In this article, I want to walk you through the American Revolution for UPSC, the causes of the American Revolution and the effects of the American revolution.
Enlightenment ideas helped spur the American colonies to shed British rule and create a new nation.
The revolution created a republic, the United States of America that became a model for many nations of the world.
Background of the American Revolution
Philosophes such as Voltaire considered England’s government the most progressive in Europe. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 had given England a constitutional monarchy. In essence, this meant that various laws limited the power of the English king. Despite the view of the philosophes, however, a growing number of England’s colonists in North America accused England of tyrannical rule. Emboldened by Enlightenment ideas, they would attempt to overthrow what was then the mightiest power on earth and create their nation.
The American Revolution, which took place between 1765 and 1783, was a political upheaval during which colonists in the Thirteen North American Colonies of Great Britain rejected the British monarchy, overthrew the authority of Great Britain, won political independence and went on to form the United States of America. The American Revolution was the result of a series of social, political, and intellectual transformations in American society, government and ways of thinking.
Enlightenment: John Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquiew
- Man of free in the state of nature
- the reason why the state was divided as an institution, was to protect the life, liberty and property of individuals.
- Locke also emphasized that humans born with these pre-existing natural rights.
- Locke also questioned the divine right to rule of the nobility
- French philosopher
- Social contract theory
- Rousseau stated that the subjects of a state voluntarily choose to appoint an authority to govern them.
- Social contract exist b/w the subjects(people) and the ruler that they appoint to ensure their welfare
- failure on part of the state/ruler to obey the social contract could result in to overthrow of the ruler by the subjects.
- Basically argued that the source of all evil in the European society was the Church
- He argued for limiting the role of the church to religious affairs
- and No interference in political and economic matters of state.
- argued that the source of evil in European society was the concentration of too much power in a single authority
- he argued for the separation of executive, legislative, and judicial powers and the need to vest them in different authorities, who could exercise a check on each other.
Colonization of America in the 1600s
The famous European explorers came from England, Spain, Italy, Portugal and France – Refer to the French in America and the Spanish in America. The voyages(a long journey involving travel by sea) of the first explorers and the countries of Europe were motivated by various reasons, the foremost being to build great empires – which led to the colonization of America. The other reasons were as follows:
- Increased Power in Europe
- Wealth – gold, silver, spices and the raw materials of new lands
- Opportunities for trade
- Spreading the Christian Religion – refer to Religion in the Colonies
The 1600s saw the first era of the Colonization of America which was mainly undertaken by England and France and to a minor extent by the Netherlands and Sweden. The first 13 Colonies were established consisting of Delaware, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts Bay Colony (which included Maine), New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The story of the Colonization of America starts and ends, at this point in time.
Series of events to leading to the American Revolution
Political Structure in Colonies
Along with increasing population and prosperity, a new sense of identity was growing in the colonists’ minds. By the mid-1700s, colonists had been living in America for nearly 150 years. Each of the 13 colonies had its government, and people were used to a great degree of independence. Colonists saw themselves less as British and more as Virginians or Pennsylvanians. However, they were still British subjects and were expected to obey British law.
In 1651, the British Parliament passed a trade law called the Navigation Act. This and subsequent trade laws prevented colonists from selling their most valuable products to any country except Britain. Also, colonists had to pay high taxes on imported French and Dutch goods.
Nonetheless, Britain’s policies benefited both the colonies and the motherland. Britain bought American raw materials for low prices and sold manufactured goods to the colonists. And despite various British trade restrictions, colonial merchants also thrived. Such a spirit of relative harmony, however, soon would change.
Seven-year War or French and Indian War
The Seven Years’ War was a global conflict fought between 1756 and 1763. It involved every European great power of the time and spanned five continents, affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines.
The conflict split Europe into two coalitions, led by the Kingdom of Great Britain (including Prussia, Portugal, Hanover, and other small German states) on one side and the Kingdom of France (including the Austrian-led Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire, Bourbon Spain, and Sweden) on the other.
Meanwhile, in India, some regional polities within the increasingly fragmented Mughal Empire, with the support of the French, tried to crush a British attempt to conquer Bengal. The war’s extent has led some historians to describe it as “World War Zero”, similar in scale to other world wars.
In 1754, war erupted on the North American continent between the English and the French. As you recall, the French had also colonized parts of North America throughout the 1600s and 1700s. The conflict was known as the French and Indian War. (The name stems from the fact that the French enlisted numerous Native American tribes to fight on their side.) The fighting lasted until 1763, when Britain and her colonists emerged victorious—and seized nearly all French land in North America.
