Military history

The American Revolution, 1763-1787

Things to Know

1. British Empire in North America in 1763: debts resulting from wars with France and increased cost of administering the colonies; western land issues — Pontiac’s Rebellion and Proclamation Line of 1763.

2. Britain’s attempt to exercise greater control over the colonies and increase revenues: policies of Grenville and Townshend; reaction of the colonies, particularly evidence of greater unity; debate on relations between Britain and colonies — rights of Englishmen vs. virtual representation and Declaratory Act.


Parliamentary Act

Colonial Reaction

Sugar Act (1764): expanded the list of enumerated articles; stricter enforcement of trade regulations


Currency Act (1764): colonies prohibited from issuing paper money


Stamp Act (1765): tax on printed materials and legal documents

Virginia Resolves; Stamp Act Congress; Sons of Liberty

Quartering Act (1765): colonies to provide British troops with housing and provisions


Townshend Acts (1767): external taxes on colonial imports

non-importation agreements; Letters of a Farmer in Pennsylvania

Tea Act (1773): monopoly to East India Company for tea sold in colonies

Boston Tea Party

Coercive Acts (1774): British response to Boston Tea Party, intended to punish Boston

First Continental Congress

3. The American Revolution: Key political and military events of the American Revolution, 1775-1783; change in attitude on independence; social consequences of Revolution — slavery, status of women; growth of religious toleration.

4. United States under the Articles of Confederation: accomplishments under the Articles - land policy and foreign relations; weaknesses of the Confederation; immediate background to the Constitutional Convention.

Key Terms and Concepts

Pontiac’s Rebellion

Proclamation Line of 1763 Paxton Boys

North and South Carolina Regulators

Letters of a Fanner in Pennsylvania

Samuel Adams

Sons of Liberty

Gaspee incident

Boston Massacre

circular letter

Committees of Correspondence

Thomas Jefferson

Patrick Henry

Continental Association

Lexington and Concord


Olive Branch Petition

Bunker Hill

Trenton and Princeton


Benedict Arnold


Treaty of Alliance (1778)



General Cornwallis

Treaty of Paris (1783)

western land claims

Land Ordinance of 1785

Northwest Ordinance

Shays’ Rebellion

Important Definitions

Committees of Correspondence: First established in Boston in 1772, the committees became a way for the colonies to state and communicate their grievances against Great Britain.

Critical Period: Term used by historians to describe the United States under the Articles of Confederation.

direct tax: British-imposed tax directly on the colonies that was intended to raise revenue; the Stamp Act was the first attempt by Parliament to impose a direct tax on the colonies.

indirect tax: A measure that raised revenue through the regulation of trade — the Sugar Act, for example.

Loyalists: Also known as Tories, the term refers to those Americans who remained loyal to Great Britain during the Revolution. 

non-importation agreements: A form of protest against British policies; colonial merchants refused to import British goods.

“No taxation without representation”: The assertion that Great Britain had no right to tax the American colonies as long as they did not have their own representatives in Parliament.

virtual representation: The British argument that the American colonies were represented in Parliament, since the members of Parliament represented all Englishmen in the empire.

Whig ideology: Idea that concentrated power leads to corruption and tyranny; emphasis on balanced government where legislatures check the power of the executive.

Writs of Assistance: Search warrants that allowed British soldiers to search the houses or businesses of colonists.

Readings on the American Revolution

Alden, John. The American Revolution (1969).

Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967).

Fiske, John M. The Critical Period of American History, 1783-1789 (1883).

Higginbotham, Don. The War of American Independence (1971).

Jameson, John Franklin. The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement (1926).

MacLeod, Duncan J. Slavery, Race and the American Revolution (1974).

Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (1982). Quarles, Benjamin. The Negro in the American Revolution (1961).

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