11. The American Revolution
But just after Christmas, Washington boldly counter-attacked, reviving American spirits and ensuring that the war continued. Contemporaries blamed General Howe, the British commander, for not seizing the opportunity to crush the rebellion when he had the chance. Historians have been kinder, recognising that, even in the campaign, the British faced major logistical challenges supplying their army at such a distance from home, and that Howe had no wish to alienate Americans further by using brutal methods.
The conflict was more of a civil war than a conventional international contest.
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Estimates vary, but probably somewhere around a fifth of white colonists refused to accept a complete break with Britain. Many of them had supported resistance to the claims of the British parliament to tax the colonies, but they could not stomach a rejection of the link with the British crown. Some of these loyalists took up arms on the British side, and many of them migrated to Canada at the end of the war, providing the basis for its Anglophone population.
Less than a year after the fighting started, the French government decided to support the Americans. The rebels first received French arms and ammunition; these vital supplies were followed by large injections of cash, which continued throughout the war. The French became belligerents in , turning a war that had begun as a struggle in and for America into something much bigger. Most importantly for the British, French intervention threatened the home territories with invasion. As the British redeployed their forces to meet the challenges of this wider war, their chances of recovering the rebel colonies diminished greatly.
Read more:. French intervention was bad enough for the British, but their task became still more difficult when the Spanish entered the war as French allies in The French and Spanish fleets combined outgunned the Royal Navy. In the summer of , a Franco-Spanish armada controlled the Channel.
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Only disease on board the allied ships, and disagreements between the French and Spanish admirals, prevented an invasion. At the end of , the Dutch joined the conflict, too. While they posed little threat to the British on their own, their involvement extended the geographical range of the war even further, and so made the struggle in America still more of a secondary consideration for British politicians.
French intervention made the British position in America much more vulnerable.
Until , the British army had been able to rely on the dominance of the Royal Navy. British troops could be conveyed anywhere along the Atlantic coast of the colonies, and British generals had no need to fear for their extended Atlantic supply line. But once the French joined the war, their navy posed an immediate threat.
If French ships could co-operate with American troops on land, isolated British outposts could be captured. At first, the French and Americans failed to co-ordinate their operations, but at Yorktown, Virginia, they succeeded to dramatic effect in autumn The battle of Yorktown [a decisive Franco-American victory ending on 19 October ] may have finished the conflict in America, but it did not end the wider war.
The Mediterranean garrison of Gibraltar, besieged from , held out right to the end of the fighting, withstanding repeated attempts by the Spanish and French to take it. These triumphs strengthened the British hand in the peace negotiations, and meant that the outcome was not as disastrous as had looked probable immediately after Yorktown.
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One might even argue that the American aspect of the war was not the unmitigated British defeat that most accounts suggest. By the s, the essential features of the old colonial relationship had been restored, at least in economic terms.
Quartz crowdsourced answers from people on Reddit and Quora to get a sense of how this seminal event in the American historical ethos is taught to everyone else. We touched on it in A level history UK. Almost all of the history I do remember in school was based around Tudors, Edwardians, Victorians, and the two World Wars. We are taught about the history of potatoes and the Cold War. Brit here. Studied history all through school, university and up to MA level. I have never learned about the American revolution in any formal setting.
As far as the British Empire went, it grew dramatically in the century after the revolution and developed a more global reach.
As far as European history goes, the French revolution is far more important as it had far more tangible effects for Europeans. When you have over 2, years of history including monarchical struggle, religious tyranny, our own civil war, attempted invasion, two world wars on our door step etc, then it just mostly gets missed. But for most of us the American Revolution is the story of an everyday farmer , who is haunted by his war memories and wants nothing more than to live peacefully on his small plantation with his children… :.
But outside of their borders… The French Revolution fundamentally altered the course of Western civilization. Source: Australian.
The first democracy that created a domino effect in all of europe to follow its lead. Not taught in South America schools.