American Revolution, also known as the United States War of Independence or American Revolutionary War, (1775–83), insurrection by which thirteen American colonies won political independence and went on to form the United States of America.
The new age:-
The American Revolution has a central place in the American memory as the story of the nation’s founding. Among the significant results of the Revolution were American independence and the end of British mercantilism in America, opening up worldwide trade for the United States.
Europe and America entered a new age, when a series of revolutions broke out. The first great revolution was the American ( 1776-17 83). This was followed by the French Revolution (1789-1791). These revolutions were the result of new ideas, which arose as a strong reaction against unsympathetic, unenlightened and oppressive Monarchy.
Reaction against Royal Absolutism:
The Renaissance did not-give birth to ideas of freedom and democracy, but favoured the rise of absolute monarchy. Many of the monarchs ruled absolutely without caring much for the rights of the people and their welfare. Vested interests also identified them selves with the interests of stubborn and oppressive rulers.
In America, the British colonies were oppressed by the government of the mother country; but the colonies rebelled and fought a War of independence till they became completely free.
In France, monarchy exploited the masses too long; but ultimately it was swept aside by a bloody revolution.
The 18th and 19th centuries generated powerful forces which Were dangerous to crowned heads, who never thought of changing their Ways, These forces created by revolutionary and explosive ideas spread from country to country.
In Britain, a civil war (1642-1649) broke out, and finally the autocratic Stuart King Charles I was executed. In 1688, another despotic Stuart ruler James II was deposed in the Glorious Revolution.
The British colonists in America were watching not without deep interest the great events in the mother country and felt inspired by them. It was about a century after the Glorious Revolution in England that America won her complete independence.
Six years after the end of the American Revolution (17 83), the French Revolution broke out (1789). The impact of the American and French Revolution was felt by the oppressed people all over the world. The exploited people in the Latin American countries also rose in revolt against their masters. In the Latin American Revolutions (1800-1825) almost all the colonies were able to shake off the yoke of Spain and Portugal.
In the Age of Revolutions (17501850) other great developments also took place. The Industrial Revolution, the improvements in the means of transport and communication, and the contact between the East and the West spread the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity all over the world.
In India people felt that British imperialism could not be over-thrown without a revolution. In the Oriental countries, the ideas of revolution came late.
The century 1750-1850 3 is called the Age of Revolutions.
English colonies in America:-
Many people in England, who were dissatisfied with the government, and enterprising people, who wanted to settle down permanently in a new country, left their motherland for America. The Pilgrim Fathers wished to free themselves from the religious persecution of James I (1603-1625). They sailed to America in the famous ship, the May Flower. Many other colonists followed their example. Catholics, cavalier nobles, Quakers, Protestants and others who were not happy in England went to America and established colonies.
By the 18th century, thirteen colonies grew: (1) Massachusetts, (2) Connecticut, (3) New Hampshire, (4) Rhode Island, (5) New York, (6) New Jersey, (7) Pennsylvania, (8) Maryland, (9) Delaware, (10) Virginia, (11) North Caroling, (12) South Carolina, and (13) Georgia.
All colonies were not of the same pattern. English Quakers and German Evangelical sects lived in Pennsylvania, and in Maryland there was a large population of Roman Catholics, In Massachusetts, Connecticut and other northern colonies of New England, there were puritans. Georgia and Virginia and other southern colonies had large estates producing tobacco and cotton with slave labour.
A new type of English esquires lived here. However, there was a common factor among all colonies. They were all conscious of their ability, self-reliance and strength, and were highly displeased with the mother country.
In the beginning, they had no desire to be completely independent. England was having the last phase of unpopular autocracy. George III committed serious and costly mistakes, which finally led to the loss of the colonies to Britain.
Causes of the War of American Independence:-
We may briefly analyses here the main causes leading to the War Of American Independence (1776-1783).
Colonies had political grievances. Unlike the Spanish, Portuguese and other European colonies, British colonies in America enjoyed a large measure of local autonomy, which created a great spirit of self-reliance and initiative. The diligent and enterprising colonists had established workable political institutions. The success of these institutions gave courage and hope to the colonists, and they did not understand why England should interfere too much in their affairs and deny them what was due to them. In each colony, there was a Legislative Assembly. The salary of the Governor, appointed and sent by England, was sanctioned by the Assembly. The members of the Assembly were elected by the people. It made laws of local importance.
