In what ways was the Revolutionary War an engine for political and social change?

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The American Revolution galvanized political and social change, not only in America, but also around the world.

The Revolutionary War brought about three major social changes in the colonies. The first was the desperate and often contested separation of the colonies from Britain. Though there were many problems the colonists faced, one that most angered many of the American inhabitants was taxation. Taxes and tariffs demanded by the British government were excessive and harsh:

Americans throughout the 13 colonies united in opposition to the new system of imperial taxation initiated by the British government in 1765. The Stamp Act of that year—the first direct, internal tax imposed on the colonists by the British Parliament—inspired concerted resistance within the colonies. 

While there were some that resisted separation, the rebellion gained momentum and eventually the colonies won their freedom. Part of the desire for separation was also a wish to form alliances with European nations. Some of these nations supported the colonies, others the British, and still others hoped to capitalize with the unrest by defeating the English while they were occupied fighting the rebellion in the British Colonies.

Connections made with other countries would ultimately influence fashion, art, political thinking, philosophy, food, and so on, further separating the colonies from their British roots. 

The second effect of the American Revolution had on society at the time was the involvement of the American Indians. Different tribes supported one side or the other—either the colonists or the British. Many leaders of the American Indians believed that whichever side won, they would ultimately be left alone. Trade with the colonies was established with a number of Native American tribes, while others resisted the spread of the Europeans in their lands. Certainly America was shaped by these skirmishes and also by alliances that were formed. Ultimately, Native Americans were pushed farther north, particularly toward New York and even Canada, their way of life threatened, and their lands assimilated by the American colonists, among others.

Finally, the British tried to incite the slaves to revolt within the colonies, promising them their freedom. Some revolts were staged and quickly put down. In truth, freedom from oppression was not something that white people wanted for the slaves, but instead a release of the colonists from their British oppressors. These ideological differences further delineated a distinct separation and continued oppression by the white slave owners against slaves that had unwillingly come to America.

Social changes were experienced greatly by the families of those fighting the war: the British would garrison their troops on colonial homesteads, taking food and supplies, and so on. These colonial towns and settlements also bore the brunt of attacks by hostile Native Americans. The wives, children and those not enlisted in the fighting were left to deal with these situations, while also finding ways to adjust. All of these things dealt a heavy blow to the American economy.

The American Revolution had an enormous impact on politics. Those fighting for separation from Britain were eager to establish a government that was nothing like the one by which they had been subjugated for so long. Representatives of each of the colonies joined in the meeting of the Continental Congress:

In 1775, [Jefferson] was a delegate of Virginia in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. . . . Here, for a few months, Jefferson’s sentiments were too radical for the majority, but when independence seemed all but inevitable in June, 1776, Congress placed him (with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams) on the special committee to draft a Declaration of Independence.

As noted before, not everyone living in the Colonies wished to be separated from their homeland. Jefferson was not alone in his radical views—several others who were passionate in their desire to build a new nation of free men and women joined him. Democracy became a major focus of the new Congress. These representatives fought to develop a way to govern themselves independent of Britain. The Declaration of Independence was not a document that was easily adopted. However, the American Colonies' revolution paved the wave not only for a democratic government that represented the interests of the people, but created the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and, later, the US Constitution.

Each of these steps provided a standard for other countries also seeking independence (e.g., France, Haiti, etc.). The Revolutionary War was an engine that brought diverse and radical changes, both socially and politically.