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The American republic was founded on a set of beliefs that were tested during the Revolutionary War. Among them was the idea that all people are created equal, whether European, Native American, or African American, and that these people have fundamental rights, such as liberty, free speech, freedom of religion, due process of law, and freedom of assembly. America’s revolutionaries openly discussed these concepts. Many Americans agreed with them but some found that the ideology was far more acceptable in the abstract than in practice.

“Congress have judged it necessary to dissolve the Connection between Great Britain and the American Colonies. . . .”

John Hancock to George Washington, July 6, 1776

Settlements Prohibited West of the Appalachians

The Proclamation of 1763, declared by the British after the French and Indian War, prohibited further American settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains and was intended to conciliate Native Americans by stopping encroachment on their lands. In 1764 British troops led by Colonel Henry Bouquet (1719–1765), moved from Fort Pitt (now Pittsburgh) down the Ohio and Muskingum rivers to occupy forts near Native American towns. Mapmaker Thomas Hutchins (1730–1789), who accompanied the expedition, produced this map of the area where the forts were located.

Thomas Hutchins. A General Map of the Country of the Ohio and Muskingum, Showing the Situation of the Indian-Towns . . . in William Smith. An Historical Account of the Expedition against the Ohio Indians, In the Year 1764. . . . Philadelphia: W. Bradford, 1765. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (7) [Digital ID# us0007, us0007_1]

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Thomas Jefferson

While serving as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1776, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), a Virginia planter and revolutionary leader, drafted the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson wielded one of the sharpest and most skilled pens in the revolutionary cause and during the formative years of the United States. He became the third president (1801–1809).

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John Adams, Second President

John Adams (1735–1826), Massachusetts lawyer and revolutionary, was a leader of the independence radicals in the Continental Congress and served as the second president between 1797 and 1801. Adams’s conservative conception of the governmental form for the American republic made him an antagonist of Thomas Jefferson during Adams’s rise to the presidency.

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Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief

Angered by attacks on Indian villages, Tayadenaga or Joseph Brant (1742–1807), a Mohawk chief educated at Eleazar Wheelock’s Indian School in Connecticut, joined with American loyalists and British rangers, to terrorize the New York–Pennsylvania border regions during the American Revolution. In November 1778, loyalist rangers and Brant’s native forces attacked the Cherry Valley, New York, settlement, killing forty-seven, most of them women and children. Brant’s frontier attacks—in particular the Cherry Valley Massacre—led to General Sullivan’s retaliatory campaign of 1779.

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Washington Urges Peaceful Plan for Settlement

At the close of the American Revolution, George Washington urged a comprehensive plan for peace with Native Americans. Washington argued that it would be easier to open the western territories to settlement by being on good terms with Indians and purchasing their lands, “in preference to attempting to drive them by force of Arms out of their Country.”

Letter from George Washington to James Duane, September 7, 1783. Manuscript. George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (25.02.02) [Digital ID#s us0025_02p1, us0025_02p6]

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John Sullivan, Revolutionary War General

Major General John Sullivan (1740–1795), a New Hampshire lawyer, commanded the American forces in a scorched-earth campaign against Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant and the Iroquois Nation and their British and loyalist allies along the Pennsylvania-New York border in 1779. His forces destroyed more than forty Iroquois villages.

Major General John Sullivan, a Distinguish’d Officer in the Continental Army. [London]: Thos. Hart, 1776. Mezzotint engraving. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (26.00.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca-15710]

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Fears of Religious Oppression and Indian Attacks

During the American Revolution, most Native Americans sided with the Crown because they considered the British military as their last defense against land-hungry American settlers encroaching on their ancestral territory. In this vicious satire created during the Revolution, a British critic links American fears of religious oppression with British use of Native American allies. King George III joins Native Americans in a cannibalistic feast, and two natives drain blood from the torso of a white infant into a skull. A fat bishop and a sailor deliver scalping knives, tomahawks, and crucifixes as presents to the Indians.

