Modern history

Conclusion: Legacies of the Revolution

After the approval of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Hutchinson, the British official who had gained fame during the Stamp Act upheavals in Boston, charged that patriot leaders had “sought independence from the beginning.” But the gradual and almost reluctant move from resistance to revolution in the American colonies suggests otherwise. When faced with threats from British troops, a sufficient number of colonists took up arms to create the reality of war, and this surge of hostilities finally gave the advantage to those political leaders urging independence.

The victory over Great Britain won that independence but left the United States confronting difficult problems. Most soldiers simply wanted to return home and reestablish their former lives. But the government’s inability to pay back wages and the huge debt the nation owed to private citizens and state and foreign governments hinted at difficult economic times ahead.

Like many soldiers, Deborah Sampson embraced a conventional life after the war. But times were hard. A decade after she was discharged, Massachusetts finally granted her a small pension for her wartime service. In 1804 Paul Revere successfully appealed to the U.S. Congress to grant her a federal pension. When Sampson died in 1827, a special congressional act awarded her children additional money. Many men also waited years to receive compensation for their wartime service while they struggled to reestablish farms and businesses and pay off the debts that accrued while they were fighting for independence.

Political leaders tried to address the concerns of former soldiers and ordinary citizens while they developed a governmental structure to manage an expansive and diverse nation. Within a few years of achieving independence, financial distress among small farmers and tensions with Indians on the western frontier intensified concerns about the ability of the confederation government to secure order and prosperity. In response, some patriots demanded a new political compact to strengthen the national government. But others feared that such a change would simply replicate British tyranny.

Leading revolutionaries engaged in heated debates over the best means to unify and stabilize the United States in the decade following the Revolution. However, some key leaders lived abroad in this period. Although Thomas Paine was awarded land and money by Pennsylvania and the U.S. Congress, in 1791 he moved to France, where he wrote pamphlets advocating revolution there. His increasingly radical political views and attacks on organized religion led many Americans to malign the former hero. He returned to the United States in 1802, but his death in New York City in 1809 was mentioned only briefly in most newspapers. Other patriot leaders remained celebrated figures, but Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams all spent significant amounts of time in England and France as ambassadors for the young nation. There they played key roles in building ties to European powers, thus ensuring U.S. security.

The legacies of the Revolution seemed far from clear in the decade following the American victory. As problems escalated, Americans were challenged to reimagine their political future while holding on to the republican impulses that drove them to revolution.

Chapter Review


Identify and explain the significance of each term below.

Second Continental Congress (p. 139)

Dunmore's Proclamation (p. 140)

Common Sense (p. 140)

Declaration of Independence (p. 141)

loyalist (p. 142)

Battle of Saratoga (p. 148)

Valley Forge (p. 148)

Articles of Confederation (p. 150)

Yorktown (p. 157)

Treaty of Paris (p. 158)


Answer the focus questions from each section of the chapter.

1. What challenges did Washington face when he was given command of the Continental Army?

2. How and why did proponents of independence prevail in the debates that preceded the publication of the Declaration of independence?

3. How did colonists choose sides during the Revolutionary War? What factors influenced their decisions?

4. Why did so many indian tribes try to stay neutral during the conflict? Why was it so difficult for indians to remain neutral?

5. How did the patriot forces fare in 1776? How and why did the tide of war turn in 1777?

6. What role did colonial women and foreign men play in the conflict in the early years of the war?

7. What values and concerns shaped state governments during the Revolutionary War?

8. What issues and challenges did the Continental Congress face even after the French joined the patriot side?

9. How and why did the Americans win the Revolutionary War?

10. What uncertainties and challenges did the new nation face in the immediate aftermath of victory?


April 19, 1775

• Battles of Lexington and Concord

June 1775

• Continental Congress establishes Continental Army

June 16, 1775

• Battle of Bunker Hill

August 1775

• Representatives of the Continental Congress meet with representatives of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy


• New Jersey constitution enfranchises all free inhabitants, including women and free blacks, who meet property qualifications

January 1776

• Thomas Paine publishes Common Sense

July 4, 1776

• Continental Congress publicly declares independence

December 1776-January 1777

• Patriot victories at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey

October 1777

• Patriot victory at Saratoga


• Continental Army encamps


at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania


• Articles of Confederation ratified by eight states

February 1778

• France enters into formal alliance with the United States

Summer 1779

• Patriot forces wipe out Iroquois Confederacy villages on New York frontier


• Quock Walker and Elizabeth "Mumbet" Freeman successfully sue for their freedom in Massachusetts

March 1781

• Articles of Confederation ratified

October 19, 1781

• British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia

May 1782

• Deborah Sampson enlists in Continental Army under the name Robert Shurtliff

September 2, 1783

• Treaty of Paris signed

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