Constitution & Revolutionary War Chronology
1650-1764. The Parliament of England (after March 26, 1707, Great Britain) passes a series of laws that favor its manufacturing and trading companies and raise government duty revenues at the expense of its colonies. These are collectively known as the Navigation Acts. During the same period, extensions of two British Currency Acts limit the amount of coinage in the colonies and prohibit their coining of money, which inhibit intercolonial trade. These laws cause discontent among the American colonies, particularly the 13 along the Atlantic seaboard, since they adversely affect their manufacturing and commerce. (The British colonies of Quebec, Nova Scotia, East Florida, and West Florida did not consider them so obnoxious and will remain loyal to Great Britain during the upcoming revolutionary war. Trick question: How many British colonies existed in North America at the beginning of the Revolutionary War?) The first formal Committee of Correspondence (there were many previous informal ones) was established in Boston in 1764 to rally opposition to the Currency Act and other unpopular British laws and policies. It will be extended to other rebellious colonies until the end of the Revolution as a means of coordinating opposition to British policies and promulgating colonial views in foreign countries. These correspondence committees will plan many of the revolutionary meetings among the 13 colonies.
March 22, 1765. A Stamp Act is passed by Parliament (the fourth of many in its history, but the one that affected the American colonies) to raise colonial revenue by levying a tax on all newspapers, legal documents, pamphlets, almanacs, playing cards, and dice effective on November 1. The Act intends to defray the cost of maintaining a military presence to protect the colonies, England having incurred much additional debt from the French and Indian War (1754 - 1763). Payment is evidenced by an official stamp on the documents. The Stamp Act is one of the biggest irritants in the series of British laws and results in more coordinated opposition among the 13 colonies.
March 24, 1765. The Quartering Act, passed the previous year by Parliament, becomes effective. Like the Stamp Act, it is enacted in order to defray the cost of maintaining a military presence to protect the colonies. It requires that the colonies provide housing, food, and other necessities to British troops. This act provides further colonial grievances against Parliament.
October 7-25, 1765. The Stamp Act Congress meets at City Hall, NY, to organize resistance to the Stamp Act. Twenty-eight delegates from 9 colonies adopt a Declaration of Rights to protest the Stamp Act. The Congress also resolves not to import English goods requiring a duty. Following this meeting, stamped documents and stamps are destroyed, document distributors are forced to resign, stamp collectors are harassed, and English goods are boycotted and destroyed.
March 17, 1766. Acting under pressure from British merchants who are suffering from the American colonial import ban imposed by the Stamp Act Congress, the Stamp Act is repealed by Parliament effective May 1. On the same day, Parliament passes the Declaratory Act, which serves notice that the British government has the right to tax and make laws that affect its colonies.
June 29, 1767. Parliament passes the Townshend Revenue Act, which requires colonists to pay import duties on tea, glass, painter's colors, oil, lead, and paper, further aggravating the American colonists.
March 5, 1770. British troops kill five of a mob of Boston colonists who were harassing them. This celebrated event becomes known as The Boston Massacre, which provides a rallying event to the Americans chaffing under British rule.
April 12, 1770. Parliament realizes it is pushing the colonists too hard on taxation, and repeals the Townshend Revenue Act duties on all goods except tea.
April 27, 1773. Parliament passes the Tea Act, which eliminates tea duties for all countries, but retains the duties on tea exported to the colonies. Its intent is to save the East Indian Company from bankruptcy. This act enables the Company to cut its prices and undersell colonial tea importers, which drive many of the colonial merchants out of business, further aggravating the colonists.
December 16, 1773. Men dressed as Indians board three British ships in Boston harbor and throw their tea cargoes overboard. This celebrated event is forever known as the Boston Tea Party.
