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The French Revolution – Champion of Liberty 1782 – 1789


WHEN THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE returned to France in 1782, after taking part in the American Revolution, he was hailed as a popular hero. It was pleasant to be welcomed as a champion of liberty, but he had been in America so long that he was beginning to see his own country as an American might see it and he was troubled. France was one of the largest and richest countries in Europe and yet the wealth of the nation was in the hands of a few, while the great majority of the people had almost nothing. He found a disturbing emptiness in the faces of the people. On country roads, peasants often stared at him with hollow eyes and blank faces. They seemed to have so little to live for. The nobles and the rich had discovered ways of avoiding taxes and the entire tax burden fell on the poor, who scarcely had enough for themselves and their families. These were the people who now turned to Lafayette, hoping that he might lead them in their fight for liberty. Lafayette was eager to help them. “When one loves liberty,” he explained, “one is not at peace until after having established it in one’s own country.” He and thousands of other Frenchmen believed the people of France could win liberty for themselves if they followed the example set for them by the Americans. Many had read Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet Common Sense, which had stirred the Americans in their fight for liberty. Many had also studied the rights of man listed in the Declaration of Independence. Writers pointed out in newspapers and books that these rights belonged to all men everywhere and that they had always been denied to ordinary Frenchmen. The French had been cheered by the American victory …

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The Final Break 1776


The fog was lifting over New York early on the morning of June 29, 1776, when a man named Daniel McCurtin happened to glance out over the bay. At first he saw nothing but mist hanging low over the water then suddenly he blinked and stared in amazement. Later he tried to describe the scene. He wrote that he had “spied as I peeped out the Bay something resembling a wood of pine trees trimmed. I declare, at my noticing this, that I could not believe my eyes, but keeping my eyes fixed at the very spot, judge you of my surprise when in about ten minutes, the whole Bay was full of shipping as ever it could be. I declare that I thought all London was afloat.” Washington’s lookouts on the share of Long Island were blinking, too, as General Howe’s mighty fleet of 130 ships arrived in the Lower Bay. This was the Army Howe had taken to Halifax after being forced out of Boston, but now it was greatly strengthened. The fleet anchored near Staten Island, shifting its anchorage in the bay several times during the next few days. The Americans waited, trying to guess where the attack would come. At Manhattan? Or Brooklyn? Or would Howe sail up the Hudson and attempt to join forces with a British army coming down from Canada by land? Howe finally put his army ashore on Staten Island at the month of the harbour, which was not defended. The British were not yet ready to strike. They were awaiting reinforcements from England. The delay gave Washington more time to fortify his positions in Manhattan and across the East River on Brooklyn Heights. To defend both places meant splitting his small army in half, with the East River between them. Had …

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A Divided Country 1776


One chilly morning in April, General Howe stepped out of his Boston headquarters and stared in amazement at a hill called Dorchester Heights, to the south of the city. It had been fortified during the night by George Washington’s rebel army. Strong breastworks of ice blocks and brown earth ran along the crest of the bill. Above the steepest slopes, barrels filled with rocks stood balanced, ready to be sent tumbling down the hill in the path of attacking troops. Studying the hill through his glass, Howe could make out several companies of riflemen and some units with muskets. What disturbed him most were the cannon, all well placed on the top of the hill where they could pound Boston and a good part of the Royal Fleet in the harbour. None of the British cannon, from their low positions‚ could possibly place their shots farther than the bottom of the hill. Howe made ready to attack, then changed his mind, probably haunted by the horrors of Bunker Hill. The British began making preparations to withdraw from the city. For the redcoats, the act of leaving Boston must have seemed like an escape from a prison city. They had been hemmed in there for many months, overcrowded‚ short of food and fuel. The civilian population had increased steadily, for a constant flow of colonial refugees had poured into the city to seek the protection of the British army. These refugees supported the mother country and called themselves loyalists because of their loyalty to the king. During the winter they had caused serious food and housing problems and greatly endangered the health of all. WASHINGTON TAKES BOSTON It may have been one of the loyalists who carried smallpox into the city. The disease had spread rapidly and raged for several weeks. …

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War Begins on Lexington Green 1775


