American Revolution or American War of Independence

American Revolution:

The American Revolution was a great event in world history. It proved a greater setback to the policy of mercantilism and colonialism. It was a middle-class revolution. In this revolution not simply the question of independence of American settlements was involved but also it was a direct clash of interests between the middle class of America and the autocratic government of Britain.

This is a matter of controversy was the American War of Independence a war of Independence only or the American Revolution too? According to one view, it was a war of independence as it ensured political freedom to Americans but it was not a revolution for the fact that here we don’t underline that Social Radicalism which we have manifested in the “French Revolution”.

The American continent was discovered by Spain and it was Spain that took the initiative in colonizing America. She became successful in the colonization of Latin America but in Northern America, she turned out to be a failure due to two factors i.e. hostile climatic conditions and resistance from indigenous people. So later the challenge of colonization of this region was taken by countries like Britain, Holland, and France. Britain established its 13 settlements in Northern America.

When we observe the composition of the population in this settlement we find that there was a stratification in American Society. For example, the aristocratic class and the gentry were on the highest ladder of society. Below them there was the middle class, even the middle class was not a monolithic class. But in this group, there were a number of elements such as merchants, smugglers, intellectuals, different professional groups, students, etc. Furthermore, due to the continuous migration from Europe, the population of America was increasing sharply. For example, in the 1740s the population of American settlement was 1 million but it reached up to 4 million in the 1790s. So in one sense, these American Settlements reached up to the point of almost a population explosion. As a result of this, there was continuous pressure for westward expansion and it certainly created some tensions between the metropolitan state and the colony.

American Society was a divided society. Apart from the aristocracy and gentry as well as the middle-class people, there was a substantial population of lower-class people also. The lower class consisted of peasants, artisans, mechanics, etc. Then even below the lower class, there were slaves both African as well as American. Apart from them, there were even white slaves who were brought from Europe as indentured labor.

Two important factors made American Society different from European one.

Firstly, Americans, unlike their ancestors from Europe, were coming from different cultural and ethnic stocks. So unlike Europeans, they were not bound together on the basis of the common parental heritage and tradition rather they were bound together on the basis of their common ideals and common future programme. This phenomenon made Americans more progressive than their European counterparts.

Secondly, America was a continent of plentitude with vast natural resources. This factor made Americans optimistic and ambitious. Furthermore, in American Society, there were a number of factors that encouraged republican ideas. Firstly unlike their European counterparts, American nobles were not enjoying too many privileges. Secondly, Feudalism was almost absent in America. Thirdly, unlike European peasants American peasants had the possession of landed property. Fourthly, the Enlightenment produced a deep Impact on the American mind and lastly, even a religious sect like the Great Awakening (a branch of Christianity) advocated for individual freedom.

But the main reason behind the Independence War of USA was the basic contradiction between British colonial interest and the interest of the American people. In other words, we can say Britain continued the colonial exploitation of American settlements. For example, the British government introduced a number of legislations in the context of the Independence War of USA.

We find that on the basis of the law of 1624 and the Navigation Acts of 1651, 1660, and 1666, the American economy was brought under strict British control. All sorts of imports from and exports to America could be done either through the British ship or through American ships. Furthermore, Britain developed a monopoly over the purchase of important exportable goods like tobacco and rice from America. Likewise, Britain discouraged industrialization in American settlements.

During this period a new phenomenon appeared but it remained to be unnoticed. In fact American settlements were now rising from the status of a colony and they were assuming the character of a nation but Britain was not ready to recognize its new identity. Then a conference of American settlements took place at a place Albani. At this conference, a progressive leader Benjamin Franklin tried to make Britain familiar with the new identity of America but the British government did not pay any heed to it.

Apart from that, even a constitutional matter was involved in the relationship between Britain and America. In Britain, there was a concept of the supremacy of the British Parliament. It is believed that all things including the relationship between Britain and America also was subject to control by the British Parliament but Americans had firm faith in the natural rights of man. So they believed that the British Parliament could not encroach on these rights.

Then if we are going to take a social perspective on this movement, we find that some social groups supported this movement but some others opposed it. It is said that at the news of the Declaration of Independence, crowds gathered to cheer, fire guns and cannons, and ring church bells in Philadelphia, Boston, and other places but there were many people in America who did not rejoice.

When we observe minutely we find that the merchants of North American settlements, smugglers, plantation peasants of Southern American states, intellectuals, students, artisans, and mechanics all favored the American Revolution. In fact, the merchants, even smugglers supported the revolution because they were worst affected due to the strict implementation of the anti-smuggling act. Likewise, plantation peasants favored the revolution because they had already taken the advance money and loans from British merchants so they were hoping in case of the revolution this amount would be forfeited. Furthermore, intellectuals and students supported the American Revolution because they were being inspired by republican ideas and lastly, artisans and mechanics gave their support to the American Revolution as they were badly affected due to the vagaries in the American market.

