Once upon a time, in 1765, The British Empire dominated North America, having won Canada from France in the Seven Years' War. However, a series of shifting and thus unresolved issues of authority and administrationnote met with misunderstandings, misjudgments and tragedies which led to most of the colonies of British America forming a loose association, seceding from The Empire, and later declaring themselves the United States of America. In the beginning, maybe a third of the colonists felt this was justified; roughly a fifth never did, and a twentieth left the new country to remain the Crown's loyal subjects in the Great White North, a land which has ever since prided itself upon being even more loyal to His/Her Majesty than Britain herself. This was the American Revolution, the era of King George III of The United Kingdom, General Charles Cornwallis, King Louis XVI of France, General Jean-Baptiste de Vimeur, the Marquis de La Fayette, The Franco-Spanish Armada (which failed, obviously), George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Benedict Arnold, the Boston Massacrenote , the crossing of the Delaware, the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (which was actually a group effort). This war naturally serves as the foundation for America's national myth—a narrative meant to inspire citizens and affirm national values. The reality of the war is a far more complex, divisive, and human tale.
Britain's colonies on the North American mainland were largely patriotic until after the Seven Years' War—which had been fought to defend the country's colonies and trans-Atlantic trade from France. Though the British East India Company's victory over the French East India Company (with the help of royal fleets on both sides) was much more important in the long-term, Britain's sound victory in the Americas had three very important consequences there. First, the seizure and formal concession of French North America (modern Quebec) effectively removed the immediate security threat France had posed to British America. This left the colonists of British America wondering why they should have to support a big army to counter a threat that's no longer needed.
Second, the loss of its colonies was a huge blow to French Royal prestige; granted, Anglo-French relations hadn't been too great beforehand, what with the War of the Spanish Succession and the War of the Austrian Succession, but defeat on this scale made the House of Bourbon willing to pay a very steep price for revenge (just as soon as they weren't broke anymore).
Third, it left the British Crown short of cash; the war had only ended when it did because Britain had been less broke than France because the royal banking system of the latter was kind of a mess. Even so, the cabinet had to conduct an overhaul of the Crown's finances now that they didn't have all those special war-taxes. This meant the cutting of defense expenditure, limited campaigns against governmental corruption, moves to ensure the proper collection of taxes and new laws to close tax loopholes. This led the civil service to reexamine the colonies' fiscal relationship to the crown relative to other possessions. Local elites in the North American colonies worried that this could well mean for the first time the parliamentary introduction of indirect, revenue-raising taxes (tariffs, tolls, licenses etc.) in line with the Caribbean territories and the homeland itself, which would hit themselves hardest of all.
Despite the strong sense of patriotism and loyalty to the Crown that most colonists possessed, many colonists were unhappy with the government. King George III was in many senses the glue that held the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland together. It was to him that every subject pledged their tacit allegiance as one nation under God, regardless of who might actually govern them in day-to-day affairs. But King George was not his government; they were a separate entity, capable of being judged on their own merits. The American British had a somewhat distorted perception of the country's longer-term political issues due to their geographical remoteness and the Gossip Evolution that came with it. In this way, the American British came to perceive the national parliament at Westminster as being hopelessly corrupt and inefficient. And since the colonists had no parliamentary representation of their own (for a whole host of reasons, not the least being royal prerogatives, though primarily because they would have posed a threat to the status quo) there were no American parliamentarians to gainsay this impression.
Complicating things was that much of the American colonial populace was composed of descendants of the so-called religious "dissenters": Puritans, Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, and dozens of other small denominations who'd come to America to escape the iron hand that the Church of England had upon public life and where they were often prohibited from owning land or practicing professions.note Most common in northeastern colonies known as New England, these groups (collectively known as "Congregationalists") had spent nearly two centuries of mostly benign neglect developing their local political institutions. And as the name suggests, these institutions naturally grew out of the direct democracy inherent in the congregational nature of their worship, although Church of England-dominated Virginia possessed the oldest of the colonial legislatures. The upshot of this was that many colonists felt reluctant to follow the laws and policies set down by the Cabinet, despite being fairly co-operative with their own home-grown charter-based (often unacknowledged by the crown, and thus not strictly legal) local assemblies. This belief in superiority of local representation was to prove to be the true sticking point. It effectively meant that while the colonists had no parliamentary representation of their own—despite accounting for perhaps a fifth of the population of the British Empire by this point in time, they had no Members of Parliament representing them. By comparison, Scotland, a less populous region, had dozens.
Since the signing of the Magna Carta, it had been the right of all Englishmen to be represented before the King in Parliament, through which all laws were passed and by which all taxes had to be approved. Just a century ago, the English Civil War (which deeply involved all three kingdoms, and killed maybe 2% of their total population) had started when King Charles I had tried to collect taxes outside of Parliament and ended years after his execution at their hands. Parliament later invited his son to become King and rule with their consent. More recently still, when another King started looking a bit too Catholic, Parliament invited a Dutchman (William of Orange) to take the Crown. He did so without too much fuss in what came to be known as 'The Glorious Revolution'. Long story short: by popular belief, the King ruled only with the consent of Parliament—and by extension, the people. And since the Cabinet and Parliament wielded the King's powers on his behalf (the "royal prerogative"), they ought to do the same in ruling with the consent of the people. In attempting to collect taxes from subjects who were not represented by Parliament, Cabinet was both exceeding its authority and (by omission and trying to render local institutions irrelevant) denying His Majesty's subjects their constitutional right to have a say in how they were governed. The phrase "no taxation without representation" started appearing in the colonies (with James Otis of Boston famously stating "taxation without representation is tyranny") by 1765. (By the time the Carlisle Peace Commission of 1778 actually offered colonists a voice in Parliament, it had been far too late.)
