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Patriot (American Revolution)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Spirit of '76 (originally entitled Yankee Doodle), painted by Archibald Willard in the late nineteenth century, an iconic image relating to the patriotic sentiment surrounding the American Revolutionary War
The Spirit of '76 (originally entitled Yankee Doodle), painted by Archibald Willard in the late nineteenth century, an iconic image relating to the patriotic sentiment surrounding the American Revolutionary War

Patriots (also known as Revolutionaries, Continentals, Rebels, or American Whigs) were those colonists of the Thirteen Colonies who rejected British rule during the American Revolution and declared the United States of America as an independent nation in July 1776. Their decision was based on the political philosophy of republicanism as expressed by spokesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. They were opposed by the Loyalists who supported continued British rule.

Patriots represented the spectrum of social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. They included lawyers such as John Adams, students such as Alexander Hamilton, planters such as Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, merchants such as Alexander McDougall and John Hancock, and farmers such as Daniel Shays and Joseph Plumb Martin. They also included slaves and freemen such as Crispus Attucks, the first martyr of the American Revolution; James Armistead Lafayette, who served as a double agent for the Continental Army; and Jack Sisson, leader of the first successful black operation mission in American history under the command of Colonel William Barton, resulting in the capture of British General Richard Prescott.

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  • ✪ History Brief: Patriots and Loyalists
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  • ✪ Tea, Taxes, and The American Revolution: Crash Course World History #28


In late May of 1775, news of the battles at Lexington and Concord reached London. When George III was told of the defeat at Concord, he called his undersecretary a liar and claimed victory. He knew this meant war. One of the King's quotes, "I am not sorry that blows must decide." In the American colonies, public opinions on a war with the mother country were divided. In some areas, a civil war-like atmosphere ensued in which families were often split. Those who supported the war against George III and Britain were given the name Patriots. Patriots came from a wide array of social and economic backgrounds. Lawyers such as John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, planters like Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, merchants, farmers, and ordinary citizens all helped to bolster the rebellion. Many Patriots were active before the war in the Sons of Liberty or similar groups. The most prominent leaders of the Patriots included wealthy men such as John Hancock, well-educated individuals like Benjamin Franklin, and political activists such as Samuel Adams. Consensus among historians is that around 45 percent of the white colonists supported the Patriots' cause. Opposing the efforts of the Patriots were Loyalists who supported the British Monarchy. They were commonly referred to as Tories, and the largest numbers of Loyalists were found in the colonies of New York and New Jersey. Loyalists also made up a substantial portion of the population in North and South Carolina where royal governors there attempted to recruit people to their side. In the South Carolina backcountry where many Scottish immigrants lived, larger numbers of men fought for the British than for the Patriots. Loyalists in these areas tended to be older and wealthier, but many chose to side with the king for reasons other than loyalty or fear of losing fortunes if trade markets were threatened. Many active Church of England (Anglican) members remained Loyalists throughout the war's entirety. By the summer of 1776, Patriots controlled most of the territory in the American colonies, and Royal officials were removed from power. Loyalists in the South were persecuted by local Patriots. Property was confiscated, and outspoken supporters of the king were threatened with public humiliation or physical attack. Some Loyalists around the colonies who actively aided the British were even executed. At the end of the war, about 20% of the Loyalists fled to areas that remained in the British Empire, especially Canada. The exit of so many royal officials, wealthy merchants, and land owners had a profound impact on many colonies. However, the vast majority of Loyalists stayed in the colonies and became citizens of the new republic. Historians have estimated that around 20 percent of the 2.5 million whites in the colonies were Loyalists, accounting for around 500,000 people.



The critics of British rule called themselves "Whigs" after 1768, identifying with members of the British Whig party who favored similar colonial policies. In Britain at the time, the word "patriot" had a negative connotation and was used as a negative epithet for "a factious disturber of the government", according to Samuel Johnson.[1]

Prior to the Revolution, colonists who supported British authority called themselves Tories or royalists, identifying with the political philosophy of traditionalist conservatism dominant in Great Britain. During the Revolution, these persons became known primarily as Loyalists. Afterward, many emigrated north to the remaining British territories in Canada. There they