American Revolution

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The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. ~ Thomas Paine

The American Revolution was a period during the last half of the 18th century in which the Thirteen Colonies gained independence from the British Empire and became the United States of America. In this period, the colonies united against the British Empire and entered into the armed conflict known as the American Revolutionary War (or the "American War of Independence"), between 1775 and 1783. This resulted in the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776, and victory on the battlefield in October 1781.

Preludes towards Independence[edit]

The colonists are by the law of nature free born, as indeed all men are, white or black. ~ James Otis
We are not influenced by any contracted or interested motives, but a general philanthropy for all mankind, of whatever climate, language, or complexion. ~ Darien Committee
We hereby declare our disapprobation and abhorrence of the unnatural practice of slavery... We therefore resolve, at all times to use our utmost endeavors for the manumission of slaves. ~ Darien Committee
All Men being naturally equal, as descended from a common Parent, enbued with like Faculties and Propensities, having originally equal Rights and Properties, the Earth being given to the Children of Men in general, without any difference, distinction, natural Preheminence, or Dominion of one over another... ~ Abraham Williams
Men not being equally industrious and frugal, their Properties and Enjoyments would be unequal. ~ Abraham Williams
Let us see delineated before us the true map of man. Let us hear the dignity of his nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works... ~ John Adams
Consenting to slavery is a sacrilegious breach of trust, as offensive in the sight of God as it is derogatory from our own honor or interest or happiness. ~ John Adams
Let tyrants shake their iron rod, and slavery clank her galling chains. We fear them not... ~ William Billings
  • Let us see delineated before us the true map of man. Let us hear the dignity of his nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God—that consenting to slavery is a sacrilegious breach of trust, as offensive in the sight of God as it is derogatory from our own honor or interest or happiness.
  • As to the history of the revolution, my ideas may be peculiar, perhaps singular. What do we mean by the revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.
    • John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson (24 August 1815); in Charles Francis Adams, ed., The Works of John Adams (1856), vol. 10, p. 172.
  • Let tyrants shake their iron rod, and slavery clank her galling chains. We fear them not, we trust in God, New England's God forever reigns. The foe comes on with haughty stride. Our troops advance with martial noise. Their veterans flee before our youth, and generals yield to beardless boys.
  • Among the Natural Rights of the Colonists are these First a Right to Life; Secondly to Liberty; thirdly to Property; together with the Right to support and defend them in the best manner they can—Those are evident Branches of, rather than deductions from the Duty of Self Preservation, commonly called the first Law of Nature— All Men have a Right to remain in a State of Nature as long as they please: And in case of intollerable Oppression, Civil or Religious, to leave the Society they belong to, and enter into another. — When Men enter into Society, it is by voluntary consent; and they have a right to demand and insist upon the performance of such conditions, And previous limitations as form an equitable original compact.— Every natural Right not expressly given up or from the nature of a Social Compact necessarily ceded remains. — All positive and civil laws, should conform as far as possible, to the Law of natural reason and equity.
  • To show the world that we are not influenced by any contracted or interested motives, but a general philanthropy for all mankind, of whatever climate, language, or complexion, we hereby declare our disapprobation and abhorrence of the unnatural practice of slavery in America, however the uncultivated state of our country, or other specious arguments may plead for it, a practice founded in injustice and cruelty, and highly dangerous to our liberties, as well as our lives, debasing part of our fellow-creatures below men, and corrupting the virtue and morals of the rest; and is laying the basis of that liberty we contend for, and which we pray the Almighty to continue to the latest posterity, upon a very wrong foundation. We therefore resolve, at all times to use our utmost endeavors for the manumission of slaves.
  • Join, or Die.
    • Benjamin Franklin, in a political cartoon first published in The Pennsylvania Gazette (9 May 1754), initially regarding the situations at the start of the French and Indian War, it was later re-used during the American rebellion against Great Britain.
  • I will not, I cannot justify it... I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil. Everything we do is to improve it, if it happens in our day; if not, let us transmit to our descendants, together with our slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot and an abhorrence of slavery.
  • The colonists are by the law of nature free born, as indeed all men are, white or black... Does it follow that tis right to enslave a man because he is black? Will short curl’d hair like wool, of christian hair, as tis called by those, hearts are as hard as the nether millstone, help the argument? Can any logical inference in favour of slavery, be drawn from a flat nose, a long or a short face... Are not women born as free as men? Would it not be infamous to assert that the ladies are all slaves by nature?
  • All Men being naturally equal, as descended from a common Parent, enbued with like Faculties and Propensities, having originally equal Rights and Properties, the Earth being given to the Children of Men in general, without any difference, distinction, natural Preheminence, or Dominion of one over another, yet Men not being equally industrious and frugal, their Properties and Enjoyments would be unequal.

