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American Revolution facts for kids

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The American Revolution is the series of events, ideas, and changes that resulted in the creation of the United States of America. Before the revolution, the thirteen colonies in North America had been politically controlled by the British Empire. The American Revolutionary War (17751783) was one part of the revolution, but the revolution began before the first shot was fired at Lexington and Concord and continued after the British surrender at Yorktown. Most historians agree that the revolution began around the time of the French and Indian War (17541763) and ended with the election of George Washington as the first President of the United States in 1789.


Map of territorial growth 1775
Before the Revolution: The 13 colonies are in red, the pink area was claimed by Great Britain after the French and Indian War, and the orange region was claimed by Spain. Note that this map does not show the bulk of British North America of that time.

Main article: Colonial America

In the early 1760s, Great Britain possessed a vast empire on the North American continent. In addition to the thirteen British colonies, victory in the Seven Years' War had given Great Britain claim over New France (Canada), Spanish Florida, and the Native American lands east of the Mississippi River. A war against France's former Indian allies - Pontiac's Rebellion - had settled things down in the western frontier. Most white colonists in America considered themselves loyal subjects of the British Crown, with the same rights and duties as people in Britain.

Religious trends

The Great Awakening caused people to question the authority of established religious institutions, especially, but not only, the Church of England. The revival placed authority on Scripture rather than tradition.

Road to rebellion

After the French and Indian War and Pontiac's Rebellion, newly crowned King George III wanted to make sure England still strongly controlled the land and economic state of North America. He created new economic and land distribution policies. The colonists did not like these new policies and, over time, grew increasingly dissatisfied with how much control the British Crown had over them from across the ocean. They began to want to rule themselves.

Economic disputes, 1760-70

John Hancock 1770-crop
John Hancock by John Singleton Copley, 1770

In 1760, the Crown began looking for more ways to get money from the colonies to help pay the British national debt. Britain thought this was okay because the colonists were enjoying the benefits of living in peace in the New World.

Britain had already passed the Navigation Acts, which meant that England controlled ships, shipping, trade, and commerce between other countries and with its own colonies. However, the colonists had found ways to avoid the laws, and England did not like this. They began strictly enforcing the Navigation Acts by using open-ended search warrants called the Writs of Assistance.

In 1764, more taxes were added to the colonists. British Prime Minister George Grenville's Sugar Act and Currency Act led to protests and the boycott of British goods. The colonists did not think that Parliament should be able to tax them if they were not also represented in Parliament by their citizens. They believed that only their colonial assemblies had the right to tax them. The slogan "no taxation without representation" became popular. Committees of correspondence were formed in the colonies to coordinate resistance to the tyrannical British rule.

In 1765, Grenville passed the Stamp Act as a way to pay for places for British troops to stay in North America. The Stamp Act required all legal documents, permits, commercial contracts, newspapers, pamphlets, and playing cards in the colonies to carry a tax stamp.

Protests took place throughout the colonies. Secret societies known as the Sons of Liberty were formed in every colony. The Stamp Act Congress was formed, which sent a formal protest to Parliament in October of 1765. Parliament did repeal the Stamp Act (reverse the law), but they immediately followed with the Declaratory Act. This stated that the Parliament's authority was the same in America as in Britain and that Parliament had the authority to pass laws that the colonies had to follow.

Boston Massacre
This exaggerated depiction of the "Boston Massacre" by Paul Revere was designed to inflame opposition to the military occupation of Boston.

In 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts. These acts placed taxes on common goods that were imported to the colonies, including glass, paint, lead, paper, and tea. This was also intensely disliked among the colonies. Colonial leaders organized boycotts of these British imports. British customs officials seized the Liberty, a ship belonging to the colonial merchant John Hancock, on June 10, 1768, because they suspected him of smuggling goods to the colonies. This led to more angry protests in the street.

British customs officials reported to London that Boston was in a state of insurrection. By October of 1768, British troops arrived in Boston. The colonists did not appreciate having British troops in their town. On March 5, 1770, British soldiers of the 29th Regiment of Foot fired into an angry mob, killing five people. This is called the Boston Massacre.

Though the Townshend Acts were repealed in 1770, the British tried to show that they still had power over the colonies by keeping the tax on tea. For the revolutionaries, who firmly believed that only their colonial representatives could charge them taxes, it was still one tax too many.

Western land dispute

George Caleb Bingham - Daniel Boone escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap
Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers Through the Cumberland Gap by George Caleb Bingham

The Proclamation of 1763 said that settlers could not settle west of the Appalachian Mountains. However, groups of settlers, some led by Daniel Boone, continued to settle further west and fought with the Shawnees and other peoples already living in the area.

The Quebec Act of 1774 extended Quebec's boundaries to the Ohio River. It also reestablished French civil law and required people to tolerate Roman Catholics in that territory.

Crises, 1772-75

Boston Tea Party Currier colored
This 1846 lithograph has become a classic image of the Boston Tea Party.

Choosing sides

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington
Portrait of George Washington

The American revolutionaries were known as Patriots (or Whigs or rebels). Though they agreed that England had too much power over them, did not all believe exactly the same way. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and George Washington are remembered for wanting to keep the wealth and power among the "better sorts" of colonial society. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine are remembered for representing those who were not as wealthy or powerful in society.

Many American colonists stayed loyal to the British Crown. They were known as Loyalists (or Tories or King's men). Like the revolutionaries, this group was also made up of both the rich and poor of society.

War for independence, 1775-83

Main article: American Revolutionary War

Thomas Paine produced a pamphlet entitled Common Sense, arguing that the only solution to the problems with Britain would be republicanism and independence.

Common Sense by Thomas Paine

America after the war

The American Revolution brought several important changes:

  • It introduced the separation of church and state, which ended the special privileges of the Anglican Church in the South and the Congregationalist Church in New England.
  • It showed that the government should be for the people and that if the people are not happy with their representatives, they have the right to rebel against tyranny.
  • It assigned power through written constitutions.
  • It showed that the colonists in America could become self-governing nations.

Revolution beyond America

Prise de la Bastille
The storming of the Bastille, on July 14, 1789; painting by Jean-Pierre Houël

The American Revolution set an example for the people in Europe and other parts of the world. For the first time in the western world, a people had successfully overthrown the rule of a major country. The thinkers of the Enlightenment had only written that common people had the right to overthrow unjust governments. The American Revolution proved that it could be done. It encouraged the people to fight for their rights.

Other revolutions followed, like the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and the Latin American wars of liberation. Smaller versions of revolution could also be found in Ireland in the 1798 rising, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and in the Netherlands.

In the early 19th century, revolutions broke out in the colonies in South America against Portugal and Spain. Years later, similar revolutions occurred in Asia and other places.

Interesting Facts about the American Revolution

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Revolución de las Trece Colonias para niños

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