Calls for armed revolt from British rule began when the crown imposed a series of taxes on North American colonists, who had no representation in Parliament. American patriots fought the British for independence from 1775 through 1783. Alliances with established European powers eager to weaken Great Britain helped the patriots win the war, giving birth to the United States of America.
The Role of Native Americans
When hostilities broke out in the colonies, many Native American nations sided with the British while others, such as the Oneidas and the Tuscaroras, supported the patriot cause. Ultimately, most Native Americans were motivated by their desire to protect their own homelands, and leaned toward whichever force they believed would recognize their claims. For example, the Mohawks, Cayugas, Onondagas and Senecas sided with Great Britain, believing continued British rule would halt western expansion of the colonies. When the United States won its independence with the 1783 Peace of Paris, however, Great Britain ignored its Native American allies, giving the fledgling American state all territory east of the Mississippi River, south of the Great Lakes and north of Florida.
The extensive training of the British military made soldiers expensive to replace, and as the war in the colonies continued, Great Britain started having a serious shortage of manpower. When tinkering with enlistment ages and service terms failed to meet the demand, the country hired 30,000 German troops to make up the difference. Germany wasn't a unified state at the time, and these soldiers were referred to as "Hessians" because they came primarily from the German state of Hesse-Cassel. German involvement in the American Revolution wasn't the result of a formal treaty. Rather, the British government rented the soldiers by paying money to the German state -- an amount roughly equivalent to 13 years' of tax revenue.
Treaty with France
The only formal alliance of the Revolutionary War involving either the American colonists or the British was the Treaty of Alliance and of Amity and Commerce between the Americans and France. Through the treaty, France recognized American independence and granted the country preferential treatment in trade. The treaty turned what had essentially been a civil war into an international conflict, with France providing both infantry and naval assistance to the American patriots. France saw the opportunity to avenge itself for losses suffered at the hands of the British during the Seven Years' War, and hoped the war would weaken Great Britain's power in Europe. When Great Britain surrendered to George Washington's forces in 1781, the victory was due in no small part to the assistance of the French army.
A European Affair
In 1779, Spain formed an alliance with France through the Treaty of Aranjuez and declared war on Great Britain. Although Spain never had a formal alliance with the Americans, they entered the Revolutionary War as an ally of France. Spain had territorial interests in North America and the Caribbean, and by the end of the Revolutionary War had captured Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. When the war officially ended with the Peace of Paris in 1783, Great Britain signed separate peace accords with France and Spain. In 1780, Great Britain also declared war on Holland, citing continued trade between Dutch privateers and the colonists. The Dutch provided financial assistance and naval support to the revolutionary cause, although there was never a formal treaty.
- History.com: American Revolution
- The Historical Atlas of the American Revolution; Ian Barnes
- History.com: Spain Declares War Against Great Britain
- U.S. Department of the Interior National Parks Service: The American Revolution -- American Indians and the American Revolution
- George Washington's Mount Vernon: Hessians
- The Everything American Revolution Book; Daniel P. Murphy
- Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images