The Great Soviet Encyclopedia on the American Revolution

"The Spirit of '76": a painting by Archibald Willard.

“The Spirit of ’76”: a painting by Archibald Willard.

American Revolution

(in Russian, War of Independence in North America of 1775-83), the revolutionary liberation war of the 13 British colonies in North America against British colonial domination, during which an independent state was established—the United States of America.

The American Revolution was prepared for by the entire preceding socioeconomic history of the colonies. The development of capitalism in the colonies and the formation of the North American nation contradicted the policy of the mother country, which considered the colonies a source of raw materials and a market. After the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) the British government intensified its pressure on the colonies, in many ways hindering the further development of industry and trade. The colonization of lands west of the Allegheny Mountains was prohibited (1763), and new taxes and customs duties were introduced, which were contrary to the interests of all the colonists. Separate, uncoordinated uprisings and disturbances, which later developed into war, began in 1767. There was no unity among the participants in the liberation movement. Farmers, artisans, workers, and the urban petite bourgeoisie, who made up the democratic wing of the liberation movement, linked their struggle against the colonial yoke with hopes for free access to land and political democratization. However, the leading position in the camp of the advocates of independence (Whigs) belonged to the representatives of the right wing. They expressed the interests of the upper strata of the bourgeoisie and plantation owners, who were seeking a compromise with the mother country. The opponents of the liberation movement in the colonies and the open supporters of the mother country were the Tories, or Loyalists. Among them were big land-owners as well as persons who were connected with British capital and administration.

The First Continental Congress of representatives from the colonies met in 1774 in Philadelphia and called for a boycott of British goods. At the same time, the congress attempted to reach a compromise with the mother country. During the winter of 1774-75 the first armed detachments of colonists arose spontaneously. In the first battles at Concord and Lexington on Apr. 19, 1775, the British troops suffered heavy losses. Soon 20,000 insurgents formed a so-called camp of liberty near Boston. In the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, the British again suffered serious losses.

On May 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress convened; the predominant influence in it was gained by the radical wing of the bourgeoisie. The congress proposed that all the colonies create new governments to replace the colonial regime. Regular armed forces were organized, and Washington was made commander in chief (June 15, 1775).

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the revolutionary Declaration of Independence, which was written by Jefferson. The declaration proclaimed the separation of the 13 colonies from the mother country and the formation of an independent state—the United States of America (USA). It was the first legal document in history that formally proclaimed the sovereignty of a people and the principles of bourgeois democratic liberties. The decrees on the confiscation of Loyalists’ property (1777) and lands belonging to the crown and the Anglican Church were very significant.

Military action during 1775-78 unfolded primarily in the northern part of the country. The British command endeavored to suppress resistance in New England, which was the center of the revolutionary movement. An American expedition to capture Canada did not achieve its intended goal. The Americans besieged Boston and captured it on Mar. 17, 1776. However, in August 1776 the British commander W. Howe inflicted a grave defeat on Washington’s troops in Brooklyn, and on September 15 he captured New York. In December the British Army inflicted another serious defeat on the Americans near Trenton. Although Washington soon succeeded in capturing Trenton and routing a British detachment at Princeton on Jan. 3, 1777, the position of the American army remained difficult.

The armies that were encountering each other in the American Revolution differed in their composition, equipment, and combat experience. The American insurgent army was initially an ill-trained and poorly organized people’s militia. However, the morale and political level of its soldiers, who were fighting for their own land and vital interests, was considerably higher than the British Army’s. By improving their tactics in waging war, the rebels were able to achieve important advantages. Avoiding major battles and cooperating with partisan detachments, the American army harassed the enemy with sudden thrusts. The American army was the first to use the tactics of an extended formation, against which the linear combat formation of the British proved powerless. At sea, where the British Navy prevailed, American ships also used the tactics of sudden raids, attacking British ships and carrying out campaigns near the shores of Great Britain.

The weakness of central authority in the republic played a considerable role in prolonging the war. The first constitution of the USA, the Articles of Confederation, which was adopted by the congress in 1777 and ratified by the states in 1781, preserved the sovereignty of the states on the most important questions. In addition, the War of Independence was a class struggle within the colonies themselves. Tens of thousands of Loyalists fought in the British Army. The bourgeoisie and plantation owners, who were leading the struggle for independence, were opposed to carrying out the democratic demands of the soldiers, farmers, and workers. The victory of the revolution was possible only because of the participation of the broad masses of the people. Among the poor of New England egalitarian demands ripened for a limit on property ownership and the introduction of ceiling prices on foodstuffs. The Negro people took an active part in the revolution, and Negro regiments were established.