John Almon. The Allies—Par nobile Fratrum! [London]: I. Almon, Piccadilly, 1780. Etching. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (26.01.00) [Digital ID# cph.3a35345]

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Jefferson Defends Human Equality

Thomas Jefferson had a strong belief in the equality of Native Americans and European Americans and admitted the potential for the equality of African Americans. In this letter to the  Marquis de Chastellux of France, Jefferson asserted that “I believe the Indian, then, to be in body and mind, equal to the white man,” and that “blackmen” would be equal to whites if they were “equally cultivated.”

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Marquis de Chastellux, June 7, 1785. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (27) [Digital ID# us0027]

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Americans Seek Native American Allies

In July 1776 representatives of the Massachusetts government met with delegates from the Native American tribes of the St. John’s and Micmac Indians. Some of the Indians agreed to help settlers defend the Maine region from attacks by British forces and their Indian allies from Canada and New York.

“Minutes of a Conference of the St. John’s and Micmac Indians,” July 10–17, 1776. Manuscript. Peter Force Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (027.01.03) [Digital ID# us0027_01p3b, us0027_01, us0027_01p1, us0027_01p2]

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Creek Indians Create Own Representative Government

While immigrants from Europe were creating the United States, the Creek Indians created their own complex government structure. Like the American revolutionaries, the Creeks relied heavily on a representative form of government with direct citizen participation, but Creek women were involved as well as men. In his journal, Benjamin Hawkins (1754–1816), a graduate of Princeton College and U.S. Indian agent to the Creeks, described their form of government and cultural adaptations.

Benjamin Hawkins. Journal, 1795–1799. Manuscript. Peter Force Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (028.00.04) [Digital ID# us0028_4, us0028, us0028_1, us0028_2, us0028_3]

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Paine’s Common Sense Stimulates American Minds

Thomas Paine’s essay, Common Sense, provoked the minds of American revolutionaries and loyalists alike. Paine’s inspirational pamphlet calling for American independence and the creation of a republican nation governed by a unicameral legislature became an instant best seller and a focus of the debate over the aims of the American Revolution.

[Thomas Paine]. Common Sense: Address to the Common Inhabitants of America . . . . Philadelphia: R. Bell, 1776. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (030.00.04) [Digital ID#s us0030_5, us0030, us0030_1, us0030_2, us0030_3, us0030_4, us0030_6, us0030p3]

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Adams On Best Form of Government

An essential element of the revolutionary period was the debate over independence and the future plan of government. Both Thomas Paine and John Adams sought a republic, but Paine wanted a purely representative government consisting of a unicameral (one-house) legislature and no executive. In contrast, Adams favored a government with a strong executive and bicameral (two-house) legislature to provide a system of checks and balances. They presented their ideas in the displayed works.

John Adams. Thoughts on Government: Applicable to the Present State of the American Colonies. . . . Philadelphia: John Dunlap, 1776. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (031.00.04) [Digital ID#s us0031_04, us0031, us0031_01, us0031_02, us0031_03]

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Virginia Constitution as Model for Declaration of Independence

In May 1776, Thomas Jefferson, a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, wrote at least three drafts of a Virginia constitution. Jefferson’s litany of British governmental abuses in his drafts of the Virginia Constitution became his “train of abuses” in the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson. Draft Virginia Constitution, [May 1776]. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (032.00.05) [Digital ID#s us0032p5, us0032, us0032_1, us0032p2, us0032p3]

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Cherokees Forced to Cede Lands in Carolinas

Urged on by British forces, the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickamauga tribes attacked American settlers along the southern frontier in 1776 in another futile attempt to halt advancing American settlers. Defeated by militia from South Carolina and Georgia, the Cherokees were forced to cede all their remaining land in the Carolinas at the Treaty of DeWitt’s Corner, but for decades hostilities periodically reoccurred.

A Map of the Lands Ceded by the Cherokee Indians to the State of South Carolina at a Congress Held in May, A.D. 1777 [ca. 1777]. Hand-colored manuscript map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (126.00.00) [Digital ID# ar152200]

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Indians to Cede Lands in Carolinas

Urged on by the British, the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickamauga tribes attacked American settlers along the southern frontier in 1776 in another futile attempt to halt advancing American settlers. Defeated by militia from South Carolina and Georgia, the Cherokees were forced to cede all their remaining land in the Carolinas in the Treaty of DeWitt’s Corner, but for decades hostilities periodically reoccurred.

