Good piece. I really dig this stuff. A few notes:

I think rather (and may be wrong) that Washington actually reoccupied Trenton on December 30, because most of his men's enlistments were due to expire on the 31st. Washington himself pleaded with each regiment to stay for another six weeks, as a favor to him. More than two-thirds reenlisted and remembered the day well years later when they applied for their pensions.

there was no regular American army, just a militia made up of civilians; and most of them were farmers. Naturally, they were not used to long campaigns or battles with British Regulars.

The men who made up the militias were not just simple country farmers. They were men who may not have been polished or organized, but many had proved their worth against other armies in overseas campaigns. New England men had a particular attitude to war: they thought it was terrible but necessary at times, and were emotionally hardened and resolute when they had to fight.

The following is an essay as to why the British lost the American revolution. Feel free to steal ideas or criticize, it isn't one of my best.

While greatly outmatching the fledgling America in terms of soldiers and weaponry, the social climate was against Britain from the beginning, and morale was the key to winning the revolution. Distance was another deciding factor, as speed of response is a huge tactical advantage in war. Several minor problems also contributed to the downfall of the British – the American’s knowledge of terrain, the clever propaganda of Thomas Paine, inciting rebel factions across the continent. The Americans had full public support on their side, including immediate access to resources. The British had huge, slow supply lines and a bad reputation, and they had earned few allies by use of restrictive laws and military force in troublesome spots such as Boston.

Britain could stand little more economic loss; after fighting against the French to the north, and keeping control of their far-flung colonies the loss of America – part of the essential trade route that ran from Europe to the Caribbean to America – was a top priority. This route brought in a great deal of money for British importers and exporters, shipping new luxury goods such as rum and molasses back to Europe for consumption, and then European made goods to the Americas for frontier use. The loss of the tariffs the British government had placed on these trade routes, as well as the loss of a major sector of the economy would be shattering to the British empire.

While the British government and merchant class would have understood the reasons for war, the lower class – with only limited profit from the trade routes – would have seen little need for it; as far as the poor were concerned, it was another frivolous use of money that could have been used to improve the socio-economic situation of Britain, rather than keeping another unruly colony in line. On the American side, the revolution must have seemed much more immediate, as the fighting was much closer. While many Americans may have been ambivalent about independence, the mismanagement of the citizens of Boston – with the harsh Intolerable Acts – more and more people felt threatened by a government with little perspective of American problems and desires. Coupled with Thomas Paine’s inflammatory articles, the sense of injustice rallied many Americans behind the rebel flag.

While the Americans had fewer starting resources, their access to them was much more immediate than the British supply lines. Where Americans were able to create much of what they needed on location, the British were forced to wait three months for supplies to arrive. American operations were easier to carry out, as even loyalists had little love for the German mercenaries employed by Britain, while a large segment of the population supported the rebels’ efforts. The German mercenaries, fighting for gold rather than freedom were also - despite their training – less fierce fighters, they simply didn’t have the same level of motivation as the Americans: a cornered animal always fights more fiercely.

This combination of apathy in Britain, distrust in America, and the horde of location-related problems the British had in the New World grew to an overwhelming point. Further, the revolution had become more than an army – it was a concept held in the heart of the general populace – the Intolerable Acts had marked the British as oppressors; and it was impossible for the British to destroy that idea. More than the difficulty in getting supplies, more than the lack of motivation of their soldiers, more than the contrary wishes of the British populace, the war was lost because the British tried to kill a concept with force.
Were the Colonists Justified in Their Rebellion against England? Did They Have an Adequate Cause for Revolution? Starting after the termination of the Seven-Year’s war, by the Peace of Paris, England repeatedly violated the American Colonists’ rights. A series of events, happening between 1763(ending of the Seven-Years’ war) and 1775 (starting of the revolution), could be taken as motives for the American’s revolution. The Americans claimed that through both, the Sugar Act (1764) and the Stamp Act (1765), the British dishonored their rights to taxation. The Townshend Acts also infuriated the Americans, and as in all other circumstances, they were willing to fight for their rights. The final justification for the Revolution came from the Coercive Acts.

