HS-102 Readings

The American Revolution


 The aristocratic and middle class leaders of the English colonies were among the most privileged of leadership elites in the 18th century. They were, to all intents and purposes, self governing because of the separation of an ocean between England and its colonies. They were accustomed to self-government and were jealous to preserve the "rights of Englishmen".
The English Parliament, though recognized in England as the possessor of sovereign power, had not exercised direct rule over the colonies. Each colony had its own legislature. These, while officially subordinate to the king and his appointed colonial governor, informally exercised considerable political influence, since they represented the leadership elite.

When the home government sought to impose taxes after the Seven Years War in order to pay the war debt, the colonies resisted because they had not been consulted through their colonial legislatures.

The determination of the English government to enforce its will upon the colonies led to a series of political conflicts over a dozen years. The revolution resulted from the British decision to use force upon its colonies.

Colonial resistance was effective because the rebel leaders were educated, articulate people who were experienced with government.

The revolution had to be fought until the British government realized that they could not overcome the obstacles of a well-organized rebellion on the other side of the ocean.

The circumstances provided the opportunity for the rebel leadership to establish a government based upon the liberal ideals of the Enlightenment.Its success set an example for leadership elites in Europe, particularly in France.


Moderate phase:1763-1775

 The end of the 7 Years War, a costly war, led the British Government to try to raise revenues  from the colonies. Colonial protest against the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, the Townshend Act, amd the Tea Act led to a standoff while tensions rose.

Radical phase:1775-1783

TheRevolutionary War began when the British tried to enforce their rule with the army and navy, and lasted until they learned they could not impose their will upon the colonies.  Meanwhile the war created conditions which led to the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration included statements of Enlightenment principles: equality of opportunity under the law, and the contract theory. of government. These were radical ideas in the context of the times. They challenged the principle of inheritance as the basis for power. They challenged the fundamental class inequalities of the time, in particular, class status and privilege based upon inheritance.

The Continental Congress wrote the Articles of Confederation, creating a weak central government without revenue-raising powers, while the former colonial legislatures wrote Constitutions for 13 separate and sovereign states.

Counter-revolutionary phase: 1783-1800

After the war, the revolutionary leadership soon realized that the central government was too weak to protect the interests of people (especially the leadership who were property owners), and they wrote a new Constitution creating a Federal Government with taxing and other powers of a sovereign state.

The new Constitution was tested in the first administration under President Washington when a tax rebellion was put down. The election of Jefferson as President in 1800 demonstrated that the new system could survive a change in power from one elected party to another. A system had been established which recognized the validity of elections as the basis for power. On the other hand, the same leadership elite, consisting of white men who were wealthy owners of property, which had control of colonial legislatures before the revolution, dominated both political parties after the revolution. The liberal revolution, with its inherent limitations, was completed.