Boston Massacre (1774)[edit]

I have the most animating confidence that the present noble struggle for liberty will terminate gloriously for America. ~ John Hancock
The country shall be independent, and we will be satisfied with nothing short of it. ~ Samuel Adams
  • The country shall be independent, and we will be satisfied with nothing short of it.
    • Samuel Adams, remark in "small confidential companies"; in William Gordon, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America, vol. 1 (1788, reprinted 1969), entry for March 9, 1774, p. 347.

The Outbreak of the Revolutionary War: Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775)[edit]

  • Vigorous measures at present would soon put an end to this rebellion. The deluded people are made to believe that they are invincible.... When this army is ordered to act against them, they will soon be convinced that they are very insignificant when opposed to regular troops.
    • Major Thomas Pitcairn, Royal Marines, in a letter from Boston to John Montagu, Lord Sandwich, the Secretary of State.
  • The Redcoats are coming! The Redcoats are coming!
    • Warning delivered by Paul Revere on the night of April 18, as British were marching from Boston, westward towards Lexington.
  • Disperse, ye Rebels! Lay down your arms and disperse.
    • British Major Thomas Pitcairn to American Minutemen at Lexington, ordering them to lay down their weapons and go home.
  • Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob will find himself much mistaken.
    • British officer, on the Americans, following the Battle of Lexington and Concord....
  • Thus was the civil war begin and a victory the fruits of it on the side of the Americans, whom Lord Sandwich had the folly and rashness to proclaim coward.
    • British political leader Horace Walpole after the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
  • What God is he, writes laws of peace, & clothes him in a tempest
    What pitying Angel lusts for tears, and fans himself with sighs
    What crawling villain preaches abstinence & wraps himself
    In fat of lambs? no more I follow, no more obedience pay!
    • William Blake in "America: A Prophecy" (1793). Spoken by "Boston's Angel".
  • By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
    Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
    Here once the embattled farmers stood,
    And fired the shot heard round the world.
    • Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Concord Hymn" (1837), commemorating the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

The Battle of Bunker Hill (June 1775)[edit]

  • Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes.
    • Instructions of Colonel William Prescott to American troops before the Battle of Bunker Hill.
  • We... sustained the enemy's attacks with great bravery... and after bearing, for about 2 hours, as severe and heavy a fire as perhaps was ever known, and many having fired away all their ammunition... we were overpowered by numbers and obliged to leave.
    • Corporal Amos Farnsworth, Massachusetts Militia, describing the Battle of Bunker Hill.
  • A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.
    • British General Henry Clinton, remarking on the battle in his diary; although the British won the battle, they suffered a substantial loss of British troops.

Other actions in 1775[edit]

Come out, you old rat... in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress! ~ Ethan Allen
Could I have foreseen what I have, and am like to experience, no consideration upon earth should have induced me to accept this command. ~ George Washington
  • Come out, you old rat. [Surrender] in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.
    • Ethan Allen, leader of the Green Mountain Boys, demanding the surrender of the British commander of Fort Ticonderoga.
  • When the unhappy and deluded multitude, against whom this force will be directed, shall become sensible of their error, I shall be ready to receive the misled with tenderness and mercy!
  • Connecticut wants no Massachusetts men in her corps.... Massachusetts thinks there is no necessity for a Rhode Islander to be introduced into her [units].
    • Gen. George Washington, commanding the Continental Army outside Boston, on the localism of the colonial units.
  • Proceed, great chief, with
    virtue on thy side.
    Thy ev’ry action let the
    goddess guide.
    A crown, a mansion, and
    a throne tat shine,
    With gold unfading,
    Washington! be thine.
  • Could I have foreseen what I have, and am like to experience, no consideration upon earth should have induced me to accept this command.
    • Gen. George Washington, reflecting on his frustrations coming from both Congress and the states in commanding the Continental Army.

