It took eight years to conclude the Revolutionary War. Colonial objectives were initially defensive and limited in scope. In the early stages Americans fought to protect their liberty and preserve their autonomy; beyond this few initially possessed a clear sense of constructive purpose. For 14 months they struggled to contain the British by force while debating what their ultimate goal should be. Even in Massachusetts some last traces of loyalty to the Crown continued for more than a year of warfare because of the traditional respect for the good name of the King.1 During the summer of 1776 they defined their objective as total separation and declared independence. Yet declaring independence was not the same as achieving it. George III’s government regarded their actions as no more than rebellion and remained determined to crush it. The imperative interests of individual states often conflicted with the equally imperative needs of Congress. For its part, Congress still faced innumerable challenging problems with no certainty of success. On several occasions Britain appeared on the verge of success, notably as early as 1776 and again in 1779–80, for American forces were weak and British military and naval power enormous by comparison. Both sides took a chance in abandoning political negotiation in favour of war, but the scale of the risks was asymmetrical. The British government assumed without thinking twice that the rebellion would be easily crushed and therefore that the risk was negligible. The Americans took a vast risk in challenging one of the strongest powers in the world.
Swipe to navigate through the chapters of this book
Please log in to get access to this content
To get access to this content you need the following product:
- Achieving Independence
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number
- Chapter number