Great Britain's 13 original colonies in the New World conducted local and municipal elections that were open to white male property owners, but did not have official political parties. The fact that they had no federal representatives in England sparked the famous charge that the colonies were experiencing "taxation without representation." During the decade before the 1776 Declaration of Independence, however, subjects in the colonies began dividing into three factions that mirrored existing political divisions in England: neutralists, Tories and Whigs.
There is no precise estimate of how many colonial subjects supported each of the three political factions in the colonies. Historians say earlier estimates of roughly 33.3 percent support for each are incorrect. Less than 20 percent supported independence at first. But partly thanks to perseverance and the success of polemic like Thomas Paine's pamphlet "Common Sense," a substantial number of lukewarm supporters and outright opponents eventually came to support the cause.
Well over half of those in the colonies did not take sides for or against independence right away. These included pacifist sects like the Mennonites, Quakers, Moravians and German Baptists. One of the most famous and influential of these was Quaker William Penn of Pennsylvania. In addition to traditional pacifist commitments, some adherents -- like the Mennonites -- opposed swearing allegiance to any government body. Other neutralists included some working class white farmers who maintained small subsistence family farms far from sites of political agitation.
The second largest group, at about 20 percent, supported the Empire. These, known as Loyalists, identified themselves with Britain's conservative party, the Tories. This group was diverse; it consisted of recent immigrants from Britain, aristocratic families with close cultural ties to England and abolitionists and slaves. The abolitionists and their supporters were concerned about the potential expansion of slavery because of pro-slavery sentiments on the opposite side.
The Empire's opponents, the Patriots, were nervous about British interventionism in slavery -- and did use pro-slavery rhetoric to rally support. They supported armed revolution and identified with Britain's Whig party and Enlightenment political thought. The Whigs -- and their supporters in the colonies -- wanted broader suffrage rights and representation for themselves. Throughout the war, a combination of effective propaganda, violence against Loyalists and battle success brought many to their side.
- ushistory.org: Loyalists, Fence-sitters and Patriots
- learnnc.org: Which Side to Take - Revolutionary or Loyalist?
- apcentral.collegeboard.com: Loyalists and the American Revolution
- nationalhumanitiescenter.org: Loyalists I - Civil War
- nationalhumanitiescenter.org: Loyalists II - Traitor!
- nationalhumanitiescenter.org: Loyalists III - Join or Else
- nationalhumanitiescenter.org: Loyalists IV - Backcountry
- nationalhumanitiescenter.org: The Pacifists
- nationalhumanitiescenter.org: The Enslaved
- Perspectives on the American Revolution; Angelo Parra
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images