MARCH 25, 1774
Boston Port Act — Start of the Intolerable Acts
In the wake of the Boston Tea Party, the British Parliament closed the port of Boston to ships with its passage of the Boston Port Act, which took effect June 1, 1774. It was the first of the Coercive, or Intolerable Acts, five laws passed by the British Parliament to suppress resistance to its authority over the American colonies.
Lithograph by Nathaniel Currier, 1846.
This engraving, created by French artist François Xavier Habermann, shows a view of the Boston Harbor, circa 1776.
MAY 20, 1774
Massachusetts Government Act
The second act, the Massachusetts Government Act of May 20, 1774, stripped the colony of its sovereignty. Many throughout the 13 colonies viewed this act as the most egregious of the Intolerable Acts and feared the British might impose similar laws on each of the rest of the colonies.
Tensions heightened when Lt. Gen. Thomas Gage, the commander in chief of British forces in North America and royal governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, invoked the new law in October 1774 and dissolved the provincial assembly. In response, colonists formed their own alternative government — the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, which controlled the entire colony outside of Boston — and prepared for a possible military confrontation with the forces that occupied the capital.
This print, created by E.A. Abbey, illustrates a reality of American politics in 1774-1775. For many colonists, the revolutionary spirit was forged in dialogue with their friends and neighbors. Small gatherings afforded an opportunity to air concerns and share ideas for the best response to increasingly offensive British regulation.
The First Continental Congress, 1774 is a mural at Great Experiment Hall, Cox Corridors, in the U.S. Capitol, created by Allyn Cox. The oil canvas depicts delegates from 13 colonies that met in Philadelphia to discuss responses to increased British oppression. (Left) A colonist is shown making a tax payment. Taxation without representation was a major complaint against the royal government. (Right) A soldier blocks the path of a woman and child, symbolizing the armed occupation that incensed many colonists.
- Nearly a century and a half of self-government in the Massachusetts Bay Colony ended.
- The British Parliament effectively abrogated the colonial charter.
- The royally appointed governor and the council were granted wide-ranging powers.
- Local officials were no longer to be elected by their town meetings, but appointed by the governor. Instead of being elected by representatives of the lower legislative house, the king appointed the members of the provincial council, or upper house, of the General Court as the charter granted in 1691 had established.
- All of the colony’s officials were to be paid by the crown, not by the elected and decidedly Whig lower house of the Assembly.
- The upper house of the legislature was henceforth to be nominated by the governor and appointed by the king. Judges, sheriffs and other court officers also to be appointed or dismissed by the governor in the king’s name.
- Town meetings were allowed only with the governor’s consent.
APRIL 19, 1775
Battles of Lexington and Concord — The Start of the Revolutionary War
Upon learning that this extra-legal government was amassing stores of weapons in Concord, about 20 miles from Boston, Gage sent a military expedition, April 18, 1775, to seize and destroy all the munitions his men could find. This led to an exchange of musketry between local militia and British troops at the village green in Lexington and at the Old North Bridge in Concord, April 19, 1775, signaling the start of the Revolutionary War.
Militia units and other volunteers from Massachusetts and other New England colonies quickly converged on Cambridge. They formed what became known as the New England Army of Observation and put the British forces posted at Boston under siege. For the time being, the rebellion was a regional affair.
The Shot Heard ‘Round the World, created by Domenick D'Andrea, depicts minutemen and militia in combat with British regulars at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Mass., April 19, 1775, in what proved to be the opening battle of the Revolutionary War.
Stand Your Ground, created by Don Troiani, depicts Capt. John Parker's company of militia exchanging musket fire with British regulars on the village green at Lexington, Mass., on the morning of April 19, 1775.
MAY 10, 1775
Convening of the Second Continental Congress
Now that the fighting had begun, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress looked to the Continental Congress, which convened on May 10 in Philadelphia, for assistance from the other 12 colonies of British America. After much discussion, the delegates resolved to create an army that would represent not just New England, but all of the British colonies on the continent of North America.
Congress Voting the Declaration of Independence. Originally painted by Robert Edge, the image was engraved by Edward Savage, which shows men gathered in the assembly room of the Pennsylvania State House, presently known as Independence Hall, in Philadelphia. Completed figures include John Adams, Roger Sherman, James Wilson, and Thomas Jefferson handing a document to John Hancock, president of the Congress. Seated in the front from left to right are Samuel Adams, Robert Morris, Benjamin Franklin (in a Windsor chair), Charles Carroll and Stephen Hopkins (wearing a dark hat). (Source; American Antiquarian Society catalog, 2008). (Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)
This painting is by the French artist Charles Édouard Armand-Dumaresq, circa 1873.
JUNE 14, 1775
Establishment of the Continental Army
On June 14, 1775, the Continental Congress passed the following resolution:
Resolved, That six companies of expert riflemen [sic], be immediately raised in Pennsylvania, two in Maryland, and two in Virginia; … [and] that each company, as soon as completed [sic], shall march and join the army near Boston, to be there employed as light infantry, under the command of the chief Officer in that army.