March 31-June 10, 1774. Parliament passes a series of laws known to the American colonists as the Intolerable Acts (also known as the Coercive Acts), some of which are punishments for the Boston Tea Party. The Boston Port Act of March 31 closed the port of Boston until restitution is made for the tea (342 chests worth £18,000) lost at the Boston Tea Party. The Massachusets Government Act of May 20 forbids public meetings without governor approval. The Administration of Justice Act of May 20 transfers trials of capital offenses by British subjects to England from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia. The Quartering Act passed previously is extended on June 2. The Quebec Act, passed June 22 to be effective May 1, 1775, had the intent (successful as it turned out during the Revolution) of maintaining French-Canadian allegiance to England by giving guarantees to the Roman Catholic Church and extending the boundaries of Quebec to the Ohio River valley. However, it had the unintended consequences of aggravating protestant colonists in the Ohio country who now had to cope with French catholic clergy, customs and laws, in addition to to those of the established church of England, and it aggravated leaders in eastern colonies who feel severed from potential sources of wealth of western lands.
September 5, 1774. The First Continental Congress, with 44 (later, 56) representatives from 12 colonies meets at Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia to organize resistance to Parliamentary rule. (The royal governor of Georgia prevented Georgia delegates from participating.) This meeting, like many later others, was planned by the colonial Committees of Correspondence.
September 14, 1774. Congress declares the British Intolerable Acts illegal, and urges Massachusetts to establish its own independent government. It also advises people to arm, and recommends economic sanctions against Great Britain.
October 14, 1774. Congress adopts a Declaration of Rights and Grievances, which denies parliamentary jurisdiction over colonies except for regulation of commerce and imperial affairs.
October 20, 1774. Congress approves a Continental Association, which coordinates a boycott of import, export and consumption of British goods through enforcement committees.
October 21, 1774. The Congress approves a letter to the East and West Floridas (Florida is divided into 2 British colonies), Nova Scotia, St. John's, and Georgia recommending adoption of congress resolutions, but the letter receives no responses. Georgia delegates, prevented from participating in this congress by its governor, will participate in the Second Congress and join the rebellion, but the other British colonies, including Quebec, will remain loyal to Great Britain and receive many fleeing loyalists ("Tories") during and after the war. (Trick question: How many British colonies existed just prior to the Revolutionary War?)
October 26, 1774. The First Continental Congress adjourns.
March 30, 1775. Parliament passes the New England Restraining Act that prohibits the New England colonies from fishing in the North Atlantic Ocean and restricts their trade to Great Britain and the British West Indies. In April, it is extended to the other colonies as punishment for forming the 1774 Continental Association.
April 19, 1775. Revolutionary War begins with the battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, between about 4,000 patriot ("rebel") minutemen and militia and about 1,800 British troops.
May 10, 1775. Second Continental Congress begins with delegates from all colonies meeting at the State House (now, Independence Hall) in Philadelphia.
June 14, 1775. Congress adopts the New England and New York forces and appoints a committee to draft regulations for a Continental Army. It authorizes 10 companies of riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. This is the birthday of the U.S. Army and the Army Infantry.
June 15, 1775. Congress appoints George Washington General and Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.
June 17, 1775. Battle of Bunker Hill between about 2,000 patriots and 2,500 British troops occurs. Patriots are forced to withdraw because of lack of ammunition after inflicted heavy losses on the British. This battle convinces Britain that defeating the rebels will not be easy.
June 22, 1775. Congress resolves to issue $2,000,000 in bills of credit. These are the first continental currency that eventually depreciate so much that they coin the adage, "not worth a continental".
October 13, 1775. Congress authorizes the fitting out of two vessels to intercept ships carrying suppplies to British forces. This is the birthday of the U.S. Navy.
November 10, 1775. Congress authorizes two marine battalions. This is the birthday of the Marine Corps.
March 3, 1776. The congressional Committee of Correspondence sends a "commercial agent", Silas Deane of Connecticut, to France to purchase military supplies.
May 2, 1776. France secretly allots munitions valued at one million livres ($200,000) to the patriots. Spain does the same. These countries, seething from their losses during the French and Indian War (1754 - 1763), and anxious to reduce the British Empire, will send arms, ammunition and clothing to the rebelling colonies during the war.
July 2, 1776. Congress approves a Resolution of Independence introduced on June 7 by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. At this time, from the American point of view, the colonies cease to exist; that is, they are now independent (sovereign) states. However, Great Britain views them as rebellious colonies and attempts during the next five years to subdue them with force. (Trick question: When did the American colonists become independent from Great Britain?)
July 4, 1776. Congress approves a formal Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson and other committee members. This is the first document representing some unity among The United States of America and July 4 is the traditional date for celebrating the independence of the U.S.A.