The Sugar and the Stamp Acts were the first events by which the Americans felt their rights violated. The British wanted to collect tax for revenue, from the Americans, who felt they were dispossessed from the right of self- taxation. The Americans felt that they should be able to manage their own taxation, or to select people to manage their taxation. What they absolutely did not want, was the British taking care of their taxation. They did not want taxation without representation.

The Townshend Revenue acts of 1767 were another justification for the Americans’ rebellion. This taxed imported goods, such as paper, glass, paint and tea. The Americans felt again that their rights were being dishonored. The Colonies lead by the Massachusetts assembly tried to figure out ways to get around the Townshend Acts.The Americans surely refused when asked, by the parliament to revoke the circular letter passed by the Massachusetts assembly. This created more unity among the colonies, which added to the Acts, were one more justification for their rebellion.

The Coercive Acts, passed in 1774, were the biggest justification for the revolution. They were known as the “Intolerable Acts.” The Acts closed the port of Boston, restructured the Massachusetts government, allowed British officials to be tried in court in either Canada or Europe, and allowed troops to be quartered wherever needed. The Americans felt that all these were violations of their rights and that they had been forced to obey laws that violated their rights.

All the above decribed Acts and laws, were a justification for the revolution. However, they are not valid causes for the rebellion. Considering that the main justification for the revolution was the passing of the Coercive Acts, these Acts, were only passed because of the Boston Tea party. The Americans might have said that they were full of all the taxes, and that Englang went too far with the Tea Act. However Most of the taxes the Americans paid, were much lower than the taxes the Britsh paid over the same goods. Ultimately, the colonists were justified in their rebellion against England. However they did not have an adequate cause for revolution.

This paper was written for a class in American History. The assignment was to discuss the family metaphors used to describe the relations between the colonies and Britain, and to offer my opinion as to whether the Revolution was caused by overbearing parents of a spoiled child.
Spoiled Children: The American Revolution

The American colonists who led the revolutionary movement against the British Empire often used a metaphor of a family when describing their relations with Britain. The King was the loving, protecting father, and the colonists were the children, who needed their gracious father for survival. But, as it turned out, the colonists would only use this metaphor as long as it was in their best interests, turning against the British Empire whenever Parliament tried to exert any control over the colonies. The Americans were ungrateful and spoiled, disrespecting and disobeying their parents across the Atlantic for years.

The British practice of benign neglect was ended once and for all at the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. The British were in deep debt after the war, which was fought for the sole benefit of the colonies. Following with the family metaphor, it was similar to the child being picked on by a neighbor. If the parent were to step in and defend the child, it would be for the child’s benefit. The colonists were thankful for the efforts of their Queen, but were not too fond of the British army. Also, they were soon irritated by Parliament, which passed legislation in an attempt to get the Empire some much-needed funds. The British Empire was losing a great deal of money to smuggling, so Parliament enacted measures to try to curb this practice. Additionally, they passed the Sugar and Stamp Acts, neither of which was especially overbearing. The Sugar Act actually lowered the customs duty on sugar, and the Stamp Act was created to raise money for the colonies.

Nevertheless, the Americans, angry that their parents were not giving them a big enough allowance, responded by throwing a tantrum. Mobs destroyed the under-construction office of Massachusetts’s stamp collector and Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion. In the fall of 1765, the Stamp Act Congress met. The result of this event was to blame Parliament while professing adoration for the King, just like a child asking one parent for something, being turned down, and then asking the other.

The result of the “extralegal crowd” activity was that Parliament conceded, revoking the Stamp Act and replacing it with the Declaratory Act. The Declaratory act allowed Parliament to tax anything, anytime, but it did little good without being used.

The cycle of British attempts to control the colonies and colonial anger would continue until the eventual revolution by the colonists. Also, military tension rose as the Sons of Liberty and other militias grew more brazen, forcing the British Redcoats to react aggressively. It was as though a set of parents had allowed their child to raise himself as long as he did what he was supposed to do, which was to stay out of the way and not cause trouble (although I suppose few children exist to be economic assets, as the colonies were). Then, when the child spends all his time playing video games or watching television and refuses to eat his broccoli, the parents react by imposing limits on the child’s television time. Now, the normal response would be for the child to sulk and accept his punishment, but the colonists became irate. Slowly, they moved down the Radical Whig path to independence. To me, this seems like another case of people having something and wanting more. The British were not being unreasonable. They created colonies for the purpose of raising money. The colonists did not have to be in the colonies. They were not in exile. They were, however, used to having things the way they wanted them, and started acting like babies when things changed for the worse. Nevertheless, I do not feel as though their actions were justified. The British tried to tighten their political control over the colonies and were met with violence almost immediately. As is usually the case, the British responded with violence, which only begat more violence, but I must ask: If a father beats a misbehaving son, does the son have the right to beat his father?

