GED Social Studies Practice Test: The Revolutionary War

Life in the New England Colonies

Due to short summers and thin, rocky soil, agriculture in New England was limited to small farms. However, the region was rich in virgin forests (meaning timber for merchant ships and the Royal Navy), furs, and fish (which could be dried and stored). The need for ports led to the establishment of cities such as Boston and Providence.

Literacy rates were high, as people wanted to be able to read the Bible, and the region sprouted colleges (established by various church denominations) — such as Harvard, Brown, and Yale — to train ministers.

A religious spirit and conformity prevailed. The Puritan way of life (see Chapter 1) was one of hierarchies (systems of social order): children obeyed their parents, wives obeyed their husbands, and everyone obeyed clergymen. The governing of towns and was done by property-holding, church-going males. Women had few rights. The first public schools were established, but most girls were educated at home.

As the New England climate was not suitable for growing cash crops (crops raised for sale, not consumption), there was not much need for slaves. The slaves that were brought to New England were generally used as household servants.


Life in the Middle Colonies

The Middle Colonies were not established by religious leaders, and were much more heterogeneous (made up of different groups of people). The port city of New York contained free African-Americans, Christians of various denominations, Jews, Englishmen, Dutch-speaking colonists, and many other peoples.

New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware had large farms on which livestock (cattle and sheep) were raised and farms that grew grains (wheat, oats, and barley). They were sometimes called the “Bread Colonies.” Rivers and a smooth coastline allowed for the development of port cities, such as Philadelphia and Albany (on the Hudson River). Many people owned smaller farms, and towns were often self-governing. Religion did not play as prominent a role in everyday life as it did in New England.


Life in the Southern Colonies

Agriculture was virtually the sole economic activity of the Southern colonies. While New England and the Middle Colonies had some small-scale industries (such as blacksmithing and barrel-making and iron-ore smelting (refining), the South had none.

Wealthy landowners had plantations (large farms). The main crop was tobacco, which found ready markets in other colonies and England. Tobacco requires much labor to plant and maintain, and so the majority of slaves brought to the English colonies were found in the Southern Colonies. Slave codes were meant go govern the treatment of African-Americans slaves. They could be bought, sold, and leased at will. No standard treatment was required. Some owners treated their slaves well, while others used violence and intimidation to keep their slaves in line.

Poor roads and the presence of widely dispersed plantations meant that few cities arose in the South. Population density was low. The most important port city was Charleston, on the coast of South Carolina. Most tobacco and other crops were shipped directly from plantations, which were often located on or near rivers, and ships could sail directly to them.

Children were educated at home, and each plantation was essentially a self-sustaining community, with its own blacksmith shop, stables, tenant farmers, and livestock.

Most Southerners were small farmers and did not own slaves. They often worked inferior land (the aristocratic planters had gobbled up much of the prime land in the 1600s), and life for the small farmer was hard, and many were poor. Rich landowners usually looked down on them.

Trade was also vital to the South. Slaves were imported from the Caribbean islands, as were manufactured goods from England. The South exported rum (made from sugar cane), cotton, linen, indigo (a plant used to make blue dye for fabrics), and rice.

Virginia, the largest and most powerful of the Southern Colonies, was the first colony to establish an elected legislature (representative law-making body) in 1619. By the early 1700s, all 13 British colonies had elected legislatures and were basically self-governing. A royal governor, aided by a council of advisors, worked with the legislature in each colony to ensure the smooth day-to-day operation. Britain did not govern the colonies directly.


The French and Indian War, 1756-1763

Britain and Spain were not the only European nations to establish colonies in North America. France explored much of what is the modern-day Midwest and Plains States and Canada. Unlike the 13 British colonies, the colony of New France was sparsely populated and did not have a varied economy. Most settlers made their living trapping and selling furs.

The growing British colonies, all located on the Eastern Seaboard (coast), eyed the French land beyond the Appalachian Mountains (which run from Maine to Georgia) and wanted to expand.  In 1754, British officials met with seven colonies (six colonies didn’t send delegates) in what was called the Albany Congress to discuss common defense matters. This is the first time people from different colonies came together to discuss the problems facing all American colonists. Though the Albany Congress accomplished little, it was a symbolic milestone.

After years of skirmishes (small battles) and mutual suspicion, the British launched a full-scale invasion of New France in 1756. Britain sent troops, and American colonists fought side by side with British soldiers. Both the French and the British enlisted Native American tribes as allies (thus the name of the war). A young George Washington got his first taste of battle in this war.

