Independence Of The 13 Colonies: Causes, Development, Consequences

The independence of the thirteen colonies that Great Britain maintained in North America resulted in the creation of the United States of America. The first of these colonies had been established in 1607. Later, settlers seeking better land to live in and others fleeing religious persecution in Europe made up the rest.

The colonial power , Great Britain, went to war with France in 1756. This confrontation, known as the Seven Years’ War, ended in British victory, but the expenses that the country had to face caused it to be in a very bad economic situation. To alleviate it, they decided to increase taxes in the thirteen colonies.

The new tributes plus the British intention to increase political control over their American colonies were two of the factors that led to the uprising of the colonists. After a series of mutinies, representatives of the thirteen colonies met in Philadelphia to declare war on England.

In that same congress, the representatives of the colonies promulgated the declaration of independence, which was approved on July 4, 1776. The war, however, continued for several more years, until in 1783 Great Britain recognized the sovereignty of its former possessions. through the Treaty of Paris.


Although there were earlier explorations, it was not until the 17th century that the British began colonizing North America. Little by little, they were establishing some colonies on the Atlantic coast.

All this colonization process was not planned by the British Crown, but it was the colonists themselves who took the initiative.

The thirteen colonies

The early British settlers could be roughly divided into two types. On the one hand, there were members of the privileged classes who wanted to take economic advantage of the new territories.

The second type was made up of those fleeing the religious persecutions that had occurred in Europe. These settlers wanted to form societies adapted to their beliefs, which was essential to mark the character of the colonies.

The British Crown tried to maintain some control of the colonization. To do this, he founded two trading companies: the London Company and the Bristol Company.

By 1773, the British had founded the so-called Thirteen Colonies: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

The population of these colonies was not homogeneous. In addition to the English themselves, there were groups of other nationalities, such as Germans, French, Flemish, Scots or Irish.

Politically, these colonies opted for representative governments. Many of the governors were appointed directly by the British Crown, but had to share their power with an elected assembly. Only white male landowners had the right to vote.

Despite the high degree of autonomy in these colonies, the British government managed its properties in them for profit. Starting in 1750, the thirteen colonies began to collaborate with each other and a sense of collective identity was born.

Seven Years War

While the Thirteen Colonies were being consolidated, a war broke out in Europe that lasted between 1756 and 1763: the Seven Years’ War. This conflict pitted Great Britain and her allies against France and hers. The main cause was the dispute over control of Silesia and the dispute over colonial primacy in North America.

This war finally involved almost all the powers of the time and its effects spread across all continents.

Great Britain was the winner of this war and, thanks to what was signed in the Treaty of Paris of 1763, it succeeded, among other things, in getting France to renounce its aspirations over the 13 Colonies.

Taxes and the tea riot

Despite being victorious, the Seven Years’ War had negative consequences for Great Britain. At the end of the conflict, its economy was sunk and to solve it, it approved a series of taxes on the colonies.

The inhabitants of the colonies rejected these new tributes. The situation worsened when the British established a permanent army in the colonies with the aim of protecting them from a possible French attack.

This deployment created new expenses and, consequently, the approval of more taxes. The turning point came in 1773, when a tax was created on tea, a drink considered basic.

To protest this tax, a group of settlers disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians and dumped the cargo of tea stored on three ships in Boston Harbor. The British government, in retaliation, banned the holding of local elections and imposed other economic sanctions. This punitive legislation was known as Intolerable Acts ( Intolerable Laws).

First Continental Congress

The representatives of the colonists met in the so-called First Continental Congress in September 1774. Representatives elected by the different legislative bodies of each colony, with the exception of Georgia, attended that congress.

Among the participants in Congress there was a majority that demanded independence, although there were also defenders of the British monarch.

The result of the sessions was the approval of the Declaration of Rights and Grievances and a petition to the king. The two documents recognized that the British Parliament had the right to regulate foreign trade, but stated that the colonies should manage their internal affairs without interference.

