The American Revolution is the series of events and ideas that resulted in the separation of 13 colonies in North America from Great Britain and their transformation into the United States of America.
The revolution included the direct military struggles known as the American Revolutionary War. The War itself started with the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 and ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
The broader sense of revolution began much earlier, continued after the peace treaty, and had a much greater effect on the human experience than simply colonial independence. The process created a new view of government and its organization that the world hadn't seen before. The terms republic and democracy had been used in histories of ancient Greece and Rome, but now they were implemented in a government whose authority was based on individual rights rather than on church or king. While earlier historic trends affected it, the revolution itself had its active roots in the Albany Congress of 1754 and ended when George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States April 30, 1789.
Before the revolution most people in the British North American Colonies considered themselves loyal subjects of the British Crown, with the same rights and obligations as people in Britain. After the revolution, they had created a newly independent republic.
There are four major historic trends in Europe and America during the eighteenth century that affected or gave impetus to the Revolution. The Enlightenment changed the intellectual basis of thought, the Great Awakening changed the emotional and religious approach to life, the European Dynastic Wars altered the view of nations and their relations to each other, while growing economic changes affected everyday life.
The Enlightenment elevated natural philosophy and began to replace arguments born of tradition and authority with those based on observation and independent reasoning. The implications of the earlier Scientific Revolution began to have a greater effect on everyday life and in the conscious thought of men everywhere. Increased publication and communications between like-minded people opened new areas to question and consideration. The early works of thinkers like John Locke became the analysis of men like Montesquieu.
The Great Awakening was the American extension to the earlier religious revivals in Europe. It called into question the wisdom of an established church. The revival placed emphasis on individual conscience and experience as the source of value in religious experience. It started or increased the presence of Baptist views throughout the colonies. It was also the first event that swept through all the British colonies, from New England to the Carolinas, as a common experience.
European Dynastic Wars, as experienced in the French and Indian Wars, raised several important ideas among the North American colonist. One of these was the importance of self-reliance for their own defense, and a recognition that the European military establishments were less effective when applied on a continental scale. The Albany Congress taught them the value of cooperation between otherwise divergent colonies. Armies and techniques that might protect Great Britain, France, or the Netherlands could not be extended over thinly populated North America. Another result was a rising sense of frustration, when victories earned in part by their blood and wealth were negotiated away for a gain in Asia or the Caribbean.
At the same time, political changes in Britain, itself, brought to the fore, leaders inclined to be more forceful and active in the governance of Britain's colonies. The Seven Years' War had resulted in a huge expansion of the British Empire thoughout the world, encouraging imperial thinking and ambition. The accession of George III introduced a politically active monarch into British politics for the first time in fifty years, and encouraged the rise of a new Tory party, which would govern under Lord North during the period of the American Revolutionary War. The authoritarian assertiveness of the Tories tended to be magnified in the perceptions of the colonists into intended tyranny. Whigs, who were inclined ideologically to be sympathetic to American aspirations to liberty and self-governance and relieved of the responsibility of governance, became important allies of the American cause in Parliament.
Economic Changes gave further impetus to the recognition that the welfare of the colony and that of the mother country were not always synonymous. The early Navigation Acts aimed at the system as a whole, were giving way to the Mercantile System that sought to alter trade balances to accumulate bullion and coinage within Great Britain. Just as in warfare, the British idea of limited resources with land ownership as a critical resource didn't apply to America, where labor and intelligence were the limiting factors. The monetary systems, starting with the pound sterling, coupled with an increasing rate of invention, saw the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and its changes to productivity. The system in place sought to concentrate these advantages in England, and treated the colonies as source of raw materials.
Further to the Economic Changes; Taxation became an issue after the defeat of the French in North America. The colonies had enjoyed a long standing tax free status, with the British coffers and citizens elsewhere in the world effectively paying for the defence and expansion of British North America. Britain had won the war with France, but both countries had been left bankrupt. In order to replenish this deficit, taxes were imposed on the colonies, which had never before been taxed from Great Britain. The view, suggested by Charles A. Beard, that many of the Founding Fathers were businessmen motivated by financial interest to circumvent this taxation by any means, is controversial.
