Unintended Consequences of the American Revolution

After Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown on October 19th, 1781, the British government decided that it wanted out of the war with their rebellious colonists. Yet fighting continued in New Jersey, New York, Nova Scotia, Ohio, Quebec, South Carolina and Virginia until January 22nd, 1783. Forty-four battles were fought after Cornwallis’s surrender!

Negotiations between the warring parties – Spain, France, Great Britain, The Netherlands and the fledgling United States began in April 1782, six months after Yorktown. Even though they still occupied Charleston, Savannah, and New York, the British wanted out of the war. The treaty between the U.S. and the U.K was signed on September 3rd, 1783.

Not every country wanted peace. The Dutch wanted the islands in the Caribbean back that the British had taken and the British wanted to preserve their colonial possessions. France wanted to keep seizing British islands in the Caribbean and re-coup its colonies in India. Spain wanted to take Gibraltar back and along with the French, began an assault on the British fortress in June 1779 that continued until the French and Spanish gave up on February 7th, 1783.

As a result it took not one, but several treaties known as the Peace of Paris to get the warring parties to stop shooting at each other. We – the United States – got what we wanted – independence and recognition as stated in Article 1 of the treaty. It is the only article of the treaty still in force today. Most significant was that one clause gave the United States all the vaguely defined British owned (claimed) land from the Atlantic to the Mississippi south of Canada and north of Spanish owned Florida.

This large tract of land set the stage for the westward territorial expansion of the U.S. setting the stage for an intermittent war with the Native American tribes who lived on this newly acquired territory as well as other acquisitions of land. that lasted until 1924. No American leader believed that we would fight the Indians for 141 years!

Unintended consequence #2 is the French Revolution. Historians debate the effect the American Revolution on France where the monarchy was extremely unpopular, the majority of the population was impoverished, overtaxed and civil liberties as we know them were non-existent. In 1789, six years after the Treaty of Paris was signed, the French Revolution began. One has to believe that the American Revolution had an effect.

In England, after Cornwallis’s surrender, the dominos began to fall and is unintended consequence #3. The First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich narrowly avoided being fired over the Royal Navy’s performance. Lord North’s government received a vote of no confidence and Lord Shelburne wanted to try him for his conduct of the war.

Shelbourne, supposedly friendly with Benjamin Franklin, was on record for saying that “he would never consent, under any possible given circumstances, to acknowledge the independency of America” This led to the creation of a coalition government with Lord Rockingham as Prime Minister and Charles Fox as Foreign Secretary. George III hated Rockingham and Fox hated Rockingham, so one can only wonder what the cabinet meetings must have been like.

The French, Dutch and Spanish entered the war on our side not because they were enamored with our desire for freedom, but because they wanted to take back what they lost in the Seven Years War. Their participation in the American Revolution got them nothing. In Louis XVI, it cost him his head.

However, had they not joined, we may not have become independent.

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