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The Thirteen Colonies and Indian subcontinent were two of the most significant colonies of the British Empire, yet the former was able to gain independence via a rebellion relatively early on, whilst the latter's attempts failed and only gained independence after WWII, a time when a war-weary home front was reluctant to hold on to far-off imperial holdings.

The two cases share a few similarities but many more dissimilarities. Focusing on their differences, what were the key ones that lead to the United State's successful rebellion, and India's failures? Was the US's successful rebellion a fluke, or were there factors in favor of the US, but not for India?

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This is a came, imho, where parallels confuse more than clarify. For starters, the American colony was actually a colony where the descendants of British people rebelled against Britain, whereas in India the rebellion was by natives. That's a rather big difference. –  Felix Goldberg Nov 25 '13 at 15:02
From the US side you can look at my old question on this focusing from the Colonial times in the US - history.stackexchange.com/questions/235/… There might be some relevant information there –  MichaelF Nov 26 '13 at 13:05
I thinking listing similarities will be shorter than listing key differences. –  Lennart Regebro Nov 27 '13 at 6:42
One difference that people seem to have failed to mention is the difference in economic value. India was the jewel in the crown while the American colony had very little value. That may explain why no real effort was put into it. –  S Vilcans Jun 17 '14 at 11:16

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I'll provide a few comparisons; this is an interesting question that deserves a book length treatment. My apologies if in my attempt to be brief I oversimplify either side.

The American revolution occurred at the beginning of the British imperial age; the first Indian rebellion occurred during the height of Imperial power. The American revolution occurred during a time when the English constitution was undergoing significant reform; the first Indian revolution took place when the English consitution was fixed. Without getting too Whigish, the American revolution was driven by the desire to guarantee English rights to Englishmen living in English territory, and so enjoyed significant popular support even within the mother country. ("independence" was an accidental outcome desired by neither side). India sought rights which were somewhat alien to the English domestic population. John Bull could sympathize with the notion that an Englishman shouldn't be taxed without representation; it was more difficult to persuade John Bull that enlisted men should be protected against beef tallow. The American revolution had a relatively coherent ideology; the Indian revolution as wikipedia states, failed to provide a corresponding ideology. Probably the most important factor was that the United States relied on the assistance of France, while India had no similar external ally.

Update: @Lohoris asks about the native populations. Both countries had native populations. The British policy in America was to displace the native population and settle the territory as English territory. (Jack Rakove's lectures are indispensible to understanding this), while India was more densely populated and the British policy centered on economic exploitation rather than full displacement and incorporation. I think the British strategy in India was in part derived from the results of the American revolution, which is one of several reasons I chose not to address it. I think the role of the British relationship to the native population is complex and nuanced, and I know that I'm not qualified to address that question, and I'd be very skeptical of anyone who tried to deal with that question in an essay the length of a SE post.

I'd love someone to analyze the diversity of the rebelling populations, the role of the Company, and other factors.

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I agree particularly with @MarkC.Wallace 's final sentence. These are the ways I'd see this answer expanded (to book length treatment). –  Samuel Russell Nov 25 '13 at 21:43
Might it make sense to add that the US were colonized/conquered mostly by people coming from UK, while India mostly had a native population? –  Lohoris Nov 26 '13 at 17:40
How can you justify this statement: "the US revolution would have failed utterly had it not occurred against the backdrop of the Seven Years War/Napoleonic wars". The Seven Years War ended in 1763, U.S. declared independence in 1776, Siege of Yorktown ended in 1781, and French Revolution didn't occur until 1789. The debts incurred by the French Government in supporting the American Revolution were a considerable part of the debt that required the calling of the Estates General. –  Pieter Geerkens Dec 1 '13 at 14:06
@PieterGeerkens Updated at your request. I'll grant that this assertion is on the boundary both of "answers which can be given briefly" and "answers that require more citations/scholarship than I can bring to bear at the moment". –  Mark C. Wallace Dec 1 '13 at 19:01
@MarkC.Wallace: I don't see any improvement, only obfuscation. You make what I regard as a wholly outrageous assertion, without any supporting evidence. I see the very length of the American Revolution as proof positive that England was not exhausted by the Seven Years War, come 1776, if she had ever been. –  Pieter Geerkens Dec 1 '13 at 19:22

The experience of defeated English General Cornwallis in the American War of independence may have contributed to the near conquest of Mysore in 1792. The nemesis of Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington was another "hero" of the conquest. This was a breakthrough which eventually led to the conquest of the rest of India. After that, the military technology of the conquered Indian ruling houses was either non-existent or inferior to that of the East India Company.

