Analysis of Atlantic Revolutions

By: Seth Hensley

American Revolution

Until the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763, few colonists in British North America objected to their place in the British Empire. Colonists in British America reaped many benefits from the British imperial system and bore few costs for those benefits. Indeed, until the early 1760s, the British mostly left their American colonies alone. The Seven Years War, otherwise known as the French and Indian war, changed everything. Although Britain eventually emerged victorious over France and its allies, victory had come at great cost. A staggering war debt influenced many British policies over the next decade. Attempts to raise money by reforming colonial administration, enforcing tax laws, and placing troops in America led directly to conflict with colonists. By the mid-1770s, relations between Americans and the British administration had become strained and bitter.

Important People of the Revolution

Samuel Adams

Adams was a failed Bostonian businessman who became an activist in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. He organized the first Committee of Correspondence of Boston, which communicated with other similar organizations across the colonies, and was a delegate to both Continental Congresses in 1774 and 1775.

Benjamin Franklin

A Philadelphia printer, inventor, and patriot. Franklin drew the famous “Join or Die” political cartoon for the Albany Congress. He was also a delegate for the Second Continental Congress and a member of the committee responsible for helping to draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

King George III

King of Great Britain during the American Revolution. He ruled Britain throughout the Seven Years’ War, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812. After the conclusion of the French and Indian War, his popularity declined in the American colonies. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson denounces George III and argues that his neglect and misuse of the American colonies justifies their revolution.

Thomas Jefferson

Virginian planter and lawyer who eventually became president of the United States. In 1776, Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. Later, he served as the first secretary of state under President George Washington and as vice president to John Adams. Jefferson then was elected president himself in 1800 and 1804.

Thomas Paine

Paine’s 1776 pamphlet Common Sense was a bestseller in the American colonies and convinced thousands to rebel against the “royal brute,” King George III. He was later declared an outlaw in Great Britain because of this.

George Washington

A Virginia planter and militia officer who eventually became the first president of the United States. Washington participated in the first engagement of the French and Indian War in 1754 and later became commander in chief of the American forces during the Revolutionary War. In 1789, he became president of the United States. Although Washington actually lost most of the military battles he fought, his leadership skills were unrivaled and were integral to the creation of the United States.

Effectiveness of New Founding Government/Document

After the revolution the Articles of Confederation were created and served as a written document that stated the functions of the National Government of America after the Declaration of Independence. Overall it created a weak central government, but it tried to prevent individual states from conducting their own foreign diplomacy. The purpose of this document was to unify all the states as one to create the United States of America. This was the first form of government structure after the Declaration of Independence. The plan was to unify each of the states to have power, but not complete power. This became the document that bound the nation together up until the Constitution was created and ratified in 1789.

Change Overtime

Before the era of the 7 years war, otherwise known as the French and Indian war in the colonies, Great Britain took a pretty relaxed and lenient approach towards the colonies. This was a very popular approach from Great Britain in the colonies. However, all of this changed after Britain came across quite a bit of war debt. In the post war era, Britain began to look at the colonies as more of an economic beneficiary rather than anything else. This led to more and more tariffs and fees that the colonies had to pay to Great Britain. Through this came an extremely unpopular opinion of Great Britain by the colonies. The colonies believed that Britain were unfairly taxing them without representation. One example of this is Samuel Adams speaking for Boston saying “If taxes are laid upon us in any shape without our having a legal representative where they are laid, are we not reduced from the character of free subjects to the miserable status of tributary slaves?” explaining how the colonists, especially the ones living in Boston, are feeling as though their statue has since been reduced in the viewpoint of the British Empire. This was a leading factor which sparked rebellion in the eyes of many of the colonists.

Haitian Revolution

The Hatian Revolution has often been described as the largest and most successful slave rebellion in the Western Hemisphere. Slaves initiated the rebellion in 1791 and by 1803 they had succeeded in ending not just slavery but French control over the colony. These revolutions were influenced by the French revolution of 1789, which would come to represent a new concept of human rights, universal citizenship, and participation in government. Saint Domingue became France's wealthiest overseas colony, largely because of its production of sugar, coffee, indigo, and cotton that were generated by an enslaved labor force. When the French revolution broke out in 1789 there were 3 distinct sets of social groups in the colony. There were white planters, who owned the plantations and the slaves, petit blancs, who were artisans, shopkeepers and teachers, and of course the slaves. Many of the whites on Saint Domingue began to support an independence movement that began when France imposed steep tariffs on the items imported into the colony (very much like the Americas). The planters were extremely dissatisfied with France because they were forbidden to trade with any other nation. Furthermore, the white population of Saint Domingue did not have any representation in France. Despite their calls for independence, both the planters and petit blancs remained firm to the instatement of slavery.

Important People

Jean-Jacques Dessalines

Jean-Jacques Dessalines was a leader of the Haitian Revolution and the first ruler of a free and independent Haiti under the 1801 constitution. Initially known as governor-general, Dessalines later named himself Emperor Jacques I of Haiti, despite the unpopularity of this to the people. He is regarded as a founding father of current day Haiti.

Charles Leclerc

Charles Leclerc was a brother-in-law to Napoleon, and was put in charge of regaining control over Saint Domingue. Leclerc set off from France in December 1801 and landed at Cap-Francais in February 1802, with other warships and a total of 40,000 troops. The French won several victories and regained control in three months after severe fighting, with L'Ouverture forced to negotiate an honorable surrender and to retire to tend his plantations under house-arrest. However, Napoleon had given secret instructions to Leclerc to arrest Toussaint Louverture, and so Leclerc seized L'Ouverture during a meeting for deportation to France. Leclerc later died of yellow fever, along with nearly a third of his army.