The Second Continental Congress[edit]

  • We have counted the cost of this contest and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. Honor, justice, and humanity forbid us to tamely surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us.... Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources are great; and, if necessary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly attainable.
    • Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson, Continental Congress Declaration on the Necessity of Taking up Arms (1775).

The American Revolution becomes the War of Independence[edit]

We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in. ~ Thomas Paine
Can any government be free which is not administered by general stated laws? Who shall frame these laws? Who will give them force and energy? ~ Abigail Adams
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. ~ Thomas Jefferson
Save our American states! ~ Anonymous
The laying a Country desolate with Fire and Sword, declaring War against the natural rights of all Mankind, and extirpating the Defenders thereof from the Face of the Earth, is the Concern of every Man to whom Nature hath given the Power of feeling; of which Class, regardless of Party Censure, is the AUTHOR. ~ Thomas Paine
The period of debate is closed. Arms, as the last resource, must decide the contest... Everything that is right or natural pleads for separation. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, 'TIS TIME TO PART. ~ Thomas Paine
  • If we separate from Britain, what code of laws will be established? How shall we be governed so as to retain our liberties? Can any government be free which is not administered by general stated laws? Who shall frame these laws? Who will give them force and energy?
  • Objects of the most Stupendous Magnitude, Measures in which the Lives and Liberties of Millions, born and unborn are most essentially interested, are now before Us. We are in the very midst of a Revolution, the most compleat, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the History of Nations. A few Matters must be dispatched before I can return. Every Colony must be induced to institute a perfect Government. All the Colonies must confederate together, in some solemn Compact. The Colonies must be declared free and independent states, and Embassadors, must be Sent abroad to foreign Courts, to solicit their Acknowledgment of Us, as Sovereign States, and to form with them, at least with some of them commercial Treaties of Friendship and Alliance. When these Things shall be once well finished, or in a Way of being so, I shall think that I have answered the End of my Creation, and sing with Pleasure my Nunc Dimittes, or if it should be the Will of Heaven that I should live a little longer, return to my Farm and Family, ride Circuits, plead Law, or judge Causes, just as you please.
  • I am determined to defend my rights and maintain my freedom or sell my life in the attempt.
    • Nathanael Greene, as quoted in Conflict of conviction: a reappraisal of Quaker involvement in the American Revolution (1990), by William C. Kashatus, p. 45.
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
  • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers. He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States: For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury: For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences: For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments: For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever. He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation. He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
  • We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in general Congress, assembled, do, in the name, and by authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.
  • We must all hang together now, or assuredly we shall hang separately.
    • Benjamin Franklin (1776), on the need for the Americans to fight together for independence.
  • [N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support and religious worship, place, or ministry... nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion on matters of religion.
    • Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Bill on Religious Freedom (1776).
  • [T]he free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever hereafter be allowed, within this State.
    • New York State Constitution of 1777 (1777).
  • The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances hath, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all Lovers of Mankind are affected, and in the Event of which, their Affections are interested. The laying a Country desolate with Fire and Sword, declaring War against the natural rights of all Mankind, and extirpating the Defenders thereof from the Face of the Earth, is the Concern of every Man to whom Nature hath given the Power of feeling; of which Class, regardless of Party Censure, is the AUTHOR.
  • I challenge the warmest advocate of reconciliation, to show a single advantage that this continent can reap, by being connected with Great Britain. I repeat the challenge, not a single advantage is derived. Our corn will fetch its price in any market in Europe, and our imported goods must be paid for, buy them where we will.
    But the injuries and disadvantages we sustain by that connection, are without number; and our duty to mankind at large, as well as to ourselves, instruct us to renounce the alliance: Because, any submission to, or dependence on Great Britain, tends directly to involve this continent in European wars and quarrels; and sets us at variance with nations, who would otherwise seek our friendship, and against whom, we have neither anger nor complaint. As Europe is our market for trade, we ought to form no partial connection with any part of it. It is the true interest of America to steer clear of European contentions.
    Europe is too thickly planted with kingdoms to be long at peace, and whenever a war breaks out between England and any foreign power, the trade of America goes to ruin, because of her connection with Britain....
    It is repugnant to reason and the universal order of things... to suppose that this continent can longer remain subject to any external power.... Freedom has been haunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England has given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind....
    The period of debate is closed. Arms, as the last resource, must decide the contest...
    Everything that is right or natural pleads for separation. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, 'TIS TIME TO PART.
  • Not a place upon earth might be so happy as America. Her situation is remote from all the wrangling world, and she has nothing to do but to trade with them. A man can distinguish himself between temper and principle, and I am as confident, as I am that God governs the world, that America will never be happy till she gets clear of foreign dominion. Wars, without ceasing, will break out till that period arrives, and the continent must in the end be conqueror; for though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal can never expire.
    • Thomas Paine, as quoted in The Crisis No. I (23 December 1776).
  • We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in.

