The question ‘What was the American Revolution?’ has been asked many times and been given many answers. At its simplest, it was a crisis within the British Empire: the loss of thirteen colonies when viewed from a British perspective, and the achievement of independence from the American stance. The second and more important component was the creation of an American republic. This in turn had three elements: the establishment of governments in each American state during the war, the creation of a national union, and substantial social change. Each raised important ideological questions concerning the source of legitimate authority, the protection of liberty, the necessity for government power and the nature of equality.
Victory over France in the Seven Years War created problems for Britain’s North American policy from 1763 onwards. Thirteen mainland colonies were already mature and virtually self-governing, but acquisition of French territory persuaded successive governments to reorganise and consolidate the empire of which they formed the major part. Legislation attempting to raise revenue in the colonies, particularly the notorious Stamp Act of 1765, provoked the colonies to vehement resistance. In 1773 the Boston Tea Party encouraged both sides to turn up the heat rather than soothe angered feelings. Early the following year the British Parliament passed four Coercive Acts, which Americans significantly referred to as the Intolerable Acts. In response the colonies summoned the First Continental Congress which met in September 1774 to protest against the legislation and plan their responses. Their intention was to find a political solution to the dispute within the empire, but in April 1775, British troops and American militia clashed at Lexington, just outside Boston, Massachusetts. Fourteen months later, in July 1776, the Americans declared independence. The war dragged on for five more years. For a time it seemed that Britain would be successful in suppressing the colonial rebellion, but in 1777 General John Burgoyne was forced to surrender at Saratoga, New York. France entered the conflict in alliance with the United States early the following year, and what had been only a colonial rebellion became a world war in which Britain and France fought each other as