The American Revolution: Causes & Effects

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Find out what caused the American Revolution and discover the impact of this war on the rest of the world. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.


Have you ever been pushed to a breaking point? Maybe at work - when you had a really terrible boss who was a total jerk. This guy never paid you for your overtime, refused to give you the days off you asked for, or gave you really bad shifts. We've all had bosses like that, and there comes a point when you've had enough. The money you make is not worth the trouble, so you quit. Then, you go and start your own company and eventually become more successful than your jerk boss. Feels good, right?

Well, bosses are not the only jerks out there. Back in the 18th century, when the United States was nothing more than 13 colonies of the British Empire, the colonists felt like they were the ones being taken advantage of. Eventually, Britain pushed the colonists past a breaking point, and the colonists quit being colonists. The Revolutionary War, fought from 1775 to 1783, was the war for independence from the British Empire. America left the war as an independent nation and went on to challenge even Britain as a major world power.

Causes of the Revolutionary War

From the beginning, the British colonies were never meant to be anything too special. Sorry, New England. The British set up their 13 colonies on a mercantilist system, which means that the colonies only existed to make the homeland stronger. For example, the colonies were not supposed to make anything. They were supposed to produce raw materials, like tobacco or cotton. Then, Britain would turn them into finished products and make a profit. The colonies only existed to help Britain make money. Over time, this made colonists feel pretty unappreciated.

This really came to head in the 1760s. The Crown needed more money to pay off a war it had been fighting in Europe, so it decided to impose a tax on the colonies. In 1765, Britain passed the Stamp Act, which placed a tax on any document requiring an official stamp. Since most documents needed a stamp to be official, this was a substantial tax, and the first one forced upon the colonists. The very unhappy colonists protested, saying that there could be no taxation without representation. In other words, since colonists did not have any representation in the British parliament to speak on their behalf, it was unfair to impose taxes on them.

Britain repealed the Stamp Act, but it later passed other taxes on British imports, which the colonies relied on. The situation was getting tense, with riots breaking out in major cities like Boston. The colonists began to boycott British products, meaning they refused to buy them. The first major breaking point came in 1773, when the British gave one British company rights to sell their tea in the colonies with the import tax, which undermined colonial tea traders. The colonists snuck aboard a tea ship in the Boston harbor and destroyed the tea, an event remembered as the Boston Tea Party.

In response, Britain closed the Boston harbor and took over the local government. They passed a series of acts that removed colonists from all positions of power, from judges to sheriffs, and restricted the colonial town meetings. The colonists called these the Intolerable Acts. This was the last real breaking point. The colonies formed the Continental Congress, their first united government, to demand fair treatment from Britain. By 1775, Britain declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion, and sent troops to stop the riots and disband the militias that were forming. In April, the first shots were fired, and the Revolutionary War was underway.

Effects of the Revolutionary War

In 1783, the 13 colonies defeated the British and truly became the United States of America. The effects of the war were profound. In the United States, the war had been costly, and the nation had to endure a period of rebuilding. During this time, poverty was high, and there were even rebellions against the government. However, the independent United States also had the freedom to begin experimenting with ideas, like freedoms, rights, liberty, and democracy, and started building its government along these virtues.

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