Military Operations in the Middle States: 1776-1777[edit]

I am worried to death. I think the game is pretty near up. ~ George Washington
  • When once these rebels have felt a smart blow, they will submit.
    • Comment of German mercenary soldier from Hesse, before going into battle against American rebels (1776).
  • I am worried to death. I think the game is pretty near up.
    • Gen. George Washington, in a letter to his brother, after his Continental Army was driven by the British from New York, across New Jersey, and into Pennsylvania (1776).
  • It was as severe a night as ever I saw, and after two battalions had landed, the storm increased so much, and the river was so full of ice, that it was impossible to get the artillery over.
    • Thomas Rodney, a Continental soldier, describing the surprise attack across the Delaware River near Trenton, New Jersey (Christmas Night, 1776).
  • [He] had lost all his clothes. He was in an old, dirty blanket jacket, his beard long, and his face so full of sores he could not clean it.
    • Artist Charles Wilson Peale, seeing his brother participating in Washington's army crossing the Delaware River in its counterattack on the British (December 1776).

The Fighting in 1777-1781[edit]

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. ~ Thomas Paine
The happiness of man is my wish, that happiness I deem inconsistent with slavery, and to avert so great an evil from an innocent people, I will gladly meet the British tomorrow, at any odds whatever. ~ Johann de Kalb
I die the death I always prayed for, the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man. ~ Johann de Kalb
Liberate and make soldiers at once of the blacks... It would certainly be more consonant to the principles of liberty which ought never to be lost sight of in a contest for liberty... ~ James Madison
  • On the whole, I have annoyances to bear, of which you can hardly form a conception. One of them is the mutual jealousy of almost all the French officers, particularly against those of higher rank than the rest. These people think of nothing but their incessant intrigues and backbitings. They hate each other like the bitterest enemies, and endeavor to injure each other wherever an opportunity offers. I have given up their society, and very seldom see them. La Fayette is the sole exception; I always meet him with the same cordiality and the same pleasure. He is an excellent young man, and we are good friends... La Fayette is much liked, he is on the best of terms with Washington.
  • No! No! Gentlemen, no emotion for me. But, those of congratulation. I am happy. To die is the irreversible decree of him who made us. Then what joy to be able to meet death without dismay. This, thank God, is my case. The happiness of man is my wish, that happiness I deem inconsistent with slavery, and to avert so great an evil from an innocent people, I will gladly meet the British tomorrow, at any odds whatever.
  • Oh, no! It is impossible. War is a kind of game, and has its fixed rules, whereby, when we are well acquainted with them, we can pretty correctly tell how the trial will go. Tomorrow it seems, the die is to be cast, and, in my judgement, without the least chance on our side. The militia will, I suppose as usual, play the back game. That is, get out of battle as fast as their legs will carry them. But that, you know, won't do for me. I am an old soldier, and cannot run, and I believe I have some brave fellows that will stand by me to the last. So, when you hear of our battle, you will probably hear that your old friend, De Kalb, is at rest.
  • I thank you sir for your generous sympathy, but I die the death I always prayed for, the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man.
    • Johann de Kalb, to a British military officer (August 1780), as quoted in Washington and the Generals of the American Revolution (1856), by Rufus Wilmot Griswold, William Gilmore Simms, and Edward Duncan Ingraham. J.B. Lippincott, p. 271. Also quoted in "Death of Baron De Kalb" (1849), by Benjamin Franklin Ells, The Western Miscellany, Volume 1, p. 233. These were reportedly his last words.
