The war for independence is the defining event in American political development. This volume of primary documents on the causes and conduct of the American Revolution presents the history of the American political order during its formative period.
The documents selected for inclusion in this volume range from James Otis’ speech against British policies in 1761 (Document 1) to George Washington’s resignation as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in 1783 (Document 44). In between, the reader will discover the central political, constitutional, moral, social, and economic themes that shaped the nation’s history during its founding, as told by those who lived through it. As John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1815, “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 in this sense, as Benjamin Rush would later remark, the end of the war was not the end of the American Revolution, but rather only the “first act of the great drama.”
No one can read these documents today without sensing the overwhelming significance of the issues at stake: from these pages, the reader can come to understand and appreciate not only the emergence of the United States as an independent nation but also something about the challenges of forming a political order on the propositions of equality and liberty—challenges as relevant to modern Americans as they were to our forefathers.