August 27, 1776. At the Battle of Long Island, a British army under General William Howe defeats the Continental army under General George Washington. This is the first major battle between the Continental Army and the British troops.
November 21 - December 7, 1776. The British army pushes American army across New Jersey and the Delaware River into Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. It establishes a garrison at Trenton, New Jersey, manned by German mercenaries ("Hessians", although most troops from what will much later become Germany were not from the state of Hess) and other principalities.
December 26, 1776. Washington's army crosses the Delaware River to surprise and defeat the Hessians at Trenton. Although not a major victory, this celebrated event serves as a much-needed morale booster to the Americans.
January 6, 1777. The Continental army moves into winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey.
June 14, 1777. Congress is, "Resolved, that the flag of the thirteen United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white, that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." This is the birthday of the American flag.
August 6, 1777. The Battle of Oriskany occurs between American militia and British forces and Indian allies under Lt. Col. Barry St. Leger. They defeat Gen. Nicholas Herkimer's troops in a bloody battle enroute to relieve Fort Stanwix, an American garrison, under siege by the British. Gen. Herkimer later dies of his wounds. This defeat of the patriots prevents St. Leger from capturing Ft. Stanwix, which lies along their lines of communication, and prevents St. Leger from reinforcing Gen. Burgoyne at Saratoga, which contributes to his surrender (see below), so in another way it was considered a sort of victory.
September 11, 1777. The Battle of Brandywine occurs between British forces moving from the Chesapeake Bay to capture Philadelphia and American forces under Gen. Washington. The Americans are defeated and retreat to Chester and then Merion. British forces move on to capture Philadelphia.
October 17, 1777. The Battle of Saratoga, actually a series of battles, ends with the defeat of Gen. Burgoyne's army by a Continental army under Gen. Horatio Gates. This battle is usually considered the turning point in the war in favor of the Americans because France and Spain, now convinced that the Americans could win, will take an active part in military operations against the British, hoping to regain territories lost in the French and Indian War (1753-1964).
November 15, 1777. Congress approves the Articles of Confederation, which are sent to the states for ratification.
December 19, 1777. Gen. Washington moves his army into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. It becomes reknown for hardships suffered by the troops.
February 6, 1778. France and the U.S.A. sign treaties of alliance and of amity and commerce. This is France's official participation in the war, although it had supplied the colonies with money and supplies since May 2, 1776.
February 23, 1778. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben arrives at Valley Forge and institutes a military training program that transforms Gen. Washington's troops into a more disciplined fighting force.
February 26, 1778. Congress requests the states to draft militias for nine months Continental army service. This is the first national military draft.
September 4, 1778. The Netherlands and the U.S.A. sign a treaty of amity and commerce. During the war, this country contributed by harassing British shipping. Also, between 1780 and 1794, the Netherlands will supply the fledgling American government with aid and loans.
December 29, 1778. Stalemated by military events in the north, British military forces begin a southern campaign in the militarily weaker colonies of Georgia and South Carolina. There is also stronger British loyalist ("tory") support in that area that is expected to assist them. Operating from St. Augustine, East Florida, they defeat a continental army and capture Savannah, GA, on December 29, 1778.
January 29, 1779. British troops capture Augusta, GA, to secure that state for the Crown.
February 25, 1779. Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark captures Fort Vincennes (Indiana) on the Wabash R. from the British to secure the west (later, the Northwest Territory) for the Americans.
June 18, 1779. Gen. John Sullivan, Gen. James Clinton, and Col. Daniel Brodhead begin Sullivan's Campaign to stop Indian and British ranger depredations in Pennsylvania and New York. Sullivan moves from Easton, Pennsylvania, through north-central Pennsylvania and south-central New York. Clinton meets him after sweeping from the Mohawk Valley through southeastern New York. Brodhead moves from Pittsbugh to southwestern New York. Under orders from Gen. Washington, perhaps 60 Indian villages, along with crops and orchards, are destroyed for the purpose of starving out the Indians, who take refuge near British Ft. Niagara, New York, and suffer severely in the upcoming winter. However, in spite of this loss, the Indians and rangers continue revenge attacks against the rebels. Other results of this campaign are that the Americans can claim this area by right of conquest during later peace negotiations and many of the soldiers are so impressed by the fertility of the soil that they and other settlers and land speculators rush to buy the lands from the Indians after the war ends.