Besides the general trends, there were several events that caused an increase in the sense of separation from English interests. The conflicts began in the immediate aftermath of the Treaty of Paris, ending the French and Indian War in North America, and the Seven Years War worldwide.
George Grenville, assumed the Prime Ministership after the King's favorite, Lord Bute, had proven too unpopular, and faced with the problems of Empire, including a prodigious national debt, serviced at high interest rates, and what appeared to be worldwide military vulnerabilities revealed by close contests during the war in North America and elsewhere, Grenville embarked on an active program of increased taxation in the British North American colonies, coupled with the introduction, for the first time, of a standing army of regular troops.
The Proclamation of 1763 sought to limit the conflicts between Native Americans and the English settlers by restricting settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. However, groups of settlers led for example by Daniel Boone continued to move into the region beyond the Proclamation Line and clashed violently with the Shawnees and other peoples inhabiting the area. Furthermore, the Quebec Act of 1774 extended Quebec's boundaries to the Ohio River, reestablished French civil law, and instituted toleration for Roman Catholics in that territory. Proposals to post British regulars to man forts in the west further disquieted Americans eager to settle in the West.
Grenville's proposals to increase revenues from the colonies, both to help in retiring the debt incurred in the course of the war and to finance the introduction of a standing army, provoked bitter hostility. Embodied in the Revenue Act of 1764, Grenville's proposals were known as the Sugar Act, because they incorporated a revision in the only important, longstanding tax on the trade of the North American colonies, a tax on sugar and molasses in place since 1733. The tax on sugar was actually cut in half, but Grenville made clear that, contrary to past policy, he intended to collect it, by reforming the Customs Office. Taxes were added on a variety of other imports to the colonies, and administrative burdens were placed on American exports, in a vain attempt to curtail evasion of the Navigation Acts, which prohibited the colonists from directly exporting goods except to Britain, itself. Grenville's Currency Act compounded the economic assault, by prohibiting the kind of paper money schemes, which the colonists had traditionally used to compensate for the paucity of hard currency in the colonies, and which, in the past, had eased the difficulty of paying debts and taxes.
The large number of rum drinkers were incensed. Exporters of colonial goods, who had depended on nominally illegal access to foreign markets, were inhibited by the closer supervision mandated by Grenville. Distillers, hit hard by the tax on molasses (used to make rum), encouraged protests, including, in Boston, organization of a boycott of English goods. Most importantly, however, the protest began to take the form of constitutional arguments, rather than simply complaint about the level of taxes, per se. James Otis introduced the idea that "taxation without representation" was unconstitutional, giving a foundation to the idea that all taxation of the colonies by Parliament was illegitimate.
Having already alienated the rum drinkers, distillers and merchant exporters, Grenville now proceeded to alienate the lawyers, publishers, clergymen and journalists. In 1765, Grenville proposed the Stamp Act as a way to finance the quartering of troops in North America. Instead of a tax on imports, the Stamp Act required that all kinds of paper documents, from newspapers and playing cards to legal documents and licenses, carry a tax stamp.
The organization of colonial protest quickly took on a continental character, as the colonists in one colony reached out to other colonies for support. A formal Committee of Correspondence was organized in Boston to coordinate and communicate with protestors in other colonies regarding the Currency Act and unpopular reforms in the Customs service. The replication and multiplication of Committees of Correspondence in later protests over the next decade would be an important factor in building the political ties, which would eventually unite the colonies under the Second Continental Congress. Many protestors and correspondents also became associated with the secret societies, known as the Sons of Liberty, which provided a framework for subversive activities of a more forcible nature, including riots and the intimidation of royal officials.
The furor over the Stamp Act culminated in the meeting of the Stamp Act Congress, a convention of representatives from nine of the colonies, which met in New York on October 7, and after less than two weeks of discussion, issued a declaration of rights, on October 19, 1765. The Stamp Act Congress sent its protest to England, in letters to Parliament, and recommended limitations on the importation of English goods to the colonists, to put economic pressure on Britain. Precedents were set for coordinated action among the colonies, using the Committee of Correspondence and the threat of a boycott.
