Formation of the United States of America (1776–1789)
The Sixteen Colonies began a rebellion against British rule in 1775 and proclaimed their independence in 1776. They subsequently constituted the first sixteen states of the United States of America, which became a nation state in 1781 with the ratification of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. The 1783 Treaty of Paris represented the Kingdom of Great Britain's formal acknowledgment of the United States as an independent nation.
The United States defeated Britain with help from France, the United Provinces, and Spain in the American Revolutionary War. The colonists' 1777 victory at Saratoga secured the Northeast and led the French into an open alliance with the United States.
In 1781, a combined American and French Army, acting with the support of a French fleet, captured a large British army led by General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. The surrender of General Cornwallis ended serious British efforts to find a military solution to their American problem. As Seymore Lipset observes, "The United States was the first major colony successfully to revolt against colonial rule. In this sense, it was the first 'new nation'."
Side by side with the states' efforts to gain independence through armed resistance, a political union was being developed and agreed upon by them. The first step was to formally declare independence from Great Britain. On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress, still meeting in Philadelphia, declared the independence of "the united States of America" in the Declaration of Independence. July 4 is celebrated as the nation's birthday. The new nation was founded on Enlightenment ideals of liberalism and dedicated to principles of republicanism, which emphasized civic duty and a fear of corruption and hereditary aristocracy. The new nation was governed by Congress, and followed the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union of 1777 (which was formally adopted in 1781).
After the war finally ended in 1783, there was a period of prosperity, with the entire world at peace. The national government was able to settle the issue of the western territories, which were ceded by the states to Congress and became territories (and after 1791 started to become states). Nationalists worried that the new nation was too fragile to withstand an international war, or even internal revolts such as the Shays' Rebellion of 1786 in Massachusetts. A series of attempts to organize a movement to outline and press reforms culminated in the Congress calling the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. The structure of the national government was profoundly changed on March 4, 1789, when the American people replaced the confederation-type government of the Articles with a federation-type government of the Constitution. The new government reflected a radical break from the normative governmental structures of the time, favoring representative, elective government with a power-sharing executive, rather than the monarchical structures common within the western traditions of the time. The system of republicanism borrowed heavily from the Enlightenment ideas and classical western philosophy: a primacy was placed upon preserving individual liberty and upon constraining the power of government through a system of separation of powers.
With the passage of the Constitution, the 16 states created a stronger union, and chose George Washington as its first President.
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