The supporters of the total rupture were not satisfied with these resolutions. For them, Great Britain had no legal right to the colonies, beyond the respect due to the king.

The members of this congress approved a new meeting for something later, the so-called Second Continental Congress.

Causes of the  independence of the thirteen colonies

The Seven Years’ War unleashed a series of events that would lead to the rebellion of the Thirteen Colonies against the colonial power, Great Britain.

This conflict between the main European powers ended with British victory, but that country was left in a very delicate economic situation. To try to overcome the crisis, it imposed new taxes and laws on its American colonies. The inhabitants of these responded with riots, protests and riots.


The bad economic situation due to the Seven Years’ War led to the introduction of new taxes and laws in the 13 Colonies.

In 1764, the Sugar Law was passed, which established that settlers could only buy this product from the English Antilles. Also, the rates increased.

The following year, the British enacted the Stamp Act. With this rule, materials printed in the colonies had to be published on stamped paper and produced in London. In addition, it is mandatory that they carry an embossed tax stamp.

Great Britain wanted to use the profits made by that law for the maintenance of the troops it had deployed in the colonies.

The imposition of these taxes caused a serious incident in 1770, the Boston Massacre. On March 5 of that year, a group of protesters against the new rates was shot by several British soldiers.

In 1773 the aforementioned Tea Law and new tributes to materials such as paint and glass were approved.

All this discontent was compounded because the settlers had no representatives in the decision-making bodies. The phrase “there is no taxation without representation” was used to show that discontent: if they had to pay taxes it was only fair that they could have representatives in the British Parliament. Britain refused her request.

Greater British control

Since their founding, the British colonies in North America had enjoyed considerable political and economic autonomy. Thus, commercial relations between them had developed without any kind of intervention from the metropolis.

However, that began to change after the Seven Years’ War. The aforementioned economic interventions were joined by the annulment by Great Britain of some laws promulgated by South Carolina and Virginia.

In addition, the British government began to monitor the courts and ordered inspections of warehouses and homes in the event of suspected smuggling.

Influence of the Enlightenment

In addition to internal events, the independence of the Thirteen Colonies was also influenced by the ideas of the time, specifically the Enlightenment.

The philosophers of the Enlightenment were spreading a new way of conceiving the world, despite the fact that, with few exceptions, all European countries were ruled by absolute monarchies.

The enlightened introduced concepts such as equality, justice and the separation of powers. The basis of his thought was rationalism in the face of the prevailing religious dogmas.

Support from other countries

The colonies had established autonomous relations with other countries, such as France, during their history, especially in the commercial sphere.

Once the war for independence broke out, the revolutionaries received support from European powers who wanted to weaken the British.

France, defeated in the Seven Years’ War, was the country that most supported the colonists. To a lesser extent, Spain and the Netherlands would also collaborate in their struggle.

Development: war and independence of the United States

Although the requests of the First Continental Congress were not of a pro-independence nature, the British response was negative. On the contrary, in the following months some controlling laws were passed, the so-called Intolerable Laws.

Two years later, representatives from the colonies met in Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress.

Second Congress of Philadelphia

A battalion of English soldiers left Boston on April 19, 1775, to prevent a settler militia from taking over a weapons depot in the neighboring town of Concord.

The 700 British soldiers clashed with some 70 militiamen in Lexington, although no one knows which side started the attack. This battle became the first of the War of Independence.

The English managed to control both Lexington and Concord, but on the way back to Boston they were attacked by hundreds of volunteers from Massachusetts.

The following month, representatives from the colonies met in Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress. On this occasion, the Congress assumed the functions of government and approved the invasion of Canada, the appointment of fourteen generals and organized an army. At the command of this was appointed George Washington, a Virginia squire.

Washington, who had military experience, was the candidate of John Adams due to the distrust that existed among many congressmen towards the fanaticism of Massachusetts.

The colonists began to recruit soldiers in all the colonies. Most were farmers or hunters, with no prior military experience. Washington himself went so far as to affirm that “we have recruited an army of generals, they do not obey anyone.”