Compounding this were administrative issues. Westminster had assumed a largely hands-off policy in regards to the colonies prior to the Seven Years War. Since the beginnings of British colonization the Crown had subsidized the colonies and protected them, but had little to do with their day-to-day affairs and had been largely content to let them manage themselves. The Government was far more interested in the sugar-rich islands of the Caribbean: they were not only three times wealthier than the entire North American colonies, but easier to tax as well, due not just to their smaller size but to a stronger military presence stemming from the proximity of French and Spanish interlopers.
Finally, there were competing commercial interests. Like all empires, the British had an interest in routing as much trade as possible through English ports under a policy known as mercantilism. The mercantilists sought to prohibit local manufacture: Colonies were supposed to supply raw material, not competition. Similarly, trade directly between colonies was actively discouraged. This ensured that taxes, tariffs and duties were assessed and the maximum commercial benefit accrued while also insuring that the colonies remained dependent upon the mother country. And, truth be told, it also allowed for a certain amount of graft, corruption, skimming off the top, and restraint of trade in the form of monopolies, patents, and licenses, all of which required influence at court or bribery to obtain. Unfortunately, this policy, while attractive on paper, ignored the simple reality that prevailing winds made sailing along the North American coast a lot easier than voyaging across the North Atlantic. Faced with the prospect of forking much of their profit over to British middlemen (assuming they even had the time, influence, or bribe money to get the required licenses) most American merchants became smugglers by default. And—in for a penny, in for a pound—smuggling within the western hemisphere inevitably led to smuggling on a worldwide scale. It's not like they'd hang you any less if you stuck to the coast of Massachusetts.
Tensions waxed and waned in the years after the Seven Years War as Westminster tried pushing the boundaries of collecting and enforcing new taxes in the colonies, asserting its supreme right to tax and legislate for the colonies in 1766. Reactions in each colony were different, but the New England colonies resented these attempts particularly fiercely. Much of this came from resentment at Westminster's refusal to officially acknowledge the Colonies' self-appointed legislatures, but a good deal of it came from good old-fashioned self interest, as smuggled goods were cheaper and career smugglers had no wish to be put out of business. As it was, many people resisted payment and the tax collectors were subject to enormous community pressure and occasionally even violence. Eventually a majority of (generally conservative and aristocratic) Lords and Members of Parliament came to see the issue less in terms of money and more in terms of their own authority. To them, it was no longer about the amount of money collected but rather their perceived right to collect the money at all. None of the controversial taxes were ever collected. As things stood, the colonies could theoretically have been appeased, or at least points of negotiation opened up, if Parliament had simply drawn up a few new electorates in North America, as they had done with Scotland and would in the not-too-distant-future do with Ireland: they'd have Westminster representation, but they would always be soundly out-voted by the majority of English Members of Parliament on issues concerning them. Of course, the logistics of representation of the colonies at Westminster in an era when it could take anywhere from 30 days to six months to get across the Atlantic—and there was no such thing as telecommunications—leave one to wonder if this was ever really a possible solution. As it happened, there were talks in England about Parliamentary representation for the colonists, at which point the colonies stopped entertaining the idea in favor of the notion that the colonies could never be properly represented in Parliament.
Matters came to a head with the "Boston Tea Party" of December 1773, in the wake of a lull following the so-called "Boston Massacre", which itself followed the stationing of troops in Boston from 1768, as well as the various Acts and colonial counter measures dating back to the Stamp Act of 1765. The Crown had attempted to undercut tea-smuggling by arranging for a surplus of good quality British East India Company* tea to be shipped to the colonies at low prices, resulting in legal taxed tea that would be better and cheaper than anything the smugglers could provide. Anti-tax protesters and smugglers alike opposed the move, and the locals refused to unload the East India Company's Tea cargoes for sale. Three company ships spent several weeks moored in Boston Harbor, holds full of tea, as the matter went back and forth between the authorities. Taking matters into their own hands, a group of local activists calling themselves "The Sons of Liberty" (after a line from a Parliamentary speech by Edmund Burke) dressed up as American Indians forced their way aboard and dumped the entire shipment of East India tea into the harbor. The East India Company was a bit peeved at the enormous expense of this act of defiancenote , and company executives used their considerable sway with Parliament to persuade them to enact a series of punitive measures against the culprits (and 'culprits') called the Coercive Acts, which in turn greatly inflamed public opinion in both Boston and the colonies in general (who called them the "Intolerable Acts") and led to the first meeting of the Continental Congress, which would later become the colonies' revolutionary government.
Blood was finally shed in April 1775 at the battle of Lexington and Concord, when a reinforced brigade of regular troops on their way to Concord to confiscate the Massachusetts colony's military stores encountered a company of local militiamen on Lexington Green. No-one knows who fired the first shotnote (later described as "The shot heard 'round the world" because of the world-wide war that eventually resulted) but the outnumbered and unprepared militiamen were immediately routed and dispersed by the lead company of redcoats. Proceeding with their mission, the regulars soon found the entire countryside had been roused against them by "Paul Revere's ride" (which was actually a network of riders, though Revere himself did play a prominent rolenote ). Reaching Concord, they found themselves surrounded and then attacked by a much larger militia formation, and were forced to beat a fighting retreat up the "Battle Road" back to Boston. Their overriding reaction was one of shock and dismay that their own people were trying to kill themnote , and that the situation might not just 'get better' after all but instead lead to the second Civil War in a hundred years. Any remaining hopes that further bloodshed could be averted were dispelled by the pitched battle fought between Army and Rebel forces at "Bunker Hill"note some two months later. Even then the negotiations continued until Westminster's rejection of the Continental Congress' Olive Branch Petition, which meant Civil War.