June 21, 1779. Spain officially enters the war by declaring war against Great Britain. It wants to join the rebelling colonies to acquire Florida lost to Great Britain during the French and Indian War when it was allied with France.
September 11-12, 1779. Admiral D'Estaing's French fleet begins to debark French troops south of Savannah, Georgia. This is the beginning of active French fighting on the American side.
December 1, 1779. Gen. Washington's main army goes into winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey. During record cold weather, his troops suffer more than previously at Valley Forge.
March 14, 1780. Spanish Louisiana Governor, Count Bernardo de Gálvez, captures British Fort Charlotte (now, Mobile, Alabama) in what was then West Florida. (In 1779, the Spaniards took several small forts at Manchac on September 6, Baton Rouge on September 20, and Natchez on October 5.)
May 12, 1780. British troops capture Charleston, SC, an important American port.
July 10, 1780. Gen. Jean Comte de Rochambeau arrives with 6,000 French troops at Newport, R.I., to support American forces.
August 16, 1780. British army under Gen. Cornwallis defeats and captures an American army under Gen. Gates near Camden, SC. 1,000 Americans are killed or wounded and 1,000 are captured. This is the biggest loss of American troops in any battle of the war.
October 7, 1780. At King's Mountain, SC, American militia defeat British militia to begin the descent of British fortunes in the war.
March 1, 1781. The Articles of Confederation become effective with Maryland's ratification, the last of 13 states. This is the second document after the Declaration of Independence that partially unifies the states and it is the first document of the "United States of America".
March 2, 1781. Under the Articles of Confederation, the Continental Congress becomes The United States in Congress Assembled, but usually it is still called the Continental Congress. The President of the Continental Congress becomes the President of the United States, in Congress Assembed, the first being Samuel Huntington, who was President of the Continental Congress at the time. (Trick question: Who was the first President of the United States?)
May 10, 1781. Spanish troops under Louisiana governor, Count Bernardo de Gálvez capture the British fort at Pensacola, Florida, and all of West Florida.
July 6, 1781. French army under Rochambeau joins Washington's main army at White Plains, New York. They begin their long march toward Virginia to face British forces.
August 1, 1781. Gen. Cornwallis and his 9,000 troops occupy Yorktown, Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay to secure supplies from the British navy.
September 5-8, 1781. The French fleet battles and drives off the British fleet in the Battle of the Capes, outside the Chesapeake Bay.
September 11, 1781. The French fleet occupies the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, thus preventing British assistance to Cornwallis at Yorktown.
September 28, 1781. The siege of Yorktown by 17,000 American and French troops begins.
October 19, 1781. At Yorktown, British forces under Cornwallis surrender to American-French forces under Generals Washington and Rochambeau. This is the last major battle of the Revolutionary War, and turns opinion in the British House of Commons towards peace. Several smaller battles occur for another year.
November 30, 1782. The United States and Great Britain sign a preliminary peace treaty.
January 20, 1783. Great Britain, France, and Spain sign a preliminary peace treaty.
April 15, 1783. Congress approves the preliminary peace treaty of November 30, 1782.
September 3, 1783. Final peace treaties are signed by Great Britain, France, Spain, The Netherlands, and the United States. Spain will acquire East and West Florida, lost to Great Britain in the French and Indian War. France gains no additional North American territory. Most scholars use this date as the termination of the Revolutionary War.
January 14, 1784. Congress approves the peace treaty of September 3, 1783, which formally ends the Revolutionary War for the U.S.A.
April 23, 1784. Congress approves the Ordinance of 1784 that establishes the process by which new lands acquired from the Indians would be divided into states, the surveying and sale of these lands, and the qualifications of new states to enter into Congress. It does not establish how the government would distribute the land or how the territory would be settled. This ordinance was never put into effect and was superseded by the Land Ordinance of 1785 (see below).
March 20, 1785. Delegates from Virginia and Maryland meet in Alexandria, VA, and then adjourn to Mt. Vernon, the home of George Washington, on March 28, to resolve commercial and trade disputes on the use of the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River. They agree to the free use of the Potomac River, but realize that more states must participate to resolve issues over the Chesapeake Bay.