At the time, a showdown against Great Britain seemed lost beforehand. The British were one of the great powers of the time and their soldiers were professionals. In 1778, his forces in North America numbered 50,000.

Bunker hill

At first, the war seemed to be in favor of the British. This began to change at the Battle of Bunker Hill, a place facing Boston where the two armies met in June 1775.

The rebel troops, entrenched on the hill, managed to withstand several British attacks. Although they finally managed to reach the top, the confrontation cost the lives of 800 English soldiers. In addition, the settlers spread the idea that they had withdrawn due to lack of ammunition and not because of enemy push.

After Bunker Hill, the rebels fortified another nearby hill, Dorchester Heights. For this they used cannons that they had taken from Fort Ticonderoga and that were transferred by Colonel Henry Knox. Seeing the defenses up, British General William Howe gave the order to surrender and evacuate Boston on March 17, 1776.

July 4th, 1776

The Continental Congress resolved on July 2, 1776 that “these United Colonies are, and by right must be, free and sovereign states.” Two days later, on July 4, 56 congressmen approved the Declaration of Independence of the United States.

This statement was printed on paper money and distributed by the colonies. The congress also initiated contacts with other foreign powers to seek their recognition.

Given this, the British understood that they were not facing a simple local revolt, which caused their government to take new measures to defeat the rebels.

Boston evacuation

The British, after evacuating Boston, concentrated the bulk of their troops in New York, with a population that was supposed to be more favorable to the Crown. In the summer of 1776, William Howe, at the head of the British army, arrived at the port of that city with 30,000 men.

The military’s intention was to isolate New England from the other rebels and defeat the army led by Washington in a single battle. However, for the next two years he was unable to carry out his plan.

Despite the initial strength advantage, Britain had some significant disadvantages. To begin with, her government had to direct its troops from the other side of the Atlantic, with what that meant in terms of communications and logistics.

On the other hand, the type of war he had to face was different from what his army was used to. The extension of the territory was enormous and the colonists developed almost guerrilla tactics, without a conventional center of hand.

Howe himself stated that he did not know how to deal with the situation “since the enemy is moving much more quickly than we are capable of”.

The battle of Saratoga

The colonists achieved a great victory, both military and propaganda, in October 1777. On the 17th of that month, British General John Burgoyne surrendered in Saratoga, in the north of present-day New York State.

Burgoyne’s plan, which was supported by German mercenaries and Canadian Indian groups whose lands were being occupied by settlers, was to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies and inflict as many casualties as possible.

To do this, he intended to go up the Hudson River Valley from Montreal and meet with the troops commanded by General Howe in Albany.

Burgoyne began to advance south from the Canadian forests with the aforementioned intention of rejoining the British troops who were in New York. Howe was supposed to reach that city after attacking Philadelphia. The British military believed that, with all their forces united, their victory over George Washington was certain.

However, Howe preferred to advance south and Burgoyne was constantly attacked by the rebel militias. This prevented him from reaching New York and obtaining reinforcements. Finally, he was isolated in New England, without supplies and surrounded by a very large army. The general had no choice but to surrender.

Foreign aid

The victory of the rebels in Saratoga caused enemy countries of Great Britain to see the moment to make up for what happened in the Seven Years’ War.

France signed an alliance with the colonists in February 1778 with which it openly entered the war. This aid was, above all, economic, although the French also sent their navy and ground troops.

Spain, for its part, helped the settlers with arms, ammunition and money. At first, it was not willing to participate militarily and even tried to mediate between the contenders. The Spanish aimed to drive the British away from the Gulf of Mexico and the banks of the Mississippi River, in addition to having them expelled from their settlements in Central America.

End of the war

Starting in 1778, the battle front moved south. France had already entered the war and Spain ended up doing so after signing a secret agreement with the French in April 1779.

The consequences of the Franco-Spanish agreement were immediate. The British had to divert troops to Gibraltar to defend it and the French ports of Toulon and Brest were released from the blockade imposed by the English navy.

