How Revolutionary was the American Revolution?


    About the author

    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.


      The American Revolution was revolutionary, in many respects.

      It marked the first time a colony of the British Empire had successfully rebelled against the United Kingdom, and gained its independence.

      The Revolutionary War arguably also inspired the ideals of the French Revolution a decade later.

      By forming their own nation, the American people began seeing representation in return for their tax dollars, and take control of their destiny in the New World. Ordinary people became more involved in politics, as the Revolution encouraged citizens to question their leaders, and participate in Congress.

      However, after the war, many Americans still faced the same problems that existed when the British were in power.

      It would still be a long time before slavery was abolished, and more than a century before women had the right to vote. Most marginalized groups did not see immediate changes as a result of the American Revolution.

      Historical significance

      In its historical context, the American Revolution was a radical event, which led to a significant shift in British geopolitical strategy.

      At the time, the British Empire was in what historians call its first stage, during which it prioritized capturing territory in the Americas, including what is now Canada and the Caribbean.

      The American Revolution marked the first time an overseas colony had ever successfully gained its independence from the British.

      It is hard to understate the significance of this achievement from a military and historical standpoint. The British Army was considered the best in the world at the time, and had complete naval superiority over the Atlantic.

      By contrast, the early American resistance was made up of rag-tag militias, using any weapons they could get their hands on, and with very little in the way of formal training (although many were veterans of the Seven Years’ War).

      The loss of the Thirteen Colonies marked the beginning of the second stage of the British Empire, when the nation completely shifted its focus towards Asia and Africa, having been defeated for the first time.

      It is also arguable that the American Revolution heavily inspired the French Revolution, which began in 1789.

      French leaders who had fought alongside the Americans, such as Marquis de Lafayette, brought revolutionary ideals back home, helping to inspire the overthrow of the French monarchy based on similar principles – as the French called it, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”.

      Importantly, the American Revolution showed that it was possible to successfully revolt against a monarchy, even an incredibly powerful one. It is possible that if the American Patriots had not been successful, French revolutionaries would not have been able to gather enough public and political support to make the French Revolution happen.

      Political significance

      The American Revolution completely changed the United States politically.

      It led to the establishment of a republic, removing the monarchical and aristocratic legal and political systems put in place by the British.

      • Taxes began being paid to local governments, which had local elected representatives, rather than to the British, who did not provide political representation to those in the colonies.
      • It was now possible for American people (albeit mostly white men) to represent their people in state or federal legislature. Political involvement significantly increased, and ordinary people started being elected to Congress.
      • A political culture began to take shape as political involvement became easier, eventually leading to the creation of the country’s first political parties.
      • The United States Constitution was implemented in 1789, enshrining the Founding Fathers’ Enlightenment ideals, which stressed the importance of individual freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law. The Constitution and its later amendments defined the individual freedoms and liberties that are still in place today.
      • The Constitution also defined the separation of powers of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the United States government, including a system of checks and balances designed to prevent tyranny by those in power. This approach was unique for the time among other world powers.

      It’s important to note though, political involvement was still extremely limited for many social groups after the American Revolution.

      Many states had property or wealth requirements for voting and holding office, based on the assumption that property owners had a vested interest in responsible government and were more likely to be educated and informed. These requirements varied by state, but effectively excluded anyone who did not own sufficient property from politics, as well as all women and most non-white populations.

      Social significance

      In its immediate aftermath, the American Revolution did not lead to radical social change in the colonies.

      After the war, most women returned to their role as housewives, and were not allowed to vote. Slavery was still legal, and wealthy white men held the most powerful positions in society. Also, the Treaty of Paris did not see an end to war in America in the medium or long term, as conflicts with Native American tribes would continue, and the War of 1812 would soon start with the British.

      However, some historians argue that the American Revolution laid the groundwork for social change that the new nation saw in the 19th century.

      The new ideals enshrined in society, of personal freedom, democracy, and the rights of man, clashed with practices inherited from the days of the Thirteen Colonies – especially slavery.

      After the war ended, most northern states soon put plans in place to emancipate their slave populations, and after the Civil War ended in 1865, the practice was finally abolished in all 36 states.

      It can also be argued that women were able to begin arguing for a greater role in society as a result of the American Revolution.

      During the war, women had to take on many important roles while their husbands were fighting, such as making and mending clothes, preparing meals, taking care of the sick and injured, working in factories, and even being involved in combat, in some rare cases.

      After the conflict ended, the return to pre-war gender norms meant that many of these roles were no longer socially acceptable for women to hold, but their contributions during the American Revolution arguably helped lay the groundwork for future shifts in women’s roles in American society.

      Ultimately, the American Revolution was not socially radical, in the same way that several other revolutions were, such as the French or Russian Revolution. The Patriots’ successful overthrow of the British was much more political and historically significant, compared to its relative lack of influence on the social fabric of the New World.

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