The colonies thus were well versed in the art of running local self-governing institutions. They were prepared to respect and co-operate with England, if the latter could understand their hopes and aspirations. Unfortunately, the stubborn British King George III (1788-1820), handled the colonies with little tact, sympathy and imagination. He could have fully utilized the political experience of the colonies for co-operative efforts instead of wielding the big stick to silence them and prevent them from voicing their grievances.
In the political field, the colonies felt that they were treated as slaves. Their political masters were in England, whose king and parliament gave no political rights to them. Laws applicable to the colonies were passed by the British Parliament in which they had no representation. Colonies resented the enforcement of laws in making which their consent had not been taken. Gradually the desire to have more and more self-government strongly manifested itself.
Economic grievances of the colonies: increased and Britain not only did not do anything significant to redress them but also acted contrary to their economic interests. As in the political field, in the economic field also the colonies had gained much experience. The colonists were hardworking, ambitious,and through agriculture and industry they were becoming more and more prosperous. They felt they should enjoy the fruits of their labour, and England should not do anything to injure their interests. Here again, George III and members of the British Parliament thinking like him did not realize that economically also the colonies could. stand on their own feet, and it was advisable to deal with economic matters with tact, sympathy and understanding.
The main reason for enmity between Britain and her colonies in America in the economic sphere was the belief in England that the colonies existed for the economic benefit of the mother country, and they should shape their economy in a subservient capacity. British rulers failed to move with the times and refused to read the writing on the wall that if they tried to harm the economic interests of the colonies they would spoil the relations between England and the colonies. Colonies made it clear that they would retaliate, if injustice was done to them.
In spite of knowing the angry mood of the colonies, Britain handled the economic problems with a spirit of arrogance, which was resented by the colonies. The British Parliament passed legislation, making it clear that England was bent upon exploiting the colonies without taking them into her confidence.
Unpopular Navigation Acts:
England guided by the mercantilism principles had passed in the 17th century a series of acts to regulate the trade and commerce of the colonies beyond the seas. These were known as the Navigation Acts. These aimed more at ensuring the profit of England than at protecting the interests of the colonists. Under these Acts, England developed shipping as her monopoly by forcing the colonies to export goods only through British ships, even though they could engage French and Dutch ships, whose charges were lower than those of the British. It was stipulated that the colonies should sell certain goods only to Britain and to no other country. Certain types of commodities were to be dispatched to England first, and from there they were to be exported to other countries. The shipping restrictions caused great loss and irritation to the colonies, and they did not understand why they should indefinitely submit themselves to the unjust Navigation Acts. The argument that these Acts were passed to protect British shipping and to curb French and Dutch shipping did not cut much ice in the long run, as it was clear that English shipping concerns were making money at cost of the colonies.
Protection to British Industry:
England passed laws to protect British industries and weaken those of the colonies. The colonies were legally prevented from manufacturing goods, which might hit against British industry. They were not to manufacture cloth, woolen fabrics and hats, which were being produced in England.
Imposition of Customs Duties:
Customs duties were imposed i in the colonies. Certain goods which were exported and certain goods which were imported by the colonies were subject to duties. Under the Sugar Act, 1764 a duty was imposed on sugar and some other goods imported by the colonies.
In the early days, England did not enforce the Navigation Acts Very rigidly, and the resentment against them was not much. Then again, they did not mind sending some types of goods to England only, because she was the biggest buyer of colonial commodities.
But in course of time other European countries also expressed a strong demand for American goods at favourable prices, and the British colonies felt it was unfair to ask them to sell their goods to England alone. Colonies desired to compete in the European markets, and hence wished to keep their prices down by shipping goods directly to Europe in ships charging the lowest rates instead of sending goods through British ships to Europe via England.
The Stamp Act:
The Stamp Act, 1765 required all legal documents in the colonies to carry a revenue stamp. The colonists angrily protested. Protest resolutions were passed by the Colonial Assemblies, and the delegates from nine out of the thirteen colonies who met at New York appealed to the British King to repeal the Act. In the British Parliament, liberal members like William Pitt and Edmund Burke criticized the Stamp Act as an unwise and provocative measure and urged for its repeal. Consequently the Act was repealed in 1767.
But Parliament showed an utter lack of imagination by passing a law upholding its legal right to tax the colonies. This removed whatever grace was shown in the repeal of the Stamp Act.
In 1767 by the Townshend Acts, tea, glass and paper were taxed, But when there was great agitation, taxes were withdrawn in 1769, But a nominal tax on tea was continued to proclaim England right to fax.
