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The concept of imperialism has played a crucial role in shaping historical events throughout centuries. Long histories of repression have plagued many nations but have also witnessed the birth of resistance movements and rebellious eras. A crucial characteristic of history, repressive regimes have garnered attention in the form of historical study. In the wake of modern revolutionary movements and rebellious groups, the American Revolution stands to be a reminder of a nation’s pursuit of liberty and justice. The subjection of American citizens to British political, social, and economic structures stimulated the complex dynamics and notions that would spawn into a revolutionary mindset. The creation of these views exerted a significant influence on a portion of Americans; thus, a revolution emerges. Espionage, military strategies and intervention of other nations had guaranteed an American win. Thus, a new nation was born – a direct result of the nexus between a repressive regime and an angered colony.
The structure of early colonial history in America is imperative in the narrative of the American Revolution. Emigration to the New World would witness the congregation of English, Dutch, French, Swiss, Swedes, and Finns[footnoteRef:1]. The vessels that sought the harbors of the New World were overwhelming Englishmen, and later Englishwomen, yet many would never play a part in their liberation from the British regime[footnoteRef:2]. Despite emigration from their native land, English settlers were still subjects of the king[footnoteRef:3]. The Colonial Charters ensured that ‘all and every Persons being our Subjects … shall HAVE and enjoy all Liberties, Franchises, and Immunities … as if they had been abiding and born, within this our Realm of England, or any other of our said Dominions.’[footnoteRef:4] The Thirteen British Colonies became a focal point of the English governments as their interest in the colonies shifted to a view of convenience. The colonies were subjected to a rapid increase in population (an answer to England’s issue of overpopulation) and suffered from the exploitation of raw materials[footnoteRef:5]. From 1650 to 1785, Virginia witnessed a population boom that increased 15,000 colonists to 60,000[footnoteRef:6]. In Massachusetts, religious strife increased a 1,000 Puritan population in 1630 to 20,000 within a decade[footnoteRef:7]. With a rapid increase in the colonist’s population, the Native Americans were subjected to the atrocities of imperialism. The colonists brought illnesses and would frequently engage in war with the Native American tribes to claim land[footnoteRef:8]. Second governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, justified Puritan violence against Natives through vacuum domicilium (unoccupied land): ‘It was against the laws of God and nature, that so much land should be idle, while so many Christians wanted it to labor on and to raise bread.’[footnoteRef:9] Thus, with the origins of American settlers, a form of governance emerges. Although still subjects of the king, the colonies experimented with forms of governance and developed a sense of identity. The patriotism that would surge throughout the colonies would lay the basis for revolutionary notions. [1: Mildred Campbell, ‘SOCIAL ORIGINS OF SOME EARLY AMERICANS,’ in Seventeenth-Century America: Essays in Colonial History, ed. James Morton Smith (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959), 63.] [2: Ibid, 64.] [3: James H. Kettner, ‘Naturalization and the Colonies,’ in The Development of American Citizenship, 1608-1870 (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1978), 65.] [4: Ibid, 65.] [5: James Ciment, Colonial America: an Encyclopedia of Social, Political, Cultural, and Economic History Armonk (New York: Sharpe Reference, 2006), 428.] [6: Ibid, 428.] [7: Ibid, 429.] [8: Jerome R. Reich, Colonial America (New York: Routledge, 2010), 77.] [9: Ibid, 77.]