A New and Accurate Map of the Province of Georgia in North America. [London: ca. 1779]. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (126.01.00) [Digital ID# ar156900]

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Center of Creation of the Republic

At the time of the creation of the American republic, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was a cosmopolitan urban port with the second largest population in America north of Mexico. For most of the years between 1775 and 1800, the city was the focal point of American national government. The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were written there.

A Plan of the City and Environs of Philadelphia, survey’d by Nicholas Scull and George Heap. Engraved by Will Faden. London: W. Faden, 1777. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (38) [Digital ID# ct000185]

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American Provinces Overlap Land of the Iroquois

On the eve of the American Revolution, the land claimed by the Iroquois Indian Confederation and the American provinces overlapped in many places as is evident in this 1755 map by Lewis Evans. For the first time on a British map, the Indian nations and American colonies are treated as equals. “Aquanishuonigy” means the Land of the Iroquois.

Lewis Evans. A General Map of the Middle British Colonies in America. [London]: T. Jefferys, 1758. Hand-colored map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (026.03.00) [Digital ID# ar071200]

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Frontier Battleground

Throughout the American Revolution, bitter battles were fought on the frontier between American settlers and Native Americans, urged on by the British and American loyalists. Nowhere was the fighting more severe or prolonged than along the Pennsylvania and New York border. This map depicts the numerous forts and Indian villages, as well as trails in the Susquehanna Valley north of Sunbury Town in northern Pennsylvania and western New York.

[Plan of part of a western front], ca.1778. Manuscript map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (026.02.00) [Digital ID# ar105100]

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Major Ridge, Cherokee Chief

The Cherokee Indian Nation resisted the encroachment of Euro-Americans on their lands, while at the same time adopting many of their cultural trappings. Major Ridge (Kah-nung-do-tla-geh) (ca. 1771–1839) a mixed-blood, slave-owning leader of the Chickamuaga Cherokees in Georgia and a friend of government agent Benjamin Hawkins, fought American settlers for years before becoming an advocate for cultural adaptation. He signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, which eventually resulted in the Trail of Tears, the forced migration of the Cherokee people to lands west of the Mississippi. He was killed by fellow Cherokees.

Thomas McKenney and James Hall. “Major Ridge, a Cherokee Chief.” Lithograph from History of the Indian Tribes of North America. Philadelphia: E.C. Biddle [etc.], 1836–1844. Hand-colored lithograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (126.03.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca.24339]

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Massacre Leads to American Attack on Iroquois

On November 11, 1778, Loyalists and Indians led by British Major Walter Butler and Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant destroyed the settlement of Cherry Valley, New York, and killed many men, women, and children. The Indian “massacres” at Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania, and Cherry Valley brought on a broad American attack on the Iroquois. In this later depiction, Jane Wells, an American ultimately killed at Cherry Valley by Indians, pleads for her life while a man attempts to protect her.

Thomas Phillibrown. Incident in Cherry Valley, Fate of Jane Wells. New York: Martin, Johnson & Co., c. 1856. Engraving. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (126.04.00) [Digital ID# cph-3c11117]

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Paine’s Common Sense Provokes

Plain Truth, written by James Chalmers (1727–1806), a loyalist officer from Chestertown, Maryland, was one of the leading written commentaries lambasting Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Chalmers wrote: “If indignant at the Doctrine contained in the Pamphlet, entitled “Common Sense:” I have expressed myself, in the following Observation, with some Ardor; I entreat the Reader to impute my indignation, to honest zeal against the Author’s Insidious Tenets.”

[James Chalmers]. Plain Truth; Addressed to the Inhabitants of America, Containing Remarks on a Late Pamphlet, Entitled Common Sense . . .Written by Candidus. Philadelphia: R. Bell, 1776. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (018.01.01) [Digital ID#s us0018_01p1, us0018_01]

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Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine (1737–1809), a radical British pamphleteer, immigrated to America and quickly became a leading voice of the American Revolution. His essays, published anonymously, inflamed American minds to independence and inspired them to continue the fight when all seemed lost. In his series of pamphlets published as The Crisis, Paine penned the famous line: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis shrink, from the service of their country.”

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