149 American Revolution Essay Topics & Examples

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American Revolution, also known as Revolutionary War, occurred in the second half of the 18th century. Among its causes was a series of acts established by the Crown. These acts placed taxes on paint, tea, glass, and paper imported to the colonies. As a result of the war, the thirteen American colonies gained independence from the British Crown, thereby creating the United States of America. Whether you need to write an argumentative, persuasive, or discussion paper on the Revolutionary War, this article will be helpful. It contains American Revolution essay examples, titles, and questions for discussion. Boost your critical thinking with us!

  • Townshend Acts and the Tea Act as the causes of the American Revolution
  • Ideological roots of the American Revolution
  • English government and the American colonies before the Revolutionary war
  • Revolutionary War: the main participants
  • The American Revolution: creating the new constitutions
  • Causes and effects of the American Revolution
  • Revolutionary War: the key battles

Signifying a cornerstone moment for British colonial politics and the creation of a new, fully sovereign nation, the events from 1765 to 1783 were unusual for the 18th century. Thus, reflecting all the crucial moments within a single American Revolution Essay becomes troublesome to achieve. However, if you keep in mind certain historical events, then you may affect the quality of your paper for the better.

All American Revolution essay topics confine themselves to the situation and its effects. Make sure that you understand the chronology by searching for a timeline, or even create one yourself! Doing so should help you easily trace what date is relevant to which event and, thus, allow you to stay in touch with historical occurrences. Furthermore, understand the continuity of the topic, from the creation of the American colony until the Declaration of Independence. Creating a smooth flowing narrative that takes into consideration both the road to revolution and its aftereffects will demonstrate your comprehensive understanding of the issue.

When writing about the pre-history of the Revolution, pay special attention to ongoing background mechanisms of the time. The surge of patriotism, a strong desire for self-governed democracy, and “Identity American” all did not come into existence at the Boston Tea Party but merely demonstrated themselves most clearly at that time. Linking events together will become more manageable if you can understand the central motivation behind them.

Your structure is another essential aspect of essay writing, with a traditional outline following the events in chronological order, appropriately overviewing them when necessary. Thus, an excellent structure requires that your introduction should include:

  • An American Revolution essay hook, which will pique your readers’ interest and make them want to read your work further. Writing in unexpected facts or giving a quote from a contemporary actor of the events, such as one of the founding fathers, are good hook examples because they grab your readers’ attention.
  • A brief overview of the circumstances. It should be both in-depth enough to get your readers on the same level of knowledge as you, the writer, and short enough to engage them in your presented ideas.
  • An American Revolution essay thesis that will guide your paper from introduction to conclusion. Between overviewing historical information and interest-piquing hooks, your thesis statement should be on-point and summarize the goal of your essay. When writing, you should often return to it, assessing whether the topics you are addressing are reflective of your paper’s goals.

Whatever issues you raise in your introduction and develop in your main body, you should bring them all together in your conclusion. Summarize your findings and compare them against your thesis statement. Doing so will help you carry out a proper verdict regarding the problem and its implications.

The research you have carried out and the resulting compiled bibliography titles will help you build your essay’s credibility. However, apart from reading up on the problem you are addressing, you should think about reading other sample essays. These may not only help you get inspired but also give excellent American Revolution essay titles and structure lessons. Nevertheless, remember that plagiarizing from these papers, or anywhere else, is not advisable! Avoid committing academic crimes and let your own ideas be representative of your academism.

Want to sample some essays to get your essay started? Kick-start your writing process with IvyPanda and its ideas!

  • The American War of Independence The American Revolution denotes the social, political and intellectual developments in the American states, which were characterized by political upheaval and war. The move by the colonizers seemed unpopular to the colonists and a violation […]
  • Abigail Adams in American Revolution The presidency is a highly celebrated position and in her husband’s capacity, she was elevated to the eyes of the whole nation.
  • American Women and the American Revolution Women’s standing, as much as they, in point of fact, turned out to be narrower and inflexibly defined subsequent to the war, was enhanced.
  • The American Revolution and Independence Day Celebration This article will help us understand the American Revolution and determine whether Americans have a reason to celebrate Independency Day every Fourth of July or not, whether all American supported the war, and whether the […]
  • French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812 In the course of the war, a peace treaty was signed in 1763 where the Britons acquired most of the territory that belonged to the French.
  • Summary of “Abraham Lincoln” and “The Second American Revolution” by James M. McPherson According to McPherson, the war, that is, the Civil War, was aimed at bringing about liberty and ensuring the extension of protection to the citizenry which he had a clue of the fact that the […]
  • The American Revolution and Its Effects It is an acknowledgeable fact that the American Revolution was not a social revolution like the ones that were experienced in France, Russia or China, but it was a social revolution that was aimed at […]
  • The Ideas of Freedom and Slavery in Relation to the American Revolution Although many Founders discussed the phenomenon of slavery as violating the appeals for freedom and liberty for the Americans, the concepts of slavery and freedom could develop side by side because the Founders did not […]
  • Effects of the American Revolution on Society In order for the women to fulfill, the role they needed to be educated first thus the emphasis of education for them in what came to be known as Republican Motherhood. Women faced limitations in […]
  • American Revolutionary War: Causes and Outcomes The colonists vehemently objected to all the taxes, and claimed that Parliament had no right to impose taxes on the colonies since the colonists were not represented in the House of Commons.
  • American Revolution and the Crisis of the Constitution of the USA In whole, the American people paving the way to independence have to face challenges in the form of restricted provisions of Constitution, wrong interpretation and understanding of the American Revolution, and false representation of conservative […]
  • The Revolutionary War Changes in American Society The Revolution was started by the breakaway of the 13 American Colonies from the British Crown. A significant consequence of the American Revolution is that it led to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence […]
  • African American Soldier in American Revolution It was revealed that the blacks were behind the American’s liberation from the British colonial rule, and this was witnessed with Ned Hector’s brevity to salvage his army at the battle of Brandywine.
  • The American Struggle for Rights and Equal Treatment To begin with, the Americans had been under the rule of the British for a very long time. On the same note, the British concentrated on taxing various establishments and forgot to read the mood […]
  • Was the American Revolution Really Revolutionary? The nature of the American Revolution is considered to be better understandable relying on the ideas offered by Wood because one of the main purposes which should be achieved are connected with an idea of […]
  • Liberty! The American Revolution The thirteen colonies were not strangers to the oppressions and intolerable acts of the British parliament. The oppressions of the colonies by the British became a regular occurrence and the people sought a solution.
  • Impact of Rebellion on the American Revolution The rebellion was retrogressive to the cause of the American Revolution because it facilitated the spread of the ruling class and further hardened the position of the ruling class regarding the hierarchical arrangement of slavery.
  • American Revolution of 1774 First of all, one of the main causes of the conflict and the following confrontation between the British power and the colonies was the disagreement about the way these colonies should be treated and viewed.
  • Women Status after the American Revolution This revolution enabled women to show men that females could participate in the social life of the society. Clearly, in the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century women were given only […]
  • American Revolution: Reclaiming Rights and Powers As a result, British Government Pursued policies of the kind embodied in the proclamation of the 1763 and the Quebec act that gave Quebec the right to many Indian lands claimed by the American colonists […]
  • Post American Revolution Period: Washington Presidency The formation of the National Government during the years of 1789-1815 was associated with many challenging situations, and it was characterized by the opposition of the Federalists and Republicans, among which the important roles were […]
  • African Americans in the American Revolution Both the slave masters and the British colonizers sought the help of the African Americans during the American Revolution. The revolutionary nature of the American Revolution did not resonate with both the free and enslaved […]
  • Battle of Brandywine in the American Revolution The Squad’s mission is to reconnoiter the location of the enemy during the night before the battle and prevent the possible unexpected attack of the enemy by enhancing the Principles of War.
  • The American Revolution as a People’s Revolution An idealized conception of a revolution leads to the conclusion that the American Revolution was not a representation of a “people’s revolution”.
  • American Revolution Against British Power They considered the fashions and customs of the British to be the best in the world; they sent their children to London for education, and they were very proud of the constitutional monarchy that governed […]
  • American Revolution in Historical Misrepresentation Narrating the good side of history at the expense of the bad side passes the wrong information to the students of history.
  • Vietnam War and American Revolution Comparison Consequently, the presence of these matters explains the linkage of the United States’ war in Vietnam and the American Revolution to Mao’s stages of the insurgency.
  • American Revolution in the United States’ History Americans had a very strong desire to be free and form their own government that would offer the kind of governance they wanted.
  • American Revolution and the Current Issues: Course The understanding of the critical issues in the history of the American Revolution will make the students intellectually understand the subsequent wars in American History and the events that may occur later.
  • American Revolution: Perspective of a Soldier Revolution became the event that radically changed the American society of that period and, at the same time, contributed to its unification.
  • The American Revolution and Political Legitimacy Evolution At the beginning of the article, the Anderson highlights Forbes magazine comments where they stated that the businesses that would continue to feature in the future Forbes directory are the ones that head the activists’ […]
  • American Revolution and Its Historical Stages The following paragraphs are devoted to the description of the stages that contributed to a rise of the revolution against British rule.
  • The American Revolution Causes: English and American Views The American Revolution was brought about by the transformations in the American government and society. The taxes were not welcome at all since they brought about a lot of losses to the colonies.
  • Figures of the American Revolution in «The Shoemaker and the Tea Party» The book The Shoemaker and the Tea Party by Alfred Young is a biographical essay describing events of the 18th century and life one of the most prominent figures of the American Revolution, George Robert […]
  • The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution: Book Analysis Even these facts from the author’s biography make “The Shoemaker and the Tea Party” a reliable source of the knowledge on the American past.”The Shoemaker and the Tea Party” is based on the story of […]
  • American Revolution: Causes and Conservative Movement To ease workplace stress, managers must be able to recognize the effects of stress on employees and to determine the cause.
  • The History of American Revolution The American Revolution refers to a period between1763 and 1784 when the events in the 13th American colonies culminated in independence from the British colonial rule.
  • The American Revolution From 1763 to 1777 In America 1763 marked the end of a seven-year war which was known as the India and French war and also marked the beginning of the strained as well as acrimonious relations between the Americans […]
  • The American Revolution U.S. History But at the end the pride of the English King as well as the desperation of the English monarchy forced the hand of the settlers to draw the sword.
  • Benjamin Franklin and the American Revolution Radical interpretations of the Revolution were refracted through a unique understanding of American society and its location in the imperial community.
  • American Revolution: An Impact on the Nation The American Revolution can be characterized as one of the milestone events in American history which led to the formation of the state and the nation.
  • American Revolution Information People in the colonies were enslaved in tyranny of churches as well as monarchies, and Benjamin, believed that with proper undertaking of education, the colonies would arise to their freedom and Independence.
  • The Leadership in Book ‘Towards an American Revolution’ by J. Fresia It’s an indication of the misuse of the people by the leaders in a bid to bar them from enlightenment and also keep them in manipulative positions.
  • Impact of American Revolution on the French One After the success of the American Revolution, there was a lot of literature both in praise and criticism of the war which found its way to the French people.
  • American Revolution Rise: Utopian Views Therefore, the problem is that “the dedication to human liberty and dignity exhibited by the leaders of the American Revolution” was impossible because American society “…developed and maintained a system of labor that denied human […]
  • Causes of the American Revolution Whereas we cannot point to one particular action as the real cause of the American Revolution, the war was ignited by the way Great Britain treated the thirteen united colonies in comparison to the treatment […]
  • The Experience of the American Revolution One of such events was the American Revolution, which lasted from 1775 to 1783; it created the independent country of the United States, changed the lives of thousands of people, and gave them the real […]
  • Sex During the American Revolution American Revolution is one of the most prominent and groundbreaking events in the history of the United States of America. One of the most interesting facts from the video was the usage of clothing and […]
  • The History of American Revolution and Slavery At the same time, the elites became wary of indentured servants’ claim to the land. The American colonies were dissatisfied with the Royal Proclamation of 1763 it limited their ability to invade new territories and […]
  • American Revolution: Seven Years War in 1763 As a result of the passing the Tea Act in 1773 British East India company was allowed to sell tea directly to the colonist, by passing the colonists middlemen.
  • Changes Leading to the Colonies to Work Together During the American Revolution Ideally, the two settlements formed the basis of the significant social, political, and economic differences between the northern and southern colonies in British North America.
  • The Heroes of the American Revolution However, their role was forgotten by the emergence of heroes such as Washington and Adams, white men who reformed the country.
  • American Revolution’s Domestic and Worldwide Effects The American Revolution was a world war against one of the world’s most powerful empires, Great Britain, and a civil war between the American Patriots and the pro-British Loyalists. The main domestic effects of the […]
  • The Battles of the American Revolution The initial cause of the battle is the desire of the British to take over the harbors in Massachusetts. The battle of Bunker Hill marked the end of the peaceful rebellions and protests and became […]
  • A Woman’s Role During the American Revolution Doing so, in the opinion of the author, is a form of retribution to the people long gone, the ones who sacrificed their lives in honor of the ideals that, in their lifetime, promised a […]
  • The American Revolution and Its Leading Causes Two acts passed by the British Parliament on British North America include the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act, which caused the Boston Massacre.
  • Causes of the American Revolution: Proclamation & Declaration Acts The Proclamation was initially well-received among the American colonists because of the emancipation of the land and the cessation of hostilities.
  • The Unknown American Revolution: Book Review In his book, Gary unveiled that the American Revolution’s chaos was through the power of Native Americans, enslaved people, and African Americans, not the people in power. The book boldly explains the origins of the […]
  • The American Revolution: Role of the French The revolutionary war became the fundamental event in the history of the USA. For this reason, the rebellion in America became a chance to undermine the power of the British Empire and restore the balance […]
  • Causes and Foundations of the American Revolution Speaking about what led to the revolution in the United States – the Boston Massacre, the Tea Party, or the Stamp Act – the most rational reason seems to be the result of all these […]
  • Haudenosaunee’s Role in the American Revolution They also signed treaties in relation to the support needed by the Americans and the Indians to avoid the conflicts that arose between the nations.
  • The American Revolution’s Goals and Achievements The Patriots’ goals in the War, as well as the achievements of the revolution and the first Constitution in relation to different groups of population will be discussed in this essay.
  • American Revolution: Principles and Consequences One expanded the number of lands of the young country due to the confiscation of territories that were under the possession of the English government and loyalists, that is, people supporting the crown.
  • Domestic and Foreign Effects of the American Revolution
  • Reasons for English Colonization and American Revolution
  • Native Americans During the American Revolution
  • The American Revolution: The Most Important Event in Canadian History
  • Women’s Rights After the American Revolution
  • Philosophical, Economic, Political and Social Causes of the American Revolution
  • American Revolution: The Result of Taxation, Military Occupation in the Colonies and the Negligence of the British
  • The American Revolution and Women’s Freedom
  • Reasons for the American Revolution – Tax, Military Presence, Merca
  • Colonial Independence and the American Revolution
  • The History, Transformative Quality, and Morality of the American Revolution
  • Political and Economic Cause of the American Revolution
  • American Revolution and Mexican Independence
  • American Revolution: The Result of the French and Indian War
  • Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution
  • Battles That Changed the Outcome of the American Revolution
  • After the American Revolution: Conflicts Between the North and South
  • The Reasons Why People Chose to Be Loyalist During the American Revolution
  • Identity: American Revolution and Colonies
  • The Expansion and Sectionalism of the American Revolution
  • The Relationship Between Nova Scotia and the American Revolution
  • World Events That Coincided With the American Revolution
  • The American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence
  • The Republican Ideology and the American Revolution
  • The Men Who Started the American Revolution
  • Slavery and the American Revolution
  • Economic and Political Causes for the American Revolution
  • Ideas, Movements, and Leaders in the American Revolution
  • American Revolution and the American Civil War
  • Cultural Differences, the Ineffectiveness of England’s Colonial Policy, and the Effects of the French and Indian War as the Causes of the American Revolution
  • American Democracy, Freedom, and the American Revolution
  • Benjamin and William Franklin and the American Revolution
  • The Major Factors That Led to the American Revolution
  • Labor During the American Revolution
  • Finding Stability After the American Revolution
  • Autonomy, Responsibility and the American Revolution
  • George Washington and the American Revolution
  • African Americans and the American Revolution
  • British and American Strengths in the American Revolution
  • American Revolution and How the Colonists Achieved Victory
  • What Was The Catalyst Of The American Revolution?
  • Was the American Revolution a Conservative Movement?
  • How Inevitable Was the American Revolution?
  • Was the American Revolution Inevitable?
  • Was the American Civil War and Reconstruction a Second American Revolution?
  • How did the French and Indian War shape the American Revolution?
  • What Were the Origins of the American Revolution?
  • Why Did Tensions Between Great Britain and their North American Colonies Escalate so Quickly in the Wake of the French and Indian War?
  • How the American Revolution Changed American Society?
  • Was the American Revolution About Freedom and Political Liberty, or Just About Paying Fewer Taxes?
  • Why Was American Revolution Unjust?
  • How America and Great Britain Benefited from the American Revolution?
  • Was The American Revolution A British Loss or An American Victory?
  • How Did the American Revolution Impact Concordians, and Americans, not just Physically but Emotionally and Politically?
  • Was the American Revolution Moderate or Radical?
  • How Radical Was the American Revolution?
  • Did the American Revolution Follow the Broad Pattern of Revolutions?
  • How Did The American Revolution Affect Slaves And Women?
  • How Did the American Revolution Get Started?
  • How England Instigated the American Revolution?
  • Who Benefited Most from the American Revolution?
  • How Did People Contribute to the Political and Grassroots Areas to Gain Support of the American Revolution?
  • Was the American Revolution the Fault of the United States or England?
  • Was the American Revolution a Genuine Revolution?
  • How Did Labor Change After The American Revolution?
  • Did The American Revolution Help Spur The French Revolution?
  • How Freemasonry Steered the American Revolution and the Revolutionary War?
  • How Outrageous Taxation Lead to the American Revolution?
  • How American Revolution Affect Natives?
  • Is British Oppression: The Cause of the American Revolution?
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

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IvyPanda . "149 American Revolution Essay Topics & Examples." February 27, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/american-revolution-essay-examples/.

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HoW to Write an Essay on the REvolutionary War

And where to get help.

Module 4: Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests (1763-1774)

Historical thesis statements, learning objectives.

  • Recognize and create high-quality historical thesis statements

Some consider all writing a form of argument—or at least of persuasion. After all, even if you’re writing a letter or an informative essay, you’re implicitly trying to persuade your audience to care about what you’re saying. Your thesis statement represents the main idea—or point—about a topic or issue that you make in an argument. For example, let’s say that your topic is social media. A thesis statement about social media could look like one of the following sentences:

  • Social media are hurting the communication skills of young Americans.
  • Social media are useful tools for social movements.

A basic thesis sentence has two main parts: a claim  and support for that claim.

  • The Immigration Act of 1965 effectively restructured the United States’ immigration policies in such a way that no group, minority or majority, was singled out by being discriminated against or given preferential treatment in terms of its ability to immigrate to America.

Identifying the Thesis Statement

A thesis consists of a specific topic and an angle on the topic. All of the other ideas in the text support and develop the thesis. The thesis statement is often found in the introduction, sometimes after an initial “hook” or interesting story; sometimes, however, the thesis is not explicitly stated until the end of an essay, and sometimes it is not stated at all. In those instances, there is an implied thesis statement. You can generally extract the thesis statement by looking for a few key sentences and ideas.

Most readers expect to see the point of your argument (the thesis statement) within the first few paragraphs. This does not mean that it has to be placed there every time. Some writers place it at the very end, slowly building up to it throughout their work, to explain a point after the fact. For history essays, most professors will expect to see a clearly discernible thesis sentence in the introduction. Note that many history papers also include a topic sentence, which clearly state what the paper is about

Thesis statements vary based on the rhetorical strategy of the essay, but thesis statements typically share the following characteristics:

  • Presents the main idea
  • Most often is one sentence
  • Tells the reader what to expect
  • Is a summary of the essay topic
  • Usually worded to have an argumentative edge
  • Written in the third person

This video explains thesis statements and gives a few clear examples of how a good thesis should both make a claim and forecast specific ways that the essay will support that claim.

You can view the  transcript for “Thesis Statement – Writing Tutorials, US History, Dr. Robert Scafe” here (opens in new window) .

Writing a Thesis Statement

A good basic structure for a thesis statement is “they say, I say.” What is the prevailing view, and how does your position differ from it? However, avoid limiting the scope of your writing with an either/or thesis under the assumption that your view must be strictly contrary to their view.

Following are some typical thesis statements:

  • Although many readers believe Romeo and Juliet to be a tale about the ill fate of two star-crossed lovers, it can also be read as an allegory concerning a playwright and his audience.
  • The “War on Drugs” has not only failed to reduce the frequency of drug-related crimes in America but actually enhanced the popular image of dope peddlers by romanticizing them as desperate rebels fighting for a cause.
  • The bulk of modern copyright law was conceived in the age of commercial printing, long before the Internet made it so easy for the public to compose and distribute its own texts. Therefore, these laws should be reviewed and revised to better accommodate modern readers and writers.
  • The usual moral justification for capital punishment is that it deters crime by frightening would-be criminals. However, the statistics tell a different story.
  • If students really want to improve their writing, they must read often, practice writing, and receive quality feedback from their peers.
  • Plato’s dialectical method has much to offer those engaged in online writing, which is far more conversational in nature than print.

Thesis Problems to Avoid

Although you have creative control over your thesis sentence, you still should try to avoid the following problems, not for stylistic reasons, but because they indicate a problem in the thinking that underlies the thesis sentence.

  • Hospice workers need support. This is a thesis sentence; it has a topic (hospice workers) and an argument (need support). But the argument is very broad. When the argument in a thesis sentence is too broad, the writer may not have carefully thought through the specific support for the rest of the writing. A thesis argument that’s too broad makes it easy to fall into the trap of offering information that deviates from that argument.
  • Hospice workers have a 55% turnover rate compared to the general health care population’s 25% turnover rate.  This sentence really isn’t a thesis sentence at all, because there’s no argument to support it. A narrow statistic, or a narrow statement of fact, doesn’t offer the writer’s own ideas or analysis about a topic.

Let’s see some examples of potential theses related to the following prompt:

  • Bad thesis : The relationship between the American colonists and the British government changed after the French & Indian War.
  • Better thesis : The relationship between the American colonists and the British government was strained following the Revolutionary war.
  • Best thesis : Due to the heavy debt acquired by the British government during the French & Indian War, the British government increased efforts to tax the colonists, causing American opposition and resistance that strained the relationship between the colonists and the crown.

Practice identifying strong thesis statements in the following interactive.

Supporting Evidence for Thesis Statements

A thesis statement doesn’t mean much without supporting evidence. Oftentimes in a history class, you’ll be expected to defend your thesis, or your argument, using primary source documents. Sometimes these documents are provided to you, and sometimes you’ll need to go find evidence on your own. When the documents are provided for you and you are asked to answer questions about them, it is called a document-based question, or DBQ. You can think of a DBQ like a miniature research paper, where the research has been done for you. DBQs are often used on standardized tests, like this DBQ from the 2004 U.S. History AP exam , which asked students about the altered political, economic, and ideological relations between Britain and the colonies because of the French & Indian War. In this question, students were given 8 documents (A through H) and expected to use these documents to defend and support their argument. For example, here is a possible thesis statement for this essay:

  • The French & Indian War altered the political, economic, and ideological relations between the colonists and the British government because it changed the nature of British rule over the colonies, sowed the seeds of discontent, and led to increased taxation from the British.

