The New Nation: A History of the United States during the Confederation, 1781-1789

By Merrill Jensen | Go to book overview

PART ONE
The Winning of Independence

THE WINNING of independence was slow and torturing labor for those Americans who believed in it. At times it seemed to civilians and soldiers alike that they could go on no longer. Whatever ideals they had seemed drowned in the indifference of fellow Americans, defeat at the hands of the enemy, and corruption, speculation, and money grabbing by those who seized on war's opportunities to enrich themselves without regard for the public good. Yet enough civilians and enough soldiers kept slogging along bitter month after bitter month, and endless year after endless year to keep the movement alive. From time to time their hopes were raised by events like Burgoyne's surrender, the French Alliance, or the battle of Cowpens. At other times they drooped in utter despair. The year 1780 was blackness itself. Soldiers mutinied, officers struck for higher pay, inflated prices destroyed the power to purchase supplies with paper money, and steadily the British crunched northward from the South across the Carolinas and into Virginia.

But the next year was the turning point of the war. In March of 1781 the Articles of Confederation were ratified, after five years of wrangling shot through with high purpose and low motives. The administration of public affairs was reorganized and new drive was given by new men coming into power. Then, in October, a French and American army penned up Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in Virginia. On 19 October 1781 Cornwallis surrendered with all his men. News of the surrender gave Americans new courage and it brought about the fall of Lord North's cabinet in England. The Rockingham-Shelburne Whigs, friendly to peace and ind

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