Writs of Assistance:
Under George III, orders were issued to enforce the laws of England strictly. This was highly resented. Till then goods could be smuggled at night at secluded places for evading payment of duties. But when the officers of the Crown obtained Writs of Assistance from the courts giving them authority to raid houses and ships for conducting inquiry about taxable goods,the colonies were angry.
England’s Victory in the Seven Years War:
Strangely England’s victory in the Seven Years War (1756-17 63), proved to be a curse as far as British control over the colonies was concerned. AS long as the colonies were threatened by the French they needed British military protection, and they would not go too far in protesting against. England But the surrender of France removed the French menace, which was the main threat to the colonies which took the full advantage of their new security. The colonies felt now it was no more profitable for them to be in the British empire.
The British finances were heavily strained in the war, and victory, which brought gain of territory, had cost much. In England itself, people were taxed heavily. Even the glass panes of doors and windows were taxed. Undoubtedly England had spent heavily in de fending the colonies, and she was right and reasonable, when she said that the colonies should share the defense burden.
Unfortunately even a good and just cause was spoilt by the tactless manner in which it was sought to be tackled. England claimed the right of taxing colonies, while the colonies reacted angrily saying, No taxation without representation. The colonies said that the consent of their representatives, who should be given seats in the British Parliament, should be taken. Practically speaking, it would not have been possible for the colonists to send their representatives to England over such a vast distance. But England could have taken the Colonial Assemblies into confidence and conceded the principle that these Assemblies alone had the right to tax the colonists. A serious clash arose because each side stubbornly refused to budge an inch.
Stubborn Attitude of George III:
The stubborn attitude of George III and his advisers was primarily responsible for the American Revolution. When he came to the throne in 1760, it was clear that he would like to rule like the absolute monarchs of Europe. He claimed it as his right to govern the colonies as he pleased, and never tried to understand and solve the problems of the colonies. With a little understanding and sympathy, and with a genuine desire to be fair and accommodation, the war could have been averted. As George III became more and more obdurate, the colonies were more and more determined to retaliate and ultimately be completely independent.
The psychological factor played an important role in the American Revolution. Colonists in the second half of the 18th century were quite different from those who had just gone to Antarctica for permanent settlement. A new mood was evident in America, and the colonies felt hurt when they felt that they were being insulted and bullied into submission by the government of the mother country. England should have done everything to erase the feeling that Englishmen at home were superior to their brethren in the colonies. According to a law, English officers against whom criminal charges were leveled were to be tried in England, where, the Colonists felt, there was the possibility of showing favoritism. In England, people had made it clear that there should be no taxation Without representation and grievances should be redressed before Money was voted. The colonists claimed for themselves nothing more than what the Englishmen at home had secured. But they were not given their rights, and England followed a double standard one for the people of the mother country and another for those in the colonies, Had the rules of England taken the trouble to understand the psychological factor, a revolution could have been avoided.
Vast Distance between England and America:
The vast distance between England and America was an additional hurdle, making it more difficult to solve the outstanding matters of dispute between the mother country and the colonies.
With England unsympathetic attitude, war was inevitable. In 1767 England had passed the Quartering Act, which authorized the stationing of soldiers in America for enforcing very strictly the various laws. The army, which the colonists regarded as a foreign one, was an eyesore to them. It provoked the colonists, and there were frequent clashes between law-breakers and law-enforcers. Anger and suspicion filled the air, when a few colonists died in clashes. Even at this stage, England could have followed the policy of conciliation. But George III used the match stick to set the powder keg ablaze instead of pouring oil on troubled waters.
Boston Tea Party:
In 1773, an unusual type of tea party took place, when a ship loaded with tea arrived at the Boston harbor. The angry agitators, who disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians, boarded the ships and threw tile boxes of tea into the ocean. The Boston Tea Party showed that the Americans had reached the point of no return. But it must be noted that it took another three years for the actual war to break out. During the interval of three years, England could have taken steps to save her empire in America. But George III and his shortsighted advisers were in no mood to give adequate concessions to the colonists and show the spirit of true statesmanship.
Closure of Boston Port:
The British Parliament acted swiftly and firmly by ordering the closure of the Boston Port to commerce. The Charter of 1774 of Massachusetts was annulled, and the colony was placed under the direct control of England.
Declaration of Rights:
Representatives of all the colonies except Georgia met at the First Continental Congress which was held on 15th September 1774 at Prudence Hall, New York, to affirm that colonies could not be taxed without their consent. The Continental Congress prepared the famous document, the Declaration of Rights (1774). It is significant to note that emphasis was on just rights and liberties, and there was no reference to any intention to declare complete independence. However, the atmosphere became tense and vitiated, when frequent clashes between the colonists and the British army took please at Concord and Lexington.
