Revolutionary Changes in the Atlantic World,
I0. Prelude to Revolution: The Eighteenth-Century Crisis
A0. Colonial Wars and Fiscal Crises
10. Rivalry among the European powers intensified in the early 1600s as the Dutch
attacked Spanish and Portuguese possessions in the Americas and in Asia. In the
1600s and 1700s the British then checked Dutch commercial and colonial
ambitions and went on to defeat France in the Seven Years War (1756–1763)
and take over French colonial possessions in the Americas and in India.
20. The unprecedented costs of the wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
drove European governments to seek new sources of revenue at a time when the
intellectual environment of the Enlightenment inspired people to question and to
protest the state’s attempts to introduce new ways of collecting revenue.
B0. The Enlightenment and the Old Order
10. The Enlightenment thinkers sought to apply the methods and questions of the
Scientific Revolution to the study of human society. One way of doing so was to
classify and systematize knowledge; another way was to search for natural laws
that were thought to underlie human affairs and to devise scientific techniques of
government and social regulation.
20. John Locke argued that governments were created to protect the people; he
emphasized the importance of individual rights. Jean Jacques Rousseau asserted
that the will of the people was sacred; he believed that people would act
collectively on the basis of their shared historical experience.
30. Not all Enlightenment thinkers were radicals or atheists. Many, like Voltaire,
believed that monarchs could be agents of change.
40. Some members of the European nobility (e.g. Catherine the Great of Russia,
Frederick the Great of Prussia) patronized Enlightenment thinkers and used
Enlightenment ideas as they reformed their bureaucracies, legal systems, tax
systems, and economies. At the same time, these monarchs suppressed or banned
radical ideas that promoted republicanism or attacked religion.
50. Many of the major intellectuals of the Enlightenment communicated with each
other and with political leaders. Women were instrumental in the dissemination
of their ideas, purchasing and discussing the writings of the Enlightenment
thinkers and, in the case of wealthy Parisian women, making their homes
available for salons at which Enlightenment thinkers gathered.
60. The new ideas of the Enlightenment were particularly attractive to the expanding
middle class in Europe and in the Western Hemisphere. Many European
intellectuals saw the Americas as a new, uncorrupted place in which material and
social progress would come more quickly than in Europe.
70. Benjamin Franklin came to symbolize the natural genius and the vast potential of
America. Franklin’s success in business, his intellectual and scientific
accomplishments, and his political career offered proof that in America, where
society was free of the chains of inherited privilege, genius could thrive. C0. Folk Cultures and Popular Protest
10. Most people in Western society did not share in the ideas of the Enlightenment;
common people remained loyal to cultural values grounded in the preindustrial
past. These cultural values prescribed a set of traditionally accepted mutual
rights and obligations that connected the people to their rulers.
20. When eighteenth century monarchs tried to increase their authority and to
centralize power by introducing more efficient systems of tax collection and
public administration, the people regarded these changes as violations of sacred
customs and sometimes expressed their outrage in violent protests. Such protests
aimed to restore custom and precedent, not to achieve revolutionary change.
Rationalist Enlightenment reformers also sparked popular opposition when they
sought to replace popular festivals with rational civic rituals.
30. Spontaneous popular uprisings had revolutionary potential only when they
coincided with conflicts within the elite.
II0. The American Revolution, 1775–1800
A0. Frontiers and Taxes
10. After 1763, the British government faced two problems in its North American
colonies: the danger of war with the Amerindians as colonists pushed west
across the Appalachians, and the need to raise more taxes from the colonists in
order to pay the increasing costs of colonial administration and defense. British
attempts to impose new taxes or to prevent further westward settlement provoked
protests in the colonies.
20. In the Great Lakes region, British policies undermined the Amerindian economy
and provoked a series of Amerindian raids on the settled areas of Pennsylvania
and Virginia. The Amerindian alliance that carried out these raids was defeated
within a year. Fear of more violence led the British to establish a western limit
for settlement in the Proclamation of 1763 and to slow down settlement of the
regions north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi in the Quebec Act of 1774.
30. The British government tried to raise new revenue from the American colonies
through a series of fiscal reforms and new taxes including a number of new
commercial regulations, including the Stamp Act of 1765 and other taxes and
duties. In response to these actions, the colonists organized boycotts of British
goods, staged violent protests, and attacked British officials.
40. Relations between the American colonists and the British authorities were
further exacerbated by the killing of five civilians in the “Boston Massacre”
(1770) and by the action of the British government in granting the East India
Company a monopoly on the import of tea to the colonies. When colonists in
Boston responded to the monopoly by dumping tea into Boston harbor, the
British closed the port of Boston.
B0. The Course of Revolution, 1775–1783
10. Colonial governing bodies deposed British governors and established a
Continental Congress that printed currency and organized an army. Ideological
support for independence was given by the rhetoric of thousands of street-corner
speakers, by Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, and in the Declaration of
20. The British sent a military force to pacify the colonies. The British force won
most of its battles, but it was unable to control the countryside. The British were
also unable to achieve a compromise political solution to the problems of the
colonies. 30. Amerindians served as allies to both sides. The Mohawk leader Joseph Brant led
one of the most effective Amerindian forces in support of the British; when the
war was over, he and his followers fled to Canada.
40. France entered the war as an ally of the United States in 1778 and gave crucial
assistance to the American forces, including naval support that enabled
Washington to defeat Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. Following this defeat,
the British negotiators signed the Treaty of Paris (1783), giving unconditional
independence to t