THE AMERICAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE 1785 -
THE PEACE OF PARIS 1783
xxxxxAs we have seen, the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 virtually brought an end to the American War of Independence. By the Peace of Paris in 1783, the British recognised the "United States" and their right to the vast region from the Appalachians to the Mississippi. For Britain, the world's superpower, it was an humiliating defeat, and problems at home made matters worse. However, the country made a surprising recovery, and had regained much of its wealth and power ten years later -
Cartoon: etching, 1779, artist unknown – Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington. Gordon Riots: wood engraving from illustration by the English artist George Cattermole (1800-
xxxxxThe defeat of General Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown in October 1781 proved decisive, despite the fact that, officially, the war dragged on for two more years, and that, during this time, British troops continued to occupy a number of major cities and military posts up-
xxxxxFor the British, the loss of its North American colonies was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. At the Treaty of Paris in 1763, Britain had emerged as a superpower with the world at its feet. Twenty years later it faced a humiliating defeat, driven from North America by its own colonial subjects, ably aided and abetted by the nation's old rival France. Furthermore, the capitulation at Yorktown -
xxxxxNot surprisingly, this alarming evidence of decline in military power -
xxxxxAs for the new United States, there was understandable euphoria at having taken on the might of Great Britain and sent its troops packing -
xxxxxBy 1786 the situation was such that many feared that the concept of the "United States" was about to be confined to history's "garbage can". It was for this reason, as we shall see, that the Philadelphia Convention was called in May 1787 (G3b). Their deliberations produced a completely new document, a written constitution which, with amendments, was to make possible a new nation and to serve it well. But it was a document which, for all its new thinking, owed much if not all to those who had fought for independence despite having little idea of what they would do with it once it was achieved. These "rebels" did not create a new state, but they were the ones that made it possible, and they were the ones who laid the foundations upon which it could be built. Furthermore, their successful fight for freedom was destined to inspire others elsewhere to seek for liberty and national identity. If the Americans were able to build a democratic republic, then it was an example that others could well follow.
xxxxxIncidentally, after the ending of the American War of Independence, most of the loyalists remained in the new nation. However, it is estimated that something like 80,000, many of them serving soldiers, left for Canada, the British West Indies, or Britain itself. Despite a recommendation by the Continental Congress that loyalists should receive fair treatment, some were deprived of their civil rights or had their land taken from them. The British government compensated around 4,000 exiles for the loss of their property, and some were given pensions and grants of land.