Course of the War:-
The inevitable War of Independence actually broke out on April 19, 1775 at Concord, Lexington and Massachusetts.
Patriots, Loyalists and Neutralists:
All colonists did not favor a war. In fact colonists could be divided into three categories :
- Patriots, who were against Britain and were ready for fighting and making sacrifice for liberty.
- Loyalists, who supported England.
- Neutralists, who took no side, but were indifferent-to the great developments.
Declaration of Independence:
On 10th May, 1775, the Second Continental Congress was held at Philadelphia. This Congress was compelled to react strongly against George III, who had proclaimed, that the colonists were rebels, when they had appealed for a peaceful solution. It appointed George Washington as the Commander-in-Chief. A committee consisting of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and other eminent leaders, drew up the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted by the Congress on 4th July, 1776, It declared. These United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, five and independent states. The document containing a momentous declaration ranks among the most important documents of the world. It marked the birth of the United States of America as an independent nation.
Ready for Sacrifice:
The colonists could not sit idle after adopting the declaration. They had to back it by swift military actior, The flaming zeal of the colonists was prepared for any sacrifice, and they held that no Price would be too high for complete independence.
Need of Foreign Help:
The colonists were fully aware of their limitations and weaknesses, which they wished to make up by seeking tid from foreign countries. Regarding foreign aid, however, opinion Was sharply divided. Many colonists feared that European powers Willing to give aid to them might play mischief and try to take undue advantage of their difficulties. It was also feared by some that all Yolonies might not continue united action, and some might even betray others, leaving them in an awkward situation, Finally the Congress sent its representatives including Benjamin Franklin to negotiate in Europe with France, Spain and Holland, who as foes of England Might welcome the opportunity of helping the colonists against England. The move for foreign aid was successful, and colonists received help in terms of men, money and munitions. The Americans were supported on the battle-field by the French,the Dutch and the Spaniards.
The war, which continued for 8 years, was indeed a great challenge to the manhood of America. In the initial, stages, while the enthusiasm of the colonists was great, the results were depressingly poor. They were defeated at Brandy wine and Germantown and had a serious setback. But George Washington led them correctly and courageously.
The victory of the colonists at Saratoga in eastern New York in October revived their morale. This also prompted the French to promise help in men and munitions in 1778. France, which had lost her possessions to Britain in India and Canada, had – some hope of recovering what was lost by helping the colonists, In 1779 Spain also joined with the same hope of recovering Florida, Minorca in the Mediterranean and Gibraltar. England’s great trade rival Holland also came on the American side.
The British commander-in-chief, Cornwallis, surrendered completely to Washington and his French allies at York Town and Virginia in October 1781. This great victory brought complete independence withing sight.
Untenable Position of England:
England’s position became awkward and untenable, as all the odds went against her. When England declared war on Holland, the countries of Russia, Denmark and Sweden declared an armed Neutrality. The fear that they might actually declare war was great discouraging factor for England. To worsen England position, a revolt was about to break out in Ireland.
England had to face not only the problem created by the colonists but also those created by their allies, the French, the Dutch and the Spaniards in three continent. America, Europe and India in Asia, In England itself, the stand of the government was exposed to severe criticizer by outstanding liberal leaders like Edmund Burke, Charles James Fox and William Pitt, the Elder, who sympathized With the aspirations of the colonists.
Independence Granted by the Treaty of Paris:
The war came to a close with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in September 1783. England granted complete independence to the colonies and the birth of the United States of America took place in the comity of nations.
Causes of England’s Defeat:
We may briefly summaries the causes of England’s defeat.
- The colonists were fighting; in their own country, while the British had to cross the Atlantic to reach America, where they were surrounded by hostile elements.
- They were led wisely by men of great stature like George Washington.
- They were prepared for any sacrifice, and they fought recklessly in the teeth of tremendous odds.
- They received invaluable moral and material help from foreign countries like France, Spain and Holland which brought about a great set-back for England. England was unable to cope with the dangers on different war fronts.
- England did not have in power wise leaders, who could realize that their cause was weak and not fully just. Burke, Fox and Pitt the Elder criticized the British Government and demoralized it to some extent.
- The colonies had a fighting spirit, a great fund of self-reliance, material prosperity and political and. constitutional experience.
A brief reference has to be made to the greatness of the greatest leader, politician, statesman and general of the American revolutionaries, George Washington (1732-1799). He was the son of Augustine Washington, a planter, who died before he was 12 years old.
