I know more about the American War of Independence than about other British colonies, but I have begun to wonder why was it just America. The British had colonies in other places but there doesn't seem to have been any rush to war for freedom as there was in America. What made these colonies special? In some respects I've thought of the following:

  • Taxation, with or without representation, was a motivating factor. Yet all colonies would have been taxed in some respect so I don't see why this one was singled out, unless the burden was placed more on the colonies here due to the protection needed in the wars for France
  • The Heterogenous nature of the colonies, immigration had occurred from various countries, though not in large amounts, but even though many here were British they were not a homogenous group that would maintain a close link with the "mother country"
  • The British would want to maintain colonies here that were profitable and would not want to lose them, especially after protecting them from France (see first point) so they needed to money to pay down war debts

There was that close connection to England that many maintained, George Washington was known to have many goods imported, so if it was just an American identity that spawned here why not in other colonies at the time? The Carribean colonies were just as isolated, and in some way heterogenous, the Indian and Chinese colonies were in lands that were large and in a period of time later became free of British influence but it was not from colonists.

Are there any books or is there research on this subject at all?

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    Of particular interest to me is why some states rebelled while others didn't even within America? Really, I mean, why Canada didn't join the rebellion? Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 12:55
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    Well, while it may not be the same decade or even century, there's always India. Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 12:55
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    One major consideration for Canada -- the colonies had just been unified as a massive base of support to conquer Canada from the French. I highly reccomend you read The Crucible of War which touches on how the French and Indian War served to provide some political/social unity to the British colonies and laid the groundwork for eventual conflict with the mother country.
    – Doug T.
    Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 2:40
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    @Rory - That's pretty different though. It wasn't "colonists" that rebelled in Ireland, but the "natives".
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 15:07
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    An Economic interpretation of the American Revolution: vi.uh.edu/pages/buzzmat/EGNAL.pdf
    – Dale
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 17:46

3 Answers 3


Short Answer: The Canadiens were tired of war and content with British rule.

Long Answer:

Twenty-some years before the American Revolution (1754), which was just before the Seven Years War, this is what the map of British Colonies looked like: enter image description here Only a few areas of modern-day Canada were British then: Nova-Scotia, Labrador-Newfoundland, and around James' Bay & Hudson's Bay. Quebec extended south to below Niagara falls.

The 13 American Colonies were centered around New-York City: enter image description here

1.) Geographic Separation caused the English speaking British colonies north of Maine to be culturally distinct from the 13 American Colonies. The people of Nova Scotia were half New Englanders and half Germans, Highlanders, Ulstermen and Yorkshiremen. Nova Scotia wished to remain neutral. British Naval power and a British Garrison at Halifax prevented any serious American attempt at invasion. In 1777 Nova-Scotian outposts came under attack from New England privateers seeking plunder. That caused even former New-Englanders to form militias and defend their homes. Soon thereafter the New Light religious movement (Great Awakening) started by Henry Alline of Rhode Island swept through New England and Nova Scotia turning attention away from Politics.

2.) Acceptance of British Rule: When New France fell in 1760, the defeated armies, French officials, some seigneurs, and some merchants returned to France. British credit, currency, and markets such as London was what mattered--not Paris or America. The British successfully implemented representative government in Quebec through respecting the religious freedoms of Catholics and recognizing the political value of the Catholic Church, which was backed by a dutiful French populace that contrasted sharply with the restive 13 American colonies.

3.) The Quebec Act of 1774 satisfied Quebec and angered the American colonies. It allowed English criminal law to exist in parallel with French civil law and the entrenched seigneurial system. Quebec even had a (legal) mandatory tithe to the Catholic Church, which only concerned Catholics.

The Quebec Act also expanded the province of Quebec to include Labrador in the East and extended the Western boundary to the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers all the way north to Rupert's Land. This expansion had the obvious intent of funneling the fur-trading areas serviced through the St. Laurence into the jurisdiction of Quebec. The land was mainly Indian territory (where the Indians were allied with the French) that was exploitable for the fur trade without endangering Indian land rights and risking war.

American colonists desired to settle these native lands, and therefore listed the Quebec Act as one of the "Insufferable Acts."