Now, to defend this thesis statement, you would add evidence from the documents. The thesis statement can also help structure your argument. With the thesis statement above, we could expect the essay to follow this general outline:

  • Introduction—introduce how the French and Indian War altered political, economic, and ideological relations between the colonists and the British
  • Show the changing map from Doc A and greater administrative responsibility and increased westward expansion
  • Discuss Doc B, frustrations from the Iroquois Confederacy and encroachment onto Native lands
  • Could also mention Doc F and the result in greater administrative costs
  • Use Doc D and explain how a colonial soldier notices disparities between how they are treated when compared to the British
  • Use General Washington’s sentiments in Doc C to discuss how these attitudes of reverence shifted after the war. Could mention how the war created leadership opportunities and gave military experience to colonists.
  • Use Doc E to highlight how the sermon showed optimism about Britain ruling the colonies after the war
  • Highlight some of the political, economic, and ideological differences related to increased taxation caused by the War
  • Use Doc F, the British Order in Council Statement, to indicate the need for more funding to pay for the cost of war
  • Explain Doc G, frustration from Benjamin Franklin about the Stamp Act and efforts to repeal it
  • Use Doc H, the newspaper masthead saying “farewell to liberty”, to highlight the change in sentiments and colonial anger over the Stamp Act

As an example, to argue that the French & Indian War sowed the seeds of discontent, you could mention Document D, from a Massachusetts soldier diary, who wrote, “And we, being here within stone walls, are not likely to get liquors or clothes at this time of the year; and though we be Englishmen born, we are debarred [denied] Englishmen’s liberty.” This shows how colonists began to see their identity as Americans as distinct from those from the British mainland.

Remember, a strong thesis statement is one that supports the argument of your writing. It should have a clear purpose and objective, and although you may revise it as you write, it’s a good idea to start with a strong thesis statement the give your essay direction and organization. You can check the quality of your thesis statement by answering the following questions:

  • If a specific prompt was provided, does the thesis statement answer the question prompt?
  • Does the thesis statement make sense?
  • Is the thesis statement historically accurate?
  • Does the thesis statement provide clear and cohesive reasoning?
  • Is the thesis supportable by evidence?

thesis statement : a statement of the topic of the piece of writing and the angle the writer has on that topic

  • Thesis Statements. Provided by : Lumen Learning. Located at : https://courses.lumenlearning.com/englishcomp1/wp-admin/post.php?post=576&action=edit . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • Thesis Examples. Authored by : Cody Chun, Kieran O'Neil, Kylie Young, Julie Nelson Christoph. Provided by : The University of Puget Sound. Located at : https://soundwriting.pugetsound.edu/universal/thesis-dev-six-steps.html . Project : Sound Writing. License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • Writing Practice: Building Thesis Statements. Provided by : The Bill of Rights Institute, OpenStax, and contributing authors. Located at : https://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]:L3kRHhAr@7/1-22-%F0%9F%93%9D-Writing-Practice-Building-Thesis-Statements . License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Download for free at http://cnx.org/contents/[email protected].
  • Thesis Statement - Writing Tutorials, US History, Dr. Robert Scafe. Provided by : OU Office of Digital Learning. Located at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hjAk8JI0IY&t=310s . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License

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The History of American Revolution - Timeline, Facts & Causes

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How Did The War Between Britain and America Benefit Others

Lexington and concord: the american revolution, the role of women during the american revolution, revolutionary mothers by carol berkin: the role of founding mothers during the american revolution, differences between british and american soldiers in the american revolution, american revolution's negative impact on native american history, the role of boston tea party in the american revolution, establishment of american ideals during american revolution, the spies of the american revolution: nathan hale, the revolution of 1800, role and concequences of the articles of confederation, the second american revolution: its impact and legacy, the impact of valley forge on the american revolution , analysis of the main causes of the american revolution, war on the colonies: french, indian war and american revolution, a history of the enlightenment inspired revolutions, a study of major revolution events in america, the american revolution: how women and wives influenced husbands and friends, main minuses of the articles of confederation, insurgency and asymmetric warfare in the american revolutionary war  .

22 March 1765 – 14 January 1784

Thirteen Colonies (United States)

Dutch Republic, France, Loyalist, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, American colonies

The Boston Tea Party (1773), The Battles of Lexington and Concord (1775), The Declaration of Independence (1776), The Battle of Saratoga (1777), The Siege of Yorktown (1781)

George Washington: As the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, George Washington emerged as a central figure in the revolution. His strategic brilliance, perseverance, and moral character helped inspire and lead the troops through challenging times, ultimately leading to victory. Thomas Jefferson: Known for his eloquence and intellect, Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. His ideas and ideals, including the belief in natural rights and self-governance, greatly influenced the revolutionary cause. Benjamin Franklin: A polymath and influential statesman, Benjamin Franklin played a vital role in rallying support for the revolution. He traveled to Europe as a diplomat, securing crucial aid from France and other countries, and his scientific discoveries further enhanced his reputation. John Adams: A passionate advocate for independence, John Adams was instrumental in driving the revolutionary movement forward. He served as a diplomat, including as a representative to France and as the second President of the United States, and his contributions to shaping the nation were significant. Abigail Adams: Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, was an influential figure in her own right. Her letters to her husband and other prominent figures provided valuable insights and perspectives on the revolution, and she became an early advocate for women's rights and equality.

In the 18th century, the thirteen American colonies were under British rule. Over time, tensions began to rise as the colonists developed a distinct identity and desired greater autonomy. Several key factors contributed to the buildup of resentment and ultimately led to the revolution. One crucial prerequisite was the concept of colonial self-government. The colonists enjoyed a degree of self-rule, which allowed them to develop their own institutions and local governments. However, as British policies, such as the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts, imposed new taxes and regulations on the colonies, the sense of self-government and individual liberties were threatened. Another significant factor was the Enlightenment era, which spread ideas of natural rights, individual freedoms, and representative government. Influential thinkers like John Locke and Thomas Paine advocated for the rights of the people and challenged the legitimacy of monarchy. The causes of the American Revolution were diverse and multifaceted. The colonists' grievances included taxation without representation, restrictions on trade, and the presence of British troops in the colonies. The Boston Massacre in 1770 and the Boston Tea Party in 1773 further heightened tensions and solidified the resolve for independence. Ultimately, the outbreak of armed conflict in 1775 at Lexington and Concord marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The Declaration of Independence, adopted on July 4, 1776, served as a powerful statement of the colonists' grievances and their determination to establish a free and sovereign nation. The historical context of the American Revolution reflects the culmination of colonial aspirations for self-government, Enlightenment ideas of individual rights, and a series of grievances against British rule.

Establishment of the United States as a sovereign nation; the creation of a new form of government based on democratic principles; adoption of the United States Constitution; redefinition of citizenship; abolition of feudalism; expansion of territorial boundaries, etc.

One of the major effects of the American Revolution was the establishment of a new form of government based on the principles of democracy and individual rights. The United States Constitution, born out of the revolution, served as a model for constitutional governments around the world. The idea of a government by the people and for the people spread, inspiring future revolutions and movements for independence. The revolution also challenged the existing colonial powers, particularly the British Empire, and set in motion a wave of decolonization throughout the world. The success of the American colonies in breaking free from British rule demonstrated that colonies could successfully achieve independence, fueling nationalist movements in other parts of the world and ultimately leading to the dissolution of empires. The American Revolution also had significant economic effects. It established the United States as a new economic power and opened up opportunities for trade and commerce. The revolution encouraged the development of industry and innovation, setting the stage for the industrial revolution that would follow. Furthermore, the American Revolution had a profound impact on the institution of slavery. While the revolution did not immediately abolish slavery, it planted the seeds of abolitionism and sparked debates on the issue of human rights and equality. Lastly, the American Revolution inspired and influenced subsequent revolutions and movements for independence, such as the French Revolution, which drew inspiration from the ideals of liberty, equality, and popular sovereignty championed by the American colonists.

Public opinion on the American Revolution varied greatly during the time period and continues to be interpreted differently today. In the 18th century, support for the revolution was not unanimous. Some colonists were loyal to the British Crown and opposed the revolutionary movement, while others actively supported the cause of independence. Public opinion shifted over time as events unfolded and more people became aware of the grievances and aspirations of the revolutionaries. Many colonists, especially those who felt oppressed by British policies, embraced the ideals of liberty, self-determination, and representation. They saw the revolution as a necessary step towards achieving these principles and securing their rights as free individuals. Others were motivated by economic factors, such as trade restrictions and taxation without representation, which fueled their support for independence. However, there were also segments of the population that remained loyal to Britain. Some believed in the benefits of British rule, such as protection and stability, while others feared the potential chaos and uncertainty that could result from a revolution. In modern times, public opinion on the American Revolution tends to be positive, with many viewing it as a pivotal moment in history that laid the foundation for democratic governance and individual freedoms. The ideals and principles that emerged from the revolution continue to shape American identity and influence public discourse on issues of liberty, equality, and self-governance.

1. The American Revolution lasted for eight years, from 1775 to 1783, making it one of the longest and most significant conflicts in American history. 2. The American Revolution had a profound impact on the world stage. It inspired other countries and movements seeking independence and democracy, such as the French Revolution that followed in 1789. 3. While often overlooked, women made significant contributions to the American Revolution. They served as spies, messengers, nurses, and even soldiers. Some notable examples include Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to join the Continental Army, and Abigail Adams, who advocated for women's rights.

The topic of the American Revolution holds immense importance for academic exploration and essay writing due to its profound impact on the world and the enduring legacy it left behind. Firstly, the American Revolution marked a pivotal moment in history where thirteen colonies fought for their independence from British rule, leading to the formation of the United States of America. It represents a significant event in the development of democracy and self-governance, serving as an inspiration for subsequent revolutions worldwide. Studying the American Revolution allows us to understand the principles and ideals that shaped the nation's foundation, such as liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. It sheds light on the struggles and sacrifices made by individuals who fought for their rights and paved the way for the establishment of a democratic government. Furthermore, exploring this topic provides insights into the complexities of colonial society, the causes of the revolution, the role of key figures, and the social, economic, and political consequences of the conflict.

1. Bailyn, B. (1992). The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Belknap Press. 2. Ellis, J. J. (2013). American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. Vintage. 3. Ferling, J. E. (2015). Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It. Bloomsbury Publishing. 4. Fischer, D. H. (2006). Washington's Crossing. Oxford University Press. 5. Maier, P. (1997). American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. Vintage. 6. Middlekauff, R. (2005). The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789. Oxford University Press. 7. Middlekauff, R. (2007). The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789. Oxford University Press. 8. Nash, G. B. (2006). The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America. Penguin Books. 9. Tuchman, B. W. (1989). The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution. Random House. 10. Wood, G. S. (1992). The Radicalism of the American Revolution. Vintage.

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thesis statement about the revolutionary war

HIST A302 Revolutionary America

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  • Thesis Statements

What Is a Thesis?

A  thesis  is the main point or argument of an information source. (Many, but not all, writing assignments, require a thesis.)

A strong thesis is:  

• Arguable:  Can be supported by evidence and analysis, and can be disagreed with.

•  Unique:  Says something new and interesting.

•  Concise and clear:  Explained as simply as possible, but not at the expense of clarity.

•  Unified:  All parts are clearly connected. •  Focused and specific:  Can be adequately and convincingly argued within the the paper, scope is not overly broad.

•  Significant:  Has importance to readers, answers the question "so what?"

Crafting a Thesis

Research is usually vital to developing a strong thesis. Exploring sources can help you develop and refine your central point.

1. Conduct Background Research.

A strong thesis is specific and unique, so you first need knowledge of the general research topic. Background research will help you narrow your research focus and contextualize your argument in relation to other research. 

2. Narrow the Research Topic. 

Ask questions as you review sources:

  • What aspect(s) of the topic interest you most?
  • What questions or concerns does the topic raise for you?   Example of a general research topic:  Climate change and carbon emissions Example of more narrow topic:  U.S. government policies on carbon emissions

3. Formulate and explore a relevant research question.  

Before committing yourself to a single viewpoint, formulate a specific question to explore.  Consider different perspectives on the issue, and find sources that represent these varying views. Reflect on strengths and weaknesses in the sources' arguments. Consider sources that challenge these viewpoints.

Example:  What role does and should the U.S. government play in regulating carbon emissions?

4. Develop a working thesis. 

  • A working thesis has a clear focus but is not yet be fully formed. It is a good foundation for further developing a more refined argument.   Example:  The U.S. government has the responsibility to help reduce carbon emissions through public policy and regulation.  This thesis has a clear focus but leaves some major questions unanswered. For example, why is regulation of carbon emissions important? Why should the government be held accountable for such regulation?

5. Continue research on the more focused topic.

Is the topic:

  • broad enough to yield sufficient sources and supporting evidence?
  • narrow enough for in-depth and focused research?
  • original enough to offer a new and meaningful perspective that will interest readers? 

6. Fine-tune the thesis.

Your thesis will probably evolve as you gather sources and ideas. If your research focus changes, you may need to re-evaluate your search strategy and to conduct additional research. This is usually a good sign of the careful thought you are putting into your work!

Example:   Because climate change, which is exacerbated by high carbon emissions, adversely affects almost all citizens, the U.S. government has the responsibility to help reduce carbon emissions through public policy and regulation. 

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  • Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements Purdue OWL
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Overview of the American Revolutionary War

Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull

John Trumball’s famous painting “The Surrender of General Burgoyne” at Saratoga resides at the U.S. Capitol.

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For the better part of the 17th and 18th centuries, the relationship between Great Britain and her North American colonies was firm, robust, and peaceable. The colonies enjoyed a period of “salutary neglect”; meaning that the colonial governments were more or less able to self-govern without intervention from Parliament. This laissez-faire approach allowed the colonies to flourish financially, which in turn proved profitable for the mother country as well. However, this period of tranquility and prosperity would not last.

Great Britain had amassed an enormous debt following the French and Indian War; so, as a means to help alleviate at least some of the financial burden, they expected the American colonies to shoulder their share. Beginning in 1763, Great Britain instituted a series of parliamentary acts for taxing the American colonies. Though seemingly a reasonable course of action – considering the British had come to the defense of the colonies in the French and Indian War – many colonials were livid at the levying of taxes. From 1763 to 1776, Parliament, King George III , royal governors, and colonists clashed over regulations of trade, representation, and taxation. Despite the growing unrest, many Americans perceived war and independence as a last resort.

thesis statement about the revolutionary war

By 1775, however, tensions reached a boiling point. Both sides prepared for war as negotiations continued to falter. Fighting began outside of Boston in the spring of 1775 during a British raid to seize munitions at Lexington and Concord . British regulars arrived on the Lexington Green early on the morning of April 19 and discovered the town’s militia awaiting their arrival. The “minutemen” intended only a show of force, and were dispersing, when a shot rang out. The American War of Independence had officially begun.

The militia harassed the British all the way from Concord to Boston, and then surrounded the city. In an attempt to drive the colonials away from the city, British forces attacked the Americans at Breed’s Hill on June 17th, resulting in heavy casualties for the redcoats in the war’s first major battle. George Washington arrived that July to assume command of the American forces, organized as the Continental Army. Washington then forced 11,000 British soldiers to evacuate Boston the following March, when Henry Knox successfully led 12 artillery pieces from Fort Ticonderoga to Dorchester Heights overlooking the city below.

By the early spring of 1776, the war had expanded to other regions. At Moore’s Creek in North Carolina and Sullivan’s Island at Charleston, American forces stopped British invasions. After initial successes, particularly the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York, an American invasion of Canada stalled and ended in failure at the end of the year. As 1775 rolled into 1776, the British rapidly built up forces in New York and Canada to strike back.

After a series of five consecutive defeats for Washington’s army at Long Island , Harlem Heights, White Plains , Fort Lee, and Fort Washington , the British captured New York City in the summer of 1776. Following the capture of the city, the British drove Washington’s army across New Jersey, winning several additional battles along their advance. That winter, however, Washington revived the American cause by winning spirited victories at Trenton and Princeton , New Jersey.

In 1777, the British launched two major offensives. In September, General William Howe captured Philadelphia, winning battles at Brandywine and Germantown . Despite the losses, the inexperienced soldiers of the Continental Army performed well and gained a measure of confidence, believing that they could very well stand up to the British. Then, in October, British General John Burgoyne invaded upstate New York via Canada, winning several initial victories. Later, however, his army became bogged down thanks in part to efforts of American militia units at Oriskany , Fort Stanwix , and Bennington. Then, after a stunning defeat in an open battle, Burgoyne surrendered his entire field army at Saratoga , New York.

thesis statement about the revolutionary war

The American victory at Saratoga was a turning point of the war, for it convinced the French monarchy that the Americans could actually defeat the British in battle. As a result, a formal military alliance was signed between the French and American governments in 1778, which entailed increased financial and military support. The alliance had even more positive implications for the Continental Army, because it forced the Parliament to funnel manpower and resources to fight the French across the globe, rather than sending them to North America.

That same winter, a few months prior to the formal signing of the alliance, Washington’s army retired to Valley Forge, not far from the British garrison in Philadelphia. While arriving rather disheveled, disheartened, and largely undisciplined, the army underwent a rigorous training program under the direction of Baron von Steuben . He instilled in the soldiers a sense of pride, resilience, and discipline, which transformed the army into a force that was capable of standing toe-to-toe with the British.

In 1778, the British consolidated their forces in New York and Canada and prepared to launch an invasion of the South. In the meantime, in the west, American forces under George Rogers Clark captured several British posts, culminating with a victory at Vincennes , Indiana, and the surrender of a much larger British force.

To the North, the British abandoned Philadelphia for New York with Washington hot on their heels. His army caught up to the redcoats at Monmouth , New Jersey, where an intense battle ensued. After arriving late to the battle and rallying his wavering troops, Washington made several defenses and counterattacks against the surging British force. Though inconclusive with no clear victor, the battle demonstrated the growing effectiveness of the Continental Army. Upon finally reaching New York, British forces never again ventured far from their secure base there.

In 1779, with fighting on a global scale and a stalemate developing in the North, the British began to focus their efforts on conquering the South, in hopes of quelling the rebellion once and for all. That autumn, British forces captured Savannah and Charleston and smashed General Gates’ army in Camden , South Carolina, forcing his army’s surrender. However, the Continental Army won battles at King’s Mountain and Cowpens , stemming the tide of British advance. Undeterred, the British army under General Charles Lord Cornwallis then moved across North Carolina before fighting its way into Virginia.

While General Cornwallis fought his way into Virginia, a brutal civil war erupted among the civilian population of the Carolinas. General Nathanael Greene recaptured most of South Carolina, fighting battles at Ninety Six , Hobkirk’s Hill , and Eutaw Springs . While Greene lost most of the battles in which he fought, he skillfully used his mixed force of militia and Continental regulars to maneuver the British out of the Carolinas' interior, forcing them toward the coastal cities and towns.

By the summer of 1781, Virginia was ablaze with battles along the colony’s coast and across its center. As General Marquis de Lafayette doggedly forced Cornwallis toward the coastal defenses around Yorktown , Virginia, he persuaded Washington to move the Continental Army from Connecticut to Virginia. Washington, along with a French fleet and army commanded by General Rochambeau, arrived in Virginia on September 19th, 1781, effectively sealing shut any escape route for Cornwallis. Following a siege and a series of attacks on the British position, Cornwallis surrendered his army to Washington.

An oil painting depicting the the surrender of British Lieutenant General Charles, Earl Cornwallis at Yorktown, Va. on October 19, 1781.

Following Yorktown, both sides consolidated their forces and waited while peace negotiations took place in Paris. There were many small actions near New York City, in western Pennsylvania, and along the Carolina coast, but large-scale fighting had ended. At the time that the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, ending the war in favor of the American colonists, the British still controlled Savannah, Charleston, New York, and Canada.

The War of Independence is forever ingrained within our American identity and provides all Americans a sense of who we are, or, at the very least, who we should be. Our forefathers fought for liberty, freedom, and republican ideals the likes of which had never before been seen in any style of organized government preceding them. In many ways then, the American Revolution was an experiment: an experiment which overthrew the rule of a foreign power; an experiment which defeated the world’s most powerful military; and an experiment which laid the groundwork for a nation attempting to create itself. The low din of battle, fought all those years ago, continues to echo the hearts and minds of Americans to this very day.

Further Reading:

  • The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution   By: Bernard Bailyn.
  • 1776   By: David McCullough.
  • The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789  By: Robert Middlekauff.
  • The American Revolution: A History  By: Gordon S. Wood.

The Governor's Palace, Williamsburg, Va.

Southern Governors' Responses to Independence and Invasion

Sir Peter Parker's Attack Against Fort Moultrie, Reproduction of painting by James Peale

History of Fort Moultrie

Charleston in the revolutionary war, related battles, you may also like.

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Course: US history   >   Unit 3

  • The Seven Years' War: background and combatants
  • The Seven Years' War: battles and legacy
  • Seven Years' War: lesson overview
  • Seven Years' War
  • Pontiac's uprising
  • Uproar over the Stamp Act
  • The Townshend Acts and the committees of correspondence

The Boston Massacre

  • Prelude to revolution
  • The Boston Tea Party
  • The Intolerable Acts and the First Continental Congress
  • Lexington and Concord
  • The Second Continental Congress
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • Women in the American Revolution
  • The American Revolution
  • Boston, Massachusetts was a hotbed of radical revolutionary thought and activity leading up to 1770.
  • In March 1770, British soldiers stationed in Boston opened fire on a crowd, killing five townspeople and infuriating locals.
  • What became known as the Boston Massacre intensified anti-British sentiment and proved a pivotal event leading up to the American Revolution.

Boston, cradle of revolution

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The Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution

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14 The African Americans’ Revolution

Gary B. Nash is professor of history emeritus at UCLA and director of the National Center for History in the Schools. He served as president of the Organization of American Historians in 1994– 1995 and as a member of the National Park Service Second Century Commission in 2008–2010. He has published many books and articles on early American history, the most recent of which is The Liberty Bell (2010). He is an elected member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Society of American Historians, and the American Antiquarian Society.

  • Published: 28 December 2012
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The American Revolution played an important role in African Americans' quest for freedom. It marked the first mass rebellion by slaves in American history, gave rise to the first civil rights movement, and resulted in the first large-scale constructions of free black life. African slaves in North America knew that their natural rights were violated by their enslavement, although a confluence of events heightened their restiveness and provided them with the ideology-laden phrases that they could deploy in their struggle to secure their liberty whenever and wherever possible. The Revolution offered slaves a chance to realize this dream. African American revolutionaries saw the war as a way to quench their thirst for freedom, to end corrupt power, and to die for their natural rights.

In the centuries-long history of Africans in America, the struggle to gain freedom and wrest equality from a resistant white society has been the consuming desire that has kept harrowed bodies and weary souls going. In this struggle to cross the river from bondage to freedom, the American Revolution had enormous importance. It marked the first mass slave rebellion in American history, initiated the first civil rights movement, spawned the first large-scale constructions of free black life, brought forth the first written testimonies from African Americans who wanted the world to hear of their strivings and freedom claims, involved the first emergence of what W. E. B. Du Bois called “the talented tenth,” and had international repercussions.