Even so it came as something of a surprise to most people when a full year after Lexington and Concord, a year in which most people still thought they were fighting to secure their rights as Englishman, that representatives of the colonies gathered together to declare Independence from Great Britain. That is to say, they wrote and signed a document "to put forth the reasons" as Jefferson later put it, for declaring their colonies were now "free and independent states". The importance of declaring such a permanent break with the government that would, if they were caught, get the conspirators hanged for treason is that they were trying to rally support for their cause, primarily among their Whig supporters in England. They were also trying to get France on their side by showing that they really, really meant this rebellion business. As it was, it was a few years before Louis XVI felt confident enough in their resolve and ability to fight before he intervened. That they were also inspired by the radical political philosophers of the day—Hobbes, Rousseau, and especially Locke, who argued that authority depended upon the consent of the governed—becomes obvious upon reading the document itself.
What underpinned much of the popular support for the declaration was in large part due to Thomas Paine, a very smart young English radical whom Benjamin Franklin had brought over to Philadelphia in November 1774, wrote a best-selling pamphlet called Common Sense. Common Sense attacked the whole concept of monarchy in clear, unambiguous terms, using the Bible to decisively prove that God did not in fact like Kings, whatever people might say about "giving unto Caesar what is Caesar's." Combined with railing against the corruption of parliament and the cabinet and the potential tyranny of all Kings in general, this provided a focus for a growing wave of anti-monarchist sentiment, decades of local tradition (along with their penchant for Locke and Hobbes) naturally led said anti-monarchists to favor a republican government. On July 2, 1776, the representatives of the Continental Congress voted in principle to divorce the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain. (However, the new nation wound up celebrating its Independence Day on July 4 because that was the day that the Declaration of Independence was approved and announced to the public, which makes a certain kind of sense in an "if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods-and-nobody-hears-it" way: if a deliberative body votes that something will happen but doesn't tell anybody, did it really happen?note )
The Declaration was followed by a series of devastating military defeats. A large expeditionary force led by William Howe landed in Jamaica Bay, Long Island, and very nearly trapped and destroyed George Washington's army in Brooklyn. After what was left of the Patriot army escaped across the East River, Howe made another landing in Manhattan, and easily defeated the colonials again. The regulars threw the colonials out of Manhattan Island completely and sent them fleeing in panic all the way across New Jersey and across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. New York City and all of New Jersey had fallen into the hands of the British Army. Most of Washington's army had run away or been captured, and what was left was in dire straits.
General Howe, who had defeated the Americans but missed chances to surround and destroy them in Brooklyn and Manhattan, now decided that the weather in December 1776 was too cold for further campaigning and the Army went into winter quarters. Unfortunately for him, the difficulties in feeding and housing his troops conspired with the need to hold a great deal of captured territory to force Howe into disbursing his troops into smaller garrisons that were vulnerable to being cut off and defeated in detail.note Washington seized this opportunity and crossed back into New Jersey on Christmas night to capture the Hessian garrison at Trenton on Dec. 26. This victory, and another victory at Princeton a week later, greatly boosted American morale and eventually led the British to abandon New Jersey.
Once the weather got warm in 1777, Howe wasted much of the spring and summer before putting his army into boats, sailing up Chesapeake Bay, and capturing the by-now-American capital of Philadelphia. However, he again failed to win a decisive victory against Washington's army, and the ostensible coup in capturing the capital proved to be meaningless—in the decentralized Revolutionary United States, most authority lay in the hands of the states, and Congress had such a small associated bureaucracy it could just pack up and leave, which it did (decamping first to Lancaster, Pennsylvania and then further inland to York, PA). Meanwhile, an expeditionary force from Canada was decisively defeated at Saratoga in northern New York and shortly thereafter surrendered to the Americans. The intensity of the fighting and the result persuaded France that the rebels meant business and that this war would be a good opportunity to get revenge on Britain—even if it meant siding with people who they had once fought against and were opposed to everything they stood for (a strong monarchy, a large nobility, and powerful, vibrant Catholic Church). Seeing which way the tide seemed to be turning, the Spanish Empire also declared war on Britain, with King Charles III ordering his local governor Bernardo de Gálvez to give the rebels economical and military help, and the Dutch Republic—the second-biggest commercial power after Britain—started to bankroll the French and the American rebels too. The colonies were now the least of Britain's problems; they were now at war with three of the five major powers in Europe.
The transformation of a reluctant civil war into a world war with the foremost foreign powers of the day threatened Britain's holdings in the Caribbean and India. Britain itself was threatened, with the (Catholic) Irish making rumbles about siding with Britain's (Catholic) enemies again. All this led to a change in strategy. Having failed to achieve decisive victory in the northern colonies, in 1778 the Army shifted its efforts to the South, where there were more Loyalists (colonists still loyal to the Crown) and revolutionary fervor was weaker. The Southern strategy led to a series of successes. Savannah was captured and royal government was restored in Georgia. A Patriot army was captured at Charleston, South Carolina, another Patriot army was annihilated at Camden, and most of South Carolina returned to the Crown. Meanwhile, bitter over General Gates, his senior, stealing his credit, and politicians frustrating his military plans, General Benedict Arnold, hero of the failed Canadian expeditionary force and the great victory at Saratoga, defected back to the Crown in 1780. He conspired with the Army to hand over the Patriot fort at West Point, New York; the plot was discovered before he could act, however. Arnold defected without being caught and American morale suffered another body blow.