However, the question of how to keep the colonies under British rule is more complicated. Of course, the British could have just left them alone, putting fewer resources into the French and Indian War and allowing benign neglect to continue. In that case, the Empire would still have amassed a debt, and the Americans certainly not been happy had their father not come to their aid. Once the British ended benign neglect, I doubt that there was anything that could be done. The Americans wanted the Britain to back off rather far, but for Britain to have given in would have been to give their 16-year-old the keys to the car and say, “Here. Come back when you feel it.” Just as some parents kick their children out of the house once they get uncontrollable, maybe it was necessary for the British to let America go. Once the conflict began, it was obvious that, to achieve peace, both sides would have to make major concessions. I think that the colonists were too proud and greedy to give in.

To finish with the family metaphor, I would have to say that the colonists had grown too old, too wild, and too disobedient to remain in the King’s house. Staying out late, drinking at Thomas Hutchinson’s house, stuffing Jesse Dunbar into an ox carcass, getting into fights with the Redcoats, the colonies had obviously grown too independent to be bossed around by the British Empire. It was time for them to get their own apartment, their own job, and to learn to fend for themselves in the real world.

Colonial America: Neglecting Parents, Problem Children

This essay was a history assignment, in which I was supposed to analyze the development of the American colonies and their relation to Britain in terms of Britain being parents and the colonies being children. (Same assingment as Chambey's, but I take it in a different direction than he did. These two writeups are good when compared and contrasted)

The parent-child relationship analogy is vital to the understanding of the conflict between England and its North American colonies. If one tries to look only at British North American policy at the time of the revolution and American reactions, it might very well seem that the Colonists were just a lot of rowdy barbarians. However, when one looks at the history of Britain's policy and views it in terms of the way a parent treats a child, the colonial revolutionaries' actions make much more sense. While the revolutionary colonists did act strongly and excessively to Britain, it would be strange if they acted differently when you consider Britain's early neglect of the colonies. They let the child grow wildly at first and later they tried to manage it. This is not the way any good parents manage their child.

The problems stem from the very beginning of Britain's American colonies. Founded in areas where immediate wealth was not easy to find, unlike in the Spanish or Portuguese colonies, people started moving there not so much to get rich, but to escape the political turmoil in England. This made the North American colonies different from other American colonies other British colonies. Most colonists in other places made up a small part of the community they lived in, and were only there to make money exploiting the natives. For the most part, especially in the North, the American colonies did not incorporate the Natives into their society, and maintained a subsistence economy where it was not necessary to. The South, which practiced cash crop agriculture, tried at first to use Indians as slaves, but they kept dying from new diseases. This led them to become a new England (hence the name), instead of just a group of businessmen and a means of making money.

Unfortunately, the British government did not realize this at first, and treated American colonies just as they would any other colony. The general policy towards their colonies was benign neglect. All the British government did was to put trading regulations on the area, fund any wars, and send greedy young businessmen there. They gave certain companies licenses to make money there, and the company would pay the King. The companies' business was to exploit the natives for labor, sell British goods, and take natural resources. They did not regulate their people, and there was not all that much need to; most things that fortune seekers would be going there for would eventually bring money home. They saw no need to implement regulations on the fledgling North American societies, and therefore the Americans constructed their own society, and got accustomed to doing so. This is how Britain neglected her infant.

Only after the American Colonies got far out of hand did Parliament try to fix things, but by then it was too late. King Phillip's war made them realize how out of control the colonies had become, and after the French and Indian war (Seven Years War), they realized how much they had vested in them. From this point on they tried to exert control over the colonies, and to make money from them. The conflicts with the Indians were too expensive, so they tried to restrict expansion, which angered the southern and western colonists who had never been restricted this way before, and had money invested in that land. To make money off the colonies, they decided to treat the Americans like other non-business wings of the empire and tax them. This irritated everyone off because they had never been taxed before, but especially the North where there was enough of a middle class for it to hit hard. They also tried to restrict the smuggling, which was a drain on their profits. This again angered the north, whose people were not used to these kinds of limitations.

