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. Nov 25, 2013 at 15:02
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    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, 2013 at 13:05
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    I thinking listing similarities will be shorter than listing key differences. Nov 27, 2013 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.
    – liftarn
    Jun 17, 2014 at 11:16

5 Answers 5


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). Nov 25, 2013 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?
    – o0'.
    Nov 26, 2013 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. Dec 1, 2013 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".
    – MCW
    Dec 1, 2013 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. Dec 1, 2013 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 .

  • Not really an answer to the question but +1 anyway for good information. May 31, 2015 at 9:21

The American Revolution took place under much more favorable circumstances.

First, the American Revolution took place just before the Industrial Revolution (when colonial arms were as good as British arms). The Indian Revolution took place well into the Industrial Revolution (when home country arms were potentially much better).

The Americans had a higher standard of living that the British in 1776, and the American Revolution was fought largely to protect that standard of living. In their book, Generations, William Strauss and Neil Howe pointed out that American kids had far better childhood nutrition, and the average Continental soldier was two inches taller than the average Redcoat. The average Indian and a lower standard of living, and was shorter than the British. Also, American literacy rates compared favorably to Britain; Indian rates did not.

The American Revolution involved 13 out of 14 or 15 colonies (depending on whether you count Canada as one or two colonies. The Indian revolution was fairly localized to the northern and western parts of the country. it did not involve most or all of the sub-Continent. Specifically, the southern and eastern areas around Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras did not participate.

The American Revolution took place before the (Napoleonic-inspired) Concert of Europe. European countries were rivals, meaning that the Americans could find European allies. The Indian Revolution took place at a time when the Europeans were moving toward being "fellow" colonialists, and amicably resolving disputes between themselves, in opposition to Asian and African nations.


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, 2014 at 20:22

the 1857 revolt was not fought with formal methods. There never had a intent of attainig independance whatsover

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    Welcome to History. Please edit in some references or links to sources to substantiate this opinion.
    – andy256
    May 31, 2015 at 11:23
  • The Americans didn't intend to achieve independence either. What are "formal methods"? Where are the sources & citations?
    – MCW
    May 31, 2015 at 11:33
  • New readings tend to attribute a desire to shake off the colonial domination as a strong motive in the 1857 rebellion. Especially since they propped Bahadur Shah as an icon/symbol of Indian liberty.
    – Rajib
    May 31, 2015 at 13:51

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