Just when things seemed darkest for the Patriot cause, the Americans again rallied. A Patriot victory at Kings Mountain, North Carolina in October 1780 was followed by an even bigger victory at Cowpens, South Carolina in January 1781, where some of the best units of the Army in South Carolina were captured. The Commander in South Carolina, Lord Cornwallis, abandoned that state and marched into North Carolina in pursuit of the main American army led by Nathaniel Greene. Cornwallis defeated Greene at Guilford Court House, but took too many losses in the process. He led his much-reduced force into Virginia and conducted a series of raids in the lightly defended Virginia countryside. Finally Cornwallis was ordered by Henry Clinton, the Commander at New York—who feared an attack from Washington there—to march to the coast and establish a fortified position. Cornwallis chose the settlement of Yorktown, Virginia.
On the north side of the Virginia Peninsula, facing Chesapeake Bay, Yorktown was easy to defend, and assuming the Royal Navy could maintain control of the bay, easy to supply by sea. (Why do you think George McClellan and other Union generals fourscore and some years later would keep trying to base themselves in the same general area?) Unfortunately for Cornwallis, a French fleet seized control of Chesapeake Bay and beat back all attempts to displace them. This cut Yorktown off from relief by sea. Meanwhile the Franco-American army had left New York and was marching south. It arrived at the end of September and surrounded Cornwallis' army at Yorktown. Now completely cut off by sea and land, Cornwallis surrendered on Oct. 17, 1781, after enemy bombardment rendered Yorktown untenable.
This decisive defeat marked the collapse of Parliament's will to prosecute the war, and the end of major combat operations in North America. After further fighting between the French, Spanish, and British at sea, at Gibraltar, and elsewhere around the world (which mostly went Britain's way, with George Rodney mauling a French fleet at the Saintes in April 1782 and a massive Franco-Spanish assault on the besieged fortress of Gibraltar that September failing disastrously - the latter battle being in fact the largest battle of the entire war by number of troops engaged), the Treaty of Paris (1783) ended the war and established the United States of America as an independent nation. A twentieth of the population of the former colonies, some hundred thousand people, emigrated to remain under the patronage of George III. Most loyalists emigrated to Canada, a milestone in the history of that nation which effectively secured it for the Empire by reducing the potentially rebellious French majority to a minority.
The war didn't just involve the colonists or European powers. Native American tribes mostly allied with the British, as the crown had previously granted them autonomy and prevented colonists from encroaching on the Indian territories west of the Mississippi River and in the Ohio River Valley. The most powerful, and troublesome to the Americans, were the remains of the Iroquois Confederacy of New York (two of the original six confederate nations split off and allied themselves to the Americans) and the Chickamunga Cherokees of Tennessee and Kentucky. Armed and supplied by the British, they conducted night raids and ambushes on most frontier communities and fortifications. In retaliation, Washington dispatched John Sullivan and his army in 1779 to upstate New York, where they systematically razed 40 Iroquois villages in a scorched earth campaign. The ensuing famine killed so many of them that they would never again be able to field enough men to defend themselves from European raiders and settlers.
The British also had great support among the African slaves in America. The same week that Patrick Henry uttered the famous phrase "Give me liberty or give me death," his slave Ralph Henry fled to the British for his freedom. That irony wasn't lost on people like Samuel Johnson, who mockingly asked, "How is it we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negroes?" Most of the support was due to the Earl of Dunmore, the last governor of Virginia, who, critically outnumbered by the rebels, in 1779 offered freedom to any slave who joined the British. Not to be outdone by the Americans on the hypocrisy front, the slaves of loyalists were not freed. Over the course of the war, about 100,000 slaves escaped to the British (or tried to) and about 20,000 of them fought against the Americans as part of the all-black "Ethiopian Regiment" (which was mostly relegated to performing backbreaking logistic and support functions), which first saw action at the Battle of Kemp's Landing, where a black soldier managed to capture his former master. In fact, this was what galvanized the Southern states to seriously support the rebellion: the fear of a British-sponsored total slave uprising. At the end of the war, the remaining black loyalists were resettled in the Canadas or Nova Scotia (many of those later moved to Sierra Leone to found the first freedmen colony). It should be noted that there were also plenty of blacks (both slaves and freedmen) who also supported the Patriots,note and that several colonial militias had black members, most notably the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, which similarly to the Dunmore proclamation was formed at least partially by slaves who had been promised their freedom. It has been estimated that about 1/5 of the Continental Army was of African descent. It should also be noted that a significant portion of slaves who had been promised their freedom on both sides of the war were not granted it, or were re-enslaved laternote . Furthermore, the ideals of the Revolution played a huge part in the abolition of slavery in the North; Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, as well as the still-independent Vermont Republic, all abolished the practice during or just after the war, though it was a gradual process rather than the full immediate emancipation that would happen the following century.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that the fledgling nation was now an incontrovertible fact. The United States of America were—'were' and not 'was' because the constitution as known today had yet to be drafted and the federal government was very weak—under-populated, poor, debt-ridden and exhausted from a civil war which had practically torn them in half. They had no real army to speak of and no naval forces whatsoever. It remained to be seen if the secessionist colonies could form a strong and coherent state of their own or whether they would return to the Crown, by mutual agreement or by force. If there was one lesson history taught about republicsnote it was that they inevitably failed, and the state of the republic in the following years would seem to confirm this assertion. Ironically, the Republic's survival was ultimately due to the actions of some hundred powerful oligarchs acting against the wishes of the majority of the people. Together they conspired to write and have ratified by the states a constitution, one that bound the states under a central government, to keep the fledgling nation afloat. Out of this clandestine agreement came the Constitution and, later on, the Bill of Rights as Americans know it today - the point of the bill being to undercut popular opposition to their attempt to subvert the power of the states to which most people who remained owed their allegiance. It would be another half-century, and a war that nobody really wanted, before people could say with confidence that the new nation would be around to stay, in one form or another—and it would take another war, the world's first industrial war, to make the United States truly one nation, in a position to become what it became.
