If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

The American Revolution: lesson overview

KC‑3.1.II.E (KC)
Unit 3: Learning Objective E
WOR (Theme)
A high-level overview of the American Revolution. 
After the Seven Years’ War, the British government attempted to increase control over its American colonies. The colonists rebelled against the change in policy, which eventually led to the Revolutionary War.

Key terms

Salutary neglectThe unofficial policy of the British crown where they avoided strict enforcement of parliamentary law in the colonies.
Second Continental Congress (1775)A meeting of representatives from the colonies, who approved the creation of a professional Continental Army to defend the American colonies. They appointed George Washington as the commander in chief of the army.
Olive Branch Petition (1775)Adopted by the Second Continental Congress in 1775, it was a final attempt to avoid war between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies. The petition asserted colonial rights, while still maintaining their loyalty to the British crown.
George WashingtonThe first commander in chief of the Continental Army, who led the colonies to victory over the British army.
Lexington and Concord (1775)The first battles of the Revolutionary War, which took place outside of Boston, Massachusetts.
MinutemenColonial militias which were prepared to fight the British “with a minute’s notice.”
Common SenseA pamphlet published by Thomas Paine in 1775, which advocated for independence from Great Britain.
Declaration of IndependenceA list of 27 grievances the colonists had with the British crown that the colonists used as justification to declare independence from Britain.
Articles of Confederation (ratified 1781)The first constitution of the United States, which created a weak central government and allowed for strong state governments.
Battle of Yorktown (1781)Revolutionary War battle that ended in decisive victory for American colonial forces. The surrender of British General Cornwallis led the British government to negotiate peace.
Treaty of Paris (1783)Treaty that officially ended the Revolutionary War in 1783.

The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill

Image Credit: John Trumbull, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, July 17, 1775, 1786

Key dates

1775Olive Branch Petition; Battles of Lexington and Concord
1776Common Sense published; Declaration of Independence issued
1777The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation
1781British forces surrender at Yorktown; all thirteen states ratified the Articles of Confederation
1783Treaty of Paris ratified

Core historical themes

Growing restrictions and response: Leading up to the Revolutionary War, the British government ended its practice of salutary neglect, tightening control over the colonies. The British government began implementing taxes to deal with the debt it had accumulated during the Seven Years’ War. The American colonists resisted these measures through boycotts and protests, like the Boston Tea Party organized by the Sons of Liberty. The British government responded with further restrictions, increasing tensions between the British and its colonies.
Declaring independence from the British government: As the number of British soldiers in the colonies increased, the Second Continental Congress assembled the Continental Army to protect colonial interests. The official start to the war was the Battles at Lexington and Concord in 1775 where the British military attempted to disarm colonial rebels. After the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the colonies decided to declare independence from the British crown by listing all the problems they faced under the British government.
Alliance with France: The British had several advantages over colonial forces, including more troops, better ships, and more money. The colonists had been relying heavily on their knowledge of American terrain and their passion for their cause, but as the winter of 1779-1780 depleted their supplies and their troops, they were beginning to lose the war. The Americans needed help if they wanted to win the war.
After declaring independence from Britain in the Declaration of Independence and proving to the world that the colonies (now the United States of America) would be free from British control, the Americans found that help from Britain’s greatest rival: France. The alliance with France allowed for the United States to defeat Britain as the French provided troops, funds, and weapons.
Establishing an independent state: Even though the Declaration of Independence declared colonial independence from Britain, there was no official American government until the adoption of the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation unified the colonies (now states) under a single federal government, proving to the world that the United States was seeking to become its own country. Under the Articles of Confederation, the United States was able to pass the Treaty of Paris of 1783, ending the American Revolution.

Review questions

  • What were the political and economic effects of the American Revolution?
  • What were some advantages that the British had over the Americans in the Revolutionary War?
  • What were some advantages that the Americans had over the British in the Revolutionary War?
  • What was the significance of the Articles of Confederation during the American Revolution?

Want to join the conversation?