It has taken nearly two centuries for schoolchildren, the public, and, in fact, historians to begin learning about the African Americans’ Revolutionary experience, a corrective to historical amnesia that is still in progress. 1 Not that a handful of historians didn’t try. Boston’s William C. Nell was the first. At age thirty-five, Nell, himself a black abolitionist, published a pamphlet on The Services of Colored Americans in the Wars of 1776 and 1812 and soon expanded it into The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution. 2 Endorsed by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Wendell Phillips, the book reached the public in 1855, just as the newspapers were reporting fearsome violence over abolitionism in “Bleeding Kansas.” 3

Working with spotty published records, a handful of funeral eulogies of black men who had fought in the Revolution, and oral testimonies of black patriot descendants, Nell was intent on showing that black men had shed their blood as freely as whites. It was not a balanced account, because Nell ignored the shoals of men and women, mostly enslaved, who fled to and fought alongside the British in order to gain their freedom. This silence is understandable; Nell knew that publicizing how slaves flocked to the British to gain freedom would only cripple the abolitionists’ cause. 4

For many decades, the inconvenient truth that the black freedom quest had led many to flee to the British remained only in the memories of black Revolutionary War descendants. 5 Not until 1922 did Carter G. Woodson dare to include a paragraph in The Negro in Our History about the thousands of Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia slaves who escaped to join the British during the war. But Woodson stepped gingerly. Most of his coverage of the Revolution focused on the valorous and patriotic free black Americans. 6

Perhaps it mattered little one way or the other, because public school and college students and the public in general learned almost nothing about the African American Revolutionary experience from the books that commanded library shelves—from the multivolume nineteenth-century histories of the United States by George Bancroft, Richard Hildreth, Edward Channing, and Henry Adams; to twentieth-century schoolbooks by Woodrow Wilson, Charles Francis Adams, Charles and Mary Beard, David Muzzey, and others. In these works, the record is so paltry on black history that it appears as if half a million African Americans had been magically whisked off the continent while British and Americans fought the long war. For any historian who bothered to mention people of African descent, such as Harvard’s John Fiske, a sentence or two sufficed. “The relations between master and slave in Virginia,” he wrote, “were so pleasant that the offer of freedom [from the British] fell upon dull, uninterested ears.” 7 On the eve of World War I, another vaunted historian, Edward Eggleston, denied that African Americans had much of anything to do with the American Revolution. How could they, since “the Negro possessed no ability whatsoever to help free himself. So long as he had plenty of food, and outlets for his ordinary animal passions, he remained happy and content.” 8

Only in 1940 would a slim pamphlet set the stage for turning upside down the historical understanding of black Revolutionary involvement. In The Negro in the American Revolution , Herbert Aptheker tried to shatter the combination of white indifference to black history and strategic black myopia. Aptheker began with the pragmatic notion that the Revolution offered black people, mostly enslaved, options never before available in their quest for freedom. He did not ignore black service in the American army and navy, estimating enlistments of about five thousand men. But against that number, Aptheker estimated that some one hundred thousand slaves fled their masters to join the British after Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s royal governor, issued a proclamation in late 1775 offering freedom for any slave or indentured servant who joined the British fight against the treasonous Americans. The cat was now out of the bag—a massive defection from slavery among a people pictured by white historians as docile and contented. The African American people, wrote Aptheker, “played what at first glance appears to have been a dual role from 1775 to 1783”—service with American forces “when they were permitted to do so,” and wholesale flight to the British in search of freedom. These “varied and superficially contradictory activities” had “one common origin, one set purpose—the achievement of liberty.” As in every era of African American history, he argued, “the desire for freedom is the central theme, the motivating force.” 9

In 1961, Benjamin Quarles employed Aptheker’s conceptual framework in his The Negro in the American Revolution. In the book’s first paragraph, Quarles cut to the heart of the black response to the Revolution: “The Negro’s role in the Revolution can best be understood by realizing that his major loyalty was not to place nor to a people but to a principle. Insofar as he had freedom of choice, he was likely to join the side that made him the quickest and best offer in terms of those ‘unalienable rights’ of which Mr. Jefferson had spoken.” 10 A sprawling scholarship since 1961 complements Quarles’s landmark achievement while adding depth to our understanding of the black exodus by exploring the British and the postwar construction of free black life.

Pursuing Natural Rights

Enslaved Africans in North America did not need the explosion of pamphlet literature, sermons, petitions, and legislative speeches to discover that their natural rights were violated by their enslavement. However, in the decade from the Stamp Act crisis of 1765 to the formation of the Continental Congress in 1774, printed work and speech studded with fervid language about British “tyranny,” English attempts to enslave the colonists, and Parliament’s “horrid oppression” heightened the restiveness of the enslaved and provided them with the ideology-laden phrases that they could deploy in their struggle to secure their liberty whenever and wherever possible. The more such natural-rights rhetoric became part of public discourse, the more enslaved Africans saw an opening to lay bare the contradiction between freedom-loving patriots and the dirty business of slavery that undergirded much of their economy. By the late 1760s, Africans in America had attracted white sympathizers—figures such as Arthur Lee and Robert Pleasants in Virginia, Samuel Hopkins in Rhode Island, James Otis and Samuel Cooke in Massachusetts, John Woolman in New Jersey, and Anthony Benezet and Benjamin Rush in Pennsylvania—who helped lodge the idea of freedom as a birthright in black minds while unfurling the banners of abolitionism. 11

As word of the mounting indictments of slavery spread among the enslaved Africans in the North, black men and women had to decide—individually and in small groups—whether they should wait for white legislators and individual slave owners to end their travails or grasp the nettle themselves. Most were leaderless and isolated, unable to do more than hope and wait. But some pursued two strategies: suing their master individually to gain freedom or petitioning legislatures to abolish slavery altogether. Jenny Slew of Salem, Massachusetts, chose the former course. Plucking up her courage, she went to a local court in 1766 with an appeal to restore what she claimed was her birthright freedom (though she based this on the claim that her mother was white). John Adams, who witnessed Slew win her case, remembered years later that “I never knew a jury by a verdict to determine a negro to be a slave. They always found him free.” 12 A trickle of freedom suits reached the courts of small towns dotting the New England landscape, where non-slaveholders composed most juries.

But in Boston, where many jurors owned slaves, the better strategy for slaves was to petition the legislature for a general emancipation. This happened three and a half years before the Declaration of Independence. In the first week of 1773, a number of slaves in Boston and surrounding towns petitioned for a general release from slavery. Taking a page from the patriots’ book of tactics, they organized to speak as one from many towns in a kind of informal committee of correspondence.

The petition did not succeed, but neither was it a failure, for it spurred a debate in the legislature over abolishing slavery. Three months later, four black men published a hard-hitting leaflet where they spoke for “our fellow slaves in this province.” They began tauntingly: “We expect great things from men who have made such a noble stand against the designs of their fellow-men to enslave them”—a cagey reference to English policies that colonists regarded as attempts to enslave them. The petition tried to shame New Englanders more by recounting how coartácion —the legal right of slaves to buy their way out of slavery—was practiced by the Spaniards, “who have not those sublime ideas of freedom that English men have, [yet] are conscious that they have no right to all the services of their fellow-men, we mean the Africans.” 13 Black activists tried again in 1774 with more strenuous language. This time the legislature partly answered the petition by passing a law banning further importation of enslaved Africans, only to have Governor Thomas Hutchinson, whose friends included slave importers, veto it. Yet black petitioners made slavery a topic of discussion while bringing thousands of the enslaved to a state of anticipation.

The Massachusetts legislature followed most other colonies in halting slave importations. Well they might, for in September 1774 a number of Boston slaves reached the military governor, Thomas Gage, with an offer to fight for him provided he arm and liberate them. Rather than waiting for a British policy decision, they aimed to create one. They found a sympathetic soul in Abigail Adams, who told her husband she wished “most sincerely there was not a slave in the province” and that “it always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me—fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.” 14

Enslaved southerners were not far behind New Englanders in trying to seize the moment to gain their freedom and shape British policy. As early as 1765 in Charleston, South Carolina, the sight of the local Sons of Liberty marching through the town chanting “Liberty, Liberty,” brought slaves into the streets shouting the same words—a brazen display that placed the city under arms for a week. In Georgia and South Carolina in 1773, groups of slaves fled to the interior. A year later, in North Carolina, rumors of slave insurrectionists terrified slave masters in several counties. And in 1775, the freedom fever intensified in Charleston when the free black river pilot Thomas Jeremiah planned to guide the Royal Navy into Charleston harbor and help bondspeople win their freedom. Hoping to be the agent of deliverance for thousands of slaves, Jeremiah sacrificed his life to the hangman. 15

In the colony with the largest slave population, the enslaved were equally animated to turn the imperial crisis to their advantage. In tidewater Virginia, some of them met in November 1774 to choose a leader “who was to conduct them,” reported James Madison, “when the English troops should arrive.” Madison believed the slaves “foolishly thought…that by revolting to [the British] they should be rewarded with their freedom.” 16 He shortly learned that the slaves were not foolish at all but were anticipating and promoting what soon became British policy. In early 1775, Virginia slaves organized a rash of uprisings, pushing the governor to capitalize on their boldness. On April 21, only two days after the minutemen peppered Gage’s troops at Lexington and Concord, determined slaves in Williamsburg slipped word to Dunmore that they were ready to flee to him, and “take up arms.” Ten days later, Dunmore reported to London that he planned “to arm all my own Negroes, and receive all others that will come to me whom I shall declare free.” 17 The shot heard “round the world” at Concord Bridge was the white people’s shot; for half a million black people, the shot heard through slave cabins came six months later, when Dunmore enunciated his decision, officially approved in London. 18 The fear of slave rebellion became a critical factor in driving white Virginians into the pro-independence camp.

Fighting to be Free and Equal

“We must all be soldiers,” wrote John Adams five weeks before the members of the Second Continental Congress voted to sign the Declaration of Independence. 19 But the segment within America’s diversified people that came closest to answering Adams’s plea were free black Americans, who, proportionate to their number, were more likely to join the fray than whites. Recent research elevates Aptheker’s estimate of five thousand to about nine thousand black soldiers and sailors (in both the Continental army and navy, in state militia units, and on privateers) and assorted auxiliaries such as wagoners, servants to officers, and spies. 20

Especially in New England, blacks responded to the call to arms by repeatedly reenlisting, whereas most whites served a single one- or two-year term of service or even less. White men enlisted en masse in the early days of the war when the rage militaire animated almost all northerners. But most white patriots, typically farmers with crop cycles to think about, signed up for three- or six-month enlistments or, if they were not yet farm owners themselves, for one or two years. The vast majority did not reenlist, and a smaller number than blacks, proportionately, served for the entire war. On the other hand, few free blacks had farms or urban trades to worry about, and most found the enlistment bounty inviting. The desertion rate of black enlistees was much lower than that of whites; the young, poor, free black had little to return to if he deserted. Moreover, those who were politically attuned believed that if they fought for the country’s independence, their struggle for freedom and equal opportunity would gain greater respect. Indeed, some black men enlisted to gain their freedom as well as serve the cause of independence. For example, Peter Salem of Framingham, who fired the shot that killed Major John Pitcairn, in charge of the British marines at Bunker Hill, signed up with his master’s pledge of gaining his freedom. Salem’s story was that of thousands of African Americans and white indentured servants in the North, who gambled they would survive their enlistment and enter civilian life as free men. Mostly young, they embarked on a double quest for freedom: independence for America and themselves. A Hessian officer, fighting for the British, observed in 1777 “that the Negro can take the field instead of his master; and, therefore, no regiment is seen in which there are not negroes in abundance, and among them are able-bodied, strong and brave fellows.” 21

It is noteworthy that black enlistment was greatest in the northern states that had the smallest percentage of African Americans—Massachusetts and Connecticut. This cannot be explained in granular form, since the records are sparse; but the broad contours are clear: blacks in those states were more exposed to rudimentary learning and even more to Christian doctrine and discipline than those in New York and New Jersey. 22 Though blacks represented only about 2 percent of the Massachusetts population, one in eight of the twelve hundred militiamen who fought the British to a draw at Breed’s Hill (known as Bunker Hill) was African American. 23 And only from New England came those like Lemuel Haynes, later to become an acclaimed mixed-race minister to white congregations in New England, who fought with pen as well as musket to win independence and also to crusade for the end of slavery.

Northerners at first were glad to have men of color fighting alongside them. But elsewhere, black Americans had to fight for the right to fight. Pressure from white southern leaders led Washington to purge his army of African Americans with general orders on October 31 and November 12, 1775. Many state militias quickly adopted the same ban against black enlistments. But on December 31, sickened at his inability to maintain a large fighting force, Washington partially reversed his order, reopening the Continental army to free black men, though not to slaves, with congressional approval. State militia recruiters soon followed suit, even when state legislators had not rescinded rules banning black service. By 1777, after scraping the barrel for white recruits, all states except Georgia and South Carolina sprinkled their militia units with free blacks and with slaves who gained freedom after their masters accepted compensation authorized by the Continental Congress.

In the upper South, as war weariness choked off the desire of whites to serve the “glorious cause,” militia recruiters began accepting slaves sent by their masters to serve as substitutes, even when the state legislature forbid it. In some cases, the master promised freedom at once, but more often if the slave survived the war. In other cases, the slave fought on the American side even without the promise of freedom. Such was the case of James Armistead. Granted his desire to enlist and assigned to the Marquis de Lafayette, one of Washington’s favorite generals from overseas, Armistead served as a spy, infiltrated the British lines at Yorktown in the fall of 1781 posing as a runaway slave, then fled the camp with crucial strategic information that gave the Americans the upper hand in what became the climactic battle of the war. Even this did not earn freedom for Armistead. He finally gained it in 1786, after Lafayette implored the Virginia legislature to emancipate him while appropriating money to compensate Armistead’s master. 24

In the Valley Forge winter of 1777–1778, Washington further amended his recruitment policy. Struggling to regroup his manpower-starved army, he approved a proposal to raise a regiment of slaves from Rhode Island. In February 1778, the state’s legislature, approving the measure, used lofty language to endorse the idea: “History affords us frequent precedents of the wisest, the freest, and bravest nations having liberated their slaves and enlisted them as soldiers to fight in defense of their country.” 25 On the ground, the motives were less lofty. Historian Lorenzo Greene is surely right in arguing that the proposal was “inspired by stark necessity.” Like other states, Rhode Island by this time, beset by the imminent British attack on the state, could recruit few poor white men for regiments thinned by battlefield casualties, disease, absenteeism, and desertion. Now Rhode Islanders rebuilt what some called “the ragged lousey naked regiment” with slaves liberated by their masters, who were promised compensation from the public coffers for their loss of labor. 26 Many such newly freed slaves adopted the name of Freeman, Liberty, Freedom, and even America.

That liberated slaves might tip the balance for the beleaguered forces under Washington’s command became a distinct possibility in March 1779. In one of its boldest steps of the entire war, one that promised to rivet together the war for independence and efforts to dismantle the slave system, the Continental Congress urged South Carolina and Georgia to raise three thousand slaves to help repulse the British forces plundering their way through the lower South. Though the slaves would receive no pay, those who survived the war would have freedom and fifty dollars each to begin life anew. Meanwhile, masters would be compensated for their loss of property. 27

Eager to oversee the recruitment of slaves was the twenty-five-year-old John Laurens, scion of one of South Carolina’s wealthiest and most politically potent figures, aide-de-camp to Washington, and a reformer who dreamed that American independence would bring liberty to half a million slaves. Having seen the black men of Rhode Island’s First Regiment fight bravely in the battle of Newport eight months before, Laurens argued that bolstering the faltering American army with slaves would reward “those who are unjustly deprived of the rights of mankind.” Alexander Hamilton and others advising Washington endorsed the plan, and some South Carolinians, including Laurens’s father, supported the idea as the only way South Carolina could defend itself against a British army greatly strengthened by thousands of South Carolina and Georgia loyalists. However, wartime legislators, horrified by the prospect of black men under arms, promised they would sooner surrender to the British than see slaves enlisted under promises of freedom. Washington withheld his support, fearing that enlisting slaves would “render slavery more irksome to those who remain in it.” 28 Instead of recruiting slaves, South Carolinian legislators, desperate to enlist whites into the militia, lured white recruits by promising them slaves confiscated from loyalist plantations. Starved for white enlistees, Virginia adopted a similar policy.

With thousands of blacks from the North and upper South serving in the American army and navy, individual masters, especially Quaker slave owners in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, began manumitting their slaves. Though the number was small, moral sentiment was changing. While it slowly changed, African Americans kept pressing their freedom case. In Fairfield and Stratford, Connecticut, a band of slaves petitioned the wartime legislature in May 1779, asserting that “We can never be convinced that we were made to be slaves….Is it consistent with the present claims of the United States to hold so many thousands of the race of Adam, our common father, in perpetual slavery? Can human nature endure the shocking idea?…We ask for nothing but what we are fully persuaded is ours to claim.” 29

At that very moment, the Pennsylvania legislature was debating a gradual abolition act. Stung by the flight of hundreds of Pennsylvania slaves to the British army after it occupied Philadelphia in September 1777, legislators, after more than a year of wrangling, passed the first legislative abolition of slavery in the Western world. Designed to avoid an abrupt end to slavery and to accomplish abolition at little cost to slave owners, it only required that any child born to an enslaved woman after March 1, 1780, would be free after twenty-eight years of service. Antislavery advocates such as Anthony Benezet held to the belief that a half victory was insufficient because immorality and un-Christian behavior should not be half-corrected. Yet the stage had been set for further action, and the language of the law was unambiguous, stating that slavery deprived Africans of the “common blessing that they were by nature entitled to.” 30

Farther north the bravery of an enslaved woman who was all humbleness on the surface but steel underneath continued the freedom suits. Mum Bett grew up enslaved in Sheffield, Massachusetts, a western town where she heard her share of the white townsmen’s rhetoric in their struggle against British oppression. Her owner fought briefly in the war, and her own husband fell on a Massachusetts battlefield. She may have followed the heated debates over how many towns wanted the abolition of slavery written into the Massachusetts constitution. But the constitution that belatedly emerged in 1780 was silent on slavery, although the language of its declaration of rights would later be used to argue that slavery was impermissible. 31

A year later, an incident of the sort common to the relationship between enslavers and enslaved brought matters to a head. Amid a fierce argument, Mum Bett threw herself between her sister and their angry white mistress, who swung a heated kitchen fire shovel during the dispute. Mum Bett received the blow on her arm. Outraged, she stalked from the house and refused to return. When her master, John Ashley, appealed to the local court to recover his slave, Mum Bett called upon a rising lawyer from nearby Stockbridge to ask if Massachusetts’ new constitution, with its preamble stating that “all men are born free and equal,” did not apply to her. Theodore Sedgwick took the case in 1781 and argued that Mum Bett was “entitled to the same privileges as other human beings” whose skin was pigmented differently. The jury agreed. Mum Bett walked away a free woman and shortly renamed herself Elizabeth Freeman to mark a critical milestone in her life.

The case set a precedent. The state’s highest court upheld it two years later with striking words that ended a century and a half of slavery in Massachusetts: “Is not a law of nature that all men are equal and free? Is not the laws of nature the laws of God? Is not the law of God then against slavery?” 32 A barely noticeable household slave had become an agent of change in New England’s most populous state.

Black Rebellion in the King’s Service

The vast majority of slaves in North America lived in the South, and they usually lived in execrable conditions. Most knew it was futile to wait for benevolent owners to set them free, naive to think that legislators or courts would declare slavery illegal, and unrealistic to think that a master would send them in his place in the army. But an unprecedented alternative became available in late 1775: flight from slavery to the sheltering arms of an occupying army. Fleeing slavery had always been an option, and many slaves, mostly male, attempted it year by year. But this was flight from slavery with only the hope of success, which largely depended on convincing whites in the place of refuge that the refugee was a free person.

For the first time in generations of captivity the Revolution offered slaves a chance to flee toward a force prepared to guarantee freedom to the slave on the run. Before, this was possible only for handfuls of slaves who had fled southward from South Carolina and Georgia over miles of unknown terrain to seek sanctuary in Spanish Florida. Now a place of refuge was as close as the British army. This triggered the greatest slave insurgency in North American history—one almost too shocking for the American public to contemplate even now.

Among the first to flee to Dunmore were eight of the twenty-seven slaves who toiled at the stately Williamsburg dwelling of Peyton Randolph, speaker of Virginia’s House of Burgesses and one of Virginia’s delegates to the Continental Congress, where he served as its president for several months. Three weeks later, Lund Washington, manager of his cousin’s Mount Vernon estate, warned that among the slaves and indentured servants “there is not a man of them but would leave us, if they could make their escape.” He captured the mass defection under way in three words: “Liberty is sweet.” 33

In late 1775 and early 1776, several thousand fled to Dunmore, many in family groups, and hundreds more fell into the hands of patrolling patriots while trying. 34 The slaves of many of Virginia’s leading white revolutionary figures had now become revolutionary Virginians themselves—to planters, a nightmarish development that “raised our country into perfect frenzy,” according to Jefferson. 35

Dunmore formed the men into the British Ethiopian Regiment and outfitted some of them with white sashes bearing the inscription “Liberty to Slaves.” Commanding the Ethiopian Regiment was the British officer Thomas Byrd, the son of patriot William Byrd III, whose name symbolized Virginia wealth in land and slaves. The Ethiopian Regiment fought “with the intrepidity of lions,” according to one American who faced them at Great Bridge south of Norfolk less than a month after Dunmore’s Proclamation. 36

Stalking these bold attempts at self-liberation was a killer even more dangerous than the white slave patroller. Sweeping eastern North America in 1775–1776, the deadly smallpox spread rapidly through the crowded British ships to which Dunmore and his Ethiopian Regiment retreated, and then on to Gwynn’s Island in Chesapeake Bay, which Dunmore briefly occupied in the spring of 1776. 37 By July 1776, he withdrew his disease-riddled forces, sending part of them to St. Augustine, Florida, and to the Bermudas; others, including three hundred of the strongest and healthiest black soldiers, went by ship to New York City and would later return southward for a land assault that climaxed with the British occupation of Philadelphia in September 1777. One armed unit, the Black Guides and Pioneers, was supplemented by new escapees throughout the war and fought in many sharp actions.

Much as it shocked slave owners in both northern and southern states, the flight to the British army in the early years of the war was only the first wave of what became a massive self-emancipation by the South’s enslaved population after the war stalemated in the North in 1779. Even before this, the British had struck from East Florida into Georgia, sending panicked planters northward with slaves in tow. Several thousand slaves, perhaps one-sixth of Georgia’s enslaved, fled to the British lines. 38

Returning in force to the South, where a black fifth column could provide a decisive edge, the British struck to conquer from Georgia into South Carolina and then in Virginia in 1779. Black men, women, and children fled in droves to the invading British army. No doubt they remembered how relatives and friends had died like diseased sheep when smallpox tore through Dunmore’s Chesapeake military encampments in 1776. They knew also that white slave owners had dealt harshly with the kinfolk of those who had deserted to the British. Not knowing what awaited them if they reached the British lines must have gnawed at the resolve of many. Yet large numbers took their chances, willing to die free if only for a day, a week, or a month. Many sought refuge in the woods and swamps; others took to roads knowing not where they might find shelter; others reached British units, hoping that Dunmore’s Proclamation issued three years before would cover them. Several contemporary men of repute thought at least one-quarter of South Carolina’s eighty thousand slaves fled to the British. 39 Always their flight was perilous. When intercepted by patriot militia units, they were returned to their masters if the masters were on the American side. Others biding their time with loyalist masters were seized by patriot militia and claimed as booty.