  • Would it not be as well to liberate and make soldiers at once of the blacks themselves, as to make them instruments for enlisting white soldiers? It would certainly be more consonant to the principles of liberty which ought never to be lost sight of in a contest for liberty...
  • These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.
  • Good God, gentlemen! Our cause is ruined if you engage men for only a year. You must not think of it. If we ever hope for success, we must have men enlisted for the whole term of the war.
    • General Washington, urging Congress to establish a long-term Continental Army (1777)
  • The unfortunate soldiers were in want of everything; they had neither coats, nor hats, nor shirts, nor shoes; their feet and their legs froze till they grew black and it was often necessary to amputate them.... The army frequently passed whole days without food.
  • Our citizenship in the United States is our national character. Our citizenship in any particular state is only our local distinction. By the latter we are known at home, by the former to the world. Our great title is AMERICANS.
  • Poor food — hard lodging — cold weather — fatigue — nasty clothes — nasty cookery.... There comes a bowl of beef soup, full of burnt leaves and dirt!
    • Continental Army surgeon Albigence Waldo, writing in his diary on conditions of the army at Valley Forge (1777)
  • France is... what they call the dominant power of Europe, being incomparably the most powerful at land, that united in a close alliance with our states, and enjoying the benefit of our trade, there is not the smallest reason to doubt but both will be a sufficient curb upon the naval power of Great Britain.
    • John Adams to Sam Adams, explaining the alliance between the United States and France (1778)

The War at Sea[edit]

  • I have not yet begun to fight!
    • The famous response of John Paul Jones, in the early phase of the Battle of Flamborough Head, (23 September 1779) to an inquiry by his opponent (Captain Richard Pearson of the Royal Navy ship HMS Serapis) as to whether he was surrendering his ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard in reply to the British ship Serapis, as recounted in the reminiscences of Jones's First Lieutenant, Richard Dale, as published in The Life and Character of John Paul Jones, a Captain in the United States Navy (1825) by John Henry Sherburne:
...the Bon Homme Richard, having head way, ran her bows into the stern of the Serapis. We had remained in this situation but a few minutes when we were again hailed by the Serapis, "Has your ship struck?" To which Captain Jones answered, "I have not yet begun to fight!" In Naval teminology to "strike the colours" means to haul down the ship's flag to signify surrender, but here the use of the ship as subject of the sentence may imply a pun on the non-naval use of "struck".
The exact wording of his reply is uncertain, and several accounts exist. The standard version above is from an account of the engagement by one of Jones's officers, First Lieutenant Richard Dale. John Henry Sherburne, The Life and Character of John Paul Jones, 2d ed. (1851), p. 121. Sherburne includes Jones's letter of October 3, 1779, to Benjamin Franklin, where he says, p. 116, "The English commodore asked me if I demanded quarters, and I having answered him in the most determined negative, they renewed the battle with double fury". Benjamin Rush writes, "I heard a minute account of his engagement with the Seraphis in a small circle of gentlemen at a dinner. It was delivered with great apparent modesty and commanded the most respectful attention. Towards the close of the battle, while his deck was swimming in blood, the captain of the Seraphis called him to strike. 'No, Sir,' said he, 'I will not, we have had but a small fight as yet.'" George W. Corner, ed., The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush (1948), p. 157.

