Britain’s Law-and-Order Strategy and Its Consequences

A timeline shows important events of the era. In 1775, the battles of Lexington and Concord are fought and the British win a costly victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill. In 1776, Thomas Paine publishes Common Sense and the Continental Congress signs the Declaration of Independence in July; a painting depicting the presentation of the Declaration to the Continental Congress is shown. In 1777, American forces defeat General Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga; an engraving depicting British troops laying down their arms after their defeat is shown. In 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrenders to American and French forces at Yorktown; a painting of the surrender is shown. In 1783, the United States and Great Britain sign the Treaty of Paris; the signature page of the treaty is shown.

Great Britain pursued a policy of law and order when dealing with the crises in the colonies in the late 1760s and 1770s. Relations between the British and many American Patriots worsened over the decade, culminating in an unruly mob destroying a fortune in tea by dumping it into Boston Harbor in December 1773 as a protest against British tax laws. The harsh British response to this act in 1774, which included sending British troops to Boston and closing Boston Harbor, caused tensions and resentments to escalate further. The British tried to disarm the insurgents in Massachusetts by confiscating their weapons and ammunition and arresting the leaders of the patriotic movement. However, this effort faltered on April 19, when Massachusetts militias and British troops fired on each other as British troops marched to Lexington and Concord, an event immortalized by poet Ralph Waldo Emerson as the “shot heard round the world.” The American Revolution had begun.