No Taxation without Representation
The victory, however, only led to growing tensions between Britain and its colonists. To fight the war, Great Britain had run up a huge debt. Because American colonists benefited from Britain’s victory, Britain expected the colonists to help pay the costs of the war.
In 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act. According to this law, colonists had to pay a tax to have an official stamp put on wills, deeds, newspapers, and other printed material.
American colonists were outraged. They had never paid taxes directly to the British government before. Colonial lawyers argued that the stamp tax violated colonists’ natural rights, and they accused the government of “taxation without representation.” In Britain, citizens consented to taxes through their representatives in Parliament. The colonists, however, had no representation in Parliament. Thus, they argued they could not be taxed.
Boston Tea Party
Growing Hostility Leads to War Over the next decade, hostilities between the two sides increased. Some colonial leaders favored independence from Britain. In 1773, to protest an import tax on tea, a group of colonists dumped a large load of British tea into Boston Harbour. George III, infuriated by the “Boston Tea Party,” as it was called, ordered the British navy to close the port of Boston.
First Continental Congress
Such harsh tactics by the British made enemies of many moderate colonists. In September 1774, representatives from every colony except Georgia gathered in Philadelphia to form the First Continental Congress. This group protested the treatment of Boston. When the king paid little attention to their complaints, the colonies decided to form the Second Continental Congress to debate their next move.
Second Continental Congress
On April 19, 1775, British soldiers and American militiamen exchanged gunfire on the village green in Lexington, Massachusetts. The fighting spread to nearby Concord. The Second Continental Congress voted to raise an army and organize for battle under the command of a Virginian named George Washington. The American Revolution had begun.
Causes of the war of Americal independence
- The England economic policies towards colonies of America did not allow them to develop an economy of their own. This was the primary cause of resentment in the American colonies.
- The parliament of England had forbidden the colonists to use the ships other than from England.
- Products like cotton, sugar, and tobacco could be exported only to England.
- The goods imported from other places into the colonies were imposed heavy import duties.
- The colonies were not allowed to start modern industries like iron and steel, textile, etc.
- The colonies were forced to import these industrial goods from England.
- In a nut-shell trade and industrialization of colonies was impeded.
The Land Rents
The English aristocrats bought land to the west of colonies. And they got rents from farmers who cultivated the lands and also issued a proclamation to prevent colonists from moving west into new lands. This move angered the colonists.
The British government responded by passing several Acts which came to be known as the Intolerable Acts, which further darkened colonial opinion towards the British.
They consisted of five laws enacted by the British parliament:
- The Massachusetts Government Act altered the Massachusetts charter and restricted town meetings.
- The Administration of Justice Act, ordered that all British soldiers to be tried in Britain, not in the colonies. It put an end to the constitution of Massachusetts.
- The Boston Port Act, which closed the port of Boston until the British had been compensated for the tea lost in the Boston Tea Party.
- The Quartering Act, which allowed royal governors to house British troops in the homes of citizens without requiring permission of the owner.
- The Quebec Act was designed to extend the boundaries of Quebec and guaranteed religious freedom to Catholic Canadians.
The Influence of the Enlightenment
Colonial leaders used Enlightenment ideas to justify independence. The colonists had asked for the same political rights as people in Britain, they said, but the king had stubbornly refused. Therefore, the colonists were justified in rebelling against a tyrant who had broken the social contract.
In July 1776, the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence. This document, written by political leader Thomas Jefferson was firmly based on the ideas of John Locke and the Enlightenment.
Thomas Paine forcefully supported the independence of colonies, who detested the inequalities of English society, and had come to America. In a pamphlet entitled Common Sense, he wrote, ‘It was repugnant to reason to suppose that this continent can longer remain subject to any external power…there is something absurd in supposing a Continent to be perpetually governed by an island’.
The philosophies of other English philosophers— Locke, Harrington, Milton—believed that men had certain fundamental rights which no government had the right to infringe, had been the source of inspiration for the revolution.
The War of Independence
The British were not about to let their colonies leave without a fight. Shortly after the publication of the Declaration of Independence, the two sides went to war. At first glance, the colonists seemed destined to go down in quick defeat. Washington’s ragtag, poorly trained army faced the well-trained forces of the most powerful country in the world. In the end, however, the Americans won their war for independence.
George Washington was put in command of the American forces. The first battles took place in and around Boston. Then English sent a force to Canada with the plan to march it south to meet another English force, and so cut the American colonies in half.