None of these new policies were irrational or excessive, and none really directly hurt people all that much. However, because these types of laws were so new, the colonists would not stand for them. The changing philosophical theories with the enlightenment just fueled the colonies' urges to rebel, and the British flimsiness on policy just encouraged it.

Even though the Americans did turn out to be bad children, it was because of bad parenting that they became bad children. The Americans were not an extremely oppressed people, but their society was regulated poorly, and it showed. If they had been extremely oppressed they probably would not have been able to break free like they did. The Americans were over-rebellious, but that was ultimately Britain's fault.


The Revolutionary War, or the War for American Independence, took place in America between 1775 when the first shots were fired at Lexington Green until 1784 with the ratification of the Treaty of Paris. No one event can be pinpointed as the cause of the Revolutionary War, but the basic difference in attitude between the American colonists, who felt that they were entitled to the same rights as all English citizens, and the British attitude that colonies were there to serve the economic interests of the empire, were the main point of contention.

Can anyone say inevitability?

Taxation Without Representation

Fighting the French and Indian War had caused Britain to incur debts, and to relieve this financial strain, the British understandably sought to generate revenue from the colonies that the war had been fought to defend. The Stamp Act of 1765 was passed by the British Parliament to defray the cost of securing the American frontier. It was a tax on all printed goods, the first tax that the American colonists had paid directly to England, and was not recieved with enthusiasm by the colonists. Between the time the act was passed (March) and the day when it was supposed to go into effect (November 1 of the same year), Patrick Henry presented the Virginia Resolutions claiming that only Virginia legislature had the right to tax Virginians and The Sons of Liberty was formed. Due to the opposition, the act was unenforceable and was repealed a year later. (However, on the same day, the Declaratory Act was passed, giving the British government total power over laws in the colonies. One step forward, two steps back.)

Another unpopular act passed in March of 1765 was the Quartering Act, requiring American colonists to both house and outfit British soldiers in their homes. The New York assembly's refusal to comply with this led to violence between British soldiers and New York colonists in August of 1766.

Back to the taxation issue, in 1767, the Townshend Revenue Acts are passed, taxing imported items such as paper, tea, glass, lead and paints. In Februrary of 1768, Samuel Adams writes a letter protesting taxation without representation and containing instructions on how to oppose the Townshend acts. The difficulty in enforcing these acts lead troubled customs officials to call in the calvalry, if you will, and in May 1768, a British warship sails into Boston harbor, which doesn't stop the Bostonians from locking up a customs official while they unload illegal wine. Boston customs officials decide that they've had enough of this, and escape to go crying to the crown. In March 5, 1770, five men are killed in the Boston Massacre. The Townshend acts are then repealed, and the Quartering Act was not renewed.

The Boston Tea Party -- the most fun had by grown men dressed up as Indians this side of the Village People

On May 10, 1773, the Tea Act takes effect. This act maintained the tax on tea that had been in effect for the previous six years, and gave the East India Tea Company a tea monopoly, able to undersell American merchants. In October, colonists held a meeting in Philadelphia to decide what to do about the tea tax, and they forced the resignation of British tea agents. One can only imagine threats and violence were involved here...

The tea guys in Boston obviously had more of a backbone, they weren't so easy to get rid of. They tried to send a ship full of tea back to England without paying the import tax, but the Royal Governer won't let the harbor officials send the ship off until the taxes get paid. On December 16, 1773, Bostonians dump 342 pounds of tea into Boston Harbor.

In response to the tea party and other acts by the colonists, the British Parliament passes the first in a series of Coercive Acts or Intolerable Acts (depending on which side of the Atlantic you hail from). In March of 1774, the Boston Port Act shuts down all shipping from Boston Harbor until they make restitution for the Boston Tea Party. The Massachusetts Regulating Act and the Government Act were passed in May of 1774, ending colonial self-rule. The Quebec Act extended Canadian boundaries into colonial territory. A new Quartering Act is passed as well.