May 20, 1785. Congress adopts the Land Ordinance of 1785 This law sets the way the land called the Northwest Territory will be surveyed, governed, sold, and settled. It replaces the Ordinance of 1784.
August 29, 1786 - January 25, 1787. Shays' Rebellion, in western Massachusetts, is led by Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War captain and farmer, over high taxes and aggressive debt collectors. Court Houses were kept from sitting. His insurrectionists are defeated as they attempt to capture an arsenal. This rebellion, and others less reknown, increases the recognition by government leaders of the inability of the states and the national governments under the Articles of Confederation to maintain law and order.
September 11 - 14, 1786. The Annapolis Convention, which delegates from 5 states attend (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia; four others arrived too late), meet to resolve commercial and trade disputes on the use of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays and adjoining rivers. They are too few to make national decisions, but a proposal for all the states to meet in Philadelphia in May of 1787 (see below) is sent to the Confederation Congress and the state governors.
May 25, 1787. The Constitutional Convention begins at the State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia. The convention convenes on May 14, but a quorum is not achieved until this date.
July 13, 1787. Congress adopts the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which supersedes the Land Ordinance of 1785. This law set the way the land called the Northwest Territory achieves statehood. The number of states is to be between 3 to 5, there is to be provision for land devoted to education, civil liberties are to be maintained and slavery is prohibited. Until these conditions are met, settlement was prohibited, although squatters set up homesteads everywhere. The Ordinance provides for legal title to lands, so it hastens westward migration and settlement
September 17, 1787. After the delegates propose a new form of government, George Washington adjourns the constitutional convention. Now it is up to at least nine states to ratify the proposed constitution to make it effective, leading to acrimonious debates within the states, since it amounts to an elimination of their independence as sovereign states (nations) and specifies no guarantees to civil liberties.
June 21, 1788. New Hampshire becomes the 9th state to ratify the Constitution, enabling the Constitution to become the "supreme law of the land". However, this is not the effective date for the Constitution.
July 2, 1788. Having received the required ratifications by 9 states, the U.S. Constitution is submittted to a committee by the Confederation Congress. A committee is appointed to plan the transition to the new government.
September 13, 1788. The Confederation Congress fixes the first Wed. in January, 1789, for electoral college selection by states, the first Wed. in February for the college to elect a president and V.P., and the first Wed. in March, 1789 for the new Constitution to take effect under the new Congress.
February 4, 1789. The Electoral College, composed of 69 state electors, each with 2 votes, unanimously elect George Washington president. John Adams, who receives 34 votes, becomes V.P. Other people receive the remaining votes.
March 4, 1789. The first Federal Congress (formally, the "Congress of the United States") meets in New York City at Federal Hall. The U. S. Constitution becomes effective on this date. The Confederation Congress (formally, "The United States in Congress Assembled") under the Articles of Confederation ceases to exist.
April 6, 1789. Congress has a quorum in both houses after a delay caused by bad weather. (The House of Representatives had quorum on 4/1.) It counts the electoral votes and announces George Washington president and John Adams V.P.
April 30, 1789. President George Washington is inaugurated as first president of the United States of America (that is, under the Constitution. Samuel Huntington was the first president of the United States ("in Congress assembled") under the Articles of Confederation).
June 8, 1789. James Madison submits 17 amendments to the Constitution. All 17 amendments will be approved by the House on August 21, but the Senate will approve only 12 on September 9. On September 19, 1789, a conference committee of the House and Senate will agree to 12 amendments and make a few changes in the wording of some amendments. On September 24 the House and on September 25 the Senate will pass the conference report.
September 24, 1789. The Congress creates the Judiciary Act, establishing the Supreme Court and subsidiary federal courts in accordance with the requirements of the U.S. Constitution.
September 28, 1789. The Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate sign the proposed twelve amendments to the constitution, which are then submitted to the president for submission to the states.
October 2, 1789. The 12 proposed amendments, in the form of signed copies of the joint resolution, are transmitted to the states by George Washington.
December 15, 1791. Virginia, becomes the 11th state (of 14) to ratify 10 of the 12 amendments submitted to it, making them an official part of the Constitution. Together, they will be known as the Bill of Rights.