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The American Revolution: 1775

Find out what the American Revolution was all about. Created by Aspen Institute.

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Video transcript

I'm Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute and I'm sitting here was celebrated historian Joe Ellis a pure surprise winner and one of the nation's leading scholars on American history odd Joe let us start at the very beginning of the revolution how did the revolution begin in 1775 well you're right at 70 5.76 it begins with a skirmish outside of Boston at Lexington and Concord between British troops and colonial militia the bloodiest battle in the war is fought in June of 1775 at the Battle of Bunker Hill were they fighting for independence the Massachusetts people who were fighting for their own independence because martial law had been declared in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or the colony that of Massachusetts and they had troops stationed there and so ahead of all the other colonies Massachusetts believes that it needs to free itself of this ogre and well so we're not really one country no we're different colonies with different desires at this point they're different nation-states even some of they think of themselves as coherent different you know when Jefferson was in the Continental Congress he said he always wanted to go back to his country which was Virginia well let's look at this map here so there really are these 13 colonies tell me how they differ in their economies well the the big difference is if you look south of the Potomac and include Maryland into some of that you demographically have a an agrarian economy rooted in slavery at 40% of this population of Virginia so 60% of the population of South Carolina is slave so if you were flying a plane you know you manage this over the area from Maine all the way down to Georgia it would look rocky and hard and cold and then it'd be cut in the middle colonies that get be an agrarian a very wonderful rich agrarian area and then as you move south sparse population but increasingly African American population now you're saying Massachusetts wanted to be free as a colony and be a Commonwealth three from England did all of these colonies back then want that which ones were more in favor of rebellion the New England colonies rallied to the support of Massachusetts by sending troops in from New Hampshire and Maine didn't exist then it was part of Massachusetts Connecticut did but it was the rest of the colonies gathered and voted and support for Massachusetts but totally political support no no military support at this but then how does a Virginian I guess he's a general by then General Washington how does he enter the picture he comes to the Continental Congress in May of 1775 wearing his military uniform he's the only guy wearing a military uniform so he's making some coke a little Congress is meeting we're in Philadelphia yes and he comes up from Mount Vernon the last thing he says to his manager there the plantation is when the British come to burn the plantation get out Martha and my books my books and Martha presumably Martha and he's pretty sure the war has started and independence is inevitable but notice this is fifteen months before we get around to declaring independence so what happens I Washington get to Philadelphia what do they do they they say well they say you know we're gonna have to form an army to support the common colonial position in outside of Boston outside of Boston the Boston militia have trapped the British Army in the city there's seven thousand British soldiers under the command of General Howe and there's like 14 or 15,000 militia surrounding the city you go up and take command to that and make it into a Continental Army you don't call it that yet okay they don't call it that yet they still get around to calling it that until the fall but this is June he goes up just he just misses Bunker Hill but he takes over and that's how this the embryonic form of the Continental Army happens notice you've got a Continental Army almost a year before you've got a war but you also have a Continental Congress what do they mean by that I've wondered myself Walter where they got the Continental from because obviously that's not something until you get to manifest Destinee that if you're looking at an entire continent we haven't had the Louisiana Purchase yet it's their way of referring to everybody along the coastline up and down the continent I think and you notice how much they're all almost all you know so the Congress was people from the different colonies up and down the coast but it wasn't really a national government it would just say Continental Congress of these people gathered together and tried to figure out how to support each other correct and they they're fiercely independent of each other they do think that they speak with different accents and and they have different ethnic groups it's sort of like a League of Nations but once you get the war going there is a strong pressure for them to come together and behave as if they were a national government and so the Continental Army actually is one of the things that makes it into a more United group of colonies that's right that is one of the reasons everybody suspected that they've seen that they they're worried about and it gots it kind of helped that you had a Virginian doing it with the Massachusetts militia that's one of the reasons that watched at Adams have nominated Washington I needed a Virginia so how did they then decide that they were all going to hold hands and declare independence of Britain hmm because they weren't really doing that in 1775 now 1776 they decide that this is a war for independence and they make a plea to George the third and the British Ministry that they do everything possible to avoid war and they make the offer look if you allow us to pass our own legislation and tax ourselves we'll do that and we'll stay within the Empire and recognize the authority of the king and remain within the economic side of the Empire if Britain had said yes to that they would have discovered the British Commonwealth 100 years early hmm they said no to that and so then basically by June of 1776 and then culminating on July 4th of 1776 you have atoms and then Franklin and Jefferson and others people Massachusetts Pennsylvania and Virginia all agreeing the what what looked to be a radical group and a minority starts to become a majority and there's a reason that happens they're being invaded right nothing nothing he doesn't like like they got forty two thousand so what unites the United that unites the colonies is the fact that they're all being attacked now by England that Great Britain has sent the largest and previously ever to cross the Atlantic there are forty two thousand troops to invade Long Island and Manhattan and then they finally by July fourth have a declaration that this war is for independence and that's something that we discuss in one of our other lessons all right