He had participated i in the Seven Years War (1756-1763) against France, and won laurels as a leader in frontier warfare.
He had served as an elected member of the Virginian Assembly and was the President of the-meeting, which decided by votes that Virginia should fight against England on behalf of the colonists.
The Americans respected him for his extraordinary integrity and ability, and at the second Continental Congress in 1775 he was chosen commander-in-chief of the revolutionary army. As the leader of armies, he showed great sagacity, courage and determination and guided his people to ultimate victory. A small leader would have failed When the morale of the revolutionaries after initial defeats was at & low ebb, Shortage of food, clothes and footwear, biting cold, quarrels and many other problem would have driven any other commander in chief to accept defeat.
Americans loved their tall, handsome and strongly built hero, who was free from vulgarity, narrow mindedness, superstitions and prejudices, and racial bias. His integrity, devotion to duty, and patriotism became proverbial.
He had the honor of becoming the first elected President of America under the Federal Constitution of 1787. The accepted the high office not because he loved power, but because he had opportunities to serve his nation. Unanimously elected, he entered office on April 30, 1789 and served two terms, and refused to have a third.
He lived for 3 years in retirement and died in 1799 at his estate amid the mild concerns of ordinary life.
Importance of the War and Its Effects:-
The study of the American Revolution has a significant place in world history. In a way the American Revolution was projection of the Glorious Revolution of England (1688). It amplified further the principles of freedom expressed by the English people in their own country, while England was trying to dominate over the colonies. The results of the revolution emphasis its tremendous importance.
The Emergence of a New Nation and a New Force:
The end of the American Revolution marked the emergence of a new force released by freedom loving people in world history. It was the first successful revolution on a large scale against a powerful country for the achievement of liberty. The international scene underwent a great change after the revolution. The world witnessed the emergence of a fully independent nation, which fought for great and noble ideals.
Inspiration to other Countries:
America’s example was a great source of inspiration to other countries struggling for their rights and liberties. Americans showed how to evolve great principles and ideals, and how to fight bravely to reach them. In about six years after the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1783), the French inspired by the Americans staged a great revolution for realizing liberty, equality and fraternity. The countries of the East, which were under the heavy heel of imperialism, considered the revolution as good lesson for them.
Moral and Material Set-back for Britain:
Britain stood exposed before the world-as a country which had denied legitimate rights to a freedom-loving people. Her defeat brought about a moral and material set-back for Britain. The drawbacks of George III government were fully revealed, and he lost a big chunk of empire in America. To the British imperialists nothing was so bad as the loss of America.
Set-back for Absolute Monarchy:
The victory of America Was a set-back for absolute monarchy. All absolute monarchs had to that the writing on the wall that they would not be allowed to rule absolutely and oppressively for an indefinite period.
Bad Effects on France and Spain:
Though France and Spain had Joined the American side with the hope of recovering what they had lost earlier to Britain, they were disappointed by the effects of the war. During the war, England defeated and destroyed the Spanish and the French fleets. France was hit more than Spain. The French king realized that the infection of revolution had come to France, and the French people were provoked to rise against him. Before long, the French king had to regret for having helped the Americans, as it proved to be a foolish act of cutting the nose to spite the cheek, The war not only shattered French naval power, but also left France on the verge of bankruptcy.
Democracy, Freedom and Nationalism Upheld:
The American Revolution upheld the forces of freedom, nationalism and democracy. The slogans of the Americans No taxation without representation and Give me liberty or give me death did not fail to influence the minds of people all over the world. Democracy was upheld against autocracy, Justice against exploitation, and nationalism against divisive forces.
Lessons in Constitution-Making:
The framers of the American constitution gave practical lessons in constitution-making. They overthrew monarchy and established a republic. They framed a federal constitution with the principle of separation of powers and the system of checks and balances, and experimented successfully on a large scale. Americans developed political institutions quite different from those of Britain. Monarchy, unwritten constitution, the unitary system, the system of titles, and parliamentary democracy found in Britain, the United States of America avoided. America adopted the presidential system, a written constitution, a set of written rights, and federalism. The abolition of hereditary aristocracy and titles, and the separation of Church and state are very praiseworthy achievements of Americans.
New Attitude of Britain:
The War of American Independence made Britain change her attitude towards the colonies. England learnt that colonies like ripe fruits were bound to fall in the long run, and it was not advisable to show the mailed fist, where silken gloves were to be used. To some extent at least, England’s attitude towards her colonies in Asia and Africa changed in the light of the results of the American Revolution.