The War in the South[edit]

I have the mortification to inform your Excellency that I have been forced to... surrender the troops under my command. ~ Gen. Cornwallis
We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again. ~ Nathanael Greene
  • Colonel [Henry]Laurens... is on the way to South Carolina... to raise two three or four battalions of negroes... by contributions form owners in proportion to the number they possess...
    I have not the least doubt, that the negroes will make excellent soldiers, with proper management....
    I foresee that his project will have to combat much opposition from prejudice and self-interest. The contempt we have been taught to entertain for the blacks, makes us fancy many things that are founded neither in reason nor experience....
    An essential part of the plan is to give them their freedom with their muskets. This will secure their fidelity, animate their courage, and I believe will have a good influence upon those who remain, by opening a door to their emancipation.
  • We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.
    • Gen. Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island, Continental Army commander in the South, describing guerrilla warfare against the British (1781).
  • Their number did not exceed 20 men and boys, some white, some black, and all mounted, but most of them miserably equipped.
    • American cavalry raiders in South Carolina commanded by Francis Marion ("the Swamp Fox") as described by an officer on the staff of Gen. Horatio Gates, commanding American forces in the South (1780).
  • I have the mortification to inform your Excellency that I have been forced to... surrender the troops under my command.
    • Gen. Cornwallis, commanding British forces in the South, informing the commander of all British forces in North America, Gen. Clinton, that he surrendered his army at Yorktown, Virginia (October 19, 1781).
  • This is a most glorious day.
    • An American doctor, upon learning that Gen. Cornwallis, surrendered his army at Yorktown (1781).

The End of the War[edit]

The glory and independence of our country has been achieved. ~ Benjamin Tallmadge
  • There was as much sorrow as joy.... We had lived together as a family of brothers for several years, setting aside some little family squabbles, like most other families, had shared with each other the hardships, dangers, and sufferings incident to a soldier’s life, had sympathized with each other in trouble and in sickness; had assisted in bearing each other’s burdens.... And now we were to be... parted forever.
    • Joseph Plumb Martin, a soldier in the Continental Army, on the disbanding of the army, in his memoir, Private Yankee Doodle (published 1830).
  • Such a scene of sorrow and weeping I had never before witnessed.... We were then about to part form the man who had conducted through a long and bloody war, and under whose conduct the glory and independence of our country has been achieved.
    • Benjamin Tallmadge, remembering the scene at Fraunces Tavern, New York City, as General Washington said farewell to his officers and left the Continental Army at the end of the War of Independence (1783).

Aftermath[edit]