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The American Revolution was the culmination of policies embarked by the British governments. Colonists believed sinister intentions behind policies and that taxation systems were a British ploy to deprive Americans of their liberties[footnoteRef:10]. The cost of the Seven Years War proved to be a financial burden that British politicians believed should be compensated by their American subjects[footnoteRef:11]. In 1763, Britain’s national debt stood at £132,716,000; a number that convinced British politicians that the colonies had failed to provide adequate supplies to the crown[footnoteRef:12]. The first of the taxation measures introduced was the 1764 Sugar Act[footnoteRef:13]. As part of this revenue-raising tax, the smuggling of sugar and molasses was confronted and the duty on molasses, previously 6 d. a gallon, was reduced to 3 d.[footnoteRef:14] The 1765 Stamp Act further angered the colonists. Prime Minister George Grenville imposed the tax that would affix stamps to formally written documents, or other documents written in the colonies, e.g. newspapers, legal documents, playing cards, etc.[footnoteRef:15] The Stamp Act ignited a fierce reaction from the colonies, as demonstrated in a speech by Eliphalet Dyer of Connecticut: ‘If the colonies do not now unite … they may for the future, bid farewell to freedom and liberty …’[footnoteRef:16] Mobs formed in response to the taxation measures, most notable the Sons of Liberty.[footnoteRef:17] Benjamin Franklin, appearing before the House of Commons, successfully aided in the 1765 Stamp Act being repealed. However, the British Government would then pass the Declaratory Act, subjecting the colonists to the full authority of the British Parliament.[footnoteRef:18] The reaction of the colonists towards the British rule can be showcased in Founding Father Alexander Hamilton’s The Farmer Refuted, a response to Samuel Seabury’s letters denouncing revolutionaries: ‘If the sword of oppression be permitted to lop off one limb without opposition, reiterated strokes will soon dismember the whole body.’[footnoteRef:19] After the events of the Boston Tea Party (colonists emptying British cargo into the Boston Harbour), the Massachusetts Assembly formed a revolutionary government in April 1775.[footnoteRef:20] [10: H.T. Dickinson, Britain and the American Revolution (London: Routledge, 1999), 44.] [11: Ibid, 45.] [12: Ibid, 45-46.] [13: Alan Farmer, Access to History: the American Revolution and the Birth of the USA 1740-1801 (London: Hodder Education Company, 2015), 31.] [14: Ibid, 31.] [15: Ibid, 35.] [16: Ibid, 35.] [17: Ibid, 38.] [18: Ibid, 39.] [19: Peter Kratske, Defining Documents: The American Revolution (Ipswich, Massachusetts: Salem Press, 2012), 215.] [20: Alan Farmer, 55.]
The American Revolutionary Wars began on April 19, 1775 when Thomas Gage sent troops to destroy a weapon storage at Concord.[footnoteRef:21] Travelling through Lexington, Gage’s soldiers encountered a group of radical colonists and engaged in a quick skirmish. The British continued to Concord where further fighting occurred. Gage’s operation claimed the 273 British casualties, and 95 Americans.[footnoteRef:22] On June 17, 1775, General Howe led the Battle of Bunker Hill – a success for the British in gaining high ground.[footnoteRef:23] Two days prior, the Second Continental Congress appointed Virginian aristocrat, George Washington, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.[footnoteRef:24] Reflecting upon his appointment, Washington writes to his wife, Martha Washington: ‘… I have used every endeavour in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity…’.[footnoteRef:25] Differing from George Washington’s initial reluctance on using guerrilla warfare, Horatio Gates and Nathanael Greene operated the American Southern Forces with irregular warfare.[footnoteRef:26] A classic tactic of guerrilla warfare, soldiers fought only from cover and consistently retreated before fighting again. The activities of the Southern Campaign were crucial in the defeat of the British in the South and their Yorktown capture.[footnoteRef:27] General Charles Cornwallis, after suffering a heavy defeat at the Delaware River, made for Yorktown. The siege of Yorktown lasted for ten days as Cornwallis and the British lines battled both Washington’s Continental Army and the French’s naval support in Chesapeake Bay.[footnoteRef:28] On October 19, 1781, the British Army, defeated, marched out of Yorktown, allegedly to the tune of ‘When the King Shall Enjoy His Own Again.’[footnoteRef:29] September 3, 1783 marked the signing of The Peace Treaty of Paris, which acknowledged American Independence.[footnoteRef:30] [21: Spencer Tucker, Wars That Changed History: 50 of the World’s Greatest Conflicts (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2015), 249.] [22: Ibid, 249.] [23: Ibid, 250.] [24: Ibid, 250.] [25: Francis D. Cogliano and Kirsten E. Phimister, Revolutionary America, 1763-1815 (New York: Routledge, 2010), 103.] [26: Christos G. Frentzos and Antonio S. Thompson, The Routledge Handbook of American Military and Diplomatic History (New York: Routledge, 2014), 105.] [27: Ibid, 111.] [28: Norman Demarais, America’s First Ally: France in the Revolutionary War (Haverton: Casemate, 2019), https://search-ebscohost-com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,sso&db=nlebk&AN=2171118&site=ehost-live&scope=site. ] [29: Ibid.] [30: Ibid.]