Within British lines, most ended up as laborers hauling provisions, clearing roads, and digging latrines. In one case, in the unsuccessful American attempt to recapture Savannah in the fall of 1779, the British formed refugee slaves into armed black companies. Some of them faced other armed blacks when several hundred French-speaking black freedmen arrived from Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) with a French fleet to support the American offensive. In another attempt to regain the city in April 1780, American forces engaged with some four hundred former slaves under British arms.

The British invasion of Virginia in November 1780 likewise led to massive slave defections. As the British swept ashore to burn houses and barns, “slaves flock[ed] to them from every quarter,” reported a local planter. 40 With every further incursion, the enslaved fled to the British in shoals, including dozens of Jefferson’s slaves from Monticello and others from Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation. By the summer of 1781, a Hessian officer reported, “well over four thousand Negroes of both sexes and all ages” had become part of General Charles Cornwallis’s British army. 41

Virginia’s stricken plantation owners liked to think that the British compelled their slaves to abandon them. Richard Henry Lee, for example, was indignant that “force, fraud, intrigue, theft, have all in turn been employed to delude these unhappy people and to defraud their masters!” 42 However, whenever the British army approached, slaves could have fled from rather than toward the British. To be sure, many slaves acted “under the combined weight of prudence, caution fear, and realism,” as historian Sylvia Frey puts it, and therefore remained with their masters as the British approached. 43 But those who struck out for freedom in the face of heavy odds were hardly deluded, and most would have laughed at the notion that they were “defrauding” their masters. Believing this was their last best chance, slaves by the thousands demonstrated an unquenchable thirst for freedom by fleeing to the British. And unlike blacks who served in the patriot forces, the black male fighting for freedom with the British was typically accompanied by women and children.

A particularly vivid account, scribbled in the diary of a Hessian officer, gives insight into how the most intrepid slaves, both women and men, exacted their pound of flesh from their former masters. Colonel Johann Ewald described how escaped slaves reaching British camps joined foraging parties to plunder the wardrobes of their masters and mistresses. With relish, they “divided the loot, and clothed themselves piecemeal with it….A completely naked Negro wore a pair of silk breeches, another a finely colored coat, a third a silk vest without sleeves, a fourth an elegant shirt, a fifth a fine churchman’s hat, and a sixth a wig. All the rest of the body was bare!” The tableau amazed Colonel Ewald: “These variegated creatures on thousands of horses” trailing behind the British army baggage train reminded him of “a wandering Arabian or Tarter horde.” 44 For the enslaved, who for years had little but skimpy and worn clothing, here was one of freedom’s rewards, momentary to be sure, but nonetheless sweet.

But the gamble for freedom in the heart of the Virginia slave country was almost at an end. After retreating to Yorktown with several thousand black refugees, badly depleted by another terrifying outbreak of smallpox, Cornwallis dug in for a siege that lasted three weeks. With rations dwindling for his troops, he expelled the black auxiliaries from his encampments “to face the reward of their cruel masters,” as one British officer put it. 45 But Cornwallis was not so merciless as it appears. With surrender imminent, every black man and woman was a hairbreadth away from certain return to slavery. Forced out of the British fortifications, the black refugees at least had a chance of escaping. Charles O’Hara, a senior officer in Cornwallis’s army, remembered leaving four hundred blacks refugees with provisions to get them through smallpox and placing them in “the most friendly quarter in our neighborhood,” where he begged “local residents to be kind to the refugees he had once sheltered.” 46

The British southern campaign, meant to bring the Americans to their knees, marked the height of the great slave insurgency. Despite their determination to make themselves free, disease and the outcome of the Yorktown siege put most of the black refugees in shallow graves after only a brief taste of half-freedom. How many fled to the British cannot be determined precisely; scholars’ estimates range from twenty thousand to one hundred thousand. Considering the likelihood that two of every three succumbed to disease, battlefield mortality, and recapture, a reasonable estimate is about thirty thousand to forty thousand, of which fewer than one-third were adult males. 47

Whatever their number, the thousands of blacks who saw the British as liberators discovered that fighting alongside them was anything but glorious. The British emancipatory proclamations were flavored by a principled commitment to abolish an immoral institution that had already been declared illegal by Lord Mansfield in Great Britain in 1772 in the Somerset case; but it was even more a military strategy to disrupt the enemy’s slave-based economy while recruiting a mass of military laborers and—in limited situations—armed combatants. And British military leaders did not open their arms to the slaves of American loyalists, who were most numerous in New York, South Carolina, and Georgia. Indeed, many British officers, including Lord Dunmore, themselves held people of African descent in bondage throughout the war. In 1779, Sir Henry Clinton, British commander in chief, issued a more restrictive version of Dunmore’s Proclamation, offering freedom only to refugee slaves of rebellious Americans and warning that any blacks captured in American uniforms would be sold back into bondage. Some British officers claimed captured slaves as property rather than delivering the promised freedom. In other cases, simply swamped by women and children as well as men, the British sometimes put the refugees to work on plantations now controlled by British officers. A few were sold to West Indian plantation owners. When desperately short on water and rations, the British surrendered hundreds of refugee slaves several times during the southern campaign.

Only a small fraction of the slaves reaching British lines served in uniformed military units, while most served as wagon drivers, cooks, servants, and laborers who repaired roads, cleaned camp, hauled equipment, and constructed fortifications. Rations were short, clothing shabby, camps overcrowded. In the cities occupied by the British for much of the war—New York, Charleston, and Savannah—the black refugees did much of the hard labor and received the worst of the provisions. However, the British selectively militarized black refugees, using them as spies, guides, and river pilots. They also served as especially valuable raiders and foragers who were sent out from encampments to commandeer crops, livestock, and other provisions, often from plantations where they had toiled.

In the North, blacks under the British flag also served important roles. In the so-called “neutral ground” of northern New Jersey the self-named Colonel Tye fled his Quaker master—one day after Dunmore’s Proclamation was issued far to the south—and organized other fugitive slaves and free blacks. For five years he led a guerrilla band that fought alongside New Jersey loyalists to harass patriot farmers, becoming a terror to the American rebels. At the bloody battle of Monmouth in June 1778, where about 750 African Americans were sprinkled through the fourteen American brigades, Tye captured an American captain and earned his spurs as an effective fighter. A symbol of black rebellion, he inspired awe among white patriots, despite the havoc he wreaked. 48

Some historians argue that the flight of slaves to the British army during the southern campaign actually prevented slave uprisings by siphoning off a great many strong males who might have led such an insurgency. 49 However, from the viewpoint of the slaves themselves, the chance of a slave rebellion overturning the entire edifice of slavery must have seemed very slim when whites were armed to the teeth and organized into military units. Dispersed over a vast territory, slaves did not have the luxury of town meetings, countywide gatherings, and state conventions to discuss their options and coordinate strategies. Rather, they had to make decisions individually, by family, or in small groups. Plantation by plantation and locale by locale they had to calculate their chances for personal freedom rather than imagining ways of attacking the institution of slavery itself.

The minority of escaping slaves who survived the war faced great uncertainty as the war wound down. American diplomats put intense pressure on the British to return all escaped American slaves to their former owners. The Americans’ best card at the peace negotiations in Paris was the threat to repudiate debts owed to British merchants before the Revolution. American negotiators also tried to persuade the British to return the refugees in exchange for a promise not to confiscate the property of South Carolina loyalists. In the end, the British decided not to surrender refugee slaves explicitly promised freedom or those whose British military service might lead to severe reprisals if the black rebel was forcibly returned to a former master. For the latter, the British promised full compensation to former owners.

The British, of course, had no intention of blocking American loyalists from leaving Savannah and Charleston with their slaves. About four thousand African Americans sailed from Savannah in July 1782, most of them as slaves of departing Georgia loyalists, mostly headed for Jamaica. Some went with their masters southward along the coast to British Florida, where by the end of the war some six thousand slaves of loyalist Americans cultivated rice, indigo, and corn, and wrested tar and turpentine from pine forests. Crown officials repeated the process in Charleston. Deciding on a case-by-case basis, often relying on the African American’s own testimony, British officers ruled whether a man or woman had been promised freedom or legitimately feared reprisal if returned to his or her master. John Rutledge, former South Carolina governor, believed that the commissioners ruled in favor of “almost every Negro, man, woman, and child, that was worth the carrying away.” In all, loyalists carried at least fifteen thousand slaves out of country by 1784. 50

In the North, the other half of the British army prepared to evacuate New York City after word of the final peace treaty arrived in June 1783. Here lived the other large contingent of African Americans who had reached the British lines. In contrast to those in Savannah and Charleston, these were almost entirely free men, women, and children. But where would the British take some thousands of black British subjects? Boston King, a South Carolina escapee who had survived the war, recalled hearing a “dreadful rumor” that those “who had escaped from slavery and taken refuge in the English army…were to be delivered up to their masters, altho’ some of them had been three or four years among the English.” The news “filled us all with inexpressible anguish and terror,” he wrote, “especially when we saw our old masters coming from Virginia, North-Carolina, and other parts, and seizing upon their slaves in the streets of New-York.” 51

British officers assured King and his brethren that they would not surrender them to the tender mercies of their former owners but instead would transport them to Nova Scotia. 52 This was the decision reached by the British, who concluded they could neither take them to England’s slave-based Caribbean sugar islands, nor to England, which wanted no new influx to swell the growing numbers of impoverished former slaves seeking public support. 53 But slavery had not taken root in this easternmost part of the Canadian wilderness that England had acquired from France in 1713, in Queen Anne’s War. So in the winter of 1783 thousands of former American slaves disembarked from British ships in Nova Scotia, there to start life anew amid sparsely scattered old French settlers, remnants of Indian tribes, loyalists from the American colonies, and war-weary British soldiers. To mustered-out British soldiers and black refugees the British government offered land, tools, and rations for three years. Among those who had already emerged as a leader was Thomas Peters. Multilingual, he had fled his master in Wilmington, North Carolina, when British ships sailed up the Cape Fear River in early 1776. Thereafter, he served in the British Black Guides and Pioneers, where he rose to the rank of sergeant. 54

Black Hopes after the War

For the remnants of the tens of thousands of enslaved Africans who had fled to the British and served them during the war, life in Nova Scotia promised freedom and self-respect as artisans, laborers, and farmers. But their dream of freedom and a modest living soon turned into a nightmare. The British settled the black refugees in small villages and gave them rocky land yielding meager crops. With few resources and scant support, the refugees sank into poverty. Less than a year after Thomas Peters and his friends arrived from New York, British soldiers resettling in Nova Scotia attacked black villages, burning, looting, and pulling down their houses. As an emissary crossing the Atlantic in 1790 to arrange for something better for the beleaguered blacks, Peters worked with English abolitionists to repatriate the black Nova Scotians back to Africa. 55 In 1792, about twelve hundred former American slaves journeyed to the new British colony of Sierra Leone, where they were led ashore by Peters himself. In this reverse diaspora, many who had crossed the Atlantic in chains decades before now found themselves struggling for a new life not far from where they had been born.

In the United States, enslaved blacks who survived the war could only hope that the victorious patriots would eventually honor the inalienable rights that animated their struggle. To the free African Americans fell the dual struggle to end slavery and to create the social and institutional framework of free black life. Those who did so were the still largely unappreciated black founding fathers and mothers of the new nation. We celebrate the “extraordinary generation” of white founders that Bernard Bailyn calls “one of the most creative groups in modern history,” men who engaged in “extraordinary flights of creative imagination—political heresies at the time, utopian fantasies, and found few precedents to follow, no models to imitate” yet “refused to be intimidated by the received traditions; and…had the imagination and energy to conceive of something closer to the grain of everyday reality and more likely to lead to human happiness.” 56 Such soaring terms also describe the black founders who emerged from the shadows after the smoke and din of war had subsided. They, too, had to begin their world anew—and had to proceed with only rudimentary education and often with only the scantiest necessities of life. What they accomplished in the aftermath of revolution is all the more extraordinary, truly unexampled in the Atlantic world of their day. They could not write state constitutions or transform the political system under which white revolutionaries intended to live as an independent people. But the black founders embarked on a project to accomplish what is almost always part of modern revolutionary agendas—to recast the social system.

Leading them into the new era were mostly young men, who became the rootstock of postwar black society. Revolutions often call forth talent at an unusually young age, but in this case the talent had to emerge from a remnant of young African Americans, because many of those in their teens and twenties had fled to the British during the war. Harry Hosier, born a slave in North Carolina in about 1750, emerged by the early 1780s as an itinerant Methodist preacher with remarkable homiletic gifts—“the greatest orator in America,” according to Benjamin Rush. 57 Peter Spence, born a slave in Maryland, was twenty-three when he led black Methodists out of the white church in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1805, and Thomas Paul emerged as the most important exhorter among black Bostonians in his early twenties. Daniel Coker, enslaved in Maryland, was only twenty-five when he became the teacher of a Baltimore black school, two years after he began preaching. His biting abolitionist pamphlet came off the press before his twenty-sixth birthday. In every seaport town—Boston, Providence, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore—young black founding fathers emerged, often supported by wives who played critical roles as teachers and organizers of mutual aid societies.

Most of those who ushered in the first era of freedom were not only self-taught but widely traveled. In an era of primitive transportation, and when their slender means usually precluded any form of transportation other than on foot, many trekked thousands of miles and knew vast stretches of territory in ways that whites of their age seldom experienced. Itinerating Methodist preachers Coker and Harry Hosier knew the entire region from New York to Baltimore. John Gloucester, a thirty-one-year-old Tennessee slave who became the leader of the first black Presbyterian church in Philadelphia, traveled for years up and down the Atlantic seaboard and across the Atlantic to collect money in England to free his family from slavery. Nero Prince, a successor of Prince Hall as grand master of Boston’s black Masonic Lodge, traveled all over the world as a mariner and spent a dozen years as a footman at the court of the Russian czar in the early nineteenth century. In most of these cases, conversion to the Methodist or Baptist faith led them to a circuit-riding life. In something akin to biblical journeys into the wilderness, they tested their mettle and deepened their faith. In so doing, they developed toughness, resiliency, an ability to confront rapidly changing circumstances, and a talent for dealing with a wide variety of people. These were the African Americans who reached manhood in the crucible of revolution and took up the work called for half a century later when black leader William Wilson urged that “we must begin to tell our own story, write our own lecture, paint our own picture, chisel our own bust…[and] acknowledge and love our own peculiarities.” 58

Two of them were notable for what seemed the dawn of a new era. Born in 1760, Richard Allen grew up enslaved to Benjamin Chew, a wealthy lawyer in Philadelphia who maintained a slave-based plantation in southern Delaware. Chew sold Allen’s family to a neighboring Delaware farmer just before the Revolution, and it was there, then only as Richard, that Allen experienced a religious conversion at the hands of itinerant Methodists. Nudged along by economic strain in the war-torn economy, Richard’s master allowed him and his brother to purchase their freedom. 59 In 1780, with the war still raging, the twenty-year-old Richard gave himself the surname of Allen and began a six-year religious sojourn, interspersing work as woodcutter, wagon driver of salt for the Revolutionary army, and shoemaker with stints of itinerant preaching. Landing in Philadelphia, he preached to the free African Americans who worshiped at St. George Methodist Church—a rude, dirt-floored building in the German part of the city. Allen soon became the city’s foremost black leader. In 1786, at age twenty-six, he was an instigator of the Free African Society, which ministered to the needs of people coming out of slavery; in 1792, the creator of one of the first independent black churches in the North; in 1794, the coauthor of one of the first published black texts opposing slavery and white racism; in 1797, the organizer of Philadelphia’s first black school; in 1816, the founder of a black denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, that grew to the largest in the Christian world. 60

Allen’s role as a shaper of thought, mover of minds, and builder of institutions was matched by few of his white contemporaries, and what he accomplished was done in the face of obstacles few of them had to overcome. Never receiving formal education, he became an accomplished and eloquent writer, penning and publishing sermons, tracts, addresses, and remonstrances; compiling a hymnal; and drafting articles of organization and governance for various organizations. Many years later, Frederick Douglas averred that “among the remarkable men whose names have found deserved place in American annals, there is not one…whose memory will be more sacredly cherished…than will the name and character of Richard Allen.” 61

Farther north, in Massachusetts, Lemuel Haynes became an inspiration for aspiring African Americans. After the war, he supported himself doing farm labor while preparing for a lifetime in the ministry. Licensed to preach in 1780—the first white ordination of a black clergyman in the United States—Haynes became the spiritual leader of a white congregation in Middle Granville, Massachusetts. “More clearly than anyone of his generation, black or white,” writes his recent biographer, Haynes articulated “the abolitionist implications of republican thought.” 62 Marrying Elizabeth Babbitt, a white woman who bucked the tide of prejudice against interracial marriage, he pastored almost entirely white congregations in New England and New York. After Haynes’s death in 1833, his biographer called him “a sanctified genius,” a man whose life story could “hardly fail to mitigate the unreasonable prejudices against the Africans in our land.” 63

African Americans fought a revolution within a revolution, and they understandably considered their “ glorious cause” as the purest form of the “spirit of ’76.” White American revolutionaries were animated by a thirst for independence and freedom, by a determination to overthrow corrupt power, by a willingness to die for inalienable rights, by a resolve to defend the people’s power as the ultimate source of authority. All of this was ennobling and inspiring and has stood forth to this day around the world as the meaning of their blood sacrifice. Black American revolutionaries could salute every one of these banners but with a difference: a thirst for freedom that involved shackled bodies as well as political ideals; a determination to end corrupt power as they experienced it at the end of a whip and at the stake; a willingness to die for their natural rights against odds even greater than those faced by white revolutionaries. From this perspective, the African Americans’ revolution had only begun as the white patriots’ revolution ended in victory.

1. I have surveyed school textbooks published in the last century on this in “Why Is the Story of Quakers and Slavery Neglected or Unknown?” paper given at Quakers and Slavery Conference, November 4, 2010; also see Ray Raphael , Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past (New York: New Press, 2004), 181 and 317 n. 6 .

2. Robert P. Smith , “William Cooper Nell: Crusading Black Abolitionist,” Journal of Negro History 55 (1970): 182–199 ; and Dorothy Wesley Porter , “Integration versus Separatism: William Cooper Nell’s Role in the Struggle for Equality,” in Courage and Conscience: Black and White Abolitionists in Boston , ed. Donald M. Jacobs (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 207–224 .

The first pamphlet appeared in 1851 and the fuller version in 1855. Three years later, in 1858, Nell was among the Boston abolitionists who inaugurated Boston’s Crispus Attucks Day. Thirty years later, the Crispus Attucks monument rose in Boston, further perpetuating the black patriot myth.

4. See Gary B. Nash, introduction to new reprint of Benjamin Quarles , The Negro in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), xiii–xv . William Lloyd Garrison followed Nell’s basic narrative in 1860 when he published The Loyalty and Devotion of Colored Americans in the Revolution and War of 1812 .

5. See Robert Benjamin Lewis, Light and Truth (1836), for the first book-length study of black history. Also see Hosea Easton, Treatise on the Intellectual Character and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the U.S. (1837); and James W. C. Pennington , A Text Book of the Origin and History of the Colored People (Hartford, CT: L. Skinner, 1841) . In 1891, Edward Austin Johnson, a black teacher and school principal in North Carolina, published A School History of the Negro Race in America (New York: Isaac Goldman Co., 1892) to give black students in segregated schools at least a rudimentary outline of their history. Johnson spent most of the time on black patriots but estimated that some fifty thousand slaves enlisted on the British side. See School History , p. 67 (from revised 1911 edition).

6. Carter Woodson and Charles H. Wesley , The Negro in Our History (1922; Washington, DC: Associated Publishers, 1962), 120–128 . In a book for elementary-school students, Woodson confined the discussion of the mass flight of slaves to the British to a single line. See Negro Makers of History (Washington, DC: Associated Press, 1928), 58 . Even W. E. B. Du Bois did not stray from the accepted formula of black revolutionary patriotism in the few references he made to the American Revolution. See Herbert Aptheker’s notes on Du Bois’s columns in the Pittsburgh Courier for April 18, 1936, September 13, 1941, and April 24, 1948, where Du Bois spoke of black sacrifice in the American cause and the discrimination black soldiers endured. Aptheker , An Annotated Bibliography of the Writings of W. E. B. Du Bois (Millwood, NY: Kraus-Thomson, 1973), 198, 388, 417, 466 .

7. John Fiske , The American Revolution , 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1891), 1:178 , quoted in Raphael, Founding Myths , 181.

8. Edward Eggleston , The Ultimate Solution of the American Negro Problem (Boston: Gorham Press, 1913), 127–128 , quoted in Raphael, Founding Myths , 181.

9. Herbert Aptheker , American Negro Slave Revolts (New York: Citadel Press, 1939), 5–6 .

Quarles, Negro in the American Revolution , xxvii.

11. I have synthesized the voluminous literature on the early abolitionists in The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America (New York: Viking, 2005) . For parallel efforts on the other side of the Atlantic see Christopher Leslie Brown , Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006) , esp. chap. 4.

Adams to Jeremy Belknap, March 21, 1795, Massachusetts Historical Society Collections , 5th ser., vol. 3 (1877): 402.

Aptheker, Negro Slave Revolts , 7–8.

14. Abigail Adams to John Adams, September 22, 1774, in Adams Family Correspondence , 4 vols., ed. L. H. Butterfield (New York: Atheneum, 1965), 1:162 .

15. Peter H. Wood , “‘Taking Care of Business’ in Revolutionary South Carolina: Republicanism and the Slave Society,” in The Southern Experience in the American Revolution , ed. Jeffrey J. Crow and Larry E. Tise (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978), 268–293 .

16. The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series , 4 vols., ed. Robert A. Rutland (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1984–), 1:129–130 .

17. Quoted in Woody Holton , Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the Revolution in Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 141 .

18. The words from Dunmore’s Proclamation that engulfed white southerners with fear while overjoying their chattel property read: “I do hereby…declare all indented servants, Negroes, or others (appertaining to Rebels) free, that are able and willing to bear arms, they joining His Majesty’s Troops as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing the Colony to a proper sense of their duty, to his Majesty’s crown and dignity.” For more on Dunmore’s Proclamation see Philip D. Morgan and Andrew J. O’Shaughnessy , “Arming Slaves in the American Revolution,” in Arming Slaves: From the Classical Era to the American Civil War , ed. Philip D. Morgan and Christopher L. Brown (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008) .

19. Papers of John Adams , 11 vols., ed. Robert J. Taylor et al . (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979–), 4:221 .

20. Recent work by the Daughters of the American Revolution has identified about 6,600 black patriots. See African American and American Indian Patriots of the Revolutionary War (Washington, DC: National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, 2001) . Jane Ailes, an independent scholar, has used troop reports for the Continental army in August 1778 showing that 3.6 percent of the 21,159 enlisted men were black, including 755 from Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. If that percentage prevailed throughout the war, then about 9,000 of some 230,000 men who served on the American side were black. Ailes has found about 35 percent more African Americans in particular locales than listed in the DAR publication, so this would yield about 8,900 black patriots. If the German-born French officer Baron Ludwig von Closen was even half right in his estimation that one-quarter of the northern regiments he saw in 1780 were black, the total black patriots probably exceeded ten thousand. See Evelyn M. Acomb, ed ., The Revolutionary Journals of Baron von Closen (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1958), 89 .

21. Charles Patrick Neimeyer , America Goes to War: A Social History of the Continental Army (New York: NYU Press, 1996), 73 .

Though Quakers and Anglicans educated and missionized displaced Africans, very few blacks served in the Continental army or militia units for reasons that remain obscure.

23. George Quintal , Patriots of Color: African Americans and Native Americas at Battle Road and Bunker Hill (Boston: Boston National Historical Park, 2004) .

