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US-Russian Relations before 1917  

Paul Behringer

From the American Revolution until the late 19th century, the United States and Russia enjoyed a “distant friendship,” meaning that the first interactions and perceptions between Russians and Americans were mostly positive, but the affinity for one another did not run particularly deep. The two peoples looked at each other across a wide geographic and cultural chasm. As the United States spread across the North American continent and into the Pacific, and Russia established colonies in Alaska and at Fort Ross, Russians and Americans began to encounter one another more frequently. Occasionally this trend led to tension and competition, but overall relations remained cordial, reaching a high point in the 1850s and 1860s when the United States tacitly supported Russia during the Crimean War and Russia backed the Union during the American Civil War. The goodwill culminated in the Russian decision to sell Alaska to the United States. Soon, however, differences in ideology and interests drove the two countries into a more tense and competitive relationship. Americans came to view Russians as squandering their land’s great potential under the yoke of an autocratic government and cultural “backwardness,” while Russians scoffed at America’s claims of moral superiority even as the United States expanded into an overseas empire and discriminated against Black and Asian people at home. These views of each other, combined with growing rivalry over influence in Northeast Asia, drove US-Russian relations to a low point on the eve of World War I. Many of the stereotypes about each other and the conflicts of interest, papered over briefly as allies against the Central Powers in 1917, would resurface during the Soviet period.

Article

Philadelphia  

Timothy J. Lombardo

Officially established by English Quaker William Penn in 1682, Philadelphia’s history began when indigenous peoples first settled the area near the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. Since European colonization, Philadelphia has grown from a major colonial-era port to an industrial manufacturing center to a postindustrial metropolis. For more than three centuries, Philadelphia’s history has been shaped by immigration, migration, industrialization, deindustrialization, ethnic and racial conflict, political partisanship, and periods of economic restructuring. The city’s long history offers a window into urban development in the United States.

Article

Prisoners of War in the American Revolution  

Susan Brynne Long

When battles end, the challenges continue for both prisoners and their captors. During the American Revolution, British and American forces took thousands of enemies captive. Officers and rank-and-file soldiers experienced captivity differently. While officers could expect parole allowances, private accommodations, and even social opportunities, enlisted men often lived in crowded barracks and jails, experienced food shortages, and ran a higher risk of dying in captivity from diseases and neglect. Both the British and the Americans balanced diplomatic imperatives against moralistic considerations in their approaches to prisoner management. The many responsibilities associated with caring for prisoners led the Continental Congress to create an office of Commissary General of Prisoners. For the British, prisoner management was an exercise in long-distance military support operations. At the end of the war, historians enshrined the horrific experiences of American prisoners in historical memory, but British prisoners also suffered while in captivity.

Article

Smuggling and Illicit Trade in British America  

Andrew Rutledge

Illicit trade was an endemic feature of life in 17th- and 18th-century British America, shaping economies and societies from the Caribbean to Newfoundland. Owing to the illegal nature of smuggling in British America, its scale is impossible to estimate, but surviving records from traders and imperial officials testify to the determination of merchants to exchange goods and enslaved peoples across imperial borders and their success in doing so. The same was true for British Americans’ trading partners in the French, Spanish, and Dutch empires. Contraband trade was carried out in a variety of ways, ranging from open commerce in colonial ports to clandestine landings of cargoes on barren shorelines. The lives of both free and enslaved colonists were affected by it, either directly as sailors or laborers on smuggling voyages or indirectly as consumers of illegally imported goods such as tea, molasses, rum, or cloth. Most interimperial trade was labeled illegal under a series of laws known as the Navigation Acts passed between 1661 and 1696 that sought to exclude foreigners from the trade of the British Empire and ensure its products flowed to the mother country. But hampered by insufficient resources and intransigent colonial attitudes, customs agents could do little to curtail smuggling. Yet despite the arguments of some historians seeking to tie illicit trade to the coming of the American Revolution, smugglers engaged in it, seeking profits, not political or economic independence. In British North America, merchants smuggled to French and Dutch territories because the returns outweighed the risks, and because smuggling offered a means of earning the funds needed to repay their creditors in the British Isles. While in the Caribbean, island merchants enjoyed imperial support for their trade with Spanish America even as they condemned the illicit commerce of their northern cousins.

Article

Slave Conspiracies in the British Colonies  

James F. Dator

Slave conspiracies in the British colonies developed alongside the institution of slavery. They were terrifying events for colonists and enslaved people alike. For historians, they are complicated events to study because white British authorities left behind an archival record written from the perspective of the ruling class, which usually comprised slaveholders who were anxious to maintain their power and interpreted alleged plots in ways that accorded with their racialized view of the world. Nonetheless, studying these conspiracies tells us a considerable amount about the social climate of the period. Thus, studying them illuminates not only the emotions of fear and terror that haunted these societies but also the role that culture, economy, and political values played in their development.

