• Unit 2: The American Revolution

    By the mid-eighteenth century, Britain had colonies and trading posts across the globe. During this period of colonialism and European imperialism, European countries carved up the world – taking large portions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. While some European powers used these newly-acquired territories to establish homes for their people, most viewed their colonies as an opportunity to harvest natural and human capital to enrich the "mother country". The colonies and the people who lived there were not equal partners. By the 18th century, England had colonies in India and the Americas.

    While the American colonies produced certain cash crops such as tobacco, the British monarchy and government largely ignored them because they were not as rich in resources as their other colonies. While some colonies had royal governors, most were allowed to govern themselves and were not taxed. The American colonies were left alone, in a state of relative salutary neglect.

    This changed in 1763 when the American colonies got caught up in the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), one of the many conflicts between France and England, the two major superpowers of the colonial era. England emerged victorious from this conflict which the American colonists called the French and Indian War. It effectively pushed France out of North America.

    Despite gaining a great amount of territory, the war was costly to the British Empire. To recoup its losses, the British government famously imposed new taxes on its American colonies. In addition to this sudden change in British governance, the Proclamation Line of 1763 blocked the American colonists from accessing the territory gained from war. The British had agreed to cede this land to the Native Americans who had been their allies during the Seven Years' War.

    Completing this unit should take you approximately 8 hours.

    • 2.1: Origins of the American Revolution

      The American Revolution was the first revolution where a colony had rebuked its colonial power. The colonists replaced the English monarchy with a republican government that was a direct interpretation of Enlightenment philosophy. While the aristocracy had reorganized power within the English monarchy during the Glorious Revolution, they did not replace it.

      In many ways, the American revolution was an elitist movement of the upper echelon of American society – a sort of aristocracy. However, the revolutionaries were not noblemen, and they did not maintain the monarchical system. This American Experiment inspired other colonies in Latin America and the Caribbean to rise against their mother countries as they also moved to supplant the monarchical colonial system with a representative and republican government.

    • 2.2: Revolutionizing Governance

      Some argue that the true revolution began when the United States gained its freedom. The American "founders" turned to their heroes of the Enlightenment (John Locke, Montesquieu, Hobbes, and Rousseau) as they approached their monumental task of creating a government that would govern and maintain its independence for years to come.

      The new government and its first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, failed. Inspired by fears of federal suppression, state governments were supreme, and federal regulators had little governing authority. It had only one branch – the legislative – and only one house of congress. States were equally represented, despite their size, while federal administrators could not levy taxes or interfere with state authority. The federal government ultimately failed because its powers were so limited – its sole responsibility was to deal with foreign powers, but it did not even have the tax revenue to pay its soldiers or other expenses. In fact, many soldiers were thrown in debtor's prison, which led to a populist uprising in 1786–1787, when Daniel Shay (1747–1825) led Shay's Rebellion to protest the shady, state tax collection system in the state of Massachusetts. Shay's Rebellion was a precursor to the Constitutional Convention.

    • Unit 2 Assessment

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