After seven long years, the British captured New France’s main cities and controlled the waterways of the colony. Under the terms of the peace treaty, signed in 1763, France’s presence in continental North America was abolished (though it still held some sugar-producing islands in the Caribbean). Britain’s fruits of victory were immense — but short-lived.


Victory Causes Problems for Britain

The French and Indian War led to the first mixing of British soldiers and American settlers. They found they did not like each other. The British believed they were there to save American colonists, and felt the people were not respectful enough. Americans, who knew the terrain (land) and were crucial to the British victory, did not believe they were given enough credit for Britain’s tremendous gains. While most British troops were sent home, England left soldiers in America. This standing army made Americans nervous.

The first problem that arose after the conclusion of the war was money; Britain was essentially bankrupt and needed to raise new revenue. It did not have the money to patrol its vast new territory, so by the Proclamation of 1763, American settlers were forbidden to settle west of the Appalachian Mountains. Americans were astonished; the land they fought to obtain was now closed off to them!

The second problem was the behavior of Americans. Not all settlers assisted the British and many colonists were actively involved in smuggling and trading with shippers from other nations. Why did they act against their mother country? The answer is simple: smuggling was insanely profitable.

Americans had also ignored British regulations about using British ships for trade and sending goods only to Britain. Since the founding of the first colonies, Britain, which received import taxes and other revenues from the colonies, had looked the other way. This policy was called salutary neglect. Salutary means “healthful. How could neglect be healthful? Because the Americans did more or less as they pleased, and Britain grew wealthy from the colonies without having to spend large sums to administer them; the colonies essentially ran themselves. If some smuggling was the price of the deal, both sides could live with it. Britain got money, and the Americans enjoyed the “neglect” — they were left alone.

After the war, Britain realized they were “being had” by Americans’ behavior and resolved to end salutary neglect. The British expected the Americans to be grateful; in the eyes of England, the colonists had been “saved” from the “French menace.” Americans, on the other hand, did not like being treated like second-class Englishmen.


The Violent Reaction to the End of Salutary Neglect

Immediately after the French and Indian War, Britain took steps to end salutary neglect. It now looked to the colonies as a sources of revenue (money), and felt the colonists should pay more in taxes in order to support the British troops in North America. First, the British cracked down on colonial smuggling (especially sugar from the Caribbean).

Then, in 1765, the British Parliament (governing body) passed the Stamp Act, which required colonists to place a 3-penny stamp on official papers (such as wills, bills of sale, lawyers’ documents, shipping papers, and newspapers). People in all 13 colonies reacted with fury. People tarred and feathered tax collectors and a gathering of delegates from nine colonies petitioned Parliament to repeal (take back) the tax. Since colonists did not send delegates to sit in Parliament, they felt that taxation was unjust. The cry of “No taxation without representation!” rang up and down the colonies.

In the large cities, influential men formed secret societies known as the Sons of Liberty. The Sons of Liberty coordinated strategies of resistance to the hated tax.

British officials were stunned; the colonists had challenged the authority of the Parliament and the king! But attempting to collect the tax was more trouble than it was worth, and the Parliament repealed it in 1766.

While the colonists basked in their victory, Britain was planning new taxes on items that were essential to colonists and weren’t made in America, such as paint, glass, and paper. There was also a tax on tea. Colonists responded by refusing to import these items (called a boycott), and they began to drink coffee instead of paying the oppressive new tax. Colonial legislatures also began to send around letters describing how they were resisting British tactics; a sense of American unity was being born.

In response to the unruliness of Americans, the British sent troops to Boston to keep order. The troops were often drunk and disrespectful, and tension between the townspeople and soldiers only grew.

Violence seemed inevitable. On a cold day in March, 1770, British soldiers (known as “Redcoats” for their bright red uniforms) were guarding an official building. A crowd of colonists gathered and began to taunt the soldiers. A young boy threw a snowball, knocking off a soldier’s hat. British soldiers fired into the crowd, killing five men and injuring six others. The first person to be killed was Crispus Attucks, a free black man.


The Boston Tea Party and the British Crackdown

In 1773, the British imposed a new tax on tea — the favored drink of colonists. A group of Bostonians, dressed up as Native Americans (with war paint and feathers), snuck about the ships in Boston Harbor that held tea bound for importation. The “Boston Tea Party” destroyed tea worth about $800,000 (in modern money). In other places, colonists burned tea ships. In response, Britain closed the port of Boston and restricted the rights of colonists.