With this resolution, the Continental Congress adopted the New England Army of Observation, making it a “continental” army — a united colonial fighting force — that could represent all 13 colonies with the addition of the troops from the three middle colonies. The Continental Army thus became America’s first national institution.
June 15, 1775
Selection of George Washington as Commander in Chief
The next step was to select a commander in chief. George Washington of Virginia was the favored choice because of his celebrated military record and the hope that a leader from Virginia could further unite the colonies. Congress unanimously voted on the measure, and the next day presented Washington his commission. It read, in part:
“We, reposing special trust and confidence in your patriotism, valor, conduct, and fidelity, do, by these presents, constitute and appoint you to be General and Commander in chief, of the army of the United Colonies, and of all the forces now raised, or to be raised, by them, and of all others who shall voluntarily offer their service, and join the said Army for the Defence [sic] of American liberty, and for repelling every hostile invasion thereof: And you are hereby vested with full power and authority to act as you shall think for the good and welfare of the service.”
Thus the Continental Congress commissioned George Washington as commander in chief of the Continental Army, June 19, 1775.
Washington, Appointed Commander in Chief. This lithograph, published by Currier and Ives, circa 1876, depicts George Washington being elected by the delegates of the Continental Congress as the commander in chief of the Continental Army, June 15, 1775.
George Washington's commission as general and commander in chief of the Continental Army, June 17, 1775.
Washington taking command of the American Army, published by Currier & Ives, depicts Gen. George Washington arriving in Cambridge, Mass., July 3, 1775, after his appointment as commander in chief of the newly formed Continental Army.
JULY 4, 1776
Declaration of Independence
When Congress declared independence, the Continental Army and the militia in the service of Congress became known collectively as the Army of the United States, instead of the Army of the United Colonies.
Declaration of Independence, painting created by artist John Trumbull in 1818, depicts the moment on June 28, 1776, when the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was presented to the Second Continental Congress. The document stated the principles for which the Revolutionary War was being fought, which remain fundamental to the nation. The Declaration was officially adopted, July 4, 1776 and later signed on Aug. 2, 1776.
MARCH 15, 1783
The Newburgh Conspiracy — Affirming Civilian Control of the Army
At the end of the Revolutionary War, many members of the Army, especially the officers, were frustrated with Congress' inability to meet its financial obligations to the Army. On March 10, an anonymous address circulated the camp at Newburgh, New York. This address, later acknowledged to be written by Gen. Horatio Gates’ aide, called upon officers to plan a course of action to pressure Congress by force, implying a military takeover of the government. A meeting of officers was also anonymously called for the following day.
Determined to prevent a mutiny among his officers, Washington called them to convene an assembly, March 15, to discuss matters and implied that he would not attend. Washington unexpectedly interrupted the meeting and denounced the anonymous address, saying that it had "something so shocking in it that humanity revolts at the idea." In an eloquent and passionate address, Washington was able to diffuse the situation, appealing to their sense of duty and patriotism and placing their "full confidence in the purity of the intentions of Congress." Through his words, Washington not only reaffirmed the significance of civilian control of the military, but may have also saved the fate of American independence.
This engraving, published by New York, Virtue, Emmins & Co., circa 1857, depicts four Soldiers at the camp in Newburgh, N.Y.
JUNE 2, 1784
Formation of the First American Regiment
The tradition of service did not end with the conclusion of the Revolutionary War in 1783. When Congress ordered the last Continental Army to disband and its remaining Soldiers were discharged, June 2, 1784, it retained two companies to safeguard military arms and stores. The next day, Congress voted to form, from this nucleus, the 1st American Regiment for national service. By the fall of 1784, the whole U.S. Army was one regiment, consisting of eight infantry and two artillery companies.
The American Soldier, 1786, created by H. Charles McBarron Jr., depicts the Army uniform, adopted by the secretary of war and approved by Gen. George Washington in December 1782. It consisted of a blue coat with red facing, white lining and buttons for the infantry, and red lining and yellow buttons for the artillery.
AUGUST 7, 1789
Creation of the Department of War
The Continental Congress was replaced by the U.S. Congress in 1789. After the U.S. Constitution was ratified, Congress created the Department of War under the executive branch of the new federal government, with responsibility to oversee the administration of the U.S. Army. Given this unbroken tradition of service dating to June 14, 1775, it is fitting that the Army recalls the words on the commission of its first commanding general whenever it promotes one of our Soldiers today.
The Secretary of the Army has reposed special trust and confidence in the patriotism, valor, fidelity and professional excellence.
The former seal of the now-defunct U.S. Department of War. It is now used as the seal of the Department of the Army.
Special Thanks to the U.S. Army Center of Military History
View the Centuries of Service publication to learn more about the history of the Army since its creation.