Few events possess as much historical significance as the rebellion of thirteen British colonies in North America. By successfully defying George III and the British Parliament and winning, with French aid, the War of Independence, the colonies created the United States of America. As a republic in an age of monarchies the new nation challenged the old order.

The American Revolution has often been portrayed in patriotic terms in both Britain and America that gloss over its complexity. The Revolution was both an international conflict, with Britain and France vying on land and sea, and a civil war among the colonists, causing over 60,000 loyalists to flee their homes. Freedom did not reach all the people of North America, since the new republic refused to outlaw slavery and failed to recognize the limits of European expansion at great cost to the native peoples of America.

The implications of the Revolution were also felt beyond America. Military defeat and the loss of the majority of the North American colonies created disquiet in Britain and fed the flames of radical agitation. The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United States also provided inspiration for the French revolutionaries of 1789, offering a new language of liberty for the world and an example for modern constitutional democracies.

The British Library holds many items related to the American Revolution, recording American and British responses to the times in which they lived. This gallery makes use of some of them to illustrate the course of the American Revolution and to investigate some of these issues.

You can also read and print a longer bibliographical essay: American Revolution in Print (PDF format 148kb)


Bunkers Hill

The War of Independence

In 1775, opposition became armed rebellion. Many of the participants of the Continental Congress at Philadelphia, including Benjamin Franklin, assumed that victory over the British would be accomplished with relative ease

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The arrival of the Englishmen

The North American colonies and the British Empire

The European countries of Spain, France and Britain all had important interests in North America, not least because these colonies promised future wealth and were strategically important to the sugar, tobacco and coffee islands of the Caribbean

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Constitutions of the United States

The American republic

Victory brought questions about the nature of the American state, including the relationship between individual colonies and national government. These and other issues, particularly slavery, remained fissures within the new body politic

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George Washington preparing to cross the Delaware river, Washington Irving

A timeline of the American Revolution from 1763 - 1787

From the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763 to the Constitutional Convention in 1787

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