4.) Cultural and Religious Isolation: Quebec was the largest British colony in what is now Canada. The language barrier combined with the foreign religion of Catholic Quebec and the history of hostilities from the Seven Years War caused Americans to view the people of Quebec as foes.

5.) Patriot attacks on Canadiens solidified opposition to the American revolution. American Patriot generals Richard Montgomery and Benedit Arnold Attacked Quebec in an attempt to seize Canada from British control (1775). They took Montreal and laid siege (ultimately unsuccessfully) to Quebec City, where British regulars and a few Candien militia defended. The Americans were ill-supplied but stayed till spring, when the British navy sailed up the St. Laurence.

It also became true that in the wartime alliance reached in 1778 between France and the young American republic, neither partner really wanted to see the other established at Quebec, preferring to have it left to Britain rather than that either of the two new "friends" should hold it.

6.) Economic Interests: The merchants of British North-America benefited from the influx of British troops (and money) which powered the offense south from Quebec. The Canadiens also profited from access to the tariff-protected British markets, which far larger New England competitors had forfeited through the act of war. The fur market in particular began to thrive in Canada. The British Navy on the Atlantic and by British military power in the interior both guarded the fur trade.

Businessmen came to recognize that their economic stake in the imperial system far outweighed any political discontent over the Quebec Act -- and that Act, after all had re-attached the valuable southwest fur domains to Canada. Hence the merchants' sense of commitment increased with the flow of trade on into the 1780s; as they saw that their St. Lawrence commercial realm was tied both to Britain and to Canada's own growth westward. Factors of geography and business interest in effect were shaping the prime leaders of Montreal into British imperialists and Canadian economic nationalists combined.

7.) Many Loyalists moved to Canada to support the British cause. .

Conclusion: pardon the quotes

As for the mass of French Canadiens in the province (of Quebec), they began to follow their seigneurial and clerical elites into their own commitment to the British side. Naturally the Canadiens still put their distinct community concerns and heritage first; yet they also concluded that the Americans should not be welcomed, but kept outside. The self-proclaimed republican "liberators" had simply turned out to be the same old enemies, les Bostonnais, the Puritans of New England: stabling horses in Catholic churches during their invasion, paying in worthless paper money for crops and supplies seized from habitant farms. The Canadiens did not learn to love their British conquerors as a result -- why should they? -- but did grow to believe that they were better off with them. For the provisions of the Quebec Act had guaranteed French Canada's own special rights and character under British rule: guarantees which the Americans certainly would not have given. Instead angry American outcries had greeted the Act because of the very grants it had made to the "French Papists". Thus for different but historically sound reasons, neither the Francophone and Anglophone communities of Quebec province took to the American path of revolution. They stayed within the remaining British empire -- above all, to avoid being swallowed up in another emerging empire, that of the United States.


St. Johns, PEI, and Newfoundland

The little neighbouring Atlantic province, the Island of St. John, was hardly likely to affect the course of empires. It certainly continued in British keeping -- although an American privateer raid on Charlottetown in 1775 carried the acting governor and two officials off to General Washington, who did not want them, and sent them home. The big island of Newfoundland also suffered, and more harshly, from American privateering ravages. But here British garrisons and naval squadrons still blocked any real threat to imperial control. In any case, the war years brought the island flourishing times in its essential cod fishery, particularly for residents, since many of the visiting overseas fishermen had been drafted into the Royal Navy. Thus Newfoundland, too, stayed surely within Britain's American empire.

Great Lake Indians

At the other, western end of empire, war spread through the inland forests below the Great Lakes, from the Iroquois country to the Ohio and Michigan wilderness. In the upper reaches of New York province, patriot rebel forces contended fiercely with units raised from loyal-minded settlers in the area. But further, the Six Nations Iroquois and their traditional homelands were heavily involved. The Tuscaroras and Oneidas largely sided with the Americans. The rest of the Six Nations, and especially the Mohawks, supported the British; for here old bonds of alliance held strong. They had been well forged under Sir William Johnson as Indian Superintendent till his death in 1774, to be maintained thereafter by his son and heir, Sir John Johnson, later to become Superintendent in his own right.

For the most in-depth discussion of this topic I could find see this Canadian Heritage Book (free), which is the source of the quotes and much of the content in this answer.

