Lecture 5: The Revolution


This lecture interprets the American Revolution as a response of the Americans to what they saw as a ceiling on opportunity—opportunity being their most cherished value. It reviews the events leading up to the Revolution and explains how the underdog Americans managed to win independence from the British Empire.


Outline of Lecture


The English colonists had relative opportunity, the protection of the British Empire, and the rights of English citizens. What got them so upset in the years 1763-1776? What moved them to Revolution? The thesis of this lecture is that the colonists revolted because they perceived limitations of opportunity being placed on them by the British government.

The Colonial Protest Movement

Colonial dependency, along with the circumstances following the French and Indian War, led to a resistance mentality among the colonists as they protested acts of the British government they considered unfair. One thing led to another—British action, colonial protest—and led eventually to the most inflammatory incident of the series, the Boston Massacre.


Declaring Independence

The Tea Act, and the resulting Boston Tea Party, commenced a new round of acts and protests. Protest and petition gave way to violence at Lexington in 1775. While fighting escalated around Boston, the Continental Congress, influenced by such thinkers as Thomas Paine, eventually graduated from expressions of grievance to the Declaration of Independence.


Winning Independence

The colonial cause may have seemed unlikely, but in fact there was colonial advantages (and British disadvantages) that made the war for independence feasible. Washington managed to hold his army together through numerous defeats and finally emerge triumphant (with French help) at Yorktown. In the Treaty of Paris, 1783, American commissioners secured liberal borders and a future of opportunity for their country.

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48. Why Great Revolutions Will Become More Rare


The American Revolution has been the subject of interpretation that explores its class base—some historians seeing it as a conservative revolution to protect property, others viewing it as a radical revolution bent on leveling classes. Class lecture here offers an ambivalent view. Tocqueville definitely sees a class basis for the revolution, but has his own peculiar view as to what will follow.


·         Answer the title question: Why will revolutions in democracies, such as the US, be rare?

·         Tocqueville assumes that middle-class values will dominate American life. What are these values? Are these our values?

·         How do these middle-class, post-revolutionary values affect individual creativity and social progress?

·         Some Business major ought to comment on the passage p. 265 that begins, "I know of nothing more opposite to revolutionary manners than commercial manners."


Happy 4th of July! Take a look at the original Declaration of Independence courtesy of the National Archives.

Film Review

The Patriot

Most historians think the British are cast too much as the heavies in this film, but it does present some interesting themes pertaining to the values and characteristics of the colonials (and how they fought the war).


Features Al Pacino and Donald Sutherland.  A father tries to rescue his son from the colonial army, but becomes convinced he must fight as well.

Book Review

Becker, The Declaration of Independence


Gummere, Seven Wise Men of Colonial America