The events in England’s North American colonies from 1775-1783 have variously been described as “the American Revolution” or “the American War of Independence.”
Which do you think is a more fitting description? Was this a revolution, which not only overthrew a government but also ushered in revolutionary social and political changes?
Or was it merely a war of independence, in which one government replaced another, without disturbing social relationships and Americans’ everyday lives to any great extent? Was it a forward-looking attempt to create a new revolutionary society, or a conservative struggle to take America back to the way things were before 1763? (Or was it something else altogether?)
As you begin to think about this question, you may want to consider the issues raised by the historian George Allan Billias: Was the transformation [from English colonies into the United States of America]sweeping enough to justify the term revolutionary? Did the new nation differ that much from the former colonies? Did the laws, institutions and customs of the
United States constitute a sharp break with the British heritage? Was American
society radically reshaped and restructured as a result of independence? Was there a dramatic shift in the ideas, attitudes, and behavior of most Americans in
the relationship between individuals and their government, the society, and with one another? Within the context of our nation’s history, such issues may be reduced to a single question: How revolutionary was our Revolution?
Note: There are no “right” or “wrong” answers to this question that historians have long debated (and continue to debate). We fully expect to see a variety of well-written,
persuasive essays that come to very different conclusions from one another. Keep in mind that you need not confine your study to the years of the actual war (1775-1783), but may (and probably should) consider the longer trajectory, from the outbreak of the imperial crisis in 1763 to the end of the 18th century, which is where we will end this section of the course.
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