Several reasons explain the colonists’ success. First, the Americans’ motivation for fighting was much stronger than that of the British, since their army was defending their homeland.
Second, the overconfident British generals made several mistakes.
Third, time itself was on the side of the Americans. The British could win battle after battle, as they did, and still lose the war. Fighting an overseas war, 3,000 miles from London, was terribly expensive. After a few years, tax-weary British citizens called for peace.
Finally, the Americans did not fight alone. Louis XVI of France had little sympathy for the ideals of the American Revolution. However, he was eager to weaken France’s rival, Britain. French entry into the war in 1778 was decisive. In 1781, combined forces of about 9,500 Americans and 7,800 French trapped a British army commanded by Lord Cornwallis near Yorktown, Virginia. Unable to escape, Cornwallis eventually surrendered. The Americans had shocked the world and won their independence.
Two years later, in 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed and the English recognized the independence of its 13 former colonies.
Americans Create a Republic
Shortly after declaring their independence, the 13 individual states recognized the need for a national government. As victory became certain, all 13 states ratified a constitution in 1781. This plan of government was known as the Articles of Confederation. The Articles established the United States as a republic, a government in which citizens rule through elected representatives.
A Weak National Government
To protect their authority, the 13 states created a loose confederation in which they held most of the power. Thus, the Articles of Confederation deliberately created a weak national government. There were no executive or judicial branches. Instead, the Articles established only one body of government, the Congress. Each state, regardless of size, had one vote in Congress. Congress could declare war, enter into treaties, and coin money. It had no power,
however, to collect taxes or regulate trade. Passing new laws was difficult because laws needed the approval of 9 of the 13 states.
A New Constitution
Colonial leaders eventually recognized the need for a strong national government. In February 1787, Congress approved a Constitutional Convention to revise the Articles of Confederation. The Constitutional Convention held its first session on May 25, 1787. The 55 delegates were experienced statesmen who were familiar with the political theories of Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau.
The Federal System
Like Montesquieu, the delegates distrusted a powerful central government controlled by one person or group. They, therefore, established three separate branches—legislative, executive, and judicial. This setup provided a built-in system of checks and balances, with each branch checking the actions of the other two. For example, the president received the power to veto legislation passed by Congress. However, the Congress could override a presidential veto with the approval of two-thirds of its members.
The Bill of Rights
Congress formally added to the Constitution the ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights. These amendments protected such basic rights as freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion. Many of these rights had been advocated by Voltaire, Rousseau, and Locke.
Impact of the American Revolution
The American defeat of a mighty empire like Britain encouraged other colonies to do the same.
French rebels in 1789 fought in defense of “Liberty Equality, and Fraternity”, French revolutionaries repeated the principles of the American Declaration of Independence.
In Ireland, many people believed that they too could achieve independence from British rule by force of arms. The American Revolution inspired men such as Theobald Wolfe Tone who went on to form the United Irishmen to try to achieve Irish independence in 1798.
Britain’s change in colonial policy — a lesson learned, but just a trifle too late.
The United States of America had an official constitution, or book of rules, on how the country should be governed. It also had a Bill of Rights that guaranteed certain rights and freedoms to its citizens. These documents helped to spread democracy around the world in the next two hundred years.
In the US, the realization that Westward Expansion was now possible altered perceptions from the level of the individual family to National Policy.
The rejection of Aristocracy started a swing between extremes of Privilege and Deification of the Common Man.
- Identity of “American”- individualism; diversity
- No aristocratic titles of nobility
- Social mobility
- Westward migration encouraged
- Separation of church and state
- Issues involving women’s rights and slavery continued
- Increased importance of education to democracy
How did the American Revolution influence the French Revolution?
When American colonists won independence from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, the French, who participated in the war themselves, were both close allies and key participants.
There were similar causes for both revolutions.
- Economic struggles: Both the Americans and the French dealt with a taxation system they found discriminating and unfair. Additionally, France’s involvement in the American Revolution, along with extravagant spending practices by King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, left the country on the verge of bankruptcy.
- Royal absolutism: While colonists revolted against the British monarchy, the French aimed to reform the absolute rule of Louis XVI.
- Unequal rights: Like the American colonists, the French felt that specific rights were only granted to certain segments of society, namely the elite and aristocrats.
- Enlightenment philosophy was a major influence. One key ideological movement, known as Enlightenment, was central to the American uprising. Enlightenment stressed the idea of natural rights and equality for all citizens.