On the evening of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere quietly made his way through the dark streets of Boston to the Charles River. At the river’s edge he hid in the shadows, watching and waiting. He kept a sharp lookout for British patrols. Spies had brought the patriots word that the British were to launch a surprise attack; Revere, William Dawes and other members of the Sons of Liberty had made careful plans to warn the countryside. There could be no doubt that something was about to happen. Several days earlier, eight hundred of the best troops stationed in Boston had been taken off regular duty to prepare for action of some sort. According to the spies, General Gage had become alarmed at the way the colonists in every village were drilling and gathering military supplies. He was particularly concerned about the large supply of ammunition that the colonists had stored at Concord, some twenty miles from Boston. He was anxious to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were spending a few days in Lexington at the home of Reverend Jonas Clark. PAUL REVERE’S RIDE Now a number of British patrols had been sent out on the roads leading to Lexington and Concord, so the patriots were certain that their information was correct. The British intended to arrest Adams and Hancock in Lexington and then go on to destroy the ammunition at Concord. Which way would the British go? Boston was located on a peninsula, connected with the mainland by a narrow neck of land. The British might go over the neck‚ through Roxbury and Cambridge. That was the long way. They could cut off a number of miles by crossing the Charles River on boats. It was about ten o’clock when Paul Revere heard the sounds of marching …

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The Continental Congress 1774


When Samuel Adams, his cousin John Adams and the rest of the delegates from Massachusetts arrived in Philadelphia, they found themselves very unpopular. Cousin John complained that he was avoided as if he had some sort of contagious disease. The delegates from other colonies looked upon the men from Massachusetts as radicals and did not like their wild ideas about protecting American rights with force, if necessary. Patrick Henry of Virginia made a speech pointing out that it was no longer possible for any of the colonies to stand alone. They had to unite, to work together with other colonies for the good of all. “I am not a Virginian,” he cried, “but an American!” Most of the delegates to the Congress were still loyal to the king, but, like Patrick Henry, they had begun to think of themselves as Americans rather than Englishmen. More and more, they were speaking of justice, freedom, liberty and of the natural rights of man. One of the first things they did was to write a Declaration of Rights, describing exactly what rights they claimed for themselves. The colonists‚ declared the Congress, were “entitled to life, liberty and property,” and had never given any “foreign power” authority to change, or to take away, any of those rights without consent. The Congress also stated that it was the right of Englishmen and of all free people to govern themselves. Since the colonists were not represented in the British Parliament, they were entitled to have their own law-making bodies. The colonial legislatures were the only lawmaking bodies that had authority to tax and to make laws for the various colonies. At the same time, the Congress recognized the right of the king to veto laws passed by the legislatures. The Congress also passed a plan known …

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The Boston Tea Party 1773 -1774

East India Company

Due to the taxes on tea, many of the colonists began drinking coffee or cocoa, or bought tea smuggled in from Holland. Within a few years, the British tea trade with the colonists dropped from 900,000 pounds to 237,000 pounds and in England the warehouses of the East India Company were filled to overflowing. The East India Company was Britain’s largest and most important trading company and to save it, Parliament passed the Tea Act. The East India Company was given a monopoly on tea trade with the colonies — that is, it was the only company allowed to sell tea to the Americans. It was also permitted to sell its tea through its agents directly to retail stores. This plan would cut out the profit made by British and American shippers and importers. Even after the tax had been paid, the British tea could be sold in the colonies at a price far below that of smuggled tea. The British believed they had hit upon the perfect way to solve the troublesome tea problem. The colonists would rush to buy tea at a low price, the East India Company would be saved, the government would collect its tax and everyone would be happy. To the surprise of the British, nothing of the sort happened. The Americans were angrier than ever. The merchants feared that if the direct-selling plan of the Tea Act was successful, England would decide to sell other goods in the same way, and many businessmen would be ruined. It was clear, too, that England had deliberately kept the tax on tea to show that Parliament had the right to tax colonial imports for the purpose of raising money. Leading American lawyers denied that Parliament had such a right. An import tax on low-priced tea was just …

