"Reverse of Fortune": the invasion of Canada and the coming of American Independence, 1774-1776
Ellison, Amy Noel
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In the autumn of 1775, American revolutionaries invaded Canada in the hope of winning a fourteenth colony for the cause, dealing a fatal blow to the British war effort, and forcing London to reconcile on American terms. Led by Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold, the two-pronged effort met with nothing but victory on the way to Quebec. Set back by an unexpected repulse on December 31, however, the Northern Army was finally forced to retreat from the province altogether in the summer of 1776. Having failed either to secure an alliance with Canada or to achieve reconciliation with Britain, the campaign proved a total disaster, and has therefore been understudied or ignored completely by most historians. This dissertation argues that the invasion of Canada proved crucial in destroying the British empire in America and creating the social logic for independence. When the campaign failed to deliver on its primary objectives, American leaders in Philadelphia and colonists throughout the home front recognized that reconciliation was impossible. Historians frequently give credit to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense for igniting widespread calls for independence, but it was the failure of the Canadian campaign that lent urgency to these arguments, occasioning the swift transition from colonial rebellion to all-out civil war for American independence. The nature of the conflict had changed, creating a political-military context that made foreign assistance and a declaration of independence essential to sustaining the Revolution. This study also hopes to break down military history as a category too frequently walled off from other branches of historical inquiry. Early American historians tend to imagine the American Revolution and the War for Independence as two overlapping but distinct events. By analyzing the Canadian campaign’s effect upon the American home front, this dissertation seeks to use military events as a lens to reorient our understanding of the breakdown of empire and the path to independence.