Perhaps ironically, the French ended up suffering the most for their involvement despite "winning" the war for the rebels, with almost no direct gain for themselves (long term the idea was to deprive England of a valuable domain, and hopefully find a strategic partner in the newly independent United States). Extensive borrowing and heavy taxation drove the French monarchy even further into debt, and actually inflicted an artificial depression upon the French economy. Louis XVI eventually had to call a meeting of the Estates General to reform the taxation system (albeit raising the overall level of taxation) and restructure his debts so he could actually service them (pay the interest and maybe a bit more) properly. However, the Second Estate (nobility) was completely uncooperative and didn't want to be taxed. And the First and Third Estates (representing the clergy and commoners, respectively) wanted them lowered so the economy could grow again...
Also often forgotten, fellow-victor Spain regained its colony of Florida, which it had to give to the British after the Seven Years' War. It remained in Spanish hands until 1819, when some renegade American general went beyond orders in an attempt to capture Floridian Native Americans who raided American towns on the border. After all the mess, and busy with their own Spanish American Wars of Independence (their empire would end up shattering in a myriad of countries in just a couple more years), Spain sold Florida to the United States the same year.
The legacy of the American Revolution has been much debated, and there are three basic schools of historiography. Many places will list more, but they're really just variations on these three:
- The Whig School: The American rebels heroically threw off the yoke of British tyranny, founding the land of the free and the home of the brave. Of course, this is the default interpretation, and it remained essentially unquestioned through most of the nineteenth century. It even became the accepted interpretation in Britain itself, where Whig politicians blamed their Tory opponents for the policies that drove the colonists into rebellion. In the twentieth century, this interpretation came under challenge in academic circles, but it still remains the predominant depiction in popular culture.
- The Imperial School: Basically, this is the "Britain did nothing wrong" club. Emerging around the turn of the twentieth century, this interpretation was put forth by American Anglophiles who admired the British Empire. This was against the historical backdrop of the Great Rapprochement, in which the U.S. and U.K. were becoming close allies, and this naturally prompted some American historians to dispute whether the initial split with Britain had been a good thing after all. However, this interpretation mostly fell out of favor once there was no longer a British Empire for American Anglophiles to admire.
- The Progressive School: Also emerging around the turn of the twentieth century, this interpretation essentially views the American Revolution as a Full-Circle Revolution. After all, it both started and ended with the rich white slave owners being in charge, right? In its earliest iterations, this interpretation argued that a genuine people's revolution was ultimately co-opted by counter-revolutionary elites, who created the Constitution in part to prevent uprisings like Shays' Rebellion. In the late twentieth century, it began to be questioned whether there even was a genuine people's revolution in the first place.
The American Revolution is oddly underrepresented in American films, given its importance. Perhaps the "Special Relationship" makes the topic awkward—films such as The Patriot in 2000 stirred up major controversy for negative portrayals of the British, to put it lightly. That particular film's domestic box office barely earned more than its budget, but oddly enough did better overseas. Perhaps Americans themselves have a greater interest in more recent conflicts, like The American Civil War and World War II.
Works set in this time period include:
- Hetalia: Axis Powers features this in one fan-favourite strip. The anime drew said strip out over several episodes, just to milk the suspense for all it was worth.
- It's also notable for subverting and averting the usual portrayal of the Revolution as a glorious patriotic war, instead showing it as the painful breaking of England and America's once loving relationship
- What happens when one combines mystic powers, a traitorous Ben Franklin and a failed revolution? Code Geass. (That the Holy Britannian Empire was actually the successor to the British Empire was not immediately obvious to viewers at first, because in this timeline Napoleon succeeded in conquering the British Isles.)
- While not appearing directly, the war has a huge impact in The Rose of Versailles: Hans Haxel von Fersen, one of the main characters, takes part in it specifically to get away from his growing relationship with Marie Antoinette before it ruined her reputation, and as this manga tells the run-up to The French Revolution the impact on French economy is shown in great detail.
- DC character Thomas Haukins, aka Tomahawk, fought on the Rebel side.
- DC character Gerald Shilling, aka Lord Shilling, was Tomahawk's Tory arch-enemy.
- Miss Liberty, a DC masked hero, fought on the Rebel side.
- Captain Steven Rogers, a namesake ancestor of Captain America's, fought on the Rebel side.
- Sir William Taurey, a Tory (natch) was killed by Captain Steven Rogers during the Revolution. His descendant, also named William Taurey, attempted to undo the American Revolution; he was stopped by Captain Rogers' descendant, Captain America.
- Immortal MARVEL character Ulysses Bloodstone was a major in the Continental Army and fought alongside Captain Steve Rogers.