24. Sidney Kaplan and Emma Nogrady Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution , rev. ed. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989), 37–40 .

25. Quoted in Fritz Hirschfeld , George Washington and Slavery: A Documentary Portrayal (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997), 148–149 .

26. Lorenzo Greene , “The Black Regiment of Rhode Island,” Journal of Negro History 37 (1952): 144 .

27. Pete Maslowski , “National Policy toward the Use of Black Troops in the Revolution,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 73 (1972): 3–8 ; Gregory D. Massey , John Laurens and the American Revolution (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000), 130–134 . Many members of the Continental Congress would have known of the argument of the anonymous pamphleteer “Antibiastes,” who argued two years before that Congress should oversee a “general emancipation of the Slaves” who would enlist and provide proper compensation to their masters. “Antibiastes,” Observation on the Slaves and Indented Servants in the Army, and in the Navy of the United States (Philadelphia: Styner and Cist, 1777) .

28. Washington is quoted in Henry Wiencek , An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), 227 .

Petition of Connecticut Negroes from County of Fairfield, May 11, 1779, quoted in Nash, Unknown American Revolution , 321.

Nash, Unknown American Revolution , 324–327.

31. Graham Hodges and I have covered this in Friends of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, and Agrippa Hull: A Tale of Three Patriots, Two Revolutions, and a Tragic Betrayal of Freedom in the New Nation (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 84–86 .

32. Quoted in Arthur Zilversmit , “Quock Walker, Mumbet, and the Abolition of Slavery in Massachusetts,” William and Mary Quarterly , 3rd ser., vol. 25 (1968): 614–624 ; and A. Leon Higginbotham Jr ., In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process, the Colonial Period (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 91–98 .

33. Lund Washington to George Washington, December 3, 1775, in The Papers of George Washington , ed. W. W. Abbot et al . (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987–), Revolutionary War Series, 2:480 .

34. Dunmore believed that about two thousand enslaved men had reached his lines. Dunmore to Secretary of State Lord George Germain, June 26, 1776, in Naval Documents of the American Revolution , 10 vols., ed. William Bell Clark et al . (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1964–96), 5:756 . Cassandra Pybus , “Jefferson’s Faulty Math: The Question of Slave Defections in the American Revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly , 3rd ser., vol. 62 (2005): 250 , estimates the number at about fifteen hundred, but this is surely too small, since as many as two-thirds of all those who reached the British were women and children. Even if Dunmore doubled the number of men reaching him (for reasons that are not easily understood), the total number of fleeing slaves reaching his lines must have been at least twenty-five hundred.

35. Jefferson to John Randolph, November 29, 1775, in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson , vol. 1., ed. Julian P. Boyd (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1960–), 268–270 .

36. See Holton, Forced Founders , 156; and John E. Selby , The Revolution in Virginia, 1775–1783 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988), 67 .

37. Quarles, Negro in the American Revolution, 30; Elizabeth Fenn, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775–82 (New York: Hill & Wang, 2001), 58–61 .

38. Sylvia Frey , Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), 86 ; Pybus, “Jefferson’s Faulty Math,” 253, estimates about fifteen hundred.

Frey, Water from the Rock , 142. David Ramsay, first historian of South Carolina in the Revolution, believed that his state lost about twenty-five thousand slaves.

Quoted in Frey, Water from the Rock , 152.

41. Johann von Ewald , Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal , ed. and trans. Joseph P. Tustin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979), 305 .

42. Quoted in Frey , Water from the Rock , 168 .

43. Ibid. , 168 .

44. Ewald , Diary of the American War , 305 .

45. Ibid. , 335–336 . Private Joseph Plumb Martin also saw “herds of Negroes” in the woods, “scattered about in every direction, dead and dying with pieces of ears of burnt Indian corn in the hands and mouths, even of those that were dead.” James Kirby Martin, ed ., Ordinary Courage: The Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin (1830; reprint St. James, NY: Brandywine Press, 1993), 141–142 .

46. George C. Rogers Jr., ed., “Letters of Charles O’Hara to the Duke of Grafton,” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 65 (1964) .

47. Probably the best way of estimating the number is accepting the fairly well documented number of freed slaves who were evacuated by the British and multiplying that number by a multiple estimating the death rate of escaped slaves during the war years. Pybus, “Jefferson’s Faulty Math,” puts the number of evacuees at eight thousand to ten thousand; however, her guess that 40–50 percent survived the war seems high. Alan Gilbert documents the large number of former slaves, perhaps as many as five thousand to six thousand, who reached Nova Scotia apart from the 1783 evacuation from New York City and are not included in Pybus’s figures. see Gilbert , Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012) , chap. 8. The total number of evacuees is probably in the range of fourteen thousand to sixteen thousand. If half the refugee slaves survived the war and one-fifth were recaptured, then the total number fleeing to the British would be in the range of thirty-three thousand to thirty-eight thousand. The number would be proportionately high if the wartime death rate exceeded 50 percent, which is likely.

48. For a full account of Colonel Tye see Graham Russell Hodges , Slavery and Freedom in the Rural North: African Americans in Monmouth County, New Jersey, 1665–1865 (Madison, WI: Madison House, 1997), 96–104 .

49. Frey, Water from the Rock , 14–41; Douglas R. Egerton , Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 88 .

50. Frey, Water from the Rock , 178. Frey believes that the British carried off as many as twenty thousand slaves with their loyalist masters ( ibid. , 182 ), while Maya Jasanoff estimates about fifteen thousand; see Jasanoff , Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), 358 .

51. Memoirs of the Life of Boston King, a Black Preacher [London, 1798], in Unchained Voices: An Anthology of Black Authors in the English-Speaking World of the Eighteenth Century , ed. Vincent Carretta (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1996), 356 .

52. The pilgrimage to Nova Scotia is told fully in Ellen Gibson Wilson , The Loyal Blacks (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1976) ; James W. St. George Walker , The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783–1870 (New York: Africana Publishing Co., 1976) ; and Cassandra Pybus , Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006) , chap. 9. In chapter 8 of Black Patriots and Loyalists , Alan Gilbert has added important new information.

53. Stephen J. Braidwood , Black Poor and White Philanthropists: London’s Blacks and the Foundations of the Sierra Leone Settlement, 1786–1791 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1994) .

54. Gary B. Nash , “Thomas Peters: Millwright and Deliverer,” in Struggle and Survival in Colonial America , ed. Nash and David G. Sweet (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981), 69–85 .

55. Ibid. , 77–83 ; see also Simon Schama , Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (New York: HarperCollins, 2006) , ch. 8.

56. Bernard Bailyn , To Begin the World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the Founding Fathers (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 5, 35–36 .

57. Lewis V. Baldwin , Invisible Strands in African Methodism: A History of the African Union Methodist Protestant and Union African Methodist Episcopal Churches, 1805–1980 (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1983), 24 . Thomas Coke, an early white Methodist leader, called Hosier “one of the best preachers in the world.” Ibid.

58. William J. Wilson, quoted in Patrick Rael , Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 1 . For a synthesis of the mounting literature on free black community building after the war see Egerton, Death or Liberty , chaps. 4, 5, 7, and 9.

59. Gary B. Nash , “New Light on Richard Allen: The Early Years,” William and Mary Quarterly , 3rd ser., vol. 46 (1989): 332–340 .

60. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899; New York: Schocken Books, 1967), 21 . Albert Raboteau calls the AME “arguably the most important African-American institution for most of the nineteenth century.” Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African-American Religious History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), 79 . For the emergence of literary production among free blacks in the post-Revolutionary period see Joanna Brooks , “The Early American Public Sphere and the Emergence of a Black Print Counterpublic,” William and Mary Quarterly , 3rd ser., vol. 62 (2005): 67–92 .

61. Quoted in Richard S. Newman , Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers (New York: NYU Press, 2008), 294 .

62. John Saillant , Black Puritan, Black Republican: The Life and Thought of Lemuel Haynes, 1753–1833 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) , 47.

Kaplan and Kaplan, Black Presence , 120.

Berlin, Ira , and Ronald Hoffman , eds. Slavery and Freedom in the Age of the American Revolution . Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983 .

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Egerton, Douglas . Death or Liberty : African Americans and Revolutionary America . New York: Oxford University Press, 2009 .

Frey, Sylvia R . Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991 .

Gilbert, Alan . Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012 .

Hodges, Graham Russell . Slavery and Freedom in the Rural North: African Americans in Monmouth County, New Jersey, 1665–1865 . Madison, WI: Madison House, 1997 .

Jackson, Maurice . Anthony Benezet , Let This Voice Be Heard: Anthony Benezet, Father of Atlantic Abolitionism . Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009 .

Jasanoff, Maya . Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World . New York: Alfred K. Knopf, 2011 .

Kaplan, Sidney , and Emma, Nogrady Kaplan . The Black Presence in the Revolutionary Era . Rev. ed. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989 .

Nash, Gary B . The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005 .

——. The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America . New York: Viking, 2005 .

Newman, Richard S . Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers . New York: NYU Press, 2008 .

Piper, Emilie , and David Levinson . One Minute a Free Woman: Elizabeth Freeman and the Struggle for Freedom . Salisbury, CT: Housatonic Heritage, 2010 .

Pybus, Cassandra . Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty . Boston: Beacon Press, 2006 .

Quarles, Benjamin. The Negro in the American Revolution . Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961 ; new introduction by Gary B. Nash, 1996.

Saillant, John . Black Puritan, Black Republican: The Life and Thought of Lemuel Haynes, 1753–1833 . New York: Oxford University Press, 2003 .

Schama, Simon . Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution . New York: HarperCollins, 2006 .

Walker, James W. St. George . The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783–1870 . London: Longman, 1976 .

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Dissertations / Theses on the topic 'American Revolutionary War'

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Reed, Jordan Lewis. "American Jacobins revolutionary radicalism in the Civil War era /." Amherst, Mass. : University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2009. http://scholarworks.umass.edu/open_access_dissertations/23/.

Salmon, Stuart. "The Loyalist regiments of the American Revolutionary War 1775-1783." Thesis, University of Stirling, 2009. http://hdl.handle.net/1893/2514.

Springer, Paul Joseph. "American prisoner of war policy and practice from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror." Diss., Texas A&M University, 2005. http://hdl.handle.net/1969.1/3727.

Thomas, David. "THE ANXIOUS ATLANTIC: WAR, MURDER, AND A “MONSTER OF A MAN” IN REVOLUTIONARY NEW ENGLAND." Diss., Temple University Libraries, 2018. http://cdm16002.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p245801coll10/id/538853.

Gibson, Sarah Katherine. "Carleton Island, 1778-1783, imperial outpost during the American Revolutionary War." Thesis, National Library of Canada = Bibliothèque nationale du Canada, 1999. http://www.collectionscanada.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk1/tape9/PQDD_0005/MQ42621.pdf.

Lyons, Reneé C. "Foreign-Born American Patriots: Sixteen Volunteer Leaders in the Revolutionary War." Digital Commons @ East Tennessee State University, 2014. https://dc.etsu.edu/etsu-works/2383.

Lyons, Reneé Critcher. "Foreign-Born American Patriots: Sixteen Volunteer Leaders in the Revolutionary War." Digital Commons @ East Tennessee State University, 2014. http://amzn.com/0786471840.

Vine, Benjamin. "Selfish, Timid, Tories: Boston in the American Revolutionary War, 1776- 1777." Thesis, Department of History, 2013. http://hdl.handle.net/2123/10242.

Howell, Mark Hunter. "A War of Words: Satire and Song in the Pre-Revolutionary Virginia Gazettes." W&M ScholarWorks, 1998. https://scholarworks.wm.edu/etd/1539626155.

Decker, James D. "How revolutionary was the American Revolutionary War? : an examination and analysis of two schools of thought and the causes and political impetus behind the American Revolution /." View online, 1987. http://repository.eiu.edu/theses/docs/32211998808850.pdf.

Walsh, Gregory Francis. "Splintered Loyalties: The Revolutionary War in Essex County, New Jersey." Thesis, Boston College, 2011. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/3735.

Hitechew, Matthew Joseph. "Unanimous Voice, Unanimous Symbol: George Washington during the Revolutionary War." Digital Commons @ East Tennessee State University, 2007. https://dc.etsu.edu/etd/2096.

Gilkes, Madeleine. "'There was no one who could escape this horrible situation' : gender-based violence in the American-Viet Nam war, 1954-1975." Thesis, University of York, 2000. http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/14040/.

Spera, Adam. "American revolutionary thinkers unjust wars, limited government and natural rights." Honors in the Major Thesis, University of Central Florida, 2012. http://digital.library.ucf.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ETH/id/627.

Saberton, Ian. "The campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the southern theatre of the American Revolutionary War." Thesis, University of Warwick, 2015. http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/80231/.

Mead, Philip C. "Melancholy Landscapes: Writing Warfare in the American Revolution." Thesis, Harvard University, 2012. http://dissertations.umi.com/gsas.harvard:10529.

Clemis, Martin G. "The Control War: Communist Revolutionary Warfare, Pacification, and the Struggle for South Vietnam, 1968-1975." Diss., Temple University Libraries, 2015. http://cdm16002.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p245801coll10/id/312320.

Bolich, Harry P. "Influencing the land campaign ...From the sea : the interaction of armies and navies in the American Revolutionary War /." Thesis, Monterey, Calif. : Springfield, Va. : Naval Postgraduate School ; Available from National Technical Information Service, 1995. http://handle.dtic.mil/100.2/ADA296713.

Lyons, Renee' C. "Contribution as Method: A Book Talk for Foreign-Born American Patriots: Sixteen Volunteer Leaders in the Revolutionary War." Digital Commons@Georgia Southern, 2014. https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/cssc/2014/2014/10.

Lyons, Renee. "Contribution as Method: A Book Talk for Foreign-Born American Patriots: Sixteen Volunteer Leaders in the Revolutionary War." Digital Commons @ East Tennessee State University, 2014. https://dc.etsu.edu/etsu-works/5348.

Sullivan, Aaron. "In But Not Of the Revolution: Loyalty, Liberty, and the British Occupation of Philadelphia." Diss., Temple University Libraries, 2014. http://cdm16002.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p245801coll10/id/276077.

Bilal, Kolby. "Black Pilots, Patriots, and Pirates: African-American Participation in the Virginia State and British Navies during the Revolutionary War in Virginia." W&M ScholarWorks, 2000. https://scholarworks.wm.edu/etd/1539626268.

Clayton, Timothy W. "David Barrow and the Friends of Humanity a Southern and Baptist anti-slavery movement in the years following the American Revolutionary War /." Theological Research Exchange Network (TREN), 1998. http://www.tren.com.

Leech, Timothy. "The Continental Army and American State Formation: 1774-1776." The Ohio State University, 2017. http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=osu1501255310184999.

West-Rosenthal, Jesse Aaron. "“We are all going into log huts – a sweet life after a most fatiguing campaign”: The Evolution and Archaeology of American Military Encampments of the Revolutionary War." Diss., Temple University Libraries, 2019. http://cdm16002.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p245801coll10/id/581517.

Bibler, Jared S. "The Ideological Underpinnings of the Revolutionary Organization of the People in Arms." Ohio University / OhioLINK, 2007. http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=ohiou1173393566.

Troy, Daniel Conor. "Ruining the King’s Cause in America: The Defeat of the Loyalists in the Revolutionary South, 1774-1781." The Ohio State University, 2015. http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=osu1436285532.

Davis, Kiersten Claire. "Secondhand Chinoiserie and the Confucian Revolutionary: Colonial America's Decorative Arts "After the Chinese Taste"." BYU ScholarsArchive, 2008. https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/etd/1465.

Perrin, James K. Jr. ""Knavish Charges, Numerous Contractors, and a Devouring Monster": The Supply of the U.S. Army and Its Impact Upon Economic Policy, 1775-1815." The Ohio State University, 2016. http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=osu1462407701.

Rossodivito, Anthony M. "The Struggle Against Bandits: The Cuban Revolution and Responses to CIA-Sponsored Counter-Revolutionary Activity, 1959-1963." UNF Digital Commons, 2014. http://digitalcommons.unf.edu/etd/508.

Null, Christopher R. "The Barbary Wars ideology and politics in post-revolutionary America /." Birmingham, Ala. : University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2008. https://www.mhsl.uab.edu/dt/2008m/null.christopher.pdf.

Green, Shirley L. "Freeborn Men of Color: The Franck Brothers in Revolutionary North America, 1755-1820." Bowling Green State University / OhioLINK, 2011. http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=bgsu1300735596.

Gaspard, Jules. "The origins and expansion of counter-espionage in America : from the Revolutionary War to the Progressive Era." Thesis, University of Warwick, 2016. http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/93142/.

Joyner, Wesley T. "The Legend and Life of Peter Francisco: Fame, Fortune, and the Deprivation of America's Original Citizen Soldier." VCU Scholars Compass, 2007. http://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/etd/1263.

Nguyen, Triet M. ""Little Consideration... to Preparing Vietnamese Forces for Counterinsurgency Warfare"? History, Organization, Training, and Combat Capability of the RVNAF, 1955-1963." Thèse, Université d'Ottawa / University of Ottawa, 2012. http://hdl.handle.net/10393/23126.

Montaña, Ibañez Francisco. "Cine-infancia e historia en América Latina." Thesis, Sorbonne université, 2018. http://www.theses.fr/2018SORUL006.

Brodie, Abdullah. "Colombia: Postured for Failure, a Lesson in Counterinsurgency Strategy." Scholarly Repository, 2009. http://scholarlyrepository.miami.edu/oa_theses/188.

"Black Revolutionaries: African-American Revolutionary War Pensioners in the Early Republic, 1780-1850." Tulane University, 2018.

Parkinson, Robert Glenn. "Enemies of the people : the Revolutionary War and race in the new American nation /." 2005. http://wwwlib.umi.com/dissertations/fullcit/3177521.

Polk, Jennifer. "Constructive Efforts: The American Red Cross and YMCA in Revolutionary and Civil War Russia, 1917–24." Thesis, 2012. http://hdl.handle.net/1807/65487.

Snidal, Michelle. "Rape in Revolutionary America, 1760-1815." Thesis, 2021. http://hdl.handle.net/1828/13336.

Marsters, Roger Sidney. "Approaches to Empire: Hydrographic Knowledge and British State Activity in Northeastern North America, 1711-1783." 2012. http://hdl.handle.net/10222/15823.

Theses on the Spanish Civil War and the revolutionary situation created on July 19, 1936 - BALANCE (Agustín Guillamón)

thesis statement about the revolutionary war

A 2001 text summarizing the results of the research carried out by Agustín Guillamón for the Spanish journal, BALANCE , concerning the lessons of the Spanish Civil War in Catalonia, denying the existence of “dual power” in Catalonia in 1936, discussing the struggles of the CNT rank and file against militarization and in favor of socialization, emphasizing the revolutionary potential of the ubiquitous committees and their neutralization and eventual destruction due to a lack of coordination and centralization, and claiming that the proletarian revolution requires the destruction of the capitalist state and the creation of a centralized workers power based on workers councils.

Theses on the Spanish Civil War and the Revolutionary Situation Created on July 19, 1936 in Catalonia - BALANCE 1

“The working class is revolutionary or it is nothing.” Karl Marx, Letter to Schweitzer (February 13, 1865)

“All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place.” George Orwell, 1984

“The function of history would therefore be showing that the laws deceive, that the kings play a part, that power deludes and that historians lie.” Michel Foucault, The Genealogy of Racism

“It is ‘no longer a question of judging the past in the name of a truth that only we can possess in the present, but of risking the destruction of the subject who seeks knowledge in ... the will to knowledge’.” Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”

“The spectacle, as the present social organization of the paralysis of history and memory, of the abandonment of history built on the foundation of historical time, is the false consciousness of time.” Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

“Historical memory is a battlefield of the class struggle.” Combate por la historia. Manifiesto (July 8, 1999)

Hundreds of books have been written about the Spanish War and its historiography batters our minds with an accumulation of clone-books, which cite each other and repeat one after another the same errors or identical ideological interpretations, depending on the political tendency, without exhibiting even the least trace of critical spirit, when they do not restrict their ambitions to self-justification or castrate themselves in the Francoist moral, “that should never happen again”.

The manipulation of the facts, when they are not simply concealed, the theoretical confusionism in analyzing what took place and the errors accumulated by historiography and the compilers are on such a scale and magnitude that refuting them would require the (useless) work of an entire lifetime.

Let us take one of the most outstanding examples: the question of the existence of a situation of dual power in Catalonia, involving the Central Committee of Antifascist Militias and the government of the Generalitat. This question regarding the existence of a SITUATION OF DUAL POWER IS UNDOUBTEDLY FUNDAMENTAL for any analysis of the Spanish War. It is generally accepted so dogmatically that any doubts concerning the existence of a situation of dual power might appear to be foolishness. Nonetheless, those who participated in these great events, with ideologies as different as those of Tarradellas, Nin, Montseny, García Oliver, Azaña, etc., deny the existence of such a situation of dual power.

The theses we set forth below are the products of the study, published in various issues of BALANCE , of the diverse interpretations offered by the revolutionary minorities that intervened in the Spanish War concerning the historical facts and the prevailing ideologies of the period, 1936-1939. We exclude, because it is of no interest to us, the bourgeois view; nor are we interested in confronting the interpretations that issue from counterrevolutionary and/or Stalinist camp. The theses we elaborate here constitute an attempt to arrive at a theoretical synthesis concerning the Spanish War and the revolutionary situation that arose in July 1936, from the perspective of the revolutionary proletariat that was defended by the revolutionary minorities that existed at the time: Bordiguists, Bolshevik-Leninists, Josep Rebull and The Friends of Durruti.

Augustín Guillamón On behalf of BALANCE

Thesis no. 1. From July 17 to 19, 1936, there was a military uprising against the government of the Republic, an uprising that was supported by the Church, the majority of the Army, fascists, bourgeoisie, landlords … whose preparation had been tolerated by the republican government, which had won the elections in February 1936 thanks to the Popular Front coalition. The military, the fascists and the parliamentary REPUBLICAN democratic and the monarchist parties, parties of the left and of the right, pursued the policy that was most advantageous for the Spanish bourgeoisie, and for its preparations for a bloody coup d’état. The military uprising was defeated in the major cities and provoked, as a reaction (in the republican zone), a revolutionary movement, which emerged victorious from its armed insurrection against the army. The Defense Cadres and Committees of the CNT-FAI, which had been prepared since 1931, played a preponderant role in this insurrectionary victory. The loss of Zaragoza was due, among other reasons, to the lack of preparation and resolve on the part of a secret leadership, which was operating from a hidden refuge, and engaged in constant negotiation with the republican authorities and the “undecided” military elements, instead of organizing and leading the workers insurrection on the basis of the Defense Cadres.

The fact that the revolutionary movement of July 19, 1936 emerged as a reaction to a military uprising does not mean that it would not have taken place without the military uprising. In fact, since October 1934, and throughout the entire electoral campaign of February 1936, both the CNT and the POUM thought that a confrontation with the fascist forces was inevitable, concerning whose plans for a coup d’état they were aware, and against which they were conscientiously preparing for an armed confrontation, although they never rejected maintaining ties and collaborating with the republican parties or the government of the Generalitat.

In any event, the defeat of the military uprising cannot be attributed to the leadership of any political or trade union organization, but to the clandestine military organization of the confederal defense cadres, to the neighborhood defense committees, and to the “federation of the barricades” in Barcelona; and to the local committees in the various Catalonian towns.

Thesis no. 2. This victorious armed insurrection of the proletariat, in the republican zone, neutralized the coercive apparatus and therefore the capacity for repression of the capitalist state. This insurrection also led to a series of “revolutionary conquests” of a social and economic type. The republican state broke up into a multitude of local or sectoral powers, and many of its functions were “usurped” by the working class organizations. THERE WAS A VACUUM OF STATE POWER. Having lost its capacity for coercion, the republican state witnessed the emergence of autonomous regional powers, totally independent of the central government, which in turn (such as the government of the Generalitat in Catalonia) saw how its authority collapsed; and how the various revolutionary, local, sectoral, neighborhood, factory, defense, supply, trade union and party committees and popular and rearguard militias performed those functions that the government was incapable of exercising, because of the loss of its repressive apparatus and the general arming of the working class organizations. In many places, the revolutionary committees, which Munis theorized as government-committees, exercised all power on a local level, but there was no coordination or centralization of these local committees: there was A VACUUM OF CENTRAL OR STATE POWER. NEITHER THE REPUBLICAN STATE NOR THE AUTONOMOUS REGIONAL GOVERNMENTS (Generalitat) EXERCISED CENTRAL POWER; but neither did the local committees.

Thesis no. 3. The revolutionary committees—defense, factory, neighborhood, workers control, local, supply, etc.—comprised the embryo of the organs of working class power. They initiated a methodical expropriation of the property of the bourgeoisie, undertaking industrial and agricultural collectivization, organizing the popular militias that stabilized the fronts during the first days of the war, and organized control patrols and rearguard militias that imposed the new revolutionary order through the violent repression of the Church, employers, fascists and yellow trade unionists and their pistoleros . But these committees were unable to coordinate among themselves and create a centralized working class power. The initiatives and activities of the revolutionary committees bypassed the leaders of the various traditional organizations of the workers movement, including the CNT and the FAI. There was a revolution in the streets and the factories, and some POTENTIAL organs of the power of the revolutionary proletariat: THE COMMITTEES, which no party, organization or vanguard was able or wanted to COORDINATE, REINFORCE AND TRANSFORM INTO AUTHENTIC ORGANS OF WORKING CLASS POWER.

The majority of the leadership of the CNT opted for collaboration with the bourgeois state in order to win the war against fascism. García Oliver’s slogan of July 21, “go for broke”, was nothing but a Leninist proposal for the CNT bureaucracy to seize power; a proposal, furthermore, that Oliver himself knew would be rendered unviable and absurd when, at the CNT plenum, he posed the false alternative of “anarchist dictatorship” or antifascist collaboration. García Oliver’s spurious “extremist” proposal, Abad de Santillán’s warning about isolation and foreign intervention, and Durruti’s suggestion that they wait until Zaragoza was taken, led the plenum to vote for “provisional” antifascist collaboration. The revolutionary alternative of destroying the republican state and transforming the committees into organs of working class power and the militias into a proletarian army was never proposed.

One cannot speak of a situation of dual power, involving the Central Committee of Antifascist Militias (CCMA) and the government of the Generalitat, at any time during the existence of the former, because there was never a pole of centralized workers power at any time; we can, however, speak of an opportunity, already forfeited during the first few weeks after July 19, to establish a situation of dual power between the revolutionary committees and the CCMA. Some trade union, local and neighborhood committees expressed from the very beginning their mistrust and fear of the CCMA, because they foresaw the counterrevolutionary role that it would play.

Many of those who played their parts in the events, along with the historians, speak of a situation of dual power between the CCMA and the government of the Generalitat. It is a profound error, however, to believe that the CCMA was anything other than what it really was: a pact between the workers organizations and the bourgeois organizations and state institutions, an institution of class collaboration, a Popular Front government in which representatives of the government of the Generalitat, the bourgeois republican parties, the Stalinists, the POUM and the CNT participated.

The leaders of the CNT based their power on the “proximity” of the revolutionary committees, if only because the majority of their members were also members of the CNT, but at the same time they mistrusted the committees because they did not fit into their organizational and doctrinal plans, and also because, as a bureaucracy, they felt threatened by their activities, which they were unable to direct.

The CCMA in Catalonia was unlike the other similar institutions that arose in other regions of Spain, insofar as it was dominated by the CNT, and due to the fact that the CNT owed its power to the revolutionary committees, in which the majority of the elements were members of the CNT.

It was in Catalonia where the latter were most widespread and most enduring. In other institutions similar to the CCMA that had arisen in other parts of Spain, the impact, profundity, scope and duration of the committees was much less and/or they only lasted for a few days or weeks.

The revolutionary committees constituted the self-organization of the working class in a revolutionary situation, as was as the embryo of the organs of power of the Spanish revolutionary proletariat. But we must understand their weaknesses, and above all their inability to coordinate among themselves for the purpose of centralizing proletarian power in a workers state. There was no revolutionary party or workers vanguard capable of transforming these committees into workers councils, characterized by the democratic election of their delegates in assemblies, revocable at any time, and capable of coordinating their activities on a regional and national level, up to the formation of a State of Workers, Militia and Peasants Councils. The CNT and FAI ISSUED NO DIRECTIVES TO THEIR MILITANTS until July 28, when they threatened to shoot any “uncontrollables” who continued to expropriate the bourgeoisie and persisted in taking fascists, bourgeois, priests and former members of the yellow trade unions (the pistoleros of the employers) “for a ride”. In July 1936, the workers knew what to do without orders from their leaders, and proceeded to expropriate the bourgeoisie and suppress some of the institutions of rule of the capitalist state (army, Church, police), in such a manner that they went beyond not only the state structures, but also their own political and trade union organizations; but they were incapable of acting against their leaders, they respected the state apparatus and its officials, and in May 1937 they grudgingly accepted, but accepted nonetheless, capitulation to the class enemy.

Furthermore, these revolutionary committees, although they were potentially the organs of workers power, were hamstrung by the overwhelming influence of the ideology of antifascist unity and many of them were rapidly transformed into antifascist committees, composed of workers and bourgeoisie, in the service of the program of the petty bourgeoisie. The entry of the anarchist ministers in the Madrid government, and of anarchists and POUMistas in the government of the Generalitat, made it possible, in October 1936, without the least armed resistance, to dissolve the local committees and replace them with the antifascist municipal councils. The defense and factory committees, along with a few local committees, resisted, but could only postpone, their final dissolution.

Thesis no. 4. The overwhelming predominance of the anarchist movement in Spain cannot be explained by racial or psychological causes or reasons of character. Nor can it be explained by certain backward economic traits, such as the survival of “feudal relations” in the Andalusian countryside, or the predominance of small industry in Catalonia. And much less by the mythical evangelical influence of Fanelli in 1868, and his “indelible” legacy.

The evident difference between the Spanish and the international workers movements, with regard to the contrasting predominance of the anarchists in the Spanish workers movement and of the social democrats in the rest of Europe, is fundamentally due to the fact that it was possible to engage in the parliamentary, democratic and reformist struggle to obtain substantial reforms in the standard of living and the political representation of the working class in the rest of Europe. From 1919 to 1923, the Spanish employers created and financed a trade union of pistoleros (the Free Trade Union), which, with the help of the police and the government, proceeded to physically eliminate the working class leaders and militants. This unequal battle concluded with the establishment of the military dictatorship of Primo de Rivera and the outlawing of the CNT.

The parliamentary road, or the possibility of achieving social reforms, was not opened up in Spain until the proclamation of the Second Republic in 1931. During the thirties the extremely robust anarchist tradition, the recent unstable experiences of Spanish parliamentarism, and especially the extreme sluggishness and timidity that characterized social and political reform, were factors that made the anarchist movement very powerful and caused it to continue to enjoy the support of most workers. The committees that spontaneously arose everywhere in July 1936, were imperfect and incomplete organs of workers power. They were unlike the workers councils due to the fact that the delegates were not democratically elected by the workers in general assemblies in the factories, to whom they would have to be responsible for their policies. The committees were dependent on the trade union or political bureaucracies that had appointed them. This dependency hindered the coordination of the committees among themselves, the possibility of creating higher decision-making institutions, characterized by class unity, and the exercise of workers power in the economy or the militias. The committees were therefore transformed into the subordinate institutions of trade unions or parties, and the creation of powerful unified institutions of workers power was rendered impossible. Thus, instead of a revolutionary army of the working class, a centralized expression of workers power, a federation of militias arose in which each party or trade union competed to create its own army, more or less coordinated on the front with the other workers organizations. Instead of a socialized economy, directed by a Government of the Workers Councils, there was collectivization that unfolded within the framework of a kind of trade union capitalism, when it was not managed or coordinated by the bourgeois government of the Generalitat, at the service of the program of the petty bourgeoisie.

The entry of the trade unions and parties in the autonomous government of the Generalitat, and in the republican central government of Valencia, also meant the dissolution of the committees, and the end to the danger that they might be able to transform themselves into workers councils.

Thesis no. 5. Without the destruction of the capitalist state one cannot speak of a proletarian revolution. One may speak of a revolutionary situation , a revolutionary movement, a victorious insurrection, the “partial” and/or “temporary” disappearance of the functions of the bourgeois state, political chaos, the loss of real authority on the part of the republican administration, a VACUUM OF CENTRALIZED POWER or an atomization of power, but not of a proletarian revolution.

The REVOLUTIONARY SITUATION of July 1936 never led to a proposal to establish a working class power in opposition to the republican state: therefore, there was no proletarian revolution. In the absence of revolution the revolutionary situation rapidly evolved in the direction of the consolidation of the republican state, the weakening of the revolutionary forces and the definitive victory of the counterrevolution after the May Days of 1937, with the outlawing and political persecution of the POUM in June 1937, as well as with the driving underground of the Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain (SBLE) and The Friends of Durruti Group.

For the same reasons, one cannot speak of a situation of DUAL POWER, since there was no pole of workers power that proposed to destroy the capitalist state: it would be more proper to speak, in the Catalonian case, of a duplication of powers between the Generalitat and the CCMA. The CCMA was an institution of CLASS COLLABORATION, which acted as shock absorber and mediator between the myriad of revolutionary committees and the broken down apparatus of the capitalist state. But the CCMA was above all the only instrument of the antifascist front that was CAPABLE of sterilizing, channeling, truncating and subduing the popular revolutionary initiatives that were undertaken by the revolutionary committees, BY MEANS OF their integration in ambiguous institutions (subordinated to the CCMA), which were characterized by their SUBMISSION to the antifascist program and the government of the Generalitat. This process was exemplified in institutions like the Central Committee for Supply, the Rearguard Militias, the Control Patrols, the Revolutionary Tribunals, the Committee of Investigation, the Workers Control Committees, the Councils of Workers and Soldiers, etc., which were created to REPLACE, DESTROY OR CHANGE THE CLASS NATURE of the popular and working class initiatives of a revolutionary character; after a transitional period of two or three months, during which time they functioned as institutions subordinated to the CCMA, they were integrated into the structure of the government of the Generalitat, and were later dissolved or replaced by institutions of the republican state apparatus. The anarchists, however, thought they were clever enough and powerful enough to manipulate the state as a technical instrument in their service of their plans. On August 11 the CNT and the POUM joined the Council of the Economy of the Generalitat, whose purpose was the coordination and planning of the Catalonian economy.

The participation of the CNT (and also the POUM and FAI) in the bourgeois institutions, with its corresponding offer of public responsibilities, together with a massive influx of new trade union members, and the departure to the front of the best militants, the most experienced in the social struggle and the most theoretically advanced, favored a rapid process of bureaucratization in the CNT.

The revolutionary militants found themselves isolated in the assemblies and condemned to a permanent minority status they could not overcome. The fundamental principles of anarchosyndicalism collapsed and gave way to an opportunism disguised by the ideology of antifascist unity (“renounce the revolution to win the war”) and the pragmatism of loyal and faithful collaboration with the parties and the government of the republican bourgeoisie, with the exclusive goal of enforcing the program of the bourgeoisie. THE TRADE UNION BUREAUCRACY OF THE CNT DEMONSTRATED ITS COUNTERREVOLUTIONARY NATURE IN MAY 1937. The struggle against fascism was the alibi that permitted the renunciation of the destruction of the republican bourgeois state, defended by the counterrevolutionary forces of the PSUC and the ERC. The confrontation between the revolutionary proletariat and the CNT bureaucracy, which was now in the counterrevolutionary camp, was inevitable. The CNT-UGT pact of March 1938 established a de facto state capitalism similar to that which prevailed in the Soviet Union.

Thesis no. 6. No revolutionary organization existed that was capable of proposing the destruction of the capitalist state: therefore one cannot speak of a situation of dual power. This does not mean that there were not organized revolutionary nuclei, nor do we have to doubt the (subjective) “revolutionary will” of POUMistas or anarchists. It means that the class struggle in Spain, during the 1930s, had not generated a revolutionary movement that was capable of proposing the program of the proletarian revolution (and the social dictatorship of the proletariat) and its ANTAGONISM to the existence of the capitalist state. BECAUSE THIS ATOMIZED POWER, incapable of centralizing itself and coordinating itself in a WORKERS POWER, confronted the republican state power, usurped the functions of the capitalist state, which were taken from the republican authorities against their will, but most of all, DUE TO THE FACT THAT IT DID NOT HAVE THE NECESSARY ABILITY TO COORDINATE ITS ACTIVITIES AND TO THE FACT THAT NO WORKING CLASS ORGANIZATION TOOK THE INITIATIVE TO DO SO, a few weeks after the victorious insurrection, the situation of the VACUUM OF CENTRAL POWER caused all the working class organizations to put themselves at the service of this same republican state. The revolutionary potential of the proletarian committees was transformed into the submissiveness of the antifascist committees, or else they were replaced, at the local level, by the new popular front municipal councils beginning in October 1936.

THERE WAS NO WORKERS POWER THAT WAS ANTAGONISTIC TOWARDS THE CAPITALIST STATE. THE STRUGGLE FOR A WORKERS STATE THAT WAS INCOMPATIBLE WITH THE EXISTENCE OF THE CAPITALIST STATE NEVER TOOK PLACE. There was never a situation of dual power, because there was never a struggle for workers power, nor was there even a pole of attraction for the formation of such a workers power. In any event (in Catalonia, and only for two or three months), one must speak of a REVOLUTIONARY SITUATION polarized between two antagonistic alternatives: the revolutionary committees, WHICH WERE NEITHER COORDINATED AMONG THEMSELVES NOR CENTRALIZED, AND WERE UNAWARE OF THEIR OWN ROLE; and the CCMA, AN INSTITUTION OF CLASS COLLABORATION formed of representatives of the government of the Generalitat, the antifascist republican and workers organizations, and the extreme left of the Popular Front—the CNT-FAI and the POUM. This antagonism between the committees and the CCMA cannot be defined as a situation of dual power, insofar as there was never a workers power, not even an attempt to coordinate and centralize these committees in order to form a pole of attraction for such a workers power. The CNT and the POUM, instead of reinforcing these revolutionary committees as organs of a new workers power, felt left behind and threatened by the “incontrolados”, so much so that not only did they not issue any directives to coordinate the committees, but their very first directives and measures consisted precisely in threats and denunciations directed against the “incontrolados”. These threats, regardless of whether or not there were any acts of vandalism, were to bear fruit in the summary shooting, in obedience to these directives “against the ‘incontolados’” issued by the superior committees of the CNT, of José Gardeñas of the Construction Trade Union and Fernández, president of the Food Supply Trade Union. Months later, once the counterrevolution had already been underway for some time, it would be the Stalinists and republicans who would bestow this undeserved moniker of “incontrolados” upon the POUM and the CNT, for the purpose of physically and politically eliminating them.

The predominant school of historiography not only fails to view this revolutionary situation as one posing two antagonistic alternatives, the revolutionary committees or the CCMA; it speaks of a situation of dual power between the CCMA and the government of the Generalitat!

Thesis no. 7. The capitalist state was not destroyed and continued to perform (even if in a “diminished”, “nominal” or “partial” capacity) its functions. Furthermore, the state’s repressive apparatus—the Civil Guard, the Assault Guard and the carabineros—was not dissolved, but confined to their barracks to wait for better times, which were to come a few months later. The economic internationalization of capitalism in the wake of the First World War signaled the end of the epoch of bourgeois revolutions and the beginning of the epoch of proletarian revolutions. In the absence of a revolutionary vanguard, one that would be capable of proposing the antagonism between the proletariat and the capitalist state and positing the dictatorship of the proletariat, any revolutionary movement, regardless of its proletarian composition, was destined to fail. Given the inability of the workers organizations to seize power, or, more accurately, to coordinate and centralize the local powers of the various revolutionary committees on a regional and national scale, in order to constitute a workers pseudo-state, the only way left was that of collaboration with the other bourgeois political organizations and with the CAPITALIST STATE, which could have no other goal than the restoration and reinforcement of the republican state. The bases of the counterrevolution were solid enough to facilitate a rapid recovery of the capitalist state, which soon recouped all its functions and, after the “inevitable and necessary” bloody defeat of the proletariat in May 1937, decapitated any revolutionary threat that the workers movement posed, by way of a double policy of repression of the “permanent ‘incontrolados’” (revolutionaries), and the social-democratization and integration of the working class organizations into the apparatus of the capitalist state, via the cooptation of the trade union and political bureaucracies and their incorporation into the bureaucracy of the state.

Thesis no. 8. The CNT and POUM were the extreme left of the Popular Front. Actually, neither of these organizations was part of the Popular Front; both, however, made a decisive contribution to its success in the elections of February 1936. After July 19, 1936, both organizations were left behind by the events. In the midst of the revolutionary euphoria they were incapable of issuing any directives until July 28—“to warn the ‘incontrolados’”! On July 20 a planned radio broadcast announcing a “progressive” labor agreement signed by the Minister of Labor of the Companys government and the Catalonian employers, which granted the 40-hour week, a 15% wage increase and a reduction of rents by 50%, was cancelled, because several of the eminent employers who had signed the agreement had received warnings not to return to their homes because patrols of armed men were waiting for them. The revolution proceeded by fits and starts, and the stage of economic demands had been surpassed. The revolutionary committees had spontaneously proceeded to carry out the expropriation of the bourgeois class. Collectivization was not undertaken because the employers, technicians and directors had fled and it was necessary to pay the weekly wages of the workers (as some of the protagonists and historians have claimed), but because the revolutionary committees were carrying out a methodical expropriation of the bourgeoisie. The leaders of the workers organizations (CNT and POUM) PROVISIONALLY replaced the state with regard to those functions that the latter had lost, and created institutions of class collaboration in cooperation with reformist and counterrevolutionary workers organizations (PSOE, PSUC, PCE) and bourgeois organizations (ERC, Estat Catalá, Izquierda Republicana) with the goal (conscious or not) of restoring all its functions to the capitalist state and thus helped to fill the VACUUM OF STATE POWER created by the victory of the workers insurrection.

The CCMA could have exercised all the functions of a provisional “revolutionary” government, because the local revolutionary committees, which were trying to coordinate and centralize their activities, turned to the CCMA for help, directives, solutions, orientations, etc.; but the CCMA never performed any other function than that of a LIAISON COMMITTEE for these local revolutionary committees in their dealings with the Generalitat. Furthermore, these local revolutionary committees, in accordance with the policy and the collaborationist nature of the CCMA, were rapidly transformed into antifascist committees, and thus lost their revolutionary and proletarian origin and potentials.

Thesis no. 9. The CCMA was the product of both the victory of the insurrection of July 19-20 and the political defeat of July 21. For the first time in history, a militarily victorious workers insurrection was defeated politically on the very next day after its triumph due to its political incapacity and its refusal to seize power. The CCMA was never an organization of workers power or of dual power, but an organization of class collaboration. And this is just what Munis, Nin, Molins, Tarradellas, Companys, Azaña, Peiró, García Oliver, Montseny, Abad de Santillán, etc., have already said, and it was the product of its own nature as an institution of antifascist unity and class collaboration, formed by the diverse workers, reformist, Stalinist and republican organizations. And there was no revolutionary organization that was capable of opposing the CCMA, capable of creating an institution of coordination and centralization of the local committees, that is, an organ of WORKERS POWER opposed to the government of the Generalitat, to the Popular Front-style government known as the CCMA, and to the central government of the Republic.

Paradoxically, a posteriori , the dissolution of the CCMA was characterized, by many of those who have revealed the CCMA’s nature as an institution of class collaboration, as the end of a stage of “dual power”. The advance of the counterrevolution and the loss of revolutionary impulse on the part of the masses seems to be reflected in the weakness of the theoretical analyses of the revolutionaries.

The real power of the CCMA has always been greatly exaggerated. After its first month of existence this power was already reduced, with the creation of other institutions like the Council of the Economy, the Control Patrols, the Supply Committee, etc., to that of just one more CNT institution of technical collaboration with the government institutions, an institution of antifascist collaboration in the command of the militias, thus losing (if it every really possessed it) its capability of exercising “government” functions. Furthermore, the military expedition to Mallorca, staged by the Generalitat in mid-August 1936, in collaboration with the CNT Maritime Transport Trade Union, without the involvement or even the knowledge of the CCMA, constituted irrefutable proof that the CCMA did not even have full control of command over the militias.

Once the CNT decided that antifascist collaboration was necessary and inevitable, the pressure imposed by the government apparatus (both the central government and the autonomous regional governments), among which the refusal to deliver arms (or currency to buy them) to the confederal militias particularly stands out, caused the anarchosyndicalist leaders to accept the necessity of dissolving the CCMA, the revolutionary committees and the Militias, and with them all revolutionary possibilities, in order to participate in the government apparatus (central and autonomous regions) like any other “antifascist” organization.

At the beginning of September 1936 the CNT proposed the dissolution of the CCMA; this proposal was approved by the other antifascist forces, which, over the course of the last meetings of the CCMA, had approved the formation of a new government of the Generalitat with representatives from all the antifascist organizations that formed the CCMA. The only other things that were discussed were the name and the program this government would adopt. A “verbal” concession was made to the principles of the CNT by calling the new government “the Council of the Generalitat”, and its program would be the one that had already been established by the existing “Council of the Economy”.

Thesis no. 10. A war in defense of a democratic state, for the victory of the latter against a fascist state, could not be a revolutionary civil war; it was a war between two fractions of the bourgeoisie—the fascist and the republican fractions—in which the proletariat had ALREADY been defeated. This was not because the July insurrection was militarily suppressed in the republican zone (as it had been in the fascist zone), but because the nature of the war AT THE SERVICE OF A DEMOCRATIC BOURGEOIS STATE had transformed the class nature of the revolutionary insurrection of July. The methods, goals and class program of the proletariat had been replaced by the methods, goals and program of the bourgeoisie. That is, when the proletariat fights with the methods and for the program of the bourgeoisie, even if it does so in favor of the democratic fraction and against the fascist fraction, HAS ALREADY BEEN DEFEATED. The proletariat is revolutionary or it is nothing. The proletariat either fights with its own class methods (strike, insurrection, international solidarity, revolutionary militias, destruction of the state, etc.) and for its own program (suppression of wage labor, dissolution of the army and police, abolition of international borders, the dictatorship of the proletariat organized in workers councils, etc.), or it collaborates with the bourgeoisie, renouncing its class methods and program, and then it has ALREADY been defeated.

Thesis no. 11. The collectivizations meant nothing, and were incapable of further development in the future, if the capitalist state was not destroyed. In fact, the collectivizations ended up serving the imperative needs of a war economy. The situation rapidly evolved, assuming a wide variety of forms between the expropriation of the factories from the bourgeoisie in July 1936 and the militarization of industry and labor, which largely characterized the situation in 1938. It was, and still is, impossible to separate the political revolution from the social and economic revolution. Revolutions are always TOTALITARIAN, in both meanings of the word: total and authoritarian. THERE IS NOTHING MORE AUTHORITARIAN THAN A REVOLUTION: expropriating a factory from its owners, or a rural estate from its owner, will always be an authoritarian imposition. And it can only take place when the repressive forces of the bourgeoisie, the army and the police, have been defeated by a revolutionary army that imposes the new revolutionary legal system IN AN AUTHORITARIAN MANNER. Anarchosyndicalism and the POUM, due to the theoretical incapacity of the former and the numerical weakness, verbalism and lack of audacity of the latter, never posed the question of power, which they abandoned to the hands of the professional politicians of the republican bourgeoisie and the socialists: Azaña, Giral, Prieto, Largo Caballero, Companys, Tarradellas, Negrín … or they shared it with them, when their participation was necessary to thwart the development of a revolutionary alternative.

On the economic terrain, the historiographic myth that can be encompassed by the generic concept of “COLLECTIVIZATION” underwent (in Catalonia) four stages:

1. The expropriation by the workers (July to September 1936);

2. The adaptation of the confiscated enterprises to the Collectivizations Decree (October to December 1936);

3. The attempt by the Generalitat to direct the economy and control the collectives, in confrontation with the attempt to socialize the economy spearheaded by the radical sector of the CNT militants (January to May 1937);

4. The gradual state intervention and centralization (on the part of the central government) imposed a war economy and the MILITARIZATION of labor (June 1937 to January 1939).

Thesis no. 12. The antifascist ideology, the sacred union of all the antifascist working class and bourgeois parties, justified the abandonment of class frontiers in favor of the practice of class collaboration. Antifascism was the extension of the electoral Popular Front policy of February 1936, in a situation of war, after a victorious working class insurrection. The need for antifascist unity in order to win the war against fascism ALREADY implied the defeat of the revolutionary alternative. Failure to recognize this, and to devote oneself to making attempts to differentiate, as Trotsky did, a rejected Popular Frontism from a “temporary” antifascism, necessary until fascism had been defeated, meant to objectively fall into the nets of antifascist unity, to the same degree and for identical reasons as the POUM and the CNT. THE POPULAR FRONT (after the purging of the most right-wing parties after July 19) AND THE ANTIFASCIST FRONT WERE NOT SO DIFFERENT, AND AS THE WAR PROGRESSED THEY TENDED TO MERGE. In fact, it was the CNT and the FAI, after May 1937 and the fall of the Largo Caballero government, which led the movement to form an ANTIFASCIST POPULAR FRONT, as a means of exerting pressure to once again obtain libertarian representation in the republican government. This actually led to an accelerated process of social-democratization of all the workers organizations that rapidly obtained a majority position in all of them, thus bringing about the absolute marginalization of the revolutionary minorities, which were totally residual, powerless and very confused, which facilitated the rise and seizure of state power by the Stalinists, with their reactionary, but very clear and resolute, program of strengthening the republican state.

Thesis no. 13. The so-called “revolutionary conquests” were simultaneously the culmination of the insurrectionary victory of the workers organizations and the political defeat of the proletarian revolution.

The CCMA was the product of the victory of the workers insurrection, but it was also the product of the inability of the workers organizations, especially the CNT, as it was the most powerful force, to destroy the capitalist state. These social, economic, political, cultural, and quotidian “conquests” responded perfectly to the anarchosyndicalist ideology of apoliticism “ tout court ”, which was not interested in the “seizure of power”, but with carrying out the social revolution by destroying the army, abolishing the Church and taking over management of the factories. To many anarchosyndicalist workers, the question of whether to “go for broke” or not was absurd; they already had everything they were interested in: a gun, control of the factory, control over public order, the municipal council….! Why seize power? Why replace the republican state with “another”, workers, state?

WITHOUT REVOLUTIONARY THEORY THERE IS NO REVOLUTION. Very quickly the anti-militarists became militarists, and soon thereafter staunch advocates of an efficient professional bourgeois army. It did not take long for the anti-statists to become the best support for the reconstruction of the capitalist state, and the government of the Republic had four anarchist ministers among its ranks. Anarchist ministers! Nor was this the greatest contradiction in which the Spanish anarchist movement would become enmeshed. Faced with a lack of alternatives and directives from the CNT, the expropriated enterprises were transformed into collectives, which were nothing but the establishment of a kind of trade union capitalism—powerfully centralized and coordinated by the government of the Generalitat—which degenerated within a few months into the militarization of the enterprises and labor.

Thesis no. 14. The revolutionary committees—of defense, labor, enterprise, locality, supply, neighborhood, rearguard militias, etc.—were the potential organs of workers power, which often exercised the only real power, on a local or sectoral level, in July 1936. But they were rapidly transformed into antifascist committees or trade union committees for enterprise management, or else underwent a prolonged period of dormancy (like the confederal defense committees) or were transformed into state institutions, like the Control Patrols, which were nothing but control exercised by the (revolutionary or radical) “incontrolados” and the defense committees, neighborhood committees and rearguard militias (although they were at the same time the new organization that supplanted government control over public order). The ambiguous and ambivalent nature of the Control Patrols, the collectives, the Militias, the defense committees, and ultimately the whole “Revolution of July 19”, was the direct consequence of the ambiguity and ambivalent nature of the organizations of the extreme left of the Popular Front themselves (the CNT and POUM), which were not only incapable of seizing power and championing the historical program of emancipation of the proletariat against the counterrevolutionary forces, but also opted for class collaboration with the bourgeois parties and the capitalist state with the goal of defeating fascism. They were ambiguous because the CCMA was the product of the insurrectionary PROLETARIAN victory of July 19, but also of the political fiasco of July 21, WHEN CLASS COLLABORATION WAS ACCEPTED.

Thesis no. 15. On July 21, 1936 the CNT opted for collaboration with the other antifascist forces, without issuing any political directives concerning either the seizure of power, the economic organization of the enterprises, the coordination of the revolutionary committees or that of the different economic and industrial sectors. On August 11, 1936, at the request of the CNT, the Council of the Economy of the Generalitat assumed the responsibility for coordinating and reorganizing the Catalonian economy.

The provisional character of the enterprise expropriations, which were implemented in the heat of the moment of the insurrectionary victory of July, in a situation of a power vacuum, caused them to be oriented towards the sole objective of guaranteeing the everyday functioning of the enterprises. Only in a few economic sectors (food, health and sanitation, education), to a limited extent, and in some isolated enterprises, was there an attempt to carry out a process of socialization in which the trade union acted as both initiator and organizer. The Collectivizations Decree of October 1936 legalized a fait accompli, that is, the confiscation of the enterprises by the workers, but only for the evident purpose of centralizing the Catalonian economy through the Council of the Economy of the Generalitat, eliminating the organs of workers power from the enterprises, and nipping in the bud the socializing experiments of certain sectors and enterprises.

Collectivization in the Catalonian economy underwent four stages:

1. The expropriation of the enterprises. The revolutionary committees, which the counterrevolutionaries called “incontrolados”, once the military uprising had been defeated, proceeded to expropriate the bourgeoisie, and to take priests, bourgeois, caciques and former members of the employers’ pistoleros trade union “for a ride”. Not only was there a total absence of political or economic directives from the superior committees of the CNT and the CCMA, but the latter also threatened to shoot the “incontrolados”. They faced a fait accompli, however: the factories had been confiscated. The CNT, faced with its own inability and lack of will to coordinate and manage the Catalonian economy, proposed to the Generalitat the creation of a Council of the Economy: it handed over to the petty bourgeois government of the Generalitat the management and coordination of the Catalonian economy!

2. Adaptation to the Collectivizations Decree. In October 1936, together with the dissolution of the CCMA, the entry of the POUM and the CNT into the government of the Generalitat, the Decree on the militarization of the Popular Militias, the dissolution of the local committees—which were replaced by Popular Front Municipal Councils—and a long etcetera of counterrevolutionary measures of lesser importance, the Collectivizations Decree was approved with the indispensable support of the CNT. What it actually did was establish a trade union capitalism in the enterprises, with major state intervention and centralization on the part of the government of the Generalitat, and this was called COLLECTIVIZATION. The former bourgeoisie, the private owners, had been replaced by management by the trade union delegates of each enterprise, organized in Workers Control Committees (which were often the result of a pact between manual, technical and administrative workers and even some of the former owners), whose activities were completely mediated by and subject to the tutelage of the inspectors appointed by the Generalitat, which nonetheless considered the enterprise to be the property of the trade union.

3. COLLECTIVIZATION versus SOCIALIZATION (December 1936-May 1937). On the one hand, the government of the Generalitat, relying on its social base that consisted of the petty bourgeois sectors—administrative, technical, former business owners, members of the liberal professions and even workers professing a right wing ideology, often members of the UGT—initiated an offensive to expand its control over the enterprises, based on the Collectivizations Decree and the implementation of a series of financial decrees, approved by Tarradellas at S’Agaró in January 1937. At the same time the radical sector of the CNT militants was attempting to SOCIALIZE production, which implied increasing the power of the Trade Union Industrial Federations in the enterprises.

SOCIALIZATION, for this radical sector of the CNT, meant the direction of the Catalonian economy by the Trade Unions (of the CNT) and a break with the dynamic of trade union capitalism, and the establishment of an equitable distribution of wealth that would put an end to the scandalous differences between workers in rich and poor collectivized industries, and between the former and the unemployed. Such a form of direction over A SOCIALIZED Catalonian ECONOMY required in turn the creation of the necessary organs within the CNT, that is, the replacement of the Sindicatos Únicos (which were appropriate for directing a strike, but not for managing the enterprises) by Industrial Trade Unions (better adapted for managing the various economic sectors), which was implemented in the first months of 1937. The SOCIALIZATION of the Catalonian economy meant the direction of the economy (and of the war) by the CNT, and this in turn required the abolition of the government of the Generalitat.

The counterrevolutionary offensive of the Generalitat to expand its control, extending it to every enterprise, therefore clashed head-on with the socialization program of the radical sector of the CNT. A struggle was waged, one enterprise at a time, in which the assemblies that were supposed to vote for socialization were subjected to a wide variety of forms of pressure and manipulation, from the most despicable political intrigues to the use of the police. In this bitter struggle, unfolding in one enterprise at a time, a struggle that the superior committees of the CNT never wanted to centralize, because to do so would have implied breaking with the antifascist unity pact, an increasingly more obvious and “painful” division emerged among the trade union militants, between the collaborationist sector and the radical sector of the CNT. During the course of this campaign to socialize the Catalonian economy, the radical militants of the CNT attempted to compete with the collaborationist militants in an attempt to obtain the support of the majority of the trade union members. The radical militants, however, were almost always in the minority in the factory assemblies, due to the flood of opportunists who joined the CNT in the wake of July 19 and attrition caused by the revolution itself among the ranks of the revolutionaries, many of whom joined the Militias or had been promoted to positions of responsibility.

A major role in the opposition to the militarization of the Popular Militias (decreed in October 1936) was played by the fourth company of the Gelsa unit of the Durruti Column, which, after narrowly avoiding an armed confrontation with other forces of the Column, which supported the militarization decree, decided to abandon the front (in February 1937) and return to Barcelona, taking their weapons with them.

These militiamen, together with other radical CNT militants who were involved in the ongoing struggle for socialization in the enterprises, founded The Friends of Durruti Group in March 1937, which soon attracted between four and five thousand members and constituted, in Catalonia, a revolutionary alternative to the (collaborationist) superior committees of the CNT-FAI.

4. From June 1937 until the end of the war, the radical sector of the CNT, the Trotskyists and the POUM were subjected to persecution, driven into hiding, and physically annihilated.

During this same period, the CNT (its revolutionary minority having been amputated) continued to collaborate faithfully with a Stalinist state that imposed the militarization of labor and of life, the most draconian rationing and a war economy. STATE ANARCHISM consolidated its collaborationism with the republican bourgeoisie, embraced its program of victory over fascism, repressed any revolutionary threats within its ranks and assumed the tasks that are natural to any bureaucracy that aspires to integrate itself into the state apparatus.

Thesis no. 16. May 1937 marked the armed defeat of the most advanced sector of the revolutionary proletariat that was required by the counterrevolution so it could proceed to implement its counteroffensive. The causes of May were rooted in the rising cost of living, the scarcity of basic goods, the resistance to the dissolution of the control patrols and the militarization of the militias, and the constant struggle being waged by the workers in the collectivized enterprises to preserve their control over production in the face of the growing interventionism of the Generalitat, facilitated by the implementation of the S’Agaró Decrees. It was not by chance that the May events began at a collectivized enterprise, the Telephone company, with the armed opposition mounted by the rank and file CNT workers against its seizure by the Generalitat’s forces of repression. The rapid extension of the struggle throughout the entire city of Barcelona was the work of the defense committees and the neighborhood committees, linked by telephone, which acted independently of the superior committees of the CNT.

On the one side of the barricades were the forces of public order, the Stalinists of the PSUC, and the Catalanist Pyrenees Militias under the command of the government of the Generalitat. On the other side of the barricades were the workers of the CNT. Only the anarchists of The Friends of Durruti Group and the Trotskyists of the Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain attempted to provide any revolutionary objectives to the struggle of the barricades.

The CNT militants as a whole, however, were incapable of, and did not know how to act in opposition to the COLLABORATIONIST directives issued by the leaders and the superior committees of the CNT. Some actually fired their guns at radios that were broadcasting the conciliatory speeches of García Oliver and Federica Montseny, but in the end they complied with their directives.

The Friends of Durruti Group referred to the activity of these leaders and superior committees as an “enormous betrayal”.

After May 1937 the attempts ON THE PART OF THE SUPERIOR COMMITTEES OF THE BUREAUCRATIZED CNT to expel The Friends of Durruti Group from the CNT failed, as no trade union assembly would ratify this proposal.

A split that could have clarified the contradictory and irreconcilable positions within the CNT never took place, however.

Subsequent historiography underestimated, or ignored, the important role played by the Group, and the CNT bureaucracy even succeeded in recuperating for its own benefit “the true revolutionary prestige” of a Group that it had persecuted and attempted to expel from its ranks. Ambiguity always favors the counterrevolution. AND TODAY WE CAN SEE, WITHOUT ANYBODY BEING SCANDALIZED, HOW THE CNT AND THE FAI CLAIM THE “LEGACY” OF THE REVOLUTIONARY PRESTIGE OF THE FRIENDS OF DURRUTI GROUP. Bureaucracies and capitalism are capable of recuperating anything, even what they slandered and persecuted for constituting a revolutionary alternative, antagonistic to the bureaucracy and capitalism.

Thesis no. 17. The characteristics of the Stalinist counterrevolution were and are:

a) Incessant, ubiquitous and omnipotent police terrorism;

b) The indispensable misrepresentation of its own nature, and the nature of its enemies, especially the revolutionaries;

c) Exploitation of the workers by a form of state capitalism, directed by the Party-State.

The Negrín-Stalin government transformed the initial class collaboration of the CCMA, and the ideology of antifascist unity, into NATIONAL UNITY and orderly government; it converted the reformist impotence against the revolution of the socialists, Catalanists and anarchosyndicalist bureaucracy into a complete counterrevolutionary program, which abolished the least vestige of workers democracy, and transformed the bourgeois democracy into the police dictatorship of the GPU and the SIM.

The Stalinists have never been a reformist sector of the workers movement. No collaboration of any kind is or ever has been possible with Stalinism, only unremitting war. Stalinism, always and everywhere, leads and guides the counterrevolutionary forces, finds its power in the idea of national unity, in the practice of a policy of law and order, in its struggle to establish a strong government, in the penetration of the militants of the Stalinist party into the state apparatus, and above all by disguising their reactionary nature within the workers movement.

Thesis no. 18. It is necessary to set forth a chronology, because a defense committee was not the same thing in 1931 as a defense committee in July 1936, nor was the latter the same thing as a defense committee was one week later, when it might have been transformed into an antifascist committee, nor in January 1937 when the defense committees had gone into hibernation, nor in May 1937 when their existence rose to the surface with the “spontaneous” organization of the insurrection, nor in December 1937 when they could be said to have disappeared. Similarly, a self-managed enterprise in July 1936 could have come under the financial control of the government of the Generalitat in 1937, and the same enterprise might have been militarized in 1938.

The Popular Militias, voluntary, popular and of a revolutionary character, after several months (between October 1936 and May 1937) of discussions about whether or not to accept militarization, became regiments or divisions of a regular army, and the militiamen were turned into soldiers.

THIS CHRONOLOGY MAY BE CATEGORIZED (for Catalonia) in four stages:

1. The revolutionary stage (July 19, 1936 to September 26, 1936);

2. The advance of the counterrevolution (September 26, 1936 to June 16, 1937);

3. The repression of the revolutionary movement (June 16, 1937 to April 1938);

4. The disappearance of the revolutionary movement (April 1938 to the end of the war).

Thesis no. 19. July 19, 1936 to September 26, 1936:

The “revolutionary” stage or the stage of the victory of the insurrection and the revolutionary movement. VACUUM OF (CENTRALIZED) STATE POWER. ATOMIZATION OF POWER and confusion of powers. Local revolutionary committees and revolutionary defense committees, neighborhood committees, supply committees, workers control committees, popular militias, workers and soldiers councils, rearguard militias. The bourgeois state was “partially broken down” but preserved its legal authority, and did not fail to legalize and proclaim the revolutionary conquests that had taken place. Above all, however, it impeded and hindered the capacity for coordination and centralization of the revolutionary committees, which held all power at the local level. The CCMA acted as an institution of class collaboration, as an intermediary between the real local powers of the committees and the legal power of the Generalitat. The CCMA’s Juridical Office imposed a popular justice extraneous to the existing laws (and supported spontaneous popular justice). A very theoretical and historical-analytical error that is very widespread among both the participants in the CCMA and subsequent historians consists in positing a situation of dual power between the CCMA and the government of the Generalitat, which is in this version said to have disappeared with the dissolution of the CCMA.

We maintain that the CCMA did not create a situation of dual power with respect to the Generalitat and that at no time did the CCMA imply any more than a duplication of powers previously exercised by the Generalitat, which was necessary in order to reestablish the authority of the latter.

Thesis no. 20. September 26, 1936 to June 16, 1937:

The advance of the counterrevolution. Retreat of the revolutionary movement and offensive by the Generalitat to reconquer all its functions (even assuming some of the powers of the Valencia Government). Dissolution of the CCMA, entry of the POUM and the CNT into the government of the Generalitat. DECREE DISSOLVING THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMITTEES AND FORMING POPULAR FRONT MUNICIPAL COUNCILS. Nin, the Minister of Justice, abolished the Juridical Office. The CNT and the POUM facilitated the dissolution of the revolutionary committees and their replacement by Popular Front municipal councils. Nin and Tarradellas went to Lérida to compel the local committee there, controlled by the POUM, to submit to the decree. The Decree ordering the militarization of the Popular Militias was proclaimed. In mid-December the Stalinists expelled Nin from the Government and established an alliance between the ERC and the PSUC to reduce the power of the CNT and to abolish the “revolutionary conquests” of July, which were only temporary concessions and transfers of state functions. May 1937 signified the final defeat of the revolutionary movement. The PSUC and the ERC led the counterrevolution, but the POUM and the CNT were OBJECTIVELY indispensable collaborators when the revolutionary movement was still strong enough to constitute a workers power.

Thesis no. 21. June 16, 1937 to April 1938:

Dissolution of the Control Patrols. Outlawing and repression of the POUM and the revolutionary movement. The CNT was divided into a critical sector that was repressed (or removed from its positions and deprived of its functions in the organization) and a governmental sector that integrated itself into the state apparatus. Stalinist repression of the revolutionary movement. In July 1937 the FAI renounced its organization by affinity groups and adopted a territorial form of organization instead. The affinity groups based on shared ideological conceptions had permitted the emergence of The Friends of Durruti Group (between four and five thousand members) as a revolutionary opposition to the collaborationism of the FAI. The FAI’s new territorial form of organization, of a pyramidal and hierarchical character, granted the superior committees absolute control over the organization, and also converted the FAI into an efficient political party, capable of assuming positions in all the administrative levels of the state apparatus. The Council of Aragón was abolished in August 1937. The Aragón collectives were dissolved by the military expedition of the division under the command by the Stalinist Lister. In September Los Escolapios, the headquarters of the confederal Defense Committee, was taken by assault, without any other response on the part of the ruling bureaucracy of the CNT than the order to surrender.

Thesis no. 22. April 1938 to January 1939:

Disappearance of the revolutionary movement. The militants who had not been assassinated or imprisoned tried to carry on their work in strictly clandestine conditions, joined the army or went into hiding. All the revolutionary publications either disappeared or acquired a purely apologetic character. The CNT-UGT unity pact. The FAI and the CNT campaigned for the creation of an ANTIFASCIST POPULAR FRONT as a pressure tactic to obtain the readmission of libertarian representatives to the republican government. War economy, Stakhanovism and the militarization of labor and of everyday life. The Negrín government attempted to establish a dictatorial Stalinist state.

Thesis no. 23. THE ERRORS OF THE POUM:

1) The POUM never posed the question of working class power, not in July 1936 and not at any time during the revolutionary stage of July, August and September 1936.

2) The POUM accepted the liquidation of the committees, which were the potential organs of workers power. That is, the leadership of the POUM called for the suppression of the revolutionary committees instead of working for their extension, democratization and coordination. It never proposed a struggle for the destruction of the capitalist organs of power, or for the destruction of the capitalist state. The committees, although incomplete and defective, were the potential organs of workers power. The task of a revolutionary party (the POUM was never a revolutionary party) would have been to reinforce, democratize and coordinate these committees in such a way as to transform them into workers councils, elected by general assemblies and revocable at any time, capable of constituting a government of workers councils.

3) The POUM was incapable of making the fundamental distinction between the Party and the Popular Front, and followed the latter road, which led to government collaboration.

4) The leadership of the POUM was always following behind the CNT-FAI, whose leaders it considered to be revolutionaries, instead of engaging in a powerful, consistent and objective polemic against the series of false positions assumed by the CNT-FAI.

5) The leadership of the POUM never really understood the relation between war and revolution, insofar as it made a distinction between the two. The slogan, “War or Revolution” is false in and of itself.

6) The POUM, almost as rapidly as the other groups, sacrificed the revolution to what seemed to be the interests of the “war” (government collaboration, an indecisive policy with regard to the question of the Army, etc.) instead of clearly demonstrating that the war did not merit the sacrifices of the working class except to the extent that it was an integral part of the revolutionary process, that is, insofar as it was subordinated to the decisive question of power. It did nothing to establish the foundations of the organs of a new power (revolutionary workers Front), not even in those locations where the party’s influence was preponderant. The POUM leadership allowed members of the party, the commanders of the Lenin division, to sabotage all political activity oriented towards the militiamen, thus helping the plans of the counterrevolution instead of favoring agitation for workers democracy in the mass organizations.

7) The leadership of the POUM shared certain obsolete ideas concerning nationalism and regional autonomy with the Catalonian petty bourgeoisie.

8) The POUM never engaged in any critique of the collectivization of industry as a new form of “trade union capitalism”.

9) Nin dissolved the FOUS under the erroneous trade union slogan of “CNT-UGT”, instead of issuing the directive, “Neither CNT nor UGT: one central trade union”.

10) The capitulation of May:

a) the leadership had no independent, clear line;

b) it took no independent initiative of its own;

c) it tried to provide a cover for the treason of the anarchist leaders;

d) it learned nothing: it even claimed that May was a workers victory.

Many of these errors of the Executive Committee of the POUM were personally attributable to Nin, whether or not he was supported by the other members of the Executive Committee of the POUM, who sometimes opposed Nin’s personal decisions, or were not even consulted. On the other hand, we must not forget that the policy of the Executive Committee of the POUM, which was largely determined by Nin, was considered by a broad critical sector of the party as a catastrophic policy for the revolution, and moreover as an abandonment of the founding principles of the POUM:

1) Nin’s entry, as a representative of the POUM, in the Council of the Economy signified the recognition of the government of the Generalitat’s authority over and prerogatives for planning of the Catalonian economy.

2) The merger of the FOUS into the UGT instead of the CNT.

3) Nin’s acceptance of the position of Minister of Justice (which Andrade also referred to as a mistake) in the government of the Generalitat (which he held from September 26 to December 13, 1936, when he was forced out as a result of pressure from the Stalinists), because it strengthened the government of the Generalitat, laid the ground-works for the dissolution of the local committees and constituted a practical rejection of the calls for a workers government.

4) Nin’s first job as Minister of Justice was to accompany Tarradellas, the Prime Minister of the government of the Generalitat (“ conseller en cap ”), to Lérida, which was at the time governed by a Committee dominated by the CNT and the POUM, to REESTABLISH THE AUTHORITY OF THE CATALONIAN GOVERNMENT in that city.

5) Nin asserted that the dictatorship of the proletariat existed in Catalonia and also (in contradiction with this first assertion) that it was possible for the working class to take power peacefully.

6) On October 9, 1936, the government of the Generalitat—WE MUST NOT FORGET THAT this was made possible thanks to the participation of the POUM and the CNT, WITHOUT WHOSE INVOLVEMENT AND HELP THE GOVERNMENT OF THE GENERALITAT WOULD HAVE BEEN POWERLESS—was able to decree the dissolution of the local committees, OF A REVOLUTIONARY OR POTENTIALLY REVOLUTIONARY NATURE, which were to be replaced by Popular Front Municipal Councils; on October 13 a decree drafted and signed by Nin himself nullified the revolutionary work of Barriobero (and of the cenetistas) in the justice tribunals; on October 24 the decree ordering the militarization of the Popular Militias and the decree regarding public order were approved by a Junta of Internal Security. NIN WAS THE MINISTER OF JUSTICE OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE GENERALITAT THAT TOOK THESE COUNTERREVOLUTIONARY MEASURES.

7) In January 1937 Nin wrote to the Executive Committee of the PSOE proposing the participation of the POUM in the unification conferences being held between the PSOE and the PCE. Only a few days later the Stalinist repression of the POUMistas began in Madrid.

8) In May 1937 he issued an order by telephone to disband the column formed in Gracia by militants of the POUM and the CNT for the purpose of seizing the center of the city held by counterrevolutionaries.

9) In May 1937 he rejected the plan to seize power elaborated by Josep Rebull … because power was not a military question, but a political one.

10) Nin thought that May 1937 was a workers victory!

Thesis no. 24. CRITIQUE OF THE POSITIONS OF BILAN : Bilan was the French-language journal of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left (Bordiguists), best known during the thirties as the Prometeo Group ( Prometeo was the Italian-language journal of the Fraction). Bilan has been sanctified by various left organizations as the nec plus ultra of the revolutionary positions of the 1930s. Bilan denied, in a brilliant and flawless analysis (with which we agree), that a proletarian revolution had triumphed in Spain in 1936. Bilan also claimed, however, that, due to the lack of a (Bordiguist) class party, there was not even a possibility for a REVOLUTIONARY SITUATION (we think this is a serious error, with important consequences). According to Bilan the proletariat was immersed in an antifascist war, that is, it was enrolled in an imperialist war between a democratic bourgeoisie and a fascist bourgeoisie. In this situation, the only appropriate positions were desertion and boycott, or to wait for better times, when the (Bordiguist) party would enter the stage of history from the wings where it had been biding its time.

The analyses of Bilan have the virtue of decisively highlighting the weaknesses of and dangers that threatened the revolutionary situation after the triumph of the workers insurrection of July 1936, but they are incapable of formulating a revolutionary alternative. In any event the revolutionary defeatism of abandoning the Spanish proletariat into the hands of its reformist or counterrevolutionary organizations, as proposed IN PRACTICE by Bilan , was certainly not a revolutionary alternative. The incoherence of Bilan is made evident by its analysis of the May Days of 1937. It turns out that the “revolution” of July 19, which one week later ceased to be a revolution, because its class goals had been turned into war goals, now reappears like the Phoenix of history, like a ghost that had been hiding in some unknown location. And now it turns out that in May 1937 the workers were once again “revolutionary”, and defended the revolution from the barricades. Was it not the case, however, that, according to Bilan , a revolution had not taken place? Here, Bilan gets all tangled up. On July 19 (according to Bilan ) there was a revolution, but one week later, there was no longer a revolution, because there was no (Bordiguist) party; in May 1937 there was another revolutionary week. But how do we characterize the situation between July 26, 1936 and May 3, 1937? We are not told anything about this. The revolution is considered to be an intermittent river [“Guadiana”: a river in Spain that runs on the surface, then underground, then reappears on the surface—Translator’s note] that emerges onto the historical stage when Bilan wants to explain certain events that it neither understands, nor is capable of explaining. The revolution is viewed as a series of week-long explosions, separated by ten months of inexplicable and unexplained limbo. And these revolutionary explosions, May 1937 as well as July 1936, are so inconsistent with the theses of Bilan concerning the non-existence of a revolutionary situation, that we are led to affirm its absolute lack of understanding of the characteristics and nature of a proletarian revolutionary process.

On the one hand, Bilan acknowledges the class character of the struggles of July and May, but on the other hand not only denies their revolutionary character, but even denies the existence of a revolutionary situation. This viewpoint can only be explained by the distance of an absolutely isolated Parisian group, which placed a higher priority on its analyses than on the study of the Spanish reality. There is not even one word in Bilan about the real nature of the committees, or on the struggle of the Barcelona proletariat for socialization and against collectivization, or on the debates and confrontations within the Militia Columns concerning the militarization of the Militias, or a serious critique of the positions of The Friends of Durruti Group, for the simple reason that they are practically totally unaware of the existence and the significance of all these matters. It was easy to justify this ignorance by denying the existence of a revolutionary situation. Bilan ’s analysis fails because in its view the absence of a revolutionary (Bordiguist) party necessarily implies the absence of a revolutionary situation.

On July 19, 1936, throughout all of Spain, but especially in Catalonia, there was a victorious workers insurrection. This insurrection, which was dominated by its libertarian element, faced the competition of other political forces, such as the POUM and the republicans, and of some units of the forces of public order, like the Assault Guards and the Civil Guards, which remained loyal to the government of the Generalitat and the Republic. But it is certainly true that the result of this insurrection, thanks to the assault on the barracks of San Andrés, meant the arming of the Barcelona proletariat, and by extension the proletariat of all of Catalonia. The indisputable hegemonic power that resulted from this revolutionary insurrection was anarchist. The rest of the working class forces, the Generalitat and the overwhelmed forces of public order were, in Catalonia, in an absolutely minority position.

The product of this revolutionary insurrection was the Central Committee of Antifascist Militias (the CCMA). The CCMA, however, was simultaneously the product of this victory and also of the refusal of the anarchists to seize power. The CCMA was not an organ of workers power to confront the power of the republican bourgeoisie, that is, the Generalitat, but an institution of collaboration of the anarchists with the other political forces, both the working class forces as well as those of the bourgeoisie: it was therefore an institution of class collaboration. In practice, the CCMA performed the functions of public order, and recruiting and training antifascist militias, which the government of the Generalitat was incapable of performing. The CCMA acted as a kind of Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of War OF THE GENERALITAT. Regardless of how much autonomy and independence it had, it was still a Ministry of the Generalitat.

Neither the CCMA, nor the CNT-FAI, nor the POUM issued any directives (except the order to end the general strike), or gave any orientation, or proclaimed any orders, until July 28, when the CNT and the CCMA issued a communiqué and decree, respectively, which coincided in threatening “incontrolados” who were acting without the authorization of the CCMA with harsh repression. The insurrection of July 19 spread the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the process of collectivization to the majority of Catalonian enterprises, WITHOUT ANY DIRECTIVE FROM THE WORKERS ORGANIZATIONS, AND WITHOUT ANY ORDER OR RULING FROM THE CCMA.

We must, however, clearly and precisely identify the characteristics of this revolutionary situation: rather than dual power (which did not exist because the CCMA was not created to oppose the Generalitat, but to serve it) we must speak of a vacuum of centralized power. The power of the autonomous government of the Generalitat had fragmented into hundreds of committees that held all power at the local and enterprise level, most of which were in the hands of the working class.

These committees, however, incomplete and deficient, were not coordinated among themselves, and were not reinforced as organs of workers power. The CNT-FAI were neither capable nor desirous of giving these committees any coordination, WHICH WAS ESSENTIAL for the triumph of the revolution. The organizational structure of the CNT, articulated in Sindicatos Únicos , its weakness resulting from its recent period of clandestine activity and the treintista split, but above all its glaring theoretical shortcomings, rendered the CNT incapable of coordinating these committees, which held all power in their hands at the local and enterprise levels. Even the organization of economic life in Catalonia, and the indispensable coordination of the various economic sectors, was left in the hands of the government of the Generalitat, for which purpose the Council of the Economy was created on August 11, 1936. An unstable and transitory revolutionary situation prevailed, which had defeated the fascist bourgeoisie and overwhelmed the republican bourgeoisie, but one that had also escaped the control of the workers organizations themselves, which were incapable of organizing and defending the “revolutionary conquests” of July and of decisively tipping the scales in favor of the final triumph of the revolution, by seizing power, installing the dictatorship of the proletariat and destroying the apparatus of the republican state, simply because anarchosyndicalist theory and organization proved to be alien and foreign to the organization of the revolutionary proletariat. For the spontaneity of the masses has its limits. The inability of the CNT Trade Unions to stabilize and further motivate the revolution was acknowledged by the participants themselves. The CNT, as a trade union organization, was inadequate and incapable of performing the tasks that would have corresponded with the mission of a revolutionary vanguard or party, and the same thing was true of the other organizations of the working class. This is why the revolutionary situation, instead of moving in the direction of a full-blown revolution, was rapidly transformed into a counterrevolutionary situation that favored a rapid consolidation of the structures of the bourgeois state.

Not taking power in July meant leaving it in the hands of the bourgeoisie, and sharing it with the bourgeoisie within the CCMA meant “helping” the bourgeoisie to recover and fill the power vacuum that had been produced by the July insurrection. Furthermore, the collectivization process was not viable nor did it have any meaning at all if the capitalist state remained intact. And this is all the more true if we take into account the fact that the anarchists compensated for the shortcomings of the government of the Generalitat so that it could take over planning of the Catalonian economy, which it was itself incapable of coordinating.

The government of the Generalitat took into its hands, beginning in August 1936, nothing more or less than economic planning, financing of enterprises, the possibility of controlling every enterprise through an inspector appointed by the Generalitat, and the power to enact laws concerning the collectivizations. This was the foundation of the rapid recovery of political power by the Generalitat. If we add to the foregoing the fact that the Civil Guards and Assault Guards had not been dissolved, but only confined to their barracks in the rearguard, far from the front, we may safely conclude that the counterrevolution in Catalonia had some very solid foundations, which explain the rapid restoration of all the prerogatives of the capitalist state.

There is, however, an important difference between claiming that the insurrection of July 1936 was not a revolution, or even that it did not entail a revolutionary situation (as Bilan , the ICC and Robert Camoin, among others, assert) and claiming that the revolutionary situation of July came to naught due to a series of insufficiencies, incapacities and errors on the part of the existing workers organizations. In July 1936 there was a revolutionary situation that imposed the hegemony of the working class and its revolutionary threat on the republican bourgeoisie for ten months, despite the fact that there was no CENTRALIZATION OF POWER of the workers, because that power had been fragmented into hundreds of local committees, enterprise committees, the committees of various workers organizations, and the militias of various parties, in control patrols, etc.

In July 1936 the working class masses knew how to go into action without leaders, without directives from their trade union and political organizations; in May 1937, however, these same masses were incapable of acting in opposition to their leaders, and against the directives of their trade union and political organizations.

May 1937 did not fall out of the clouds, it was the result of the rising cost of living and the shortages of staple foods and basic goods, of the resistance to the dissolution of the control patrols and the militarization of the militias, but above all it was due to the working class offensive/resistance in the enterprises, one by one, totally isolated, in an attempt to consolidate and exercise control over the process of socializing the Catalonian economy, in confrontation with the liquidation of the “conquests of July”. The “normalization” offensive of the Generalitat, which sought to implement the S’Agaró decrees, signed by Tarradellas in January 1937, implied the elimination of the “revolutionary conquests” and absolute control over the Catalonian economy by the government of the Generalitat.

The lessons that should be learned from this are evidently the need to totally destroy the capitalist state, to dissolve its forces of repression, and to establish the social dictatorship of the proletariat, which the anarchists organized in The Friends of Durruti Group identified with the formation of a Revolutionary Junta, composed of all those organizations that had participated in the revolutionary battles of July 1936.

May 1937 was the consequence of the errors committed in July 1936. There was no revolutionary party in Spain, but there was a profound and powerful REVOLUTIONARY ACTIVITY of the working class which suppressed the fascist coup, outside the control of the workers organizations that existed in July 1936, and which in May 1937 confronted Stalinism, although it finally failed because it was incapable of confronting its own trade union and political organizations (the CNT and POUM), when the latter were defending both the bourgeois state and the program of the counterrevolution. The fact that the revolutionary movement that existed in Spain between July 1936 and May 1937 failed, and was turned aside from its class goals toward antifascist goals, does not obviate the existence of this revolutionary situation. No proletarian revolution has won yet, and the failure of the Commune and the success of Stalinism is no refutation of the revolutionary character of the Commune and October.

It is obvious that, without the seizure of power and establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Spanish collectivization process could not but fail, and that all the collectivizing experiences would be conditioned and distorted by this absence of the seizure of centralized power; but it is no less obvious that the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, entailed by the collectivization process, with all of its limitations, was the fruit of the proletarian revolutionary movement of July. The fundamental lesson of the “Spanish Revolution” (or more precisely of the Spanish revolutionary situation) is the ineluctable need for a vanguard that would defend the revolutionary program of the proletariat, the two first steps of which are the total destruction of the capitalist state and the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat, organized in workers councils, which would unify and centralize power. But to assert on the basis of these considerations that without a party there is no revolution, or even a revolutionary situation (as Bilan , the ICC and Robert Camoin claim) reflects the lack of understanding of the fact that not the party, but the proletariat, makes the revolution, although a proletarian revolution will inevitably fail if there is no vanguard capable of defending the revolutionary program of the proletariat (as The Friends of Durruti and the Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain unsuccessfully attempted to do). Bilan put the cart in front of the horse. The analyses of those who assert their claim “to be the party” never cease to be tragicomic; they do not know how to see the revolutionary situation that is unfolding right under their noses. The analyses of Bilan are very valuable with regard to its denunciations of the weaknesses and errors of the Spanish revolutionary process; but they are unfortunate and pathetic when its analysis leads it to the absurdity of denying the revolutionary and proletarian nature of the historical process experienced by the Spanish working class between July 1936 and May 1937. Bilan ’s denial of the existence of a revolutionary situation is the product of its Leninist, totalitarian and substitutionist concept of the party: if there is no party there is not even the chance for a revolutionary situation to arise, regardless of the revolutionary activity of the proletariat. The consequences of this denial of the existence of a revolutionary situation in Catalonia in 1936-1937 led Bilan to advocate (solely on the theoretical plane) reactionary political positions such as breaking up the military fronts, fraternization with the Francoist troops, cutting off weapons to the republican troops, etc. It is not at all surprising that Bilan , or more precisely the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left, underwent a split as a result of open debate over the nature and characteristics of the Spanish Revolution.

To summarize: it is true that without a revolutionary party or vanguard, a proletarian revolution will fail; and this is the lesson of the Spanish example and the magnificent analysis of Bilan . But it is not true that a proletarian revolutionary situation cannot arise if a revolutionary party does not exist. And this claim is the one that led Bilan to make a false analysis of the situation created on July 19, 1936 in Catalonia, and also explains its failure to understand the events that led the proletariat to engage in a second revolutionary insurrection in May 1937.

Thesis no. 25. There are a number of shared revolutionary political positions that allow us to distinguish, in 1936-1939 in Spain, revolutionary from reformist, bourgeois or counterrevolutionary groups. These positions, which are in addition class frontiers, are based on the defense, not just theoretical but above all active and political, of the following points:

A) Advocate the necessity of the destruction of the capitalist state;

B) Opposition to political collaboration with bourgeois organizations and parties;

C) Advocate the establishment of a social dictatorship of the proletariat;

D) Opposition to the militarization of the Popular Militias;

E) Defense of the future organs of workers power, which are usually identified with the committees;

F) Deny the validity of or any future at all for the collectivizations without the political conquest of power by the working class.

These common denominators that identified, during the Spanish War, the revolutionary as opposed to the non-revolutionary groups, are shared, with greater or lesser emphasis on one point or another, and with varying degrees of theoretical clarity, by Balius and The Friends of Durruti Group, Josep Rebull and Cell 72 of the POUM, Munis and the Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain, Fosco and the Bolshevik-Leninist Group “Le Soviet”, as well as the (Bordiguist) militants of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left, which split as a result of its internal debate concerning the nature of the Spanish Revolution and War.

The theoretical and practical differences between these different revolutionary groups are important, and were the outcome of the weaknesses of the revolutionary movement of that time. A rigorous study of these groups, unimpaired by ideological prejudices, which restrict inquiry to labeling and/or embalming them as anarchist, Trotskyist, Bordiguist or Marxist, as well as a critique of their errors and the deficiencies of their positions is rendered imperative due to the lack of knowledge concerning these issues, because there is no movement with a future that has no knowledge of its past, and this is all the more true of a revolutionary movement.

Thesis no. 26. The Civil War was not a fratricidal war, as the propaganda of the Francoist dictatorship taught us for forty years and was we have been told by the formal democracy of the post-Franco period for the last fifty years, but a war of extermination of “the reds” by the fascists. In the so-called nationalist zone, from July to August 1936, the rebel military implemented, in their lightning advance from Andalusia and Estremadura, a war of extermination of the enemy, of an arbitrary and class nature and utilizing colonialist methods, for the purpose of sowing terror in a hostile rearguard and imposing political cleansing, directed against neutral elements as well as potential enemies. The goal was to destroy the social base of the workers movement and the left wing parties.

This extermination plan, carefully planned before the uprising, and justified by the need to ensure the victory of a colonial army that confronted the vast majority of the population of the country, was extended not only throughout the three years of warfare, but was legalized and institutionalized in the new Francoist state.

Thesis no. 27. The war did not end on April 1, 1939; it was the beginning of the Victory. A Victory whose first priority was to destroy the vanquished and quench the thirst for vengeance of the victors by assuring them total impunity. After a period of mass executions, imprisonment and torture of hundreds of thousands of persons, a regime of terror was imposed in which all of Spain became one vast prison. The Francoist state was a genocidal state , if we define genocide as the condition of systematic criminalization of a group, or as systematic extermination of a social group for religious, ethnic or political reasons. The essence of the Francoist state throughout its entire existence, and despite its unquestionable evolution over the course of the years, was the persecution, repression and extermination of the “reds”, a concept that was particularly applied to the organizations of the workers movement, but also to the militants of all the leftist, republican or liberal parties, as well as anyone who engaged in the mere defense of the most basic democratic rights and freedoms, and of course the national demands of the Basque and Catalonian people against whom an implacable cultural and linguistic genocide was waged.

Thesis no. 28. The war of extermination waged against the reds by the nationalist bloc and the Francoist genocidal state were not denounced as such during the Transition to democracy.

The post-Francoist heirs granted an amnesty to the political prisoners of Francoism for a handful of crimes that were only crimes because they had been legislated as such by the genocidal Francoist state.

The pact between Francoism and anti-Francoism also imposed another amnesty: an amnesia regarding the past. The first attempts to expose the notorious genocidal acts and to locate and identify the remains of those shot or disappeared in mass graves were interrupted by the attempted coup d’état of February 23, 1981. The future of the democracy, social and political stability and economic progress of the country seemed to be dependent on the forgetting of history and of the Francoist genocide as well as on the renunciation of any attempt to identify the bodies of those who were murdered and buried in mass graves, and even the mere memory of the location of these graves. The fear of the vanquished was prolonged in the form of the fear of the children of the vanquished, which continued to prevail in this curious “vigilant and endangered” democracy. Everything was nicely wrapped up.

Thesis no. 29. Genocide and crimes against humanity, however, are not subject to any statue of limitations. The Francoist genocide cannot be forgotten. It is no longer a matter of prosecuting individuals, but of the right to know the whole truth about what happened and also, of course, of the right to unhindered access to archival materials. It is a matter of vindicating the memory of those who were disappeared, assassinated, shot and thrown into mass graves, the exiles and all those fighters for liberty or for utopia who suffered imprisonment or forced labor without having committed any other crime than being reds, that is, members of the collective of the defeated in the war, whom the Francoist state sought to exterminate. A state that was based on the alliance of the military, reactionary bourgeoisie, big landowners, Falangists and the Catholic Church. It is also about destroying or transforming those places, monuments or plaques that commemorate fascist crimes and war crimes. Especially the “Wall of those who Died for God and Spain”, built by enslaved prisoners of war. And it is above all about recovering historical memory and uncovering concepts that have been hidden under the flood of fascist and clerical propaganda:

1. The Spanish civil war was not a fratricidal war , between brothers: it was a war of extermination against the “reds”;

2. Academic debates about whether the Franco dictatorship was a fascist or an authoritarian regime are of little importance; in any event it was a genocidal state , based on nothing but the victory of the military, the clergy and the fascists in a war against the people and the working class;

3. It is true that the Catholic Church suffered from religious persecution in the republican zone during the first ten months of the war that produced a total of seven thousand martyrs (who have now been beatified ); but it is no less true that it was an active and terrible accomplice , necessary and indispensable at the beginning of the war, in its character as a war of extermination and in the subsequent genocide of the defeated by the Francoist state. It was a martyr for ten months and executioner for forty years.

Translated from the Spanish original in November 2013.

Spanish original published in: BALANCE. Cuadernos de historia del movimiento obrero , Cuaderno No. 21, Barcelona, June 2001 (2nd edition).

Source: http://www.ecn.org/ab-imis/testi/Tesis.pdf

  • 1 BALANCE . Cuadernos de historia del movimiento obrero , Cuaderno No. 21, Barcelona, June 2001 (2nd edition).
  • bureaucracy
  • Spanish civil war
  • Friends of Durruti
  • Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT)
  • Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI)
  • Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM)
  • Agustín Guillamón
  • The Italian Fraction of the Communist Left

This article is tagged

This article is tagged 'Bilan', but presumably it a different Bilan from the left communist 'Bilan'

Quote: Bilan was the

Bilan was the French-language journal of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left (Bordiguists), best known during the thirties as the Prometeo Group (Prometeo was the Italian-language journal of the Fraction).

Appears to be referring to the same

Having no idea whatsoever…

Having no idea whatsoever where this should be posted, I'll post it here:

The CWO's review of 'Revolution and the State: Anarchism in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939' by Danny Evans:


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