Toussaint L’Overture

Toussaint L'Ouverture, was the original leader of the Haitian Revolution. His military genius and practicality, along with his political discernment, transformed a slave based society into the independent state of Haiti.

Effectiveness of New Government/Constitution

The original constitution of Saint Domingue was created and ratified by Toussaint L’Overture. The 1801 Constitution of Haiti was a short-lived document. The language of the constitution of 1801 is simple and straightforward. It resembles the Articles of Confederation in American in that it establishes a system of laws and government for the colony in thirteen titles and seventy-seven articles. However, at the same time, it gives considerable authority in the hands of the colony's governor, unlike the Articles of Confederation which attempts to distribute authority throughout the different states in the colonies while retaining complete power in a central government. The constitution was later recreated and ratified by Jean-Jacques Dessalines. This constitution was more focused on unifying the nation as a whole rather than establishing complete control over the newly independent nation. This was much more popular among the people than the previous constitution, and helped Haiti become much of the nation it is today.

Mexican War for Independence

Events in Europe provided an opportunity for Spain's overseas territories to break their colonial ties. After Napoleon’s invasion and his forcing of a new monarch atop the throne, Spain fell into civil war, between factions loyal to the overthrown king, and those pledging allegiance to the newly appointed monarch, Joseph Bonaparte. The king's fall from power meant people in the Spanish colonies had to decide whether they would stay loyal to the dethroned king, recognize the new monarch, or rebel and declare independence for themselves. Locals who favored independence had been inspired by events that took place on the Caribbean island of Saint Domingue following the French Revolution in 1791, when slaves took down the plantation system and established the world’s first post-colonial nation under black leadership in 1804. Mexico's first uprising against loyalists to the Spanish king took place in 1810.

Important People

Miguel Hidalgo

Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla or simply Miguel Hidalgo, was a Mexican Catholic priest and a leader of the Mexican War of Independence. As a priest, Hidalgo served in a church in Dolores, Mexico. In Dolores he tried to help the poor by showing them how to grow olives and grapes, but in Mexico, growing these crops was prohibited by the authorities due to Spanish imports of the items. In 1810 he gave the famous speech, "The Cry of Dolores", calling upon the people to protect the interests of their King Fernando VII by revolting against the European-born Spaniards who had overthrown the Spanish Viceroy. He marched across Mexico and gathered an army of nearly 90,000 farmers and Mexican civilians who attacked and killed both Spanish and Criollo elites, even though Hidalgo's troops lacked training and were poorly armed. These troops ran into a force of 6,000 well trained and armed Spanish troops, and most fled or were killed at the Battle of Calderon Bridgeon on January 17th, 1811. Hidalgo was later captured and executed by a firing squad on July 30th, 1811.

Ignacio José de Allende y Unzaga

Ignacio Allende y Unzaga, was a distinguished captain of the Spanish Army in Mexico who eventually came to sympathize with the Mexican independence movement. He attended the secret meetings organized by the revolutionary leaders, where the possibility of an independent New Spain was discussed. He fought along with Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in the beginning stages of the war, and eventually succeeding him in leadership of the rebellion. Allende was captured by Spanish colonial authorities while he was in Chihuahua and executed for treason.

Effectiveness of New Government/Constitution

After King Ferdinand VII was forced to reinstate the liberal Spanish Constitution of 1812. When this news reached Mexico, revolutionists saw it as an opportunity for the europeans to gain control of Mexico. After first clashing with revolutionist forces, the Europeans invited the rebel leader to meet and discuss a new independence struggle. While in the town of Iguala, the Europeans created three rules, or "guarantees," for Mexican independence from Spain. Mexico would be an independent kingdom. It would be ruled by King Ferdinand, another Bourbon prince, or some other conservative European prince. Text in the treaty also allowed a criollo (those born in Mexico but of pure Spanish ancestry) ruler to be appointed by a Mexican congress if needed, criollos and peninsulares (native born spaniards) would from now on have equal rights and privileges, and the Roman Catholic Church would keep its privileges and be the only religion allowed. This provided both structure and support to what previously a country at war with itself.

Comparison of Revolutions

In terms of success, the American Revolution was much, much more successful than the Mexican, but quite similar to the Haitian in terms of success. This is due to the presence of a compromise in the events following Mexican Revolution but there being none in the American, and a small one in Haiti. Each of the revolutions were unique in their own way, however, one thing is similar in each, and that was the relationship to the mother country. In all cases of revolution, the relationship with the mother country over time became hostile. This was almost exclusively due to war, and the mother country seeing the colony as a place that they can take advantage of rather than let thrive on their own. This quickly becomes apparent to the colonists in all cases and is shown in the Mexican Revolution through the quote “Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe [symbol of the Indians’ faith], death to bad government, death to the gachupines [the Spaniards]!” which was spoken by Hidalgo to inspire revolutionists in Mexico. This shows the anger and hatred that is associated with the mother country. This is quite similar to Samuel Adams saying “From the navigation act the advocate [Otis] passed to the Acts of Trade, and these, he contended, imposed taxes, enormous, burthensome, intolerable taxes; and on this topic he gave full scope to his talent, for powerful declamation and invective, against the tyranny of taxation without representation.” in which he states that he is extremely displeased with the job that Britain is doing of both governing, along with disapproval of the taxes that they have imposed. This is also similar to what Toussaint L’Overture stated about his opinion of the French during the revolution in saying “You know, brothers, that I have undertaken this vengeance, and that I want liberty and equality to reign in Saint-Domingue.”, meaning that he too agrees that the French have overstepped their boundaries in the colony.