- There was an Elseworlds story about Superman arriving on Earth earlier than expected and he was raised by British parents and he ended up fighting against the revolutionaries.
- General Wallace Worthington, an ancestor of Warren Worthington III (aka "The Angel" from The X-Men) fought on the Rebel side.
- Lady Jean Grey (an ancestor of Jean Grey's ) and Patrick Clemons (both members of the Philadelphia branch of The Hell Fire Club) fought on the Tory side.
- The Italian Disney Mouse and Duck Comics saga "Once Upon a Time... In America" has a story set in late 1775/early 1776, with one of Mickey's ancestor foiling an attempt on George Washington's life.
- In Lilith a quick mention of "North American Dominions" made in 1933 indicates that the alterations to the timeline made by the protagonist somehow caused it to fail. The exact event is seen at the start of "The Two Frontiers", where it's seen that the remnants of the Joseon Dinasty, that had escaped to China after the shogun Toyotomi Hideyori led Japan to conquer Korea, had sent turtle ships to try and gain Britain's help in retaking Korea, and those turtle ships intercepted the Crossing of the Delaware, killing almost all troops and causing George Washington a head wound that drove him to dementia. Between his loss and the morale blow, the British managed to suppress the "Rebellion of the Thirteen Colonies". Then, as Lilith has reached this point in time, what she does during the course of that issue and the rest of the Grand Finale gets the last survivors of the rebel leadership to start causing a war between the British and the Japanese (who have their own colonies in North America), hinting that, in the final timeline, the rebellion may yet succeed.
- Two graphic novels in the Nathan Hales Hazardous Tales series (One Dead Spy and Lafayette!) discuss the revolution, and the narrator is Revolutionary spy Nathan Hale.
- 1776 (1972) A musical! The stage version was from 1969.
- America (1924), a silent historical epic that flopped badly enough to end D. W. Griffith's reign as Hollywood's preeminent director.
- Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
- The Howards of Virginia (1940), starring Cary Grant.
- Johnny Tremain (1957)
- La Fayette (1961), a French film about the Marquis de La Fayette
- The Patriot (2000), aka Braveheart in America
- The Scarlet Coat (1955), Spy Fiction about an American counterintelligence agent seeking to find out who's plotting with the British to turn over West Point.
- Where Do We Go From Here? (1945)
- The 1959 film version of George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple (starring Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, and Laurence Olivier).
- Revolution (1985). So bad that it killed Al Pacino's movie career for a while.
- John Paul Jones (1959), starring Robert Stack.
- Sons of Liberty (1939), a Short Film biopic of Patriot financier Haym Salomon.
- The Spirit of '76 (1917), which ran afoul of World War I censorship. You see, the British were the bad guys, and in 1917, that could only be a dastardly Hun plot to drive the Allies apart. The film's producer, who was inconveniently of German descent, was sentenced to ten years in prison, later commuted to three. No known prints of the film survive today.
- The Young Mr Pitt (1942) begins with a prologue in which William Pitt The Elder argues against Britain's war with the American colonies. The movie then skips forward to William Pitt The Younger, the film's subject, taking charge of Britain just after its been humiliated in the American war. Most of the rest of the film is about Pitt's leadership during the early part of The Napoleonic Wars.
- The 1780 British Epistolary Novel Emma Corbett or, The miseries of civil war. Founded on some recent circumstances which happened in America, which may hold the distinction of being the earliest novel written about the American Revolution. The titular heroine heads off to America, disguised as a boy, in order to reunite with her redcoat lover. He gets hit by a poisoned arrow, and she tries to Suck Out the Poison, but it only results in both of them dying. Supposedly, it's based on a real incident that took place in 1777. Back in the day, the novel managed to be a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.
- The Horrible Histories book The USA features a rare British (or, more precisely, cynical European) perspective on the war, clearing up the ways it and its main players were subsequently idealised.
- James Fenimore Cooper's novels The Spy, The Pilot and Lionel Lincoln. The Spy, written in 1821, concerns the actions of a spy ringleader for the American rebels. The plot twist at the end reveals the spymaster to be George Washington, which at the time wasn't a well-known fact to most Americans.
- Dear America and its spinoff series have a few:
- The Winter of Red Snow
- Love thy Neighbor
- The Revolutionary War trilogy of My America
- The Journal of William Thomas Emerson: A Revolutionary War Patriot
- In Rip Van Winkle, this is what the title character slept through.
- Treegate Series by Leonard Wibberley.
- Israel Potter, by Herman Melville.
- Several novels by Kenneth Roberts, including:
- The multiple-volume Prelude To Glory series takes readers through most of the war in detail, through the perspectives of several fictional characters interacting with the historical ones in various theaters of action. The series begins shortly before the war does (as in, the Saturday before the Lexington-Concord Battle that set it off) and follows it through to its end and setting up the fledgling nation.
- The first two books in John Jakes' Kent Family Chronicles deal with the Revolution:
- Gore Vidal's Burr which examines not only the Revolution but the entire generation and the period of political society building under the presidency of Washington, Adams and Jefferson.
- TV Writer Donna Thorland's 2013 novel, The Turncoat, dealing with Revolutionary War spies and involving historical figures such as Washington, Howe, Andre and Hamilton.
- Esther Forbes' novel Johnny Tremain.
- Many novels by Howard Fast, including:
- A couple of the Richard Bolitho novels by Alexander Kent are notable for presenting it from the Tory side.
