10 Major Effects of the American Revolution

The American Revolution, which took place between 1765 and 1783, was a successful revolt of Thirteen British colonies in North America against the British Empire. It ended with Britain officially recognizing the independence of the colonies and the formation of the United States of America. The American Revolution was the first successful revolution against a European empire; and it led to the first successful establishment of a republican form of democratically elected government. This would go on to have a major international impact starting a wave of revolutions known as the Atlantic Revolutions. Domestically, the American Revolution would lead to major changes affecting the life of most American citizens including African Americans, women and Native Americans. Slavery was abolished in the Northern states; more women started to get educated; and Native Americans lost most of their territory as America rapidly expanded westwards. Here are the 10 major effects of the American Revolution including its political, economic, social and global impact.

#1 Republican Governments

The American Revolution led to genuinely democratic politics becoming possible in the former colonies. In fact, the most important immediate consequence of America declaring independence was the creation of written state constitutions in 1776 and 1777. These new state constitutions were based on the idea of “popular sovereignty”, that is, the power and authority of the government derived from the people. A declaration or “bill” of rights was incorporated in many of these constitutions to protect the rights of individuals. Moreover, concepts of liberty, equality among men and hostility toward corruption became incorporated as core values of liberal republicanism. The new state constitutions often extended the franchise to adopt universal male suffrage with no property qualifications. Along with the new constitutions, there was a reform in penal code which eliminated such brutal physical punishments as ear-cropping and branding, all still widely practiced in Britain.

United States Bill of Rights
United States Bill of Rights

#2 Independence of the United States

The American Revolutionary War was officially brought to an end with a set of treaties known as the Peace of Paris, which were signed in 1783 and 1784. Of these, the most important was the Treaty of Paris, which was signed on September 3, 1783 by the representatives of King George III of Great Britain and representatives of the United States of America. The article 1 of this treaty acknowledged the existence of United States’ as free, sovereign and independent states. Among other things, the Treaty of Paris set the boundaries between the British Empire in North America and the United States of America. The Peace of Paris also resulted in France gaining two small colonies, Tobago in the West Indies and Senegal in West Africa; Spain regained control of Menorca and Florida; while the Dutch didn’t gain anything of significant value.

1783 Treaty of Paris
Signature Page of the 1783 Treaty of Paris

#3 Native Americans Losing Their Territory

Several Native American groups participated in the American Revolution. Majority of them sided with the British hoping that a British victory would stop continued colonial expansion into their territories. However, most didn’t directly participate in the war and remained neutral seeing little value in joining what they perceived to be a European conflict. The Mohawk chief Thayendanegea was one of the major Native American leaders who led Indian, British and Loyalist forces on punishing raids in western New York and Pennsylvania in 1778 and 1779. After the war, the peace negotiations had no native representatives. The British granted the United States all land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River even though this region was largely unsettled by whites and mostly inhabited by Native Americans. Soon after gaining independence, the United States rapidly expanded westward, often brutally, acquiring Indian lands by treaty and by force. Stock bridges and Oneidas who had supported the Americans lost lands as well as Senecas and Shawnees who had fought against them. It may be said that American independence marked the beginning of the end of what had remained of Native American independence.

Eastern North America Map 1775
1775 map of eastern North America with the 13 colonies, the Indian Reserve and parts of New Spain

#4 Loyalist Expatriation

When the American revolution started, the population in the colonies was divided into the Patriots, the ones who supported the revolution; and the Loyalists, those Americans who remained faithful to the British Empire during the war. Around 20% of the population of the colonies were Loyalists. However, a small percentage of them actively supported the British cause. During the Revolution, the Loyalists had to suffer regular harassment for supporting the Crown. When the United States gained independence, an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 Loyalists left the newly found nation. Of these, some migrated to Britain. However, a great majority received land and subsidies for resettlement in British colonies in what now is Canada, especially Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Nonetheless, around 85% of the Loyalists stayed in the United States as American citizens and some who had left also returned at a later date.

#5 Abolition of Slavery In The Northern States

Before the American Revolution, every colony in the Americas legally sanctioned slavery including the British colonies in North America. After the United States won its independence, the revolutionary ideals of equality played a part in outright abolition or gradual emancipation in all Northern States by 1804. The Northern states passed constitutions which contained language about equal rights or specifically abolished slavery. While no Southern State abolished slavery, the revolutionary ideals did make an impact there too. Several Southern States banned the importation of slaves and allowed the individual owners the right to free their slaves by personal decision. Prior to the Revolution, there was a universal restriction in the South on masters voluntarily freeing their own slaves. There were numerous slaveholders who freed their slaves citing revolutionary ideals in their documents. 10,000 slaves in Virginia were freed through manumissions while three quarters of African-Americans in Delaware were freed by 1810.

