Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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?

share|improve this question
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
add comment

1 Answer

up vote 5 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.

share|improve this answer
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
show 2 more comments

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.