New Nation (1783-1800)

The thirteen Americancolonies began a rebellion against British rule in 1775 and proclaimed their independence in 1776. They subsequently constituted the first thirteen states of the United States of America, which became a nation in 1781 with the ratification of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. The 1783 Treaty of Paris represented Great Britain's formal acknowledgement of the United States as an independent nation.

The United States defeated Great Britain with help from France and Spain in the American Revolutionary War. The colonists' victory at Saratoga in 1777 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.

Seymour Martin Lipset points out that "The United States was the first major colony successfully to revolt against colonial rule. In this sense, it was the first 'new nation.'" 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. Although the states were still independent entities and not yet formally bound in a legal union, July 4 is celebrated as the nation's birthday. The new nation was dedicated to principles of republicanism, which emphasized civic duty and a fear of corruption and hereditary aristocracy.

In its earliest forms, the United States government was far from cohesive. A series of attempts to outline and press reforms culminated in the Congress calling the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The structure of the national government was profoundly changed on March 4, 1789, when the American people replaced the Articles of Confederationwith the Constitution. The new government reflected a radical break from the normative governmental structures of the time, favoring representative, elective government with a weak executive, rather than the existing monarchical structures common within the western traditions of the time.

The system of republicanism borrowed heavily from Enlightenment Age ideas and classical western philosophy in that a primacy was placed upon individual liberty and upon constraining the power of government through division of powers and a system of checks and balances. Additionally, the Bill of Rights was ratified on December 15, 1791 to guarantee individual liberties such as freedom of speech and religious practice and consisted of the first ten amendments of the Constitution. John Jay was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, whose membership was established by the Judiciary Act of 1789; the first Supreme Court session was held in New York City on February 1, 1790. In 1803, the Court case Marbury v. Madison made the Court the sole arbiter of constitutionality of federal law.

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1776
by David McCullough
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by David McCullough
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