American Revolution | Causes, Battles, Aftermath, & Facts (2024)

United States history

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Also known as: American Revolutionary War, United States War of Independence, War of Independence

Written by

Willard M. Wallace Emeritus Professor of History, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut. Author of Appeal to Arms: A Military History of the American Revolution.

Willard M. Wallace

Fact-checked by

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica Encyclopaedia Britannica's editors oversee subject areas in which they have extensive knowledge, whether from years of experience gained by working on that content or via study for an advanced degree. They write new content and verify and edit content received from contributors.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Last Updated: Article History

The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis

Also called:
United States War of Independence or American Revolutionary War
Date:
1775 - September 3, 1783
Location:
United States
Participants:
Dutch Republic
France
loyalist
Spain
United Kingdom
United States
American colonies
Major Events:
Battle of Brandywine
Battle of Bunker Hill
Battle of Monmouth
Battles of Saratoga
Battle of Bemis Heights
Key People:
Benjamin Franklin
Thomas Jefferson
Jane McCrea
George Washington
Bernardo de Gálvez

See all related content →

Top Questions

What was the American Revolution?

The American Revolution—also called the U.S. War of Independence—was the insurrection fought between 1775 and 1783 through which 13 of Great Britain’s North American colonies threw off British rule to establish the sovereign United States of America, founded with the Declaration of Independence in 1776. British attempts to assert greater control over colonial affairs after a long period of salutary neglect, including the imposition of unpopular taxes, had contributed to growing estrangement between the crown and a large and influential segment of colonists who ultimately saw armed rebellion as their only recourse.

salutary neglectLearn more about salutary neglect, the British government policy that provided for loose imperial supervision of the North American colonies.

How did the American Revolution begin?

On the ground, fighting in the American Revolution began with the skirmishes between British regulars and American provincials on April 19, 1775, first at Lexington, where a British force of 700 faced 77 local minutemen, and then at Concord, where an American counterforce of 320 to 400 sent the British scurrying. The British had come to Concord to seize the military stores of the colonists, who had been forewarned of the raid through efficient lines of communication—including the ride of Paul Revere, which is celebrated with poetic license in Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” (1861).

Battles of Lexington and ConcordRead more about the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

Paul RevereLearn more about Paul Revere’s famous warning ride.

What were the major causes of the American Revolution?

The American Revolution was principally caused by colonial opposition to British attempts to impose greater control over the colonies and to make them repay the crown for its defense of them during the French and Indian War (1754–63). Britain did this primarily by imposing a series of deeply unpopular laws and taxes, including the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765), and the so-called Intolerable Acts (1774).

United States: Prelude to revolutionRead more about the causes of the American Revolution in the United States article.

Boston Tea PartyLearn about the Boston Tea Party, the colonists’ radical response to a tax on tea.

Which countries fought on the side of the colonies during the American Revolution?

Until early in 1778, the American Revolution was a civil war within the British Empire, but it became an international war as France (in 1778) and Spain (in 1779) joined the colonies against Britain. The Netherlands, which was engaged in its own war with Britain, provided financial support for theAmericans as well as official recognition of their independence. The French navy in particular played a key role in bringing about the British surrender at Yorktown, which effectively ended the war.

Peace of ParisLearn who got what in the Peace of Paris, the treaties that Great Britain signed with the United States, France, and Spain at the end of the American Revolution.

How was the American Revolution a civil war?

In the early stages of the rebellion by the American colonists, most of them still saw themselves as English subjects who were being denied their rights as such. “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” James Otis reportedly said in protest of the lack of colonial representation in Parliament. What made the American Revolution look most like a civil war, though, was the reality that about one-third of the colonists, known as loyalists (or Tories), continued to support and fought on the side of the crown.

loyalistLearn more about loyalists.

Canada: The influence of the American RevolutionRead about the fate of the loyalists after the American Revolution.

Recent News

July 5, 2024, 2:34 PM ET (AP)

Trump disavows Project 2025 transition plan after a key official calls for a new American Revolution

The American Revolution was an insurrection carried out by 13 of Great Britain’s North American colonies that began in 1775 and ended with a peace treaty in 1783. The colonies won political independence and went on to form the United States of America. The war followed more than a decade of growing estrangement between the British crown and a large and influential segment of its North American colonies that was caused by British attempts to assert greater control over colonial affairs after having long adhered to a policy of salutary neglect.

Until early in 1778 the conflict was a civil war within the British Empire, but afterward it became an international war as France (in 1778) and Spain (in 1779) joined the colonies against Britain. Meanwhile, the Netherlands, which provided both official recognition of the United States and financial support for it, was engaged in its own war against Britain (see Anglo-Dutch Wars). From the beginning, sea power was vital in determining the course of the war, lending to British strategy a flexibility that helped compensate for the comparatively small numbers of troops sent to America and ultimately enabling the French to help bring about the final British surrender at Yorktown in 1781.

Setting the stage: The two armies

The American colonies fought the war on land with essentially two types of organization: the Continental (national) Army and the state militias. The total number of the former provided by quotas from the states throughout the conflict was 231,771 soldiers, and the militias totaled 164,087. At any given time, however, the American forces seldom numbered over 20,000; in 1781 there were only about 29,000 insurgents under arms throughout the country. The war was therefore one fought by small field armies. Militias, poorly disciplined and with elected officers, were summoned for periods usually not exceeding three months. The terms of Continental Army service were only gradually increased from one to three years, and not even bounties and the offer of land kept the army up to strength. Reasons for the difficulty in maintaining an adequate Continental force included the colonists’ traditional antipathy toward regular armies, the objections of farmers to being away from their fields, the competition of the states with the Continental Congress to keep men in the militia, and the wretched and uncertain pay in a period of inflation.

Britannica QuizWorld Wars

By contrast, the British army was a reliable steady force of professionals. Since it numbered only about 42,000, heavy recruiting programs were introduced. Many of the enlisted men were farm boys, as were most of the Americans, while others came from cities where they had been unable to find work. Still others joined the army to escape fines or imprisonment. The great majority became efficient soldiers as a result of sound training and ferocious discipline. The officers were drawn largely from the gentry and the aristocracy and obtained their commissions and promotions by purchase. Though they received no formal training, they were not so dependent on a book knowledge of military tactics as were many of the Americans. British generals, however, tended toward a lack of imagination and initiative, while those who demonstrated such qualities often were rash.

Because troops were few and conscription unknown, the British government, following a traditional policy, purchased about 30,000 troops from various German princes. The Lensgreve (landgrave) of Hesse furnished approximately three-fifths of that total. Few acts by the crown roused so much antagonism in America as that use of foreign mercenaries.

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American Revolution | Causes, Battles, Aftermath, & Facts (2024)
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