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The Stamp Act, 1765 – 1772

stamp act

Another unpopular step England took after the war was to reorganize her defense system in the colonies. The French and Indian War had proved to the British that the colonies could not be depended upon to defend themselves. Some new system had to be worked out in North America, to defend not only the colonies, but also Canada, Florida and the wilderness east of the Mississippi. England decided to leave this task to a standing army of ten thousand British redcoats. Such an army would cost a great deal of money. Taxpayers in England were already paying very high taxes and could not be asked to pay more. Their taxes supported the powerful British navy, which protected the colonies as well as the mother country. It seemed no more than fair that the colonies should pay at least part of the expenses of the standing army in North America. The soldiers were there, after all, for their own protection. Accordingly, the colonies were given a year to raise the money themselves. They were warned that England would have to tax them if they failed to do so. For a year the colonists did nothing. They saw no need of supporting an army they had not asked for and did not want. Since the French forces had been driven from American soil, a large standing army seemed unnecessary. The colonists suspected that the real purpose of the army was to strengthen British control over all the colonial governments. England’s law-making body in London, the British Parliament, finally passed the Stamp Act in 1765. It required the colonists to buy stamps from British tax collectors. These stamps were to be placed on all newspapers, playing cards, dice and almanacs sold in the colonies and also on certain papers having to do with …

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Adventures in the New World 1519 – 1620

“I DID NOT come to till the soil like a peasant,” said Hernando Cortez. “I came to find gold.” His words echoed the thoughts of almost every Spaniard in the New World. The discovery of the sea route to the West had set off a great treasure hunt. Colonizing and slaughtering, building and plundering, the gold-hungry Spaniards won a Spanish Empire of the West. Conquistadores‚ they were called — the conquerors. None of the treasure-hunters was more cunning or ambitious than Hernando Cortez‚ who came to the island of Hispaniola in 1504. It was not until 1519 that the governor of Hispaniola sent him on an expedition to explore the coast of Central America. Cortez sailed with five ships, 500 soldiers, eleven cannon and fifteen horses. The fleet anchored near the coast of the territory called Mexico and the men went ashore to build a settlement. Cortez ordered the ships dismantled so that none of his men could go back to Hispaniola, then set off on a march inland. Mexico was a vast country whose Indians had built a highly organized civilization and Cortez had a force of less than 500 men. He was a skillful leader; besides, he had firearms and horses –and good luck. Not long after he began his march, a horde of Indians swept out of the hills to attack the Spaniards. As soon as the Spanish cavalry appeared, the Indians fled to safety. As one soldier later wrote, the Indians, “who had never before seen a horse, thought that steed and rider were one creature.” One tribe after another surrendered. They had been conquered by the people called the Aztecs and many of them offered to join Cortez in the fight to destroy the Aztec empire. As the Spaniards and their Indian allies pushed on …

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Venice, City in the Sea 1350 – 1590


The houses of Venice are “like sea-birds half on sea and half on land,” said Cassiodorus. An officer of a king of the Goths, Cassiodorus saw Venice in 537. It was a little settlement of huts built on the mud-flats in an out-of-the-way lagoon. Its people were refugees‚ Italians who had been driven from their homes by a horde of barbaric invaders. They were safe in the lagoon, for no stranger could navigate the treacherous channels. For the sake of safety, they were content with comforts that were simple at best. “In this place,” Cassiodorus said, “rich and poor are alike — they all fill up on fish.” A thousand years later, when Venice had become the richest and most powerful city in Italy, it was still a place of refuge from the wars and turmoil of the mainland. The lagoon was still an unbeatable defense. Instead of streets, there were canals and the city’s mansions, marble palaces and gold-peaked churches still hovered above the water like sea-birds, perched on 117 islands linked by nearly 400 bridges. In every way, Venice belonged to the sea and for many years the sea belonged to Venice. The descendants of the settlers commanded mighty warships that ruled the eastern Mediterranean. With their great merchant galleys, they were the lords of the trade-routes of the Adriatic and Aegean Seas and they sailed the Atlantic to England and Flanders. In the Middle Ages, the Venetians built and manned the hundreds of ships that took the Crusaders to the Holy Land — and they saw to it that the knights captured a few colonies for Venice along the way. Through the years, these colonies multiplied into an ocean empire until even Constantinople, the capital of the old Roman Empire of the East, paid homage to the …

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