First shots

In the fall of 1774, the First Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia. They declare that the Coercive Acts are not to be obeyed, and agree to boycott British imports. The colonists prepare for war. April 18, 1775, 700 British soldiers are sent to destroy a colonial weapons depot at Concord. Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride, and the colonists are warned of the impending 'attack'. They face the Brits on Lexington Green. The shot heard 'round the world was fired (to this day, no one is sure which side let off the first shot), and the Revolutionary War was officially underway. The British manage to destroy the colonists' depot, but suffer casualties on their retreat to Boston, and colonists amass an army.

The Second Continental Congress convenes in May of 1775. Fort Ticonderoga is also captured by American forces. On June 15th, George Washington is appointed to head the colonial army. Two days later begins the Battle of Bunker Hill, which the Americans lose managing to take half the British force with them.

At this point, the Second Continental Congress passes the Olive Branch Petition, a last ditch attempt to reconcile with the motherland. King George III won't even look at it, declares America to be in an open state of rebellion. Crown to Colonies: Bring it on.

Thomas Paine's famous tract, Common Sense, is published in January of 1776, criticizing the crown, urging for American independence from Britain. In March, the colonists take Boston.

On July 4th, 1776, the Continental Congress formally declares independence.

Times That Try Men's Souls

In August, George Washington's army suffers a severe defeat in the Battle of Long Island, and is nearly forced to surrender. The Americans escape at night, and live to fight another day. New York City is evacuated, and the Americans win the Battle of Manhattan in September. October of 1776 brings about a crushing defeat for the newly founded American Navy in the seven-hour Battle of Valcour Bay. More bad news for Washington's boys as they suffer heavy losses at the Battle of White Plains.

Things aren't looking good for the Americans. The British forces continue to beat back Washington's troops. Writes Thomas Paine:

    These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country: but he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

Washington and his troops recross the Delaware River on Christmas of 1776, and take Trenton, New Jersey after surprising a force of British-Hessians. Washington then defeats British troops at Princeton.

In April, Benedict Arnold is victorious at Ridgefield, Connecticut. On July 6, 1777, Fort Ticonderoga is taken by the British, stunning the colonists. A Vermont militia wins the Battle of Bennington in August, but in September, General Washington and his army are driven back in the Battle of Brandywine Creek.

The first major American victory of the war occurs on October 7, 1777 at the Battle of Saratoga. Ten days later, the British army headed by General Burgoyne surrenders to the Americans and are sent home.

General Washington spends the winter at Valley Forge. At this point in the war, European nations enter the fray. France declares its support for American independence (formerly, only providing financial assistance), Spain sides with France.

The next major battle of the Revolutionary War occurs in June at the Battle of Monmouth. American and British troops fought to a standoff. In the fall, the Americans suffer another defeat as they attempt to 'liberate' Savannah, Georgia from the British. There's another hard winter for the Americans.

In May of 1780, the British capture Charleston. At this point, Washington is facing mutiny. The American victory in the Battle of Springfield is followed by a string of defeats -- Americans in South Carolina are defeated by troops under General Cornwallis (900 killed, 1000 captures). A defeat two days later at Fishing Creek, South Carolina allows Cornwallis to begin an invasion (abandoned later that year) of North Carolina.

Benedict Arnold's true colors are revealed on September 23, 1780. He had been collaborating with the British for the past year and a half. He becomes a brigadier general in the British army. Bastard.

Reversal of Fortune

Another cold winter for George Washington, two mutinies among American troops in January of 1781. In the south however, Americans are victorious at Cowpens, South Carolina. Cornwallis's troops set up shop in Yorktown, Virginia, and the American forces and French navy join forces. A French naval victory in September grant the French control of the Chesapeake and cut off a possible British retreat via water. On September 28, Washington's troops begin a seige of Yorktown. Cornwallis surrenders on October 19, 1781, ending any hopes for a British victory in America.

Peace talks began in April of 1782 in Paris. In November, the Americans and the British sign a preliminary peace treaty, one of the conditions being a recognition of American independence (the condition that stymied peace talks in 1778). Peace treaties between England and the European powers who had supported the colonists were signed as well.

The Treaty of Paris was signed September 3, 1783, and is ratified January 14, 1784. This event marked the official end to the Revolutionary War.