The Colonies Come Together to Discuss Problems, and then Bloodshed

In October, 1774, delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies came together to form the Continental Congress in order to find a common response to British abuses. Among the delegates were John Adams, Patrick Henry (who had cried, “Give me liberty or give me death!), and George Washington. During the two-month meeting, the 55 delegates got to know each other — and unified American viewpoint was born. The Congress called on colonies to completely boycott British goods and stop exporting to Britain. At the end of the Congress, the delegates agreed to meet again in the spring of 1775.

Not everyone believed the conflict with Britain could be resolved peacefully. In Massachusetts, male residents of some towns formed volunteer armies — called militias — and began to drill. They called themselves the “Minutemen” because they could be ready to fight on one minute’s notice.

In April, 1775, the military commander of Boston heard that colonists were stockpiling arms and gunpowder in two towns west of the city. He marched a column of troops to the first town, where a group of Minutemen were waiting (they had been warned by Paul Revere that “The British are coming!”). A battle ensued in which 8 Americans were killed. At the next town, there was another skirmish. When the British began to march back to Boston, the local fighters, familiar with the woods and stone walls of the area, used ambush tactics to inflict heavy losses on the Redcoats. The war for revolution had begun.

When the Second Continental Congress met in May, it formed the Continental Army and appointed George Washington as its commander. Men from various colonies signed up to fight. But Washington’s army faced the mighty British, and while the Americans had spirit and purpose, they faced enormous odds.


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Americans Fight the British — and Win

Despite the enormous odds, the Continental Army was not smashed by the British. At times, the American cause seemed to be on the brink of collapse, but under the calm and collected leadership of George Washington, the Continental Army remained a coherent fighting force through six long years of war, from 1775 to 1781.

About one-third of the colonial population supported the cause. They were known as Patriots. One-third remained loyal to the king, and one-third of the people were more or less undecided. The Continental Army was made up of all types of men: poor farmers, wealthy planters, urban workers, and free African-Americans.

The war was fought in New England, the Middle Colonies, and in the South. For much of the time, the Continental Army was on the run. In 1778, the newly formed U.S. entered into an alliance with France, which provided troops and badly-needed naval power.

Overall, there were only a handful of victories for the Americans. For the most part, the Americans’ determination wore down British resolve. Finally, in 1781, the Americans trapped a British force at Yorktown, a peninsula in Virginia, and the British surrendered. A peace treaty was signed in 1783. The U.S. was granted the land in the Ohio Valley (that Britain seized from France after the French & Indian War) and given fishing rights off the coast of Canada. The new country stretched from Canada to Spanish Florida and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River.


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The Problems of the 1780s

When the 13 British colonies declared their independence from Britain on July 4, 1776, a new nation — the United States of America — was born, but it was small, weak, and engaged in a fierce war.

For most of the war, the only government the new country had was the Continental Congress (which began in 1775). It managed to fund the army (barely), conclude an alliance with France, and keep things running.

But while the 13 new states believed in an American ideal, there was little unity. Each state behaved as though it were a small country, often refusing to cooperate with other states.

In 1781, America’s first plan of government was enacted. The Articles of Confederation (a confederation is a loosely connected league or association) created a “firm league of friendship” among the states but gave the national government virtually no powers. The central government could not regulate interstate commerce — leading to trade wars between the states — or impose any taxes on states. States jealously guarded their powers and printed their own money. The “United” in the United States of America was missing! It was a poor and disorganized country. Congress was always starved for funds and virtually nothing on the national level was accomplished.

In addition, each state — no matter what its population — got one vote in Congress and passing laws required the approval of 9 states (rather than a simple majority of 7). To amend (change) the Articles required a unanimous vote. There was no executive branch to carry out the laws and no judicial branch to rule on the laws.

As the states continued to fight among themselves, relations with Britain grew worse. It did not remove its forts in the Ohio Valley (as it was required to do under the peace treaty) and Spain, which owned the territory west of the Mississippi River, began to threaten the U.S.’s right to use the river for transport.

The final straw was Shays’s Rebellion in late 1786. Daniel Shays was a poor farmer in Massachusetts who led a rebellion against banks, mortgage holders, and the wealthy. While his followers were a ragtag bunch, they burned down courthouses that held bankruptcy records and scared the wealthy merchants of Boston. The possibility of complete anarchy (lack of government control) in other states seemed possible.

A small but dedicated group of men agreed the United States needed a stronger central government. A call went out to the states to send delegates to a convention to be held in the spring of 1787. A new constitution was about to be born.


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