Article

The Draft in U.S. History  

Megan Threlkeld

The issue of compulsory military service has been contested in the United States since before its founding. In a nation characterized by both liberalism and republicanism, there is an inherent tension between the idea that individuals should be able to determine their own destiny and the idea that all citizens have a duty to serve their country. Prior to the 20th century, conscription occurred mainly on the level of local militias, first in the British colonies and later in individual states. It was during the Civil War that the first federal drafts were instituted, both in the Union and the Confederacy. In the North, the draft was unpopular and largely ineffective. Congress revived national conscription when the United States entered World War I and established the Selective Service System to oversee the process. That draft ended when U.S. belligerency ended in 1918. The first peacetime draft was implemented in 1940; with the exception of one year, it remained in effect until 1973. Its most controversial days came during the Vietnam War, when thousands of people across the country demonstrated against it and, in some cases, outright refused to be inducted. The draft stopped with the end of the war, but in 1980, Congress reinstated compulsory Selective Service registration. More than two decades into the 21st century, male citizens and immigrant noncitizens are still required to register within thirty days of their eighteenth birthday. The very idea of “selective service” is ambiguous. It is selective because not everyone is conscripted, but it is compulsory because one can be prosecuted for failing to register or to comply with orders of draft boards. Especially during the Cold War, one of the system’s main functions was not to procure soldiers but to identify and exempt from service those men best suited for other endeavors framed as national service: higher education, careers in science and engineering, and even supporting families. That fact, combined with the decentralized nature of the Selective Service System itself, left the process vulnerable to the prejudices of local draft boards and meant that those most likely to be drafted were poor and nonwhite.

Article

Women and War in Early America  

Gina M. Martino

Early American women incited, fought in, and brokered peace in conflicts that ranged from regional to nearly continental in scale during the 17th and 18th centuries. It is true that in most early American societies, warfare was considered a masculine activity. Nevertheless, war making, particularly in periods of endemic war, required the active participation of men and women. In some Indigenous polities, women decided when to wage war and which enemy captives would live or die. Other Indigenous women commanded troops as leaders of their polities, forging and shattering alliances with their Indigenous and European peers. For European women attempting to colonize contested regions of the continent, military readiness was part of everyday life. Even if these women did not participate in the masculinized theater of the militia drill, they did know how to produce ammunition and fire a musket. Beginning in the 1770s, early American women would participate in a conflict that was at once a colonial war, a revolutionary war, and a civil war. The American Revolution did not distinguish between the home and the front or the frontier town and the peaceful hamlet. Women would be touched by a war that mobilized their production skills, intellects, and physical strength. That same war would also displace hundreds of thousands of women, many of whom would never return home. But as they had through the whole of early American history, women would continue to adapt, resist, and mobilize.

Article

The British Army in Colonial America  

John G. McCurdy

The British army was an important part of colonial America and contributed to the coming of the Revolution. Although the number of British soldiers in North America was meager in the 17th century, this changed with the creation of a standing army and expansion of the British Empire. The French and Indian War (1754–1763) brought thousands of regular troops to the colonies, and many remained in America after the war ended. Life as a redcoat reflected contemporary society and the soldiers had a tenuous relationship with Indigenous peoples. The army became a flashpoint between Britain and the colonies in the 1760s and, with the Boston Massacre, a cause for independence. During the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), British soldiers fought in numerous theaters, aided at times by Hessians and Loyalist militias. Despite victories at Charlestown, Long Island, and Philadelphia, the British army was defeated at Yorktown. Following the Revolution, the British army slowly evacuated the United States but remained in Canada and the Caribbean until the 20th century.

Article

Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Americans  

Gregory D. Smithers

Settler colonial studies have enjoyed rapid growth as a field of scholarly inquiry since the 1990s. Scholars of settler colonialism distinguish it from other forms of colonialism—for example, extractive, planation, or trade colonialism—by positing that settlers move en masse to foreign lands with the intention of staying or permanently settling. Settlers therefore covet the land, not the labor, of Indigenous people, a structural dynamic that precipitates the “elimination” of Indigenous communities. Settler colonial studies have proven particularly germane to analysis of the Anglophone world during the 19th and 20th centuries, and to the study of global systems and transnational histories. While elements of settler colonial studies can illuminate historical understanding of North American history since 1492, the diversity of historical experiences in what became the United States means that American historians have approached this body of scholarship with caution. As is the case with any theoretical construct, historians are well advised to engage settler colonial studies with an active and critical eye before considering how they might best incorporate it into their teaching and research.

Article

Jews in the US Armed Forces  

Jessica Cooperman

Jewish service in the American military parallels that of many other Americans. Jews have served in colonial militias, in the American Revolution, and in all American military conflicts since the establishment of the country. In the United States’ early years, the total number of Jewish military personnel, like the Jewish population of the country as a whole, was very small. As the size of the American Jewish population grew during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, so did the number of Jews who served in the American Armed Forces. Jews responded to the country’s calls to arms alongside other Americans, even as they faced challenges that differentiated them from their compatriots. Like other racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups, Jews had to struggle against prejudices in the military, and like other immigrant communities, they have sometimes had to balance patriotism against transnational ties. Jews in the United States, however, always understood military service as part of the bargain of modern citizenship. They volunteered for service and responded to calls for conscription in order to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens, and they used military service both to express their commitment to the United States and to assert their rights as equal members of American society.