The Price of Freedom: Americans at War Home Collection Search

War of Independence

Back to overview   |   1 2 3 4 5 6

From Resistance to Rebellion

Acts of Protest

For years the colonies had flourished in a state of “salutary neglect.” Britain had been content to leave the day-to-day administration of local government to its royal governors and to the colonies’ own English-style representative legislatures, common-law jury courts, and local militias. Following its victory in the French and Indian War, Britain looked anew at its imperial responsibilities. Parliament decided to secure its expanded American empire with British troops. English commoners paid taxes to support Britain’s powerful army and navy and finance its war debt; it seemed fair that colonists should pay too.

Colonists bristled when the British government began to enact and execute taxes and other binding laws without deference to colonial governments or popular consent. Colonial resentment gradually turned to open resistance. Colonists issued statements of their rights, appealed to the king and people of Britain, and petitioned Parliament. They boycotted British goods and harassed royal officials. Some protests turned violent.

Differing economic interests, regional and ethnic identities, and religious beliefs divided the colonists. But as they began to communicate and coordinate insurgencies, they came to realize that they shared a common understanding of their rights and liberties.


Exhibition Graphics

George III, 1787

George III, 1787

Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, 1765, which suspended publication with this issue to protest the Stamp Act which imposed a tax on legal documents, playing cards, and newspapers, requiring that each item be marked with a royal emblem, or stamp.

Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, 1765, which suspended publication with this issue to protest the Stamp Act which imposed a tax on legal documents, playing cards, and newspapers, requiring that each item be marked with a royal emblem, or stamp.

Sons of Liberty broadside, 1765

Sons of Liberty broadside, 1765

The Boston Massacre. On March 5, 1770, British soldiers fired into a crowd that had been pelting them with insults and snowballs. Five colonists were killed. Paul Revere’s portrayal of the event—with a line of soldiers firing when an officer gave the order—was intentionally inaccurate, designed to arouse public outrage. Popular leaders pointed to the “massacre” as evidence that a standing army threatened American liberty—and American lives.

The Boston Massacre. On March 5, 1770, British soldiers fired into a crowd that had been pelting them with insults and snowballs. Five colonists were killed. Paul Revere’s portrayal of the event—with a line of soldiers firing when an officer gave the order—was intentionally inaccurate, designed to arouse public outrage. Popular leaders pointed to the “massacre” as evidence that a standing army threatened American liberty—and American lives.

Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party

British cartoon depicting the fate of Boston customs officer John Malcomb, who was tarred and feathered and forced to drink tea, 1774

British cartoon depicting the fate of Boston customs officer John Malcomb, who was tarred and feathered and forced to drink tea, 1774

In this British cartoon, Prime Minister Lord North wields a teapot and forces a figure representing America to swallow a “bitter draught”—the laws and taxes that Parliament imposed on the colonies.

In this British cartoon, Prime Minister Lord North wields a teapot and forces a figure representing America to swallow a “bitter draught”—the laws and taxes that Parliament imposed on the colonies.


Related Artifacts

Tea Service
Eli Dagworthy’s Redcoat

A War Begins

On April 19, 1775, British troops in Boston marched in darkness toward nearby Concord to seize the local militia’s cache of arms and gunpowder. Patriots from Boston alerted the countryside. At dawn, the British confronted a militia unit gathered on the green in Lexington. During the standoff, a shot was fired. In a brief melee, eight colonists were killed and ten wounded.

From Lexington, British troops marched to Concord, where they destroyed the few supplies the militia had not hidden. After a fierce skirmish with militia, they started back to Boston. Hundreds of militiamen joined the counterattack, forcing the British to make a desperate retreat.

Exhausted and panicked British soldiers lashed out, killing civilians, ransacking and looting houses, and setting fires—three houses near Lexington burned to the ground. “Our all is at stake,” declared a call to arms issued the next day; the British were going “to ravage this devoted country with fire and sword.” Some colonists recoiled from the notion of taking up arms. Other joined the fight resolved to save themselves and their children from lives of “perpetual slavery” under British rule. The war for independence had begun.


Exhibition Graphics

The Battle of Lexington by Amos Doolittle, 1775

The Battle of Lexington by Amos Doolittle, 1775

Illustrated map of Boston

Illustrated map of Boston

Amos Doolittle engraving of the British retreat, 1775

Amos Doolittle engraving of the British retreat, 1775

Broadside, 1775. By day’s end, 50 colonists were dead; 39 were wounded. British troops reached Boston with 73 dead and 174 wounded. “Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob will find himself much mistaken,” wrote a British commander about the colonists; “they have men amongst them who know very well what they are about.”

Broadside, 1775. By day’s end, 50 colonists were dead; 39 were wounded. British troops reached Boston with 73 dead and 174 wounded. “Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob will find himself much mistaken,” wrote a British commander about the colonists; “they have men amongst them who know very well what they are about.”


Related Artifacts

Musket and Bayonet
Committee of Safety Musket


Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Printable ScriptVisit the MuseumEducationCredits