US Slavery Map 1800
United States Slavery Map 1800

#6 Republican Motherhood

Although the American Revolution did not have a revolutionary impact in the lives of women in the United States, there were some important changes. Republicanism was the driving ideology of the revolution and this in turn led to a concept known as “Republican Motherhood”. A successful republic rested on the virtue of its citizens and, for that to happen, the role of the mother became paramount. It was believed that daughters in a family needed to be raised to uphold the ideals of republicanism so that, when they became mothers, they could pass on republican values to the next generation. Though it limited the role of a woman to the domestic sphere, Republican Motherhood encouraged the education of women. Despite this, American women still found themselves subordinated, legally and socially, to their husbands, disfranchised and usually with only the role of mother open to them. Nonetheless, the education of women had a long term influence as educated women would begin the women’s rights movement in the United States by mid-19th century.

Republican Motherhood
A cartoon on Republican Motherhood

#7 Economic Impact

The American Revolutionary War put an immense strain on the economy of the United States. After gaining independence, the new national government owed approximately $12 million in foreign debt and $44 million in domestic debt; and state governments owed approximately $25 million, mostly in war debts. Moreover, the new currency had an enormous inflation rate and deprecated dramatically. However, at the same time, the Revolution ended the various restrictions imposed by the British on the colonial economies including limiting trade, settlement and manufacturing. Thus new markets were opened and new trade relationships were established. The was perhaps the most important economic consequence of the Revolution for America in the long term. The United States would go on to recover from the economic challenges posed by the Revolution and enter into two centuries of unprecedented growth which would make it the leading economy in the world.

US GDP per person
GDP per person in the United States

#8 Separation of Church and State

Even before the Revolution, several British colonies in America practiced religious tolerance. However, only four of thirteen colonies had no established, tax-supported church: Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. After the Revolution, both states and the federal government took steps to guarantee freedom of worship and to largely remove the government from religious affairs. Article Six of the United States Constitution prohibited a religious test as a requirement for holding a governmental position. More importantly, in 1791, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution opened with the words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Thus, with the adoption of the Constitution and then the First Amendment, the United States become the first country to separate church and state at the national level. However, the term separation of church and state is not used in the constitution. More accurately, it may be said that the Constitution promotes freedom of religion and prohibits the federal government from inhibiting its citizens’ ability to worship as they wish. In the years to come, numerous nations would follow America’s example in this regard.

US Constitution First Amendment
First Amendment to the United States Constitution

#9 Impact on the British Empire

Apart from losing an important part of their Empire, Great Britain lost a huge amount of money in fighting the American Revolutionary War. This led to the national debt soaring and creating a yearly interest of nearly 10 million pounds. As a result, taxes had to be raised. Moreover, imports and exports experienced large drops and the following recession caused stocks and land prices to plummet. At the same time, the level of unemployment fell as Britain needed more men for the army and trade with U.S. rose to the same level as trade with the colonies by 1785. The American Revolution also led to the British Empire employing two distinct forms of imperialism: one for native people and the other for European settlers. While the Britishers continued to oppress native people in Asia and Africa, they increasingly accommodated settler demands for autonomy and self-government in their white colonies. In 1791, Quebec was divided into two colonies, Upper and Lower Canada, each with its own elected assembly. In Australia, agitation for representative government resulted in the Australian Colonies Government Act of 1850; while New Zealand got a representative government in 1852.

British Empire Map 1921
The British Empire at its territorial peak in 1921

#10 The Atlantic Revolutions

The success of the American Revolution had a major impact on the spread of liberal and revolutionary ideals internationally. It inspired anti-monarchical, democratic or independence movements in numerous nations including France, Netherlands, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Ireland and Haiti. This wave of revolutions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries became known as the Atlantic Revolutions. The American Revolution was the first of the Atlantic Revolutions and the French Revolution was perhaps the most radical. Though the American and French revolutions had different motives, they had striking similarities. Among others, unjust taxation, unequal rights and inspiration from the philosophy of enlightenment thinkers, were among the primary causes of both the revolutions. Moreover, the American Declaration of Independence served as a model for the influential Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789. Like the American document, it too focused on concepts like equal rights and popular sovereignty. Though many scholars don’t consider the American Revolution as a primary cause of the French Revolution, most do believe that it did have some impact on the revolution in France.

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