American Revolution

American Victory and the Waning British Empire

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The United States began quite humbly as subjugate to the world’s great power. As a prolific player in the colonization of the lands which lay outside the pale of European civilization, the British Empire emerged victorious as the sole claimant to the country which would eventually succeed it as the globe’s furthest reaching and most culturally influential national entity. As we know it today, the United States is geographically, economically and politically unparalleled in its wealth and in its capacity to shape international patterns of trade, diplomacy and war. With a presence in each of these capacities that impinges upon the dominant affairs of every inhabited continent, its vision and priorities are typically supported with the vigor of manifest destiny. The United States and the United Kingdom are today great partners on a divided world stage. Ironically, we may argue that this is a relationship which in its worst straits would help to plant the seeds for a reciprocating progressiveness that would leap back and forth across the Atlantic through the coming century. Bred in the thick of British colonialism, the United States would surface into existence with an ingrained nod to monarchical elitism and a full-fledged thrust toward constitutional democracy. The transition would suggest a new caveat to the people, with the expectations of political involvement and activism promoting suitable elected representation. In the United Kingdom, the rule of the British Crown and a feudalist system with highly unequal socioeconomic propensities, helped to maintain a culture of political ignorance amongst the publics while assuring leadership, authority and wealth to those who had inherited it. In the United States, historians like Martin & Lender (2006) argue, a convergence of the will of the people and the oversight of an elite social core would promote victory for the fledgling democracy. It would also signal the crumbling of the British Empire, which would deteriorate dramatically in the century to follow.

This is to posit the central argument that America won their War for Independence by establishing itself as a cause worth fighting for. So is the argument produced by Martin & Lender, who offer an exhaustive case that the Continental Army more than any other force would serve up defeat to the far more powerful, experienced and trained British soldiers. For Martin & Lender, the socioeconomic integration of the Continent Army would be one of its key features. Though American fighters were often reluctant to leave the comfortable confines of their respective state and regional militias — which also constituted an important force in repelling British tyranny — Martin & Lender cite the central importance of the Continental Army in reflecting what were to be the formative impulses of the burgeoning nation.

Particularly, the fighting force seemed to imply a convergence of central governmental authority — such that enlistment requirements, drafts and quotas drawn from militias were imposed — and of free market economic principles — such that many men were drawn to take part in the conflict based on the offer of monetary reward offered by the states. In the Continental Army was not just a force that was motivated by its service to a united cause, but by the democratic impulses that differentiated this from the British system of nobility and military rank. As a result, the dedication to cause elicited from the Continental Army solider was inherently more driven by the theoretical opportunities to follow victory. Certainly, for those who took part in the struggle to remove the British from American soil, there would also be an adoption of the view of this as a personal homeland now imposed upon by occupation.

To an extent, this motive may be said to be a greater assurance of eventual victory than military might. In the case of the American war for Independence, the better armed and more resource-wealthy British Imperial forces would be worn down by a commitment to what the Continental Army and militias alike saw as their soil. To speak nothing of the clear economic motives which caused the Founding Fathers to desire freedom from British taxation and forced exportation, those who led America into war with Britain would deal a significant blow to the British Empire on the whole. Certainly, French support of America’s goals for independence reflected an understanding that this would draw back considerably the influence and global power of its colonial counterpart.

Such alliances suggested the more widespread implications of an American victory. While we may stop short of arguing that Britain lost a war — particularly because many conditions suggest its defeat was inevitable regardless of military tactic — it may be reasonable to argue that this signaled the beginning of the end of a colonial system which had sustained all European monarchies to this juncture. The power of the British Crown had been tarnished, but the initiation of the Industrial Revolution in both the United States and throughout Europe during the next century was fully dismantle its structural relevance. The type of wholesale occupation through which it had conducted its international presence would no longer be possible for Great Britain on the scale that had been achieved prior to American Independence.

Ultimately though, it seems appropriate to acknowledge these events first and foremost as a victory for the aristocratic leaders of the American rebellion and the working class enlisted men alongside whom they fought. Without too greatly idealizing this relationship, it may be acknowledged as a root to Americas socioeconomic identity today.

Martin, J.K. & Lender, M.E. (2006). A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789. Harlan Davidson, Inc.