A ragtag army filled with unexperienced volunteers, the win of the Continental Army against the professional, elite British Army was unanticipated. Numerous factors play into this win: espionage, various military strategies, and alliances. Espionage was a crucial characteristic of the revolutionary cause. Facing an experienced army, Washington realised the worth of British intelligence. Notable spies include Hercules Mulligan, a tailor to British soldiers, the Culper Spy Ring, and Benjamin Church.[footnoteRef:31] The use of espionage aided in uncovering British attack plans, troop numbers, and location of supplies.[footnoteRef:32] The Fabian strategy further proved to benefit the Continental Army in securing successes against the British Army. Washington’s aide-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton, penned an account on the Fabian strategy: ‘Our business then is to avoid a General engagement and waste the enemy away by constantly goading their sides, in a desultory teazing way.’[footnoteRef:33] Alliances further proved to be beneficial for Washington’s army. Of notable importance was the young nobleman Marie Joseph Paul de Lafayette.[footnoteRef:34] Enthused with the revolutionaries’ cause, Lafayette formed a bond and friendship with Washington.[footnoteRef:35] In the siege of Yorktown, Lafayette stationed artillery surrounding the British, trapping them until the French fleet arrived.[footnoteRef:36] The alliance with the French further proved to be useful in the sense that it aided America’s naval wins, increased supplies and man power.[footnoteRef:37] [31: Michael J. Sulick, Spying in America: Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2012), 21; Susan Casey, Women Heroes of the American Revolution: 20 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Defiance and Rescue (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2015), 75.] [32: Susan Casey, 76.] [33: Donald Stoker and others, Strategy in the American War of Independence (London: Routledge, 2009), 16.] [34: Robert J. Allison, The American Revolution: A Concise History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 46.] [35: Ibid, 47.] [36: Ibid, 65.] [37: Ibid, 66.]
Therefore, the subjection of American citizens to British political, social, and economic structures stimulated the complex dynamics and notions that would spawn into a revolutionary mindset. The enforcement of taxation without representation created resentment and anger throughout the colonies who would then seek independence from the imperialistic regime. Throughout the American Revolutionary Wars, the Patriots utilised espionage, alliances and military strategies to secure an American victory. The American Revolution began as a narrative of identity and escalated into an 18-year-long colonial revolt. The notions of revolution and rebellion are not modern constructs and will endure until the notion of ‘liberty’ is achieved.
- Allison, Robert J. The American Revolution: A Concise History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
- Campbell, Mildred. “SOCIAL ORIGINS OF SOME EARLY AMERICANS,” in Seventeenth-Century America: Essays in Colonial History, ed. James Morton Smith. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959.
- Casey, Susan. Women Heroes of the American Revolution: 20 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Defiance and Rescue. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2015.
- Ciment, James. Colonial America: an Encyclopedia of Social, Political, Cultural, and Economic History Armonk. New York: Sharpe Reference, 2006.
- Cogliano, Francis D. and Kirsten E. Phimister. Revolutionary America, 1763-1815. New York: Routledge, 2010.
- Demarais, Norman. America’s First Ally: France in the Revolutionary War. Haverton: Casemate, 2019. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,sso&db=nlebk&AN=2171118&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
- Dickinson, H.T. Britain and the American Revolution. London: Routledge, 1999.
- Farmer, Alan. Access to History: the American Revolution and the Birth of the USA 1740-1801. London: Hodder Education Company, 2015.
- Frentzos, Christo G. and Antonio S. Thompson. The Routledge Handbook of American Military and Diplomatic History. New York: Routledge. 2014.
- Kettner, James H. “Naturalization and the Colonies,” in The Development of American Citizenship, 1608-1870. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978.
- Kratske, Peter. Defining Documents: The American Revolution. Ipswich, Massachusetts: Salem Press, 2012.
- Reich, Jerome R. Colonial America. New York: Routledge, 2010.
- Stoker, Donald, Kenneth J. Hagan, and Michael T. McMaster. Strategy in the American War of Independence. London: Routledge, 2009.
- Sulick, Michael J. Spying in America: Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War. Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2012.
- Tucker, Spencer. Wars That Changed History: 50 of the World’s Greatest Conflicts. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2015.