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Effects of the American Revolution: Summary & History

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  • 0:07 Effects of the…
  • 0:39 End of War and Treaty of Paris
  • 1:26 Effects in Great Britain
  • 2:56 Effects Elsewhere in the World
  • 4:06 Effects in America
  • 5:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the effects of the American Revolution, which were felt not just in Great Britain and North America, but across the Western world.

Effects of the American Revolution

Big things often have small beginnings. For example, the Massachusetts Minutemen who fired the first shots of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord and their representatives in the Continental Congress likely had little idea that their rebellion against unfair British taxation would blossom into a country whose economic and military might is felt all over the globe today. But even in the 1780s, its successful rebellion and the ideals the fledgling nation was founded upon had an impact on Western society and political ideas in particular.

End of War and Treaty of Paris

The American Revolution was a long, hard-fought conflict from its beginnings in Massachusetts in 1775 to the official end of the war in 1783, although the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown in October of 1781 effectively ended any hopes of Britain retaining control over her rebellious American colonies. In February of 1782, the British House of Commons voted against continuing the war, and Parliament sent official orders to cease hostilities a year later in February of 1783. In September of 1783, the United States government and the British Parliament officially agreed to the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution. It also recognized the colonies' independence and drew lines between British Canada and American territory.

Effects in Great Britain

In Britain, the conclusion of the American Revolution led to political and economic upheaval; people didn't stay in power for very long. Lord North, the British Prime Minister who had been a consistent proponent of the war and the king, resigned in disgrace in 1782. Lord Rockingham was asked to form a government to make peace, though his death only a few months later after forming a government caused the prime ministry to fall to Lord Shelburne, who was himself forced out of power soon after taking the post. The activist government, which finally did form in 1783 under William Pitt the Younger, passed reforms taking control of India from the East India Company and making further parliamentary reforms which marginalized the king's power - a far cry from the crown-friendly North administration of the war.

Financially, the British government was nearly ruined after the enormous expenditure it had made attempting to keep hold of the colonies. The national debt of Britain skyrocketed after the war, and the government was forced to impose new taxes to fix the problem. Additionally, Britain's trade routes, of which colonial America had been an intricate part, were thrown into disarray and import and export imbalances emerged. Luckily, Britain was able to resume trade with the colonies shortly after the conclusion of the war, and these trade inequalities were short-lived. Furthermore, the British military received a huge hit to its reputation. Often regarded in the eighteenth century as the best-drilled army and largest navy in the world, the British army now appeared mortal after being defeated by a coalition of rebellious colonists with French aid.

Effects Elsewhere in World

To others in the world, the American Revolution provided an example to be followed. In Ireland, for instance, which had been under varying degrees of English and British control since the twelfth century, many took heart in the American victory, and a failed 1798 rebellion even referenced the American Revolution. Britain was so worried that Ireland might follow the American example that Parliament relaxed a series of regulations that had been placed on Ireland in the eighteenth century. These included removing restrictions on Irish trade and allowing Irish Catholics to hold political office.

Many French also took note of the representative government the Americans were instituting. Many of the ideals being enshrined in the U.S. Constitution had been first cultivated in France, and some participants of the chaotic French Revolution of 1789 and the 1790s wanted to implement some of the same principles being adopted in America. Even in Poland, just prior to its partition at the hands of Prussia, Russia, and Austria, the reform-minded Polish Sejm attempted an Enlightenment-style constitution in 1791. This constitution contained several clauses similar to those found in the U.S. Constitution written just a few shorts years before.

Effects in America

While the American Revolution had an impact on political developments elsewhere in the Western world, the largest ramifications were, of course, felt in North America. The thirteen colonies were now independent from Great Britain and a tumultuous period followed the war while the colonies decided how to proceed. The states originally determined to remain loosely connected under the 1781 Articles of Confederation, but the system it produced was full of problems and it brought the government to a standstill. In 1787, the states created a stronger federal government under the U.S. Constitution, which we have today, though it was not fully implemented until 1789.

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