The American Revolution
Episode #1 of the course Revolutions that changed the world by James Wareing
Welcome to my course on revolutions that have changed the world. My name is James. Having studied classics at university, I have a strong passion for history, particularly the lessons that can be learned from past events. Over the course of these lessons, I will demonstrate the significance of revolutions and why they are so powerful in driving social and political change.
The American Revolution sparked the birth of what is now the dominant power in global society and politics, spawned from arguably the holder of that title in the 18th century. America was a colony of Great Britain, part of its growing empire, but the revolution set about a course of events that ultimately led to America surpassing Great Britain in the world order.
What Caused the Revolution?
The Revolution began in 1775, but the seeds of discontent had been sown years before. Britain often used their colonies as a way of raising revenue through taxes, the imposition of which the colony had no form of control over. These taxes were largely to pay for expensive wars against France and India, something the Americans felt that they were helping fund with minimal benefit to themselves.
In 1775, in Boston, tensions were rising between the Americans and the British. To quell the potential violence, the British decided to seize weapons from the munitions store in Concord. The army clashed with the locals, sparking the beginning of the revolutionary war. The firing that announced the start of the war was later dubbed “the shot that rang around the world.” The first major battle was the Battle of Bunker Hill. The Americans had formed an army of their own, the Continental Army, which was led by George Washington. The British suffered significant losses at the battle compared to the Americans, who continued thereafter to apply pressure on the British as their forces grew.
By the following year, the Continental Army forced the British to leave Boston, and they managed to repel attempted coastal invasions. On July 4th, Congress voted in favor of a Declaration of Independence. This declaration was certainly not going to be recognized by the British, who did not want to give up the valuable colony without a fight. As well as the financial loss, it would also potentially embolden other parts of its empire to rise up against the colonialists, a worrying prospect for the British government.
The British fought back, defeating the Continental Army in New York and gaining a strong foothold on American soil once more. This set them up for an advance that saw them capturing Philadelphia and upstate New York. However, there was a dramatic turning point at the two battles of Saratoga. The Continental Army forced the surrender of the British forces, which was not only significant from a military standpoint but also because it brought France into the war, in support of the Americans.
The French support upped the scale of the war, and the fighting continued until 1781. Eventually, the Continental Army and the French won a key battle at Yorktown, where the British forces surrendered. From this point onward, the battles were reduced to skirmishes, as the British realized it was a war they could not win. They signed peace terms in Paris in 1783 with the Americans, which officially recognized the Americans as independent.
What Happened Next?
By 1789, the American Constitution had been written, and George Washington became the first President of the United States of America. Liberty and democracy became the cornerstones of American society, principles that were reflected in the French Revolution, further strengthening the ties between the two countries. The principle of liberty also had an impact on the slaves in America. Many in the northern parts of America were freed and went on to play significant roles in society. However, in the South, slavery continued despite the egalitarian societal changes. For Britain, the financial costs of the war were great. However, they soon recovered and continued to expand their empire and play a leading role in curtailing the military advances of the French emperor, Napoleon, demonstrating its continued force around the world.
How Is It Viewed Today?
In America, the Revolution is viewed with great pride and is recognized every year on July 4th. It is taught widely throughout America and is seen as the starting point for the freedoms and values that the country cherishes today. An interesting parallel can be drawn with the teaching of the Revolution to the rest of the world, in particular, the UK. In the UK, it is not only taught far less, but the focus is also more on its similarity to the philosophical ideas of the French Revolution as opposed to the impacts on the empire.
Tomorrow’s lesson takes us across the Atlantic to France, where revolutionary fervor was just as strong.
These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore
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