- Jonathan Barret Gentleman Vampire is set in this era. The Barrets are Loyalists living on Long Island dealing with both the rebels and Hessian mercenaries raiding their supplies.
- Bernard Cornwell:
- The Alexander Swift stories by Edward D. Hoch, which describe the adventures of a Rebel intelligence agent during the American Revolution.
- Jeff Shaara adds two historical fiction novels to his repertoire in the style of his The American Civil War novels, Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure (as well as his father's Killer Angels):
- Rise To Rebellion follows events from the Boston Massacre up through the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Although the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Battle of Bunker Hill, and some other early engagements are covered, much of the novel centers around the lead-up to the outbreak of hostilities and focuses primarily on the politicians of the First and Second Continental Congress. Particular attention is paid to Adams.
- The Glorious Cause picks up almost immediately after, starting with the disastrous attempts to defend New York and continuing through the end of the war. Unlike the first part, the military struggle forms the central plot in the second book and the focus shifts primarily to Washington, Greene, Cornwallis, Howe, Lafayette, and other military leaders in the conflict. Efforts by Franklin to secure foreign aid and recognition are also pivotal, while the involvement of political leaders such as Adams and Jefferson becomes relegated more to the background.
- My Brother Sam Is Dead, a young adult novel about a family split by the war.
- Simon Hawkes Time Wars book The Hellfire Rebellion is set in colonial Boston just prior to the outbreak of hostilities and actually does an excellent job summarizing the various political factions at play at the time.
- Lawrence Hill's novel The Book of Negroes around this time.
- The Felicity books in the American Girls Collection are set during the Revolutionary War.
- Animorphs: The Animorphs end up in this time period just as Washington is about to cross the Delaware. Visser Four had warned the Hessians, who were ready for the rebels, and killed Jake, with Washington dying in captivity and the episode referred to as "colonial rebellion". This also caused France and Germany to be allies in World War II (but Hitler was a lowly soldier, we never find out if the Nazis existed in this timeline).
- In Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, the English put Charles Darnay on trial for having supposedly aided the French in this war. During her testimony, Lucie Manette describes Darnay's politics: "He tried to explain to me how that quarrel had arisen, and he said that, so far as he could judge, it was a wrong and foolish one on England's part. He added, in a jesting way, that perhaps George Washington might gain almost as great a name in history as George the Third." During Darnay's later trial in Revolutionary France, Dr. Manette cites the earlier trial as evidence of Darnay being sympathetic to revolutionary causes.
- Mr. Revere and I is told from the perspective of Paul Revere's horse.
- Being Human (US): Aidan was turned into a vampire by Bishop during this time period.
- The Crossing, 2000 TV movie about the Battle of Trenton starring Jeff Daniels as Washington.
- George Washington (the 1984 miniseries)
- Ghosts (US), The episodes D&D and The Christmas Spirit, Part Two has flashbacks set in this era.
- The Bastard, the television adaptation of the John Jakes book, followed by:
- The Rebels.
- John Adams (HBO miniseries)
- Episodes 1-3 of The Adams Chronicles deal with the Revolution.
- April Morning, an adaptation of the novel by Howard Fast. Stars Tommy Lee Jones.
- The 1987 adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple (starring Patrick Stewart).
- The Swamp Fox, a Disney TV show about the adventures of Rebel guerrilla leader Francis Marion, the eponymous Swamp Fox. Starred Leslie Nielsen.
- Younger readers who know Nielsen solely as a comic actor may be disappointed: the show was not primarily a comedy.
- Many episodes of the Fess Parker Daniel Boone tv series were set during the Revolution.
- The Young Rebels The 1970 colonial version of The Mod Squad. It featured Louis Gosset Jr. as the rebel Token Minority, but otherwise notable for a rural Pennsylvania setting that looked amazingly like rural Los Angeles.
- Turn focuses on the Culper Spy Ring on Long Island outside of New York City.
- The East German series Das große Abenteuer des Kaspar Schmeck (The Great Adventure of Kaspar Schmeck) focuses on a young Hessian soldier during this war. It probably holds the distinction of being the only American Revolution film or TV show to be produced by a communist country during the Cold War.
- Sleepy Hollow has many scenes that take place during this era as Ichabod is from that time period.
- Sons of Liberty covers the beginnings of the Revolution in Boston, with a focus on Samuel Adams.
- The titular character of Poldark is a veteran of this war who fought on the British side. The series begins with him returning home to England after the end of the war.
- Stan Rogers' song "Barrett's Privateers" tells the story of a young Canadian sailor who joins the titular ill-fated privateer company to attack and plunder American shipping during the height of the war. The ship, a barely-seaworthy hunk of wood called the Antelope, comes upon an American vessel and attacks, but they're sunk with a single retaliatory shot, killing most of the company and taking the legs of the narrator, who becomes the Sole Survivor.
- As a celebration of America's Bicentennial, Gottlieb's Spirit of 76 invokes this with the "1776" dropdown targets and A.M. Millard's drum marchers on the backglass.
- Revolutions covered the American Revolution in the second season and also occasionally mentioned its effects in the third (French Revolution) fourth (Haitian Revolution) and fifth (Latin American wars of independence) seasons.
- Washington's War, which uses a modification of the card-driven event system found in Twilight Struggle.
- Washington's War is actually a remake of We The People, which was the first game to introduce the now-popular card-driven format. So it would be more accurate to say that Twilight Struggle uses a modification of We The People...
- Colonial Gothic is an occult conspiracy Tabletop RPG set in the era immediately preceding and during the Revolutionary War.
