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The American Revolution became inevitable as far back as 1643 when the New England Confederation of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and New Haven was formed for defense against the Indians and the Dutch. In 1754, representatives of seven northern colonies met at Albany, N.Y., to consider plans for a permanent union of all the colonies for defense against the French and Indians and for other purposes, but the time was not yet right for a union.
After England won the French and Indian war in 1763, England turned their attention to ways of increasing government revenues to pay the war debt. England believed this could be accomplished by enforcing the Navigation Acts of 1651, 1660, 1672, 1696 and the Molasses Act of 1733 and the Sugar Act of 1764. They required that most of the trade of the British colonies be carried in British or colonial ships so that all tax collection could be controlled. The frontiersmen found that their expansion westward was halted by a Royal Proclamation in 1763 stopping them at a line created at the Appalachian Mountains.
Open opposition to all of these acts became serious when the Stamp Act of 1765 was passed. Parliament passed it with no thought that any colony would object. But the slogan “no taxation without representation” swept over the land and unofficial delegates of nine colonies met in New York City in September 1765 and drew up declarations of rights and grievances. Although the hated stamp act never went into effect and was repealed in less than a year, unrest and trouble continued.
In 1767, Parliament, reasserting its sovereign power, passed an act levying duties on tea, glass, paper, and a few other articles, only to arouse new opposition from the Colonies. In Massachusetts, British troops were used to suppress disorders, but this action led to the Boston Massacre, in which soldiers fired on citizens. Under pressure, the act of 1767 was repealed and, by 1773, only a modest tax was left to uphold the principle of Parliamentary authority. By that time the colonists had determined not to pay the tax. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty, disguised as Indians, boarded ships in the harbor and threw cargoes of tea into the water, an action known as the Boston Tea Party.
After the Boston Tea Party, the British Parliament, early in 1774, passed the Intolerable Acts. One of these closed the port of Boston; three others revised the government of Massachusetts and took many powers away from the people; and a fifth granted toleration to the Catholics in Canada and extended the boundary of Quebec to the Ohio River. The American colonists then took a serious step. Following the leadership of Massachusetts, the colonists called the First Continental Congress to meet in Philadelphia at Carpenters’ Hall in September 1774. Statesman with abilities such as are seldom found in a body of equal size, attended as delegates to the Congress. This Congress decided to cease importing British goods until its demands were met. It also provided for a meeting, if necessary, of a second Continental Congress in May 1775.
The well-known battles of Lexington and Concord followed on April 19, 1775. The die was cast and war had begun. The Second Continental Congress met in May 1775, and provided for the raising and supplying of an army and appointed George Washington of Virginia commander-in-chief.
For a year the colonists fought only for their rights as Englishmen. At Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga, and Boston, their soldiers demonstrated that they could defeat the British regulars. On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Although a committee reported it, the Declaration was written almost entirely by Thomas Jefferson.
By 1778 Benjamin Franklin was able to secure a treaty of alliance with France. With French financial aid, trained soldiers, and sea power, the Revolution continued. It ended at Yorktown in 1781 when British General Charles Cornwallis and his entire army surrendered to Washington’s colonial forces.
A constitutional convention was assembled in Philadelphia in 1787 with all thirteen Colonies represented. It was composed of a group of men seldom matched in world history for ability, sound judgment, wisdom, and devotion to their country’s welfare. In secret sessions, they composed a constitution, the only law of the eighteenth century that is still able to satisfy the needs of a great modern nation.
In the elections that followed, a grateful people unanimously elected George Washington as their first president. He was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, in New York City, the capital for that one year.