I will admit freely that this node is written from the viewpoint of a girl who grew up with a history-obsessed father living in America and learning out of patriotic textbooks. As always, any corrections/additions/suggestions/comments are welcome. So are alternate opinions and perspectives.

Communication Breakdown

This, like the other things noded here, is an American History assignment. The assignment was a Document-Based Question which went as follows: "'By 1775, it was obvious to both the British government and American colonial leaders that there was no workable compromise between their differing views of empire.' Assess this statement in an essay based on the documents provided and your own knowledge of the period." The "documents provided" are referenced by name and date so Everythingians can figure out what I'm talking about. The essay addresses some of what are, in my opinion, the primary reasons for American revolution against the British.

The conquest of America by former English colonists was preordained from the beginning. Regardless of the truth behind this concept of "manifest destiny," it was an idea and a mindset that acted as a catalyst not only for the western expansion of the United States but the very creation of that country. The mentality that would later declare most of the continent of North America as cultural birthright existed before the United States. In the desire for independence which resided inside the hearts of men like Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams and even the latecomer Thomas Paine, manifest destiny was already making its case. The concept that America belonged exclusively to those English colonists, their cohorts, and nobody else was incompatible with the views of the British Empire; this dissonance was obvious by 1775.

By the mid-eighteenth century, many of those living in the English colonies were third or fourth-generation Americans - not British. That distinction was crucial in terms of the difference in culture and political view it created. America as was populated by those of European stock at the time was primarily a producing culture, not a consuming one. As such, the colonies needed a market for its surplus goods more than it needed imports from the tiny island which claimed to control the fertile land on which the colonists stood. Many of the first Europeans to settle in America were seeking total escape from England, and with it they also required an almost complete self-sufficiency. The colonies were intended to become independent, at least in terms of survival, from their inception.

Needless to say, Britain did not view their colonies as anything close to a body independent from their empire. America was far too good a source of income for that. The British view of their American colonies was that they were placeholders on valuable territory, a veritable cash cow of tobacco, cotton, corn and rum. America was used as another theater of European wars and as a bargaining chip, as when the French fort of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, captured by colonial militia and bought with colonists' lives, was traded back to France in exchange for special consideration in India. The colonists from northern New England who had fought and died for this boon would never reap the benefits of their sacrifice; they were never considered in the deal. Furthermore, after prosecuting several wars in America using colonial troops and forcing their way into colonial housing, the British felt that the colonists owed England for the protection they had received. To recoup this perceived debt, and repay their own debts incurred over the course of their military campaigns, the English instituted a series of taxes, including the Sugar Act of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765, and the Townshend Acts of 1767, all without regard to colonial government or their right of representation. This exemplified the British view that the colonists owed them, as well as that the Parliament in England had the right to enact any tax or law in the colonies that they wanted. This opinion was made official by the Declaratory Act which repealed the Stamp Act in 1766 and was voiced in this speech by Lord Mansfield to the House of Lords in 1766 (see Debate on the Repeal of the Stamp Act): "... the colonists, by the condition on which they migrated, settled, and now exist, are more emphatically subjects of Great Britain than those within the realm; and that the British legislature have in every instance exercised their right of legislation over them without any dispute or question til the 14th of January last (1765)." Mansfield's speech also refers to the British view that they had not only the right to tax, but had total control over the colonies as an extension of the empire. The crux of that argument is that the colonies are governed totally, without representation, by Parliament not only while but especially because the first colonists were allowed to leave England with the grace of the King. In short, because the colonists required the King's approval to leave, they require the King's, and therefore Parliament's, approval to exist. Thanks to that requirement, Parliament has complete control over the colonies, including government. This ran contrary to the colonial view in many ways.