But a number of social groups even opposed this movement. For example, the members of the aristocratic class opposed the revolution for the fact that they remained a privileged class in the old system while in the new order, they were going to be loser. That’s why 80,000 nobles left America and returned to Britain after this revolution.

Likewise, the peasants of the middle American region were also opposed to the revolution as they were scared about the uncertainties of the new system. Furthermore, the members of the Tory Party were opposed to the revolution as they were the supporter of the British monarchy. Lastly, Red Indians, the indigenous people of America, were quite inimical towards independence of America as they were given protection against white settlers by the British govt.

Whenever we are going to discuss the immediate cause behind the American Revolution, we find that there were two major factors. Firstly, Seven Years War (1756-63) played some role in it. In this war, Britain emerged to be successful against France and she captured Canada. Although American settlements were nourishing some ambition to be independent even earlier but they were not taking the initiative in this direction for fear of being captured by France after this independence. In their estimation definitely, the British were the lesser of the two evils. But after the Seven Years’ War American settlements became free from French danger so now they could think over complete independence. Secondly, before 1765, the Navigation Acts were more on paper than on the real agenda. So it was after 1765 that the Navigation Acts were enforced strictly.

For the sake of convenience, we can divide this period into two phases- The first phase is known as the phase of the American Revolution and it continued between 1762 and 1772. The second phase is known as the phase of the independence movement and it started after 1772. It is said that initially American settlements were seeking for reforms in the relationship between Britain and America but when the British Government did not respond to their demands then they started to think in terms of complete liberation.

American Revolution Impact:

The American Revolution produced a far-reaching impact on America and Europe.

  • Firstly, as a result of this movement, 13 American settlements gained independence.
  • Then American settlements produced the first largest and written constitution in the world and they were organized into a federal structure.

Now, the question arises as the American War of Independence is bereft of social content. On observation, we find that this war of independence had certain limitations from the viewpoint of its impact. For example, Universal Suffrage was not accepted in the American Constitution and with franchise, the property criteria were attached. Secondly, women were not provided the right to Franchise. Likewise, the Declaration of Independence was not applicable in the context of slaves and slaves were not given any sort of right.

But still, we can’t say that the American War of Independence was bereft of social content as it brought substantial social changes. Firstly after independence American settlements adopted a written constitution and republican ideas. They adopted the Bill of Rights accepting basic human rights and individual freedom. After that America became the first nation that provided to its people the right to conscience. Furthermore, after independence in America, the way for the development of a market economy was prepared. Likewise, American independence prepared the way for popular participation in politics. Furthermore, as the result of economic changes the social relation based on the patron-client relationship gave way to the commercial relationship. As a result of this, the hegemony of husband on wife declined. It prepared the way for the liberation of women. Now wife and daughter have property rights. Likewise, the wife has gained the authority to manage the business of her husband in his absence. Furthermore, even the legislation pertaining to divorce was simplified. Although it is true that the liberation of American settlements did not result immediately in the liberation of slaves but it is also true that definitely this liberation movement created a mental climate that led to the liberation of slaves in the future. That’s why we cannot accept the proposition that the Independence War of USA was bereft of social content.

The Independence War of USA had its impact on British society and British policies as well.

American Revolution made a serious jolt to mercantilist policy in Britain and later Britain started to think in terms of free trade. After losing America Britain concentrated on India. So in order to have better control over Indian affairs, the Pitts Indis Act was brought in 1784. Likewise, while learning a lesson from America, Britain modified its policies towards other white-dominated colonies like South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. In fact, Britain learned a lesson that to have efficient economic control, strict political control was not essential. As a result of the liberation of America, monarchial power received a setback in Britain. Then under, the leaders like William Pitt and Fox, the process of democratization of the British parliament started.

We can underline the influence of the American Revolution on European society, particularly in France. We came to know that the American Revolution strengthened the position of the middle class in Europe. It gave support to the French Revolution in two ways-

  • It was due to the participation in the Independence War of USA that the economic condition of France declined sharply and it was in the course of solving this problem the session ‘States General’ was convened in France. That led to the American Revolution.
  • American Revolution gave ideological support to the French Revolution. In one sense it was the ideals of the American Revolution that got reflected in French Revolution.
Important Links:

Ideas and Principles
Negligible Interference by British Government
No Affection for England in the American Colonies
Development of Intellectual Awareness
The Colonists Love for Freedom
Impact of Seven Years War
Economic Exploitation of the Colonies
Greenville Policy
Rockingham Declaratory Act
Townshend Tax Project
Lord North Tea Policy
Intercontinental Conference of the Congress
Declaration of Independence
Independence War of USA Significant Events
Paris Pact September 3, 1783
The Constitution of America
Causes of the Failure of the English
Nature of the Independence War of USA