In 1776, 13 American colonies jointly declared their independence from Great Britain. However, the colonies needed to defeat Britain militarily to secure their independence. Colonial victory in the Revolutionary War occurred not only because of the skills of George Washington, but also because of the colonies' substantial distance from Great Britain and most importantly, because of participation of the French.
Background of the Revolution
Before the Second Continental Congress declared independence in 1776, fighting had already broken out between the colonies and Great Britain. In April of 1775, shots were exchanged between colonial militia and British officers at Lexington, Massachusetts, and soon after at nearby Concord, where the British had been searching for hidden colonial munitions. Subsequently, the colonial military surrounded and besieged the city of Boston, where a substantial British army was garrisoned, a siege that saw the famous Battle of Bunker Hill.
In the summer of 1775, John Adams convinced the Continental Congress to create a unified continental army and appoint Virginian Colonel George Washington as general. Washington's charisma and boldness, even in the face of numerous military defeats, helped lead the Americans to victory. Washington's understanding that victory required the Americans to fight a defensive war enabled him to avoid direct and fruitless combat with the larger and more powerful British armies. Initially, Britain's strategy was to try and contain the war to Massachusetts and then New England with a subsequent move to the Southern states. While George Washington is hailed as a great military leader, the initial American war strategy was much less well-defined and more defensive by nature.
A second major factor that helped the Americans win the war was Great Britain's considerable distance from the colonies. The 3000-mile Atlantic Ocean that stretched between the British isles and the American continent prevented Britain from effectively managing, supplying and communicating with its armies. American troops needing supplies could send out requests from any of the states while Great Britain had no locally available items and were hampered by the time it took for communications or ships of supplies to arrive from the other continent. Additionally, the colonists knew the local terrain and territory far better than the foreign British armies did.
The most important factor to colonial victory was the assistance of the French. Prior to 1778, the French provided unofficial aid by selling weapons cheaply to the colonies. However, after the colonial victory at the Battle of Saratoga, New York, in 1777, the French agreed to an official alliance. French naval aid helped suppress the dominant British navy and French armies helped secure the eventual American victory in 1781. French assistance in the war came first through supplies and arms to the Americans and later directly through battles at sites including the Battle of Chesapeake.