This "colonial view" was that when a group separates itself from its home country, establishing its own cultural and political body, it becomes independent from that country. Richard Bland made this claim in 1766, in his essay "An Inquiry Into the Rights of the British Colonies." Nine years after Bland's essay, the Continental Congress met for the second time. The grievances against Parliament they had formally stated a year earlier had not been met, and so they gathered together to seek a solution. First, they tried compromise, in the form of the "Olive Branch Petition" of May 1775. The King rejected Congress' offer of compromise. Three months later, he stated openly that "The object is too important ... the resources with which God hath blessed (the British Nation) too numerous, to give up so many colonies ... which she has planted ..." (King George III, Speech to Parliament, October 1775) effectively declaring that the British could not allow colonial independence in any form. Shortly prior to this speech, fighting had already begun in Lexington and at Concord. Revolution was already under way. All that remained was to sway the indecisive masses to the colonial side or the British one. That decision, to the colonists, was not one of whether or not America was English or its own, but whether or not American culture owed its fealty and its money to the English across the sea. In that argument, Richard Bland maintained the colonists were independent from England politically as well as culturally, while Lord Mansfield, while acknowledging colonial separation from England in the line "... that the colonists, by the condition on which they migrated, settled, and now exist, are more emphatically subjects of Great Britain than those within the realm ..." (emphasis added), is resolved that they are a separate cultural entity but still lie within the political bounds of the Empire. Bland's essay for independence were echoed a year after the battles of 1775 in Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Paine's pamphlet was the final testimony in a trial for the complete separation of the American colonies from Britain which began as soon as the first religious and political dissenters from the tiny island set foot on New World soil.

History proves that the colonists were victorious. Whether or not manifest destiny truly existed to influence the flow of events is something that has yet to be proved, but the minds which lent themselves to that belief carried the day. By 1775, there were only American colonists, not English ones. Setting foot on the new continent with the intent to settle there required the understanding that the culture which existed in America, while taking from British roots, was now intermingled with other societies and had become distinctly its own. American leaders, seeking political autonomy to accompany their cultural uniqueness, found that the British would not freely grant them any. Resenting the British presence, and frustrated by the British refusal to accept their offered compromise, the Americans finally decided to prosecute a revolution to achieve their independence. After four generations of development, colonial culture had resolved that America was exclusively its own and pointed itself in the direction of manifest destiny. From the start, this concept was never truly able to coexist with British doctrine of total rule from overseas; by 1775, that unresolvable difference had become a gap between American and British leaders that was impossible to bridge.

"The American independence movement was not a revolution"

Though the conventional image of the American Revolution may be, as its name suggests, that of a revolution - in other words, a total break with the past - several historians have made a convincing case that the independence movement was essentially conservative. They have argued that the purpose of the rebellion was to protect rights the colonists had long had, not to revolutionize the form of government of the colonies. However, other historians have argued that the American independence movement did indeed have such momentous consequences for the colonies that it is justified to use the term "revolution" when describing the rebellion.

The historian Robert E. Brown has advocated the notion of the Revolution as a conservative social movement in his study of colonial Massachusetts. He contests the prevalent idea that colonial America was undemocratic. Property qualifications for voting did indeed exist, but they were low, and the majority of the population were middle-class, and thus able to meet these requirements. Britain saw colonial democracy and self-rule as obstacles to its colonial policy, the purpose of which was to benefit Britain. The assertion of British authority - and thus the weakening of local authority and democracy - was needed to make the Empire more efficient. The American Revolution, then, was about retaining democracy in the colonies, not gaining it. Nor was it a social revolution where the lower classes asserted their rights against a dominant upper class - the conservatism of the Massachusetts constitution and the Federal constitution are proof of this (Brown, 1955).

The problem with this interpretation is the focus on just one of the thirteen colonies. Brown suggests that the other colonies might have been similar to Massachusetts(Brown, 1955), but work done by other historians suggests there were considerable variations between the colonies (Main, 1965). Using the conservatism of the Federal Constitution as evidence of the lack of class conflict in colonial America may also be misleading, since it was drafted by a select number of middle- and upper-class men.

A variation of the interpretation of the American Revolution as conservative and unrevolutionary may be found in the work of Bernard Bailyn. He suggests that a major motivation for the rebellion was a belief that there was a conspiracy in Britain to encroach upon the liberties of the colonists. He argues that the colonists saw a deliberate policy of suppressing liberty in British policies after the Stamp Act, and that this was the primary cause of the Revolution. According to this interpretation, the American Revolution was about stopping this conspiracy, and ultimately about upholding the principles of the British constitution (Bailyn, 1967) - hardly a revolutionary goal.

Bailyn's research is based on the study of pamphlets published in 18th century America (Bailyn, 1967). This may be a major weakness, since these pamphlets were propaganda documents. As such, it is hard to tell to what extent they reflect actual fears of a British conspiracy to erode American liberties and to what extent such a notion was used as a rhetorical device.