- 1776. Also adapted into a feature film.
- George Bernard Shaw's play The Devil's Disciple.
- Most of the first act of Hamilton covers the Revolution itself. The second act covers the early years of independence, up until Alexander Hamilton's death.
- The 1777 play Sturm und Drang (Trope Namer for the later artistic movement) uses the then-ongoing American Revolutionary War as a backdrop.
- The Camp, a 1778 British play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Produced shortly after France had entered the war, it focuses on the British preparing for a potential French invasion. Incidentally, the play was written with the assistance of General Burgoyne, a.k.a. the guy who got defeated at Saratoga a year earlier.
- The 1797 play Bunker-Hill; or The death of General Warren: an historic tragedy by Irish-American playwright John Daly Burk. John Adams was not impressed with the play's characterization of General Warren. When asked for his opinion by the actor who had played Warren, Adams replied, "My friend, General Warren was a scholar and a gentleman, but your author has made him a bully and a blackguard."
- Some of the campaigns in Age of Empires III.
- The final campaign of American Conquest.
- Americana Dawn, originally a Hetalia fan game subtitled "The Long Goodbye," aims to cover this period of history in a Retraux style reminiscent of the Suikoden series.
- Empire: Total War's Road To Independence Campaign.
- Maximilian Roivas' chapter in Eternal Darkness.
- Europa Universalis lets you play the Revolution out. That being said, this IS Alternate History at work, so the Revolution might show up at a time and place well away from the original timeline.
- The FPS The Battle Grounds, a Half-Life Mod.
- Many Colonization games, although you can also play in alternate realities where it is the French, Spanish, or Dutch colonies that are most successful in the Americas and rebel against their respective monarchies.
- According to the lore of Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, rather than the American Revolution, the war was fought between the British Empire and Jickleberg. The army wasn't led by George Washington but Crispus Attucks (or in this case, Clispaeth Ryuji Atuck), the war lasted for 666 years and the end result is The Cyberpocalypse.
- Assassin's Creed III is set during this time period and covers many famous and decisive battles, with the Player Character a Native American who meets Washington, Samuel Adams, Marquis de Lafayette, Paul Revere and others. It's also a Warts and All perspective.
- It also posits, through DLC, an alternative outcome: driven mad by a precursor artifact, George Washington essentially crowns himself King George of America, and becomes an outright tyrant after the conclusion of the war.
- One of the time periods visited in Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?. Carmen's thief has stolen the Declaration of Independence, and you have to help Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to redraft it.
- The webcomic The Dreamer is about a modern American girl who is transported to the era of the American Revolution in her dreams.
- Cracked.com did 5 Reasons the Founding Fathers Were Kind of Dicks. Then there's number 5 of 5 Fictional Stories You Were Taught in History Class
- America: The Motion Picture, albeit in the form of a comedically inaccurate and fanciful Alternate History retelling intended to poke fun at modern Eagleland tropes.
- Ben and Me
- Dennis the Menace: In "Give Me Liberty of Give Me Dennis", Dennis and Margaret go back in time to help Paul Revere. In "Yankee Doodle Dennis", Dennis dreams about making the crack in the Liberty Bell.
- Two Histeria! episodes (1998)
- Liberty's Kids - For a kids' show, its take on the period is very sophisticated with the negative elements of it like slavery, mob violence and The Suffering of Native Peoples given their due.
- Looney Tunes Bunker Hill Bunny'' (1950)
- School House Rock offers many a one-sided take on the revolution.
- Most of the episodes dealing with the American Revolution debuted in 1975 or 1976, when the country was in full-blown Bicentennial Fever. Criticizing, even vaguely or by implication, the Founding Fathers wouldn't have gone over well. So, for example, in "No More Kings" it's strongly implied that there had always been an understanding that the colonies would eventually become independent, and George III was just a fat, apoplectic, greedy tyrant who reneged on that promise.
- This Is America, Charlie Brown ("The Birth of the Constitution")
- An I Am Weasel episode with Weasel as Washington and The Red Guy as King George.
- An episode of Spongebob Squarepants parodying the conflict with red coats and blue coats fighting over being clean and dirty.
- Once the storyline of Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? hitched on Carmen stealing The Chronoskimmer, the main characters were forced to travel back in time and recover the Liberty Bell. Notably, the main difference in the present was that the British flag was flying and that Da Chief now wore a deerskinner cap and smoked a pipe.
- Parodied briefly in an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, when Billy and Mandy travel through time with a time travelling remote. Notably, it takes a stab at both sides instead of the usual one-sided depiction. While the British are depicted in the usual Hollywood manner, speaking with thick cockney accents, the Americans are depicted as a bunch of fratboys only interested in fighting for fighting's sake.
- Time Squad goes back to Revolutionary times in a couple of occasions.
- The Futurama episode "All the President's Heads" has the gang going back in time to 1776, where they accidentally muck up Paul Revere's ride and return to an America still under British rule.
- Horrible Histories: In "Revolting Revolution", Stitch and Mo get zapped back to the American Revolution of 1773 where they get separated and learn more from the two sides: the Americans and the British. Interesting in that it deals with the British grievances against the colonies, as well as the American grievances against Britain, and does not treat the war as a conflict between the evil British and the heroic Americans.
- "Yankee Doodle Cricket" is a sequel to the cartoon adaptation of The Cricket in Times Square that was made by Chuck Jones. A cricket, a mouse, and a cat write the Declaration of Independence, help Paul Revere, and create the Yankee Doodle song.