France took advantage of those ports to send troops to America under the command of Rochambeau and La Fayette.

A fleet made up of French and Spanish ships participated in one of the most decisive battles of the war, that of Cape Santa María (1780), which ended with the capture of an English convoy carrying weapons, gunpowder, provisions and 1,000,000 pounds sterling in gold to his troops in North America.

The last British stronghold in the colonies, in Virginia, was surrounded in 1781 by a French fleet and an army made up of Americans and French, all under the command of George Washington.

General Charles Cornwallis, commanding the British soldiers, had to submit his surrender. Given this, the government of Great Britain proposed peace.

The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America was drawn up by the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia. Its approval took place on July 4, 1776 and proclaimed the end of British rule over the 13 Colonies that it had established on the Atlantic coast of North America.

With this declaration the United States of America was born, although the end of the war of independence did not come until years later.

John Adams was one of the congressmen who promoted this independence process. The proposal was approved on July 2 unanimously by members of Congress. A committee was in charge of writing the formal declaration, which was voted on two days later.

Adams persuaded the committee to entrust Thomas Jefferson to direct the writing, although Congress made some changes to its final version.

Declaration principles

The document made a public defense of the need for a war of independence against Great Britain. In addition, it included an extensive list of complaints against the English monarch, George III.

In addition to the above, the Declaration explained the philosophy with which they defended independence. Among those principles, highly influenced by the Enlightenment, were the equality at birth of all men and the inalienable rights they possessed, such as freedom, life or the pursuit of happiness.

Likewise, the document included the affirmation that governments can only carry out their work with the consent of the citizens and that it should be dissolved in the event that it ceased to protect the rights of the people.


As soon as it was approved, the document was printed on flyers, large sheets of paper very popular at the time. In the middle of the war, these flyers were distributed throughout the colonies.

Consequences of independence

Paris treaty

The official end of the war came in 1783, when the defeated Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

The British recognized American sovereignty over the entire territory south of Canada, north of Florida, and east of the Mississippi River. Similarly, Great Britain renounced the Ohio Valley and gave the new country full powers to exploit Newfoundland’s fishing grounds.

Spain, for its part, managed with this treaty to recover Menorca and eastern and western Florida. In addition, it recovered the Mosquito Coast, Campeche and the Nicaraguan coasts. However, she failed to regain Gibraltar.

The French recovered almost all the islands of the Antilles and the squares of the Senegal River in Africa. Holland, for its part, got Sumatra.

After independence, some 70,000 inhabitants, 2% of the population of the former colonies, preferred to abandon their lands. Most moved to Canada.

Constitution of the United States of America (1787) and Bill of Rights (1791)

The Constitution of the United States was written in the summer of 1787, It contained all the legal principles that underpin its federal system, in addition to collecting its government agencies and the rights of citizens.

Four years later, the first ten amendments to the constitution were included, which make up the so-called Bill of Rights. With these amendments the power of the federal government was limited and the rights of citizens were strengthened.

Among the freedoms included in the Bill of Rights are those of expression, religion, possession of weapons, assembly and petition.

Economic consequences

Since its inception, the United States has opted for a liberal and mercantilist economic system. Its economic development was very rapid, especially due to the possibilities offered by the vast territory through which it began to expand.

Territorial expansion of the United States

The new country had a vast unexplored territory to its west. The Americans immediately began to conquer these new lands from the Indian tribes that inhabited it. In their advance, they exploited all the riches they found.

The expansionist urge was not limited only to those western territories. From very early on, the United States tried to annex the lands located in the south, whether they were French, Spanish or, later, Mexican.

Influence on other revolutions

The independence process of the Thirteen Colonies became a benchmark for other revolutionary movements.

The French Revolution, although with its own characteristics, collected the illustrated principles for its government.

At the beginning of the 19th century, many Spanish colonies in Latin America began their own independence processes. The United States was taken as an example of a country that had managed to emancipate itself from its colonial power.

Something similar happened with the federal system that the Americans had adopted. Several of the countries that became independent from Spain tried to assume the same system.


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