J. Franklin Jameson argues in his book The American Revolution considered as a social movement that the American Revolution was indeed revolutionary, as it considerably strengthened democracy in America. Two state constitutions gave the vote to all owners of a certain amount of property, and two gave it to all who paid taxes. Thus, the social status of groups thereto without the right to vote, was enhanced. The Revolution also had a significant - it might be argued, even revolutionary - effect on slavery. Several states either banned the importation of slaves or abolished slavery altogether (Jameson, 1956). The major problem with this line of argument is, of course, the definition of "revolution". It is by no means evident whether the social changes outlined above are sufficient to justify calling the American independence movement revolutionary.

In his Origins of the American Revolution, historian John C. Miller offers a view of the Revolution, which, I think, is more balanced than the other ones considered here. In his introduction he points out that even though - as Brown has argued - a majority of men in colonial Massachusetts had the vote, this didn't necessarily mean democracy. He also notes that it was not the rebels who wanted to keep things as they were, but the Loyalists. The crucial point is that even though the Americans saw themselves as defending their rights under the British constitution, this was true only according to the American interpretation of the British constitution. To the British, this interpretation was revolutionary (Miller, 1966). The American independence movement was also revolutionary in its rejection of elements of contemporary European politics - Miller says the Revolution was "...against monarchy, imperialistic wars, feudalism, colonialism, mercantilism, established churches, the oppression of the many by the few. In this sense, the United States declared itself independent in 1776 not only of Great Britain but of Europe." (Miller, 1966: xvii)

I have necessarily been able to touch upon only a few of the interpretations of the American Revolution in this discussion paper, and none of the arguments put forward here seem definitive. To ascertain whether the American independence movement was essentially revolutionary or conservative, the central concepts of "revolution" and "democracy" must be clearly defined. Of course, it is exceedingly difficult to do so. Several further questions remain. Did all the colonies have such a high proportion of men with the vote as Massachusetts? Did the colonists actually fear a British conspiracy to infringe on their rights? How revolutionary was the American interpretation of the British constitution? Did the extension of the franchise and the changes in the laws concerning slavery constitute revolutionary change?


Bailyn, Bernard (1967) The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press)

Brown, Robert E. (1955) Middle Class Democracy and the Revolution in Massachusetts, 1691-1780 (Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press)

Jameson, Franklin J. (1956) The American Revolution considered as a social movement (Boston, Beacon Press)

Main, Jackson Turner (1965) The Social Structure of Revolutionary America (Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press)

Miller, John C. (1966) Origins of the American Revolution (Stanford, California, Stanford University Press)

This is a discussion paper I wrote for a history course at the University of York. The discussion of the subject in the paper is necessarily rather superficial, since the word limit was 1 000, and this was supposed to be written more as a presentation to a seminar group than a normal essay.

The American Revolution was not really a revolution; it was a war of independence. Ignorance of this fact has deluded many subsequent European revolutionaries into believing the creation of a liberal, republican society is much easier than it actually is. At the time of the founding, American society already mostly had these qualities outside of the slave-holding states, and the values of the new government were "held to be self-evident" and Common Sense - a claim that a French revolutionary would have been foolish to make, as it was obvious he was surrounded by people in violent disagreement.

What really constitutes the American revolution, with a small r, is the development of American society over the long-term, from the colonial period onwards. America is a democratic country that never had to undergo a democratic revolution; Americans were, in De Tocquville's words, "born equal, without ever having to become so". This makes America almost unique in the world and hence almost as uniquely useless as a model for the development of liberal societies elsewhere, as the latter have to achieve by painful reform what the former had already nearly achieved in the cradle.

The absence of a true social revolution, and hence of a counter-revolution, means that American politics has had a much narrower scope than those in Europe, a fact that usually comes to the attention of Europeans via the absence of American socialism (the absence of fascism, they rarely notice). Looking over the Atlantic, Europeans can't help but wonder if American consensus doesn't show some smallness of mind, or lack of depth; and Americans, looking back, reckoning consensus worth the price, remind us what we found at the bottom of those depths, not so long ago: the Shoah, and the gulag.

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