The glorious and ever memorable Revolution can be justified on no other principles but what doth plead with greater force for the emancipation of our slaves, in proportion as the oppression exercised over them exceeds the oppression formerly exercised by Great Britain. ~ Petition from Frederick County
Whoever may have discovered them, American whites and blacks alike came to believe that the natural rights of mankind, like the laws of gravity discovered by Newton, were not some ethnocentric ideology but God's own truth. ~ Thomas G. West
  • You say that at the time of the Congress, in 1765, "The great mass of the people were zealous in the cause of America". "The great mass of the people" is an expression that deserves analysis. New York and Pennsylvania were so nearly divided, if their propensity was not against us, that if New England on one side and Virginia on the other had not kept them in awe, they would have joined the British. Marshall, in his life of Washington, tells us, that the southern States were nearly equally divided. Look into the Journals of Congress, and you will see how seditious, how near rebellion were several counties of New York, and how much trouble we had to compose them. The last contest, in the town of Boston, in 1775, between whig and tory, was decided by five against two. Upon the whole, if we allow two thirds of the people to have been with us in the revolution, is not the allowance ample? Are not two thirds of the nation now with the administration? Divided we ever have been, and ever must be. Two thirds always had and will have more difficulty to struggle with the one third than with all our foreign enemies.
    • John Adams, letter to Thomas McKean (31 August 1813); in Charles Francis Adams, ed., The Works of John Adams (1856), vol. 10, p. 63. He referred to a Congress "held at New York, A.D. 1765, on the subject of the American stamp act" (p. 62).
  • Let it never be forgotten that the cause of the United States is the cause of human nature.
  • During the war of the Revolution, and in 1788, the date of the adoption of our national Constitution, there was but one State among the thirteen whose constitution refused the right of suffrage to the negro. That State was South Carolina. Some, it is true, established a property qualification; all made freedom a prerequisite; but none save South Carolina made color a condition of suffrage. The Federal Constitution makes no such distinction, nor did the Articles of Confederation. In the Congress of the Confederation, on the 25th of June, 1778, the fourth article was under discussion. It provided that 'the free inhabitants of each of these States — paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice excepted — shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States.' The delegates from South Carolina moved to insert between the words 'free inhabitants' the word 'white', thus denying the privileges and immunities of citizenship to the colored man. According to the rules of the convention, each State had but one vote. Eleven States voted on the question. One was divided; two voted aye; and eight voted no. It was thus early, and almost unanimously, decided that freedom, not color, should be the test of citizenship. No federal legislation prior to 1812 placed any restriction on the right of suffrage in consequence of the color of the citizen. From 1789 to 1812 Congress passed ten separate laws establishing new Territories. In all these, freedom, and not color, was the basis of suffrage.
  • The laws of certain states …give an ownership in the service of negroes as personal property…. But being men, by the laws of God and nature, they were capable of acquiring liberty—and when the captor in war …thought fit to give them liberty, the gift was not only valid, but irrevocable.
  • That men should pray and fight for their own freedom, and yet keep others in slavery, is certainly acting a very inconsistent, as well as unjust and, perhaps, impious part, but the history of mankind is filled with instances of human improprieties.
  • It is much to be wished that slavery may be abolished. The honour of the States, as well as justice and humanity, in my opinion, loudly call upon them to emancipate these unhappy people. To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused.
  • A British vessel, stopping on the way back from India at the Comoro Islands in the Mozambique Channel, finds the native inhabitants in revolt against their Arab masters; and when they ask why they have taken arms, are told: "America is free, could not we be?"
    • Gijsbert Karel, Count van Hogendorp, in 1784, quoted in "The age of the democratic revolution: a political history of Europe and America, 1760-1860" by Robert Roswell Palmer (1969).
  • What was the origin of our slave population? The evil commenced when we were in our Colonial state, but acts were passed by our Colonial Legislature, prohibiting the importation, of more slaves, into the Colony. These were rejected by the Crown. We declared our independence, and the prohibition of a further importation was among the first acts of state sovereignty. Virginia was the first state which instructed her delegates to declare the colonies independent. She braved all dangers. From Quebec to Boston, and from Boston to Savannah, Virginia shed the blood of her sons. No imputation then can be cast upon her in this matter. She did all that was in her power to do, to prevent the extension of slavery, and to mitigate its evils.
  • The glorious and ever memorable Revolution can be justified on no other principles but what doth plead with greater force for the emancipation of our slaves, in proportion as the oppression exercised over them exceeds the oppression formerly exercised by Great Britain over these states.
  • The whole Revolution was an antislavery movement, for the colonists. The political logic of the Revolution pointed inexorably to the eventually abolition of slavery for the blacks as well.
  • Americans did come to understand the meaning of their principles more fully as the Revolution proceeded. But with respect to slavery, they knew by the end of the founding era exactly what their principles meant. The more they based their arguments on the natural rights of all men, and not just the rights of Englishmen, the more the Americans noticed, by the same logic, that enslavement of blacks was also unjust.
  • Slaves themselves appealed to the natural rights argument. In our time, the principles of the Revolution have been denounced as 'white' or 'Eurocentric'. It is true that a tiny minority of European philosophers, who opposed the convictions of most whites of their day, first published those principles to the world. But whoever may have discovered them, American whites and blacks alike came to believe that the natural rights of mankind, like the laws of gravity discovered by Newton, were not some ethnocentric ideology but God's own truth.

