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Why did the colonists rebel and the British resist? Previous Next
Digital History ID 3216


The British Crown misunderstood that the colonists increasingly saw themselves as a separate people, due to their own voice in their own affairs. A series of British political missteps, outright blunders, and heavy-handedness stirred the colonists to become patriots. By 1776, a growing number of Americans, including George Washington, were convinced that Britain was embarked on a systematic plan to strip them of their property and reduce them to slavery.

At the same time, Britain feared that if it lost the American colonies, it would lose the entire British Empire. In 1776, Britain did not have 13 New World colonies, it had 30. The American Revolution raised the specter of the loss of Ireland and the British West Indies.

The Complexity of the American Revolution

A defining characteristic of the American Revolution is its complexity. The American war for independence was partly a product of the colonists' sense of a distinctive identity as inhabitants of a republican society. But the revolution also helped to nurture a sense of a uniquely American identity. The Revolution was a colonial war for independence, but it was also a struggle over "who would rule at home."

The struggle for American independence was led by prominent lawyers, merchants, and planters. But the Revolution's success ultimately depended on the willingness of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans to risk their lives and economic well-being in the patriot cause. The Revolution represented a conservative effort to preserve liberties that British policies seemed to threaten. But the Revolution was accompanied by social and intellectual transformations that fundamentally altered the nature of American politics and involved ordinary people in politics to an unprecedented degree.

The Revolution was truly multifaceted. There was a rebellion of the colonial gentry against British aristocrats who refused to accept them as equals and who viewed them with condescension. There was also a rebellion by merchants and shippers who chafed at British trade restrictions and royal monopolies. There was a conservative revolution, which sought to defend traditional liberties against British encroachments. There was a radical revolution, inspired by the call for liberty and equality in the Declaration of Independence, which sought to create a society that could serve as a model of freedom for the rest of the world.

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