The 1857 War of Indian Independence was not fought with formal methods. The weaponry and logistics were asymmetric. The British were quite ruthless in scorching the supply chain (especially food) in the villages that fed the Indian Sepoy Armies. Additionally, the militarily adept Sikhs were on the British side, while the poorly militarized irregulars called Purbias formed the bulk of Sepoy army. Though the leaders of the Sepoy army did have good planning and great bravery, they probably could not match the logistics of the British and were shocked by their scorched-earth tactics and ferocity .

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Another factor is, that if you look down the Indian history, Strangely, a feeling, or motion of decentralization has always been prevalent.
That makes the suppression way easier. Most other things have been answered by other friends here. One small and large factor, was intent. It would be very wrong to call 1857 a war of Independence. It was the last outburst of the falling feudalism. There never had been any intent of attaing Independence whatsoever. some discontent, dishonor, and feudal interests were mostly the only things behind 1857 There was no concept of nationalism, and it never came before 1907 The Americans, had the zeal Thats all I'll say, and leave the rest to you

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"never had been any intent of attaing Independence whatsoever" - any sources for such a strong statement? –  kubanczyk Jun 12 '14 at 20:22


The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began as a mutiny of sepoys of the East India Company's army on 10 May 1857, in the cantonment of the town of Meerut, and soon escalated into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with the major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, and the Delhi region. The rebellion posed a considerable threat to East India Company power in that region,[4] and was contained only with the fall of Gwalior on 20 June 1858. The rebellion is also known as India's First War of Independence, the Great Rebellion, the Indian Rebellion, the Indian Mutiny, the Revolt of 1857, the Rebellion of 1857, the Uprising of 1857, the Sepoy Rebellion and the Sepoy Mutiny.

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 occurred as the result of an accumulation of factors over time, rather than any single event.

The sepoys were local soldiers, the majority Hindu or Muslim, that were recruited into the Company's army. Just before the Rebellion there were over 300,000 sepoys in the army, compared to about 50,000 British. The forces were divided into three presidency armies: Bombay, Madras, and Bengal. The Bengal Army recruited higher castes, such as "Rajputs and Bhumihar Brahmins, mostly from the Awadh and Bihar regions and even restricted the enlistment of lower castes in 1855. In contrast, the Madras Army and Bombay Army were "more localized, caste-neutral armies" that "did not prefer high-caste men." The domination of higher castes in the Bengal Army has been blamed in part for initial mutinies that led to the rebellion.


The American Revolution was a political upheaval that took place between 1765 and 1783 during which the Thirteen American Colonies broke from the British Empire and formed an independent nation, the United States of America. The American Revolution was the result of a series of social, political, and intellectual transformations in American society, government and ways of thinking. Starting in 1765 the Americans rejected the authority of Parliament to tax them without elected representation; protests escalated as in the Boston Tea Party of 1773, and the British imposed punitive laws—the Intolerable Acts—on Massachusetts in 1774. In 1774 the Patriots suppressed the Loyalists and expelled all royal officials. Each colony now had a new government that took control. The British responded by sending combat troops to re-establish royal control. Through the Second Continental Congress, the Patriots fought the British in the American Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783).

The peace treaty with Britain, known as the Treaty of Paris, gave the U.S. all land east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes, though not including Florida (On September 3, 1783, Britain entered into a separate agreement with Spain under which Britain ceded Florida back to Spain.) The British abandoned the Indian allies living in this region; they were not a party to this treaty and did not recognize it until they were defeated militarily by the United States. Issues regarding boundaries and debts were not resolved until the Jay Treaty of 1795. Since the blockade was lifted and the old imperial restrictions were gone, American merchants were free to trade with any nation anywhere in the world, and their businesses flourished.

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