  • Good point, and I somewhat agree with your speculation, the sequence of events always tends to follow weird paths. If the US didn't need defending from France then we might not need to pay for that defense and be taxed to where we rebelled from the privilege of protection.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 11:36
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    @MichaelF I edited out the speculation, but it is more than slightly ironic that England broke-off the revolutionary war to counter the French threat in Europe, which was indirectly protecting the newly formed USA.
    – Dale
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 23:06
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    I have to give it to you for the detail. Thanks, that's really good.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Nov 5, 2011 at 10:31

There were several reasons:

1) The inhabitants of British North America were either "settlers" or descendants of settlers, which is to say that they were more entrepreneurial (and rebellious) than "natives" of other colonies. Amy Chua has published a book on how market dominant" groups tend to come from "outside" an area. More to the point, entrepreneurs are natural enemies of "red tape," and government regulations generally.

2) The "13 Colonies," did not have the experience of being conquered or defeated by Britain, unlike even Canada (taken from the French).

3) The inhabitants of British North America were of British descent, which is to say that they had the vicarious experience of the British fight for "rights" going back to the Magna Carta (1215) and Glorious Revolution (1689). Also the "Right of Man" of the European Enlightenment. British colonials in Africa and Asian didn't have these advantages. Also, Anglo-Americans enjoyed the weaponry and other technological advantages of the home country, and the ability to enlist the aid of France and other European countries in their war for independence.

4) North America was sparsely populated, providing an incentive for revolutionaries to break away and enjoy a much larger (physically) country under self-government. Other British colonies would merely return to the "status quo ante," which was not necessarily preferable to British rule. South American colonies rebelled against Spain and Portugal for similar reasons.

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    I don't think your answer explains why Canada stayed loyal to Britain. Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 13:40
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    Ditto Wladamir's comment 1 re Canada but applying to Australia.
    – Anne
    Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 11:09
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    What do you mean "natives" of other colonies? The native indians in india? The native australians in australia? The native irish in ireland? Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 9:49
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    @Rory: The majority of Australians were of British descent. That was not true for most people living in Ireland or India. All other things being equal, British colonies with large proportions of British-descended populations were more likely to gain independence.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 14:37
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    -1. [citation-needed] Lots of assertions little backing up the claims. Why would settlers be inherently more entrepreneurial/rebellious? Why did the experience of not being conquered matter? For 3 I have no idea why other British colonials would not also defend their rights as British subjects besides you telling me so.
    – Doug T.
    Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 13:57

In March of Folly, Barbara Tuchman lays out a pretty strong case that the American Revolution was caused mostly by stupdity on the part of the British Government.

In particular, they made policy on the American colonies from the start of their differences clear through to the end of the war entirely on the basis of base local political concerns (iow: how each decision would play emotionally to to their own constituents), without any regard whatsoever to what actual effect those policies were liable to produce in America. It is further her point (backed up with contemporary accounts) that anybody with half a brain at the time could see exactly where these policies would lead.

I think you could argue that a smarter policy might have only delayed the day when the colonies went their own way, but even so it might have been accomplished more amicably as well.

So it could well be that they mostly learned their lesson with the American Revolution, and thereafter dealt with their colonies better. Afterward, colonies that were ready for more autonomy were generally given it.

The best counter-example is India, but I think the problem there was that they didn't want the gravy train to end a moment before it had to.

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    As a side note, I read that book almost 20 years ago, and had real trouble believing politicians could be so horribly inept in the service of their country just for temporary personal political reasons, or worse yet, because they'd decided something was true and would not look at any evidence to the contrary. That was before the Iraq war. Today I think it needs a new chapter. :-(
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 15:48
  • Wow...while reading that I am thinking - YES that is exactly how it all comes across. Haven't seen this book but adding it to my list...
    – MichaelF
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 16:55
  • @MichaelF - I'll warn you going in, IMHO the book could be renamed "20-20 Hindsight". Also, I highly suspect her of cherry-picking only contemporary accounts that support her thesis. However, the bit about the American Revolution is a persepective most of us in the USA never see or think about, and should.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 18:27
  • Oh, I am well used to reading around cherry picked data, but there sounds like there are some interesting nuggets of info there. I like to get outside perspectives in history, usually all we ever get is one side and that is never enough. Thanks for the warning though
    – MichaelF
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 20:02

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