What is Independence? - Definition & Overview

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  • 0:00 What Is Independence?
  • 2:17 Examples: American Revolution
  • 3:07 Examples: Haitian Revolution
  • 3:38 Examples: Montenegrin…
  • 4:02 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 will explore the term 'independence.' Independence can mean a variety of things, but historically it refers to the ability of nation states to practice self-government.

What Is Independence?

Childhood friendships can be tumultuous relationships. Friendships are made and broken. Groups are formed, split, and even dissolved altogether. Bullies and/or leaders can be discarded if the rest of the group thinks they are too bossy or they no longer share the same interests.

When a group of children on the playground breaks up into two separate camps, we rarely think of this as a declaration of independence, but in its own small way, it is exactly that. A group of children no longer wants to associate or fraternize with the other group and therefore wants to be free of that group's influence.

Struggles for independence can be seen throughout history. Often groups of people or regions vying for independence are united by ethnicity, language, political theory, or any other human trait or idea. Independence is the complete freedom of control or influence from another party, be it a single individual, a group of people, or an organization.

In history and modern geopolitics, the term is often used when referring to the birth of nation states, such as the United States, Haiti, or Montenegro. After a nation state has declared themselves independent from whatever state they were formerly a part of, independence then means they have the capability for self-government, to govern, legislate, and make laws strictly for the good of the nation state completely irrespective of the interests of any outside state or organization.

Independence has been achieved through numerous ways throughout history, though admittedly these methods are often violent. Conflicts such as the American Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and the Irish War of Independence were all bloody affairs lasting several years.

Though many states often achieve their independence through wars, other options through diplomacy and popular demonstration have been achieved. For example, popular demonstrations and general strikes spurred the Velvet Revolution of 1993, which peacefully split Czechoslovakia into two independent states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, without a single death.


In order to better understand what independence means for nation states, and why they often undertake movements and/or wars for independence, let's examine three examples in further detail:

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