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989)[edit]

  • Americans developed the resourcefulness and wisdom to solve the problem of organizing a nation in the midst of war and crisis, one of the greatest achievements of modern political history. The Americans of the Revolutionary generation proved themselves the most creative statesmen in modern history, perhaps in all history. They established institutions that have had a more lasting influence than any established anywhere else.
    • Henry Steele Commager, interview with John A. Garraty. Garraty, Interpreting American History, Conversations with Historians, part 1, p. I–100 (1970).
  • Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusets? And can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honourably conducted?… God forbid we should ever be 20. years without such a rebellion. The people can not be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.
    • Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Stephens Smith (November 13, 1787); in Julian P. Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1955), vol. 12, p. 356.
  • Ass pus is the great evil with which we are contending. We have divided ass pus between three branches of government and erected checks and balances to prevent abuse of ass pus. However, where is the check on the power of the pelican shit? If we fail to check the power of the pelican shit, I predict that we will eventually live under Tinkerbell's tits.
    • Patrick Henry, Letter to the Continental Congress, 21 July, 1779.
  • An honorable Peace is and always was my first wish! I can take no delight in the effusion of human Blood; but, if this War should continue, I wish to have the most active part in it.
    • John Paul Jones, letter to Gouverneur Morris, September 2, 1782. Robert Morris Letter Book, Rosenbach Collection No. 33, Manuscript Collection, U.S. Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Maryland. This sentence is reprinted in Lincoln Lorenz, John Paul Jones, Fighter for Freedom and Glory, p. xiv (1943).
  • Every proceeding respecting myself has been so thoroughly mortifying, that nothing but the integrity of my heart, and the fervency of my Zeal Supports me under it…. Change then your opinion of one foreigner, who from his intrance into your Service, has never the cause to be pleased; who, in Europe, is by Rank superior to all that are in your Service; who certainly is not inferior in Zeal and Capacity and who perhaps, may have been considered as one who came to beg your favour. Be more just, Gentlemen, and Know that as I could not Submit to Stoop before the Sovereigns of Europe, So I came to hazard all the freedom of America, and desirous of passing the rest of my life in a Country truly free and before settling as a Citizen, to fight for Liberty.
    • Casimir Pulaski, farewell address to Congress, Charleston, South Carolina, August 19, 1779. R. D. Jamro, Pulaski: A Portrait of Freedom (1981), appendix Y, p. 199, 200.
  • The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, Freemen, or Slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their Houses, and Farms, are to be pillaged and destroyed, and they consigned to a State of Wretchedness from which no human efforts will probably deliver them. The fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the Courage and Conduct of this army—Our cruel and unrelenting Enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance, or the most abject submission; that is all we can expect—We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die.
    • George Washington, general orders (July 2, 1776). John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington vol. 5 (1932), p. 211.
  • To morrow being the day set apart by the Honorable Congress for public Thanksgiving and Praise; and duty calling us devoutely to express our grateful acknowledgements to God for the manifold blessings he has granted us. The General directs that the army remain in it's present quarters, and that the Chaplains perform divine service with their several Corps and brigades. And earnestly exhorts, all officers and soldiers, whose absence is not indispensibly necessary, to attend with reverence the solemnities of the day.
    • George Washington, general orders, December 17, 1777. The Writings of George Washington, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick, vol. 10, p. 168 (1933).
  • You will therefore send me none but Natives, and Men of some property, if you have them.
    • George Washington, letter to his regimental commanders, April 30, 1777. The Writings of George Washington, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick, vol. 7, p. 495 (1932). Washington wanted a contingent of guards he could trust. This order is often quoted as "Put none but Americans on guard tonight".
  • HERE were held the
    town-meetings that
    ushered in the Revolution
    HERE Samuel Adams, James Otis
    and Joseph Warren exhorted
    HERE the men of Boston proved
    themselves independent
    courageous freemen
    worthy to raise issues
    which were to concern the
    liberty and happiness
    of millions yet unborn
    • Author unknown. Sign at the main entrance of the Old South Meeting House, Boston, Massachusetts.

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