The American revolution and popular loyalism in the British Atlantic world
My thesis explores the American Revolution and War for Independence within the broader context of the British Atlantic world. It examines how the war and the revolutionary ideology affected the ways in which Britons living throughout the Atlantic world understood and articulated their loyalty to Great Britain. The American Revolution directly challenged the legitimacy of British whig ideology and self-definition, and forced peoples and communities throughout the Empire to rethink commonplace assumptions about their rights and liberties as British subjects. The thesis is organized and focused around five specific British Atlantic communities: London, New York City, Glasgow, Halifax (Nova Scotia) and Kingston (Jamaica). During the first half of the eighteenth century diverse peoples throughout Britain’s Atlantic empire united in their allegiance to the Hanoverian monarchy and expressed a Protestant whig identity that was contrasted with the perceived oppressive regime, and lack of political and religious freedoms of an alien French enemy. The American Revolution, however, presented an explicit challenge to these Protestant whig ideals, for these same beliefs had also inspired the American Patriots. For the first time, Britons were opposed in war not by the French, but rather by fellow Protestant Britons. Consequently, American resistance and eventual rebellion to British imperial rule in the 1760s and 1770s served to divide rather than unite loyal Britons throughout the Atlantic world. Britons struggled to articulate a shared empire-wide opposition to an enemy and ideology that appeared not all that different from their own Protestant whig beliefs. The Franco-American alliance of 1778 thus assumed enormous significance for loyal Britons. Once again, they could identify the enemy as opponents of whig and Protestant beliefs. Britons were shocked by the hypocrisy of a revolutionary ideology that was supposedly based upon a superior definition of whig ideology, yet was now allied with an arbitrary empire. Britons throughout the Atlantic world were able to redefine their American foes as no longer being fellow Britons, while simultaneously celebrating their loyalty within a broader empire-wide conception of Britishness. The result of which was a more determined and defiant expression of loyalty to Great Britain that was shared by Britons throughout the Atlantic world. Thus the American Revolution not only created a new American nation, but it also created a more determined British national identity shared by Britons throughout the Atlantic world.