The American Revolution

The American Revolution was a period of political change after 1763 in the thirteen British colonies in North America that gave rise to the American War of Independence against Great Britain (1775-1783). This was the founding of the American nation and the birth of the United States, the revolution manifested itself in violence against the British authorities, a war set against the backdrop of social and civil unrest.

In order to offset the cost of the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), Britain imposed taxes on its thirteen North American colonies without consulting them; American settlers protested to King George III and the United Kingdom Parliament, and then launched a revolt that the British tried to stifle by sending troops. On July 4, 1776, the representatives of the colonies gathered in Philadelphia adopted the Declaration of Independence, and after a series of setbacks by the continental army commanded by George Washington, the war against Great Britain turned to the advantage of the Americans. The insurgents received help from French volunteers, then from the government of Louis XVI, Spain and the United Provinces. In 1783, London had to recognize the independence of the United States. The new country was governed by a Constitution (1787) inspired by the philosophy of the Enlightenment. George Washington was elected president in 1789; but the early years of the new country were marked by political opposition and social tensions.

The American Revolution created a new state, a Republic with new institutions. It brought forth an American nation distinct from the British people, with its founding symbols and myths. It had a significant impact in Europe as well, especially in France. It brought about major intellectual changes guided by republican and democratic ideals, which still form American values today. It gave rise to reference texts (Declaration of Independence, Constitution), in which the rights to freedom, equality and the search for happiness are affirmed.

A fundamental moment in the country's history, the American Revolution also provoked opposition between the proponents of a strong central government and those who preferred to give more autonomy to the individual states.

It also caused tensions among the Founding Fathers over the place of the people in politics. The subject was subsequently the subject of numerous historical debates on the nature of events and their influence in Europe. The American Revolution made a lasting mark on American culture by inspiring writers, painters and filmmakers.

Black Americans participated in the American Revolution on several levels.

Many took part in the fighting and fought on the British side. In April 1775, Lord Dunmore, governor of Virginia, offered freedom to blacks who would fight the patriots and abandon their master's plantations. He even formed an Ethiopian Regiment of about 500 former slaves. In June 1776, British General Henry Clinton made the same offer to Phillipsburg. By 1779, about 10,000 black Americans had joined the ranks of the British army. Thousands of these loyalists were listed in the Book of Negroes, evacuated to Nova Scotia or London and settled in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

5,000 African-Americans fought alongside the insurgents and many of them were freed. However, Commander George Washington had initially banned their presence in the Continental Army; after Lord Dunmore's decision to free loyalist slaves, Washington reversed its position and allowed the commitment of free blacks and then slaves. Georgia thus lost more than a third of its slaves during this period.

Finally, many slaves also took advantage of the chaos the war produced to escape.

During this time slaves achieved relative emancipation in the central states (Philadelphia) and New England, where there were few slaves to begin with. Slavery was abolished in 1777 in Vermont, in 1780 in Pennsylvania, in 1783 in Massachusetts. However, the American Declaration of Independence did not abolish slavery and the Constitution did not establish civic equality, so as not to displease the southern states.

The American Revolution thus had important consequences for the North American slaves: thousands of them migrated north to freedom, or to the west to work in agriculture. Many Loyalists also fled to Canada or the British West Indies with their slaves.

Like the Blacks, the Amerindians participated in the war either in the British camp or in the insurgent camp. Thus, in 1778, the Lenapes signed a treaty with the Americans that promised them an autonomous territory in exchange for cooperation. The Catawba Nation sided with the Americans and provided them with food.

The other tribes joined the British side for fear of colonization and harassed American troops. Delegates from the six Iroquois nations, initially in favor of neutrality, finally supported the British. They pronounced their own declaration of independence.

At the end of the American Revolution, the conditions for the Amerindians did not improve: many villages were destroyed and crops were ransacked. The Treaty of Paris (1783) ignored their presence and allowed American colonization west of the Appalachians. The U.S. Constitution excludes them from citizenship. American expansion to the West led to conflicts with the Amerindians, some of whom were congregating in confederations.

Over the past two centuries, the historical portrayal of the American Revolution has gone through several phases, which have followed the American political context and the general renewal of methods and approaches to revise history. American historians of the early 19th century extolled the Founding Fathers of the United States as the heroes of the Revolution. This filiopietistic or nationalist current is represented best by George Bancroft, who developed the idea of an exceptional American Revolution and assimilated the American people to a new "elected people." In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, history closely followed social reformism. Historians such as Frederick Jackson Turner, Carl Lotus Becker and John Franklin Jameson analyzed the Revolution in the light of class struggle often with excessive veneration. For Charles Austin Beard, the Founding Fathers had betrayed the Revolution and defended the economic interests of the owners, a thesis echoed by historians in the 1960s.

During the Cold War, exceptionalists French historians considered the American Revolution to be imperfect because it was not social. For their part, the American exceptionalists pointed out the final failure of the French Revolution and highlighted the anteriority of the American uprising. "Revisionist" historians such as Daniel J. Boorstin, Edmund S. Morgan and Bernard Bailyn dominated the 1950s-1960s. A history often tinged with ideology and propaganda, stressed the need for an internal consensus in the face of the Soviet threat: from the revolutionary period came the values common to American politics today, especially liberalism.

In the 1970s, the historiography of the American Revolution was renewed thanks to the studies of Alfred Young or Staughton Lynd who was interested in the social history or mentalities and not just in events. Through numerous monographs, he highlighted the role of blacks, women and the crowd. For some, the American Revolution would be the result of social inequalities in the thirteen colonies and the active role of the working classes and ethnic minorities.

In recent years, historians and the general public have returned to the study of the great figures of the American Revolution, with the publication of several biographies. The picture continues to become clearer as we look at the different motivations and figures who played an active role in setting the corner stone for our country.

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