The American Revolution, after 200 and more years, is superficially well known but inadequately understood. General narratives mostly treat it as a colonial rebellion. They see it as the culmination of almost 200 years of American development and equate it primarily with the growing resistance to imperial policy that led to an outbreak of hostilities at Lexington in April 1775. Such processes moved ‘inexorably’ to British recognition of the United States eight years later, as one distinguished historian has put it. Ironically, the argument was put with stark clarity by a British army officer when he told his father that the causes of the developing rebellion ‘are to be found in the nature of mankind; and [I think] that it proceeds from a new nation, feeling itself wealthy, populous, and strong; and being impatient with restraint, are struggling to throw of that dependence which is so irksome to them’.1 Thus the achievement of political independence was the Revolution’s grand objective, besides which all other matters paled in importance. According to this familiar story, it came to a climax with the Declaration of Independence in 1776; thereafter it was almost synonymous with the war and certain victory. Daniel Boorstin has taken the argument ot its extreme by declaring that ‘properly speaking, 1776 had no sequel, and needed none. The issue was separation, and was accomplished.’2 In other respects, it is frequently argued, the Revolution was scarcely revolutionary at all.
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