Aware of the risks involved, on July 4, 1776, American leaders signed the Declaration, pledging “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” to the cause of the United States of America.

The American Revolution

At first, the American cause looked bleak. The colonists themselves were divided. About one third of the American colonists were Loyalists, or those who supported Britain. Many others refused to fight for either side.

Military Strengths and Weaknesses

The colonists faced severe military disadvantages as well. The British had a large number of trained soldiers, a huge fleet, and plentiful money. They occupied most major American cities. The Americans lacked military resources, had little money to pay soldiers, and did not have a strategic plan.

Still, the colonists had some advantages. They were battling for their own independence on their own familiar home ground. Although the British held New York and Philadelphia, colonists controlled the countryside. And they had a strong, inspiring military leader in George Washington.

As the war unfolded, the British relied on Loyalists as well as Native American groups, some of whom sided with them. The British also sought support among African Americans held in slavery. They offered freedom to any who would join their side.

Alliance with France

The first turning point in the war came in 1777, when the Americans triumphed over the British at the Battle of Saratoga. This victory persuaded France to join the Americans against its old rival, Britain. The alliance brought the Americans desperately needed supplies, trained soldiers, and French warships. Spurred by the French example, the Netherlands and Spain added their support.

Hard times continued, however. In the brutal winter of 1777–1778, Continental troops at Valley Forge suffered from cold, hunger, and disease. Throughout this crisis and others, Washington was patient, courageous, and determined. He held the ragged army together.

Victory for the Americans

Finally, in 1781, with the help of a French fleet, Washington forced the surrender of a British army at Yorktown, Virginia. With that defeat, the British war effort crumbled.

Painting of a grey haired man in military officer attire seated on a horse, looking into the distance.

George Washington encouraged his men to fight on despite heavy odds.

Two years later, American, British, and French diplomats signed the Treaty of Paris, ending the war. Britain formally recognized the independence of the United States of America. Britain also accepted the new nation's western frontier as the Mississippi River.

The United States Constitution

The Articles of Confederation was the new nation's first constitution. It proved to be too weak to rule effectively. To address this problem, the nation's leaders gathered once more. Among them were George Washington, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin. During the hot summer of 1787, they hammered out the Constitution of the United States. This framework for a strong, flexible government has remained in place for more than 200 years.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments