American Revolution: Competing for the Loyalty of the Colonists
The American Revolution had many causes, both economic and social in nature. It had also been brewing for many years, ever since the conclusion of the Seven Years' War with the French, in which the British government closed settlement of the West to the colonists. In doing so, the Crown posted soldiers on the Western frontier to keep Americans out of it, and taxed the Americans to fund the standing army required to prevent American settlement of the West. Naturally, this did not sit well with the colonists, and was the first real grievance against the British government that would eventually lead to the other grievances that finally resulted in the American Revolution.
The British government found it easier to raise the money it needed for various projects by taxing the colonists in America. After all, the colonists had no representation in parliament, and they were three thousand miles away, not right at home where outrage over taxes could be more directly expressed to those who were doing the taxing. A series of new taxes, plus the Quartering Act (which made it obligatory for the colonists to quarter British soldiers in their home if asked to do so….and to house and feed them at their personal expense without being reimbursed by the British army), made the colonists begin to seriously re-think their relationship with Great Britain. It was becoming more expensive to be a member of the British empire than it would be to be an independent nation.
Of course, not everyone in the colonies agreed with this assessment. There were those who saw plenty of benefit in remaining part of Great Britain. There were protective benefits, as the mother country shielded the colonists from invasions from foreign countries. There were also monetary and social rewards for many families, as well. The Crown was notorious for generously rewarding those who helped it, and doing so was a good way to move up the social ladder in 18th century America. Access to goods that the empire imported to America from its trading partner countries (goods the colonists were not likely to be able to get on their own) was another point in favor of remaining British. That is why the initial negotiations with the Crown over the oppressive taxes and Quartering Act were made, not with the intention of breaking free of the crown, but of simply getting fairer and more equitable treatment from it as would be due to any British citizens.
When these negotiations broke down and shots were fired at Lexington and Concord between the standing British army and the American militia, the revolution and America's quest for independence really began in earnest. However, rather than being simply a war for independence, the American Revolution was also a war for the allegiance of the American people. The Continental Army and the British Army were both fighting a traditional war and a war for loyalty from the common people. After all, it would do no good for the Continental Army to win the war if the common people still remained loyal to the crown, and the British Army would win no real victory on the battlefield if the people wanted them off the continent entirely. In order to truly win the American Revolution, the winning side had to also win the allegiance of the people at large in the colonies (Kurland 1987, 10).
When it came right down to it, the military strategies employed by both sides determined the outcome of the war. Despite having a larger and better trained army, the tactics employed by the Americans far surpassed those used by the British for three distinct reasons. First, General Washington employed the use of surprise (also known as Fabian tactics) to a greater extent than had been seen before in wars, and the British were not prepared for it. Second, General Cornwallis assumed concentrating British war efforts in the South would make a positive difference for his army, because he believed the South to have more loyalists in it than the North. Third, the introduction of French troops to the Revolution in its later days helped the Americans secure a victory, because it gave them some advantage in sea battles that they had not enjoyed previously. It also supplied them with more troops and more money, and gave the war a legitimacy in Europe that it lacked until that point. It is due to these three strategies that the war was won by Americans and the loyalty of the American people to their native land was secured.
General Washington was a master of the use of surprise in his battle tactics. Because his army was smaller and less trained than the British army, he found it better to do things that caught the British army unawares, and even used outright trickery on occasion. The element of surprise always gives one an advantage, no matter how powerful the enemy, and the American Revolution was no different. Washington won many decisive battles simply by doing the unexpected. These tactics were often akin to raids, where the army would group into small units and make quick, decisive strikes on the enemy when they were not suspecting it. Then, after a quick battle for which their opponents were not prepared, the soldiers would withdraw. A quick battle followed by a quick retreat ensured the enemy could not capture them. The battles of Trenton and Princeton were examples of this type of strategy, which is also known as Fabian tactics (Mahan 1957, 343). These tactics were used throughout the war by both Washington and some of the commanders under his direct supervision. In a war in which your army is outmanned and out-trained, the use of Fabian tactics is often one of the best ways to ensure a victory for your side. The fact that the American army was more familiar with the terrain than the British army also helped them in conducting surprise attacks using Fabian tactics and helped them win many more battles than they otherwise would have without this strategy.
Fabian tactics and deception sometimes go hand in hand, and they certainly did with the defeat of General Cornwallis. Washington used some of his troops as decoys, having them set up camps as if they meant to march on and attack New York City. However, this was not the battle plan. It was only a distraction. While the British troops were paying attention to the decoy soldiers, Washington had already crossed the Delaware River and used his remaining troops to encircle General Cornwallis's army at Yorktown, forcing his surrender and the effective end of the revolution.
Another tactic tht lead to the American victory in the revolution was a tactical error on the part of the British. When the British saw the war was not going well in the North, they decided to concentrate their efforts on the South, where they believed a large number of loyalists to the Crown resided. Charleston, South Carolina was one of their first targets. The British invasion of the South was as much a battle for the allegiance of the South as it was a tactical move to win the war. This move left the North virtually undefended, except for an outpost in New York City.
While the invasion of the South was most definitely an occupation, it was a genteel one in most instances, as the British were entering a land where they expected to find support. Instead of virtually ignoring the colonists when it came to patronage and other rewards from the crown, as had been the case before, the British army in the South began to openly bribe people with it. While everyone in the colonies was technically a candidate for bribery for rewards if they helped the Crown to win the war, those who were most likely to be targeted and who were the most susceptible to agreeing to aid the British army to defeat their own friends, family, and neighbors, were the wealthier families and those who were already known to be loyal to the Crown. These were called Tories, and while they existed throughout the colonies, they were the most plentiful in the South. It was better to stay on the good side of those who were loyal for as long as possible. Even after moving into the South, the British army was careful to be respectful of those Southern families who were known to be loyal or whose loyalty could be bought with ease. These were the people who would help them win the war and who would help them maintain a new colonial order once the British defeated the colonists in the revolution. Maintaining their loyalty was paramount to any success the British hoped to enjoy on American soil (Weigley 1977, 29).
Showing any kind of consideration to the people of the South was a change for the British army, who were especially guilty of poor treatment…