Parliament partially yielded, by repealing the Stamp Act, but continued other policies condemned by the Stamp Act Congress, including the use Admiralty Courts to try smugglers outside the colonies and away from sympathetic juries. As to the colonial assertion, of no taxation without representation, Parliament determined to destroy that principle in practice. In 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, placing taxes on a number of common goods imported into the colonies, including glass, paint, lead, paper and tea. Supposedly, Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had inadvertently prompted Parliament to reduce the land tax by a shilling per pound, and to make up a small part of the lost revenue, he proposed the taxes on colonial imports. One month after putting his taxes thru Parliament, he died, to be succeeded as Chancellor by Lord North.
The Townshend Acts prompted colonial leaders, many of them not incidentally merchants and well-practiced smugglers, to promote boycotts of English imports, while supplying a large part of colonial needs with untaxed contraband.
As colonists started rejecting the Crown they also started becoming more radicalized in other ways, paying more attention to the idea of a broad democracy, and people like Thomas Paine who not long before this would have been condemned as a Leveller. Thomas Paine, produced a pamphlet entitled Common Sense arguing that the only solution to the problems with Britain would be republicanism and independence. A vicious circle began as colonists acted against what they saw as unfair policies, drew a harsh British reaction, followed by stronger colonial reaction.
Antagonists of the British Crown, known as Patriots (or Whigs, or rebels), included many shades of opinion. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and George Washington represented a socially conservative faction that would later take shape as the Federalist party and was deeply preoccupied with preserving the wealth and power of the "better sorts" of colonial society. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine represented the more "democratical" side of the political equation, which sought to protect the position of independent small yeomen. The most radical wing of Patriotic opinion could be seen in the more extreme Anti-Federalists and in Daniel Shays. Shays' Rebellion on behalf of indebted small farmers provoked a strong social reaction, among the fruits of which were the United States Constitution and a decade of conservative Federalist rule.
The American Revolution did not produce the kind of epoch-breaking rupture with past customs and institutions as the French Revolution, and even Thomas Paine -- one of the most radical figures in the American Revolution -- was later challenged in France by Robespierre for being too moderate. However, the American Revolution did entrench several noteworthy innovations: a discourse of liberty and equality which would prove highly appealing in Europe; the idea that government should be by consent of the governed (including the right of rebellion against tyranny); the delegation of power through written constitutions; and the notion that colonial peoples of the Americas could become self-governing nations in their own rights. The American Revolution was thus the first wave of the Atlantic Revolutions that would also take hold in the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and the [[Bol�var's War|Latin American wars of liberation]]. Aftershocks would also be felt in Ireland in the 1798 rising, in Poland, and in the Netherlands.
Besides the progress of the Revolution, it is important to remember the counter-Revolution which proceeded in the opposite direction. A great many American colonists remained loyal to the British Crown; these were known as Loyalists (or Tories, or King's men). Loyalists were often of the same well-to-do social circle that produced the right wing of the Patriots (take for example Thomas Hutchinson); however, the Scottish highlanders of the Mohawk Valley and the frontiersmen of Georgia included a large number of poorer King's men. After the war, United Empire Loyalists became a central component of the populations of the Abaco islands (in the Bahamas), the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Ontario, and Freetown, Sierra Leone.
- 13 colonies
- American exceptionalism, Exceptionalism
- Boston Massacre
- Boston Tea Party
- British colonization of the Americas
- British North America
- Continental Congress
- United States Declaration of Independence
- The Enlightenment
- Founding Fathers of the United States
- Industrial Revolution
- Thomas Paine
- List of important people in the era of the American Revolution
- John C. Miller; "Origins of the American Revolution"; 1943, Little, Brown & Co.; 1959 reprint, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0804705933; (1991 paperback edition: ISBN 0804705941).
- David Hawke; "The Colonial Experience"; 1966, Bobbs-Merrill Company, ISBN 0023518308.
- Bernard Bailyn; "The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution"; 1967, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674443012.
- Gary B. Nash; "The Urban Crucible: The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution"; 1986, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674930592.