The British plan of military action in 1777 was to cut New England off from the other states. On Sept. 26, 1777, Howe captured Philadelphia, the capital of the USA. However, a British army under the command of J. Burgoyne, which was proceeding from Canada to join Howe, was surrounded, and it surrendered on Oct. 17, 1777, at Saratoga. The victory at Saratoga, which was won by American troops under the command of General H. Gates, improved the international position of the young republic. The USA managed to take advantage of the contradictions between Great Britain and other European powers. Sent to Paris as the representative of the USA, B. Franklin concluded a military alliance in 1778 with France—Great Britain’s colonial rival. In 1779, Spain joined the war against Great Britain. Russia took a friendly position toward the USA, and in 1780 it headed the so-called League of Armed Neutrality, which brought together a number of European countries who were opposed to Great Britain’s attempt to prevent neutral countries from trading with Britain’s enemies.

In June 1778, General H. Clinton, who had replaced Howe, abandoned Philadelphia. During 1779-81 the British shifted their military activity to the southern states, counting on the support of the plantation aristocracy. In December 1778 they captured Savannah, and in May 1780 they took Charleston. The talented general and former blacksmith N. Greene was made head of the southern American army. In fighting against the British troops Greene successfully combined the action of the insurgent army and the partisans. The British were compelled to withdraw their troops to the port cities. After a naval battle of Sept. 5-13, 1781, the French Navy cut the main British forces off from the sea at Yorktown. Washington surrounded them on land, and on Oct. 19, 1781, he forced them to surrender. Under the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1783, Great Britain recognized the independence of the USA.

The American Revolution was a bourgeois revolution that led to the overthrow of the colonial yoke and the formation of an independent American national state. The former prohibitions by the British Parliament and royal authority, which had hampered the development of industry and trade, were abolished. Also eliminated were the large estates of the British aristocracy, as well as vestiges of feudalism (fixed rent, entail, and primogeniture). In the northern states Negro slavery was limited and gradually eliminated. The transformation of the western lands, which had been expropriated from the Indians, into national property by the Ordinance of 1787 and their subsequent distribution created a base for the accumulation of capital. Thus, the essential prerequisites for the development of capitalism in North America were created. However, not all the problems that confronted the American revolution were resolved. Slavery was not abolished in the South, and a high property qualification for voters was maintained in all the states. The estates of Loyalists and western lands were distributed in large pieces, and they fell into the hands of speculators.

The American Revolution, which in its own time was the model of a revolutionary war, exerted an influence on the struggle of the European bourgeoisie against feudal absolutist regimes. Approximately 7,000 European volunteers fought in the ranks of the American army, including the Frenchmen the Marquis de Lafayette and H. Saint-Simon and the Pole T. Kosciuszko. During the Great French Revolution the insurgents made use of the organizational experience and revolutionary military tactics of the Americans. The victory of the North Americans in the American Revolution promoted the development of the liberation movement of the peoples of Latin America against Spanish domination. The revolution was hailed by the progressive people of many countries, including Russia, where A. N. Radishchev celebrated it in the ode “Liberty.”

REFERENCES

Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1, ch. 25. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23.
Engels, F. “Rabochee dvizhenie v Amerike.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Engels, F. F. A. Zorge, 31 dek. 1892. (Letter.) Ibid., vol. 38.
Engels, F. N. F. Daniel’sonu, 17 okt. 1893. (Letter.) Ibid., vol. 39.
Lenin, V. I. Novye dannye o zakonakh razvitiia kapitalizma v zemledelii, part 1: “Kapitalizm i zemledelie v Soedinennykh Shtatakh Ameriki.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27.
Lenin, V. I. “Pis’mo k amerikanskim rabochim.” Ibid., vol. 37.
Lenin, V. I. “Agrarnaia programma sotsial-demokratii v pervoi russkoi revoliutsii 1905-1907 godov.” Ibid., vol. 16.
Ocherki novoi i noveishei istorii SShA, vol. 1. Moscow, 1960.
Foner, P. Istoriia rabochego dvizheniia v SShA, vol. 1. Moscow, 1949. (Translated from English.)
Foster, W. Negritianskii narod v istorii Ameriki. Moscow, 1955. (Translated from English.)
Fursenko, A. A. Amerikanskaia burzhuaznaia revoliutsiia XVIII v. Moscow-Leningrad, 1960.
Aptheker, H. Istoriia amerikanskogo naroda [vol. 2], Amerikanskaia revoliutsiia 1763-1783. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from English.)
The American Nation: A History, vols. 8-10. New York [1933].
Bemis, S. F. The Diplomacy of the American Revolution. New York, 1935.
Hardy, J. The First American Revolution. New York, 1937.
Morais, H. The Struggle for American Freedom. New York, 1944.
Jensen, M. The New Nation: A History of the United States During the Confederation, 1781-1789. New York, 1950.
Gipson, L. The Coming of the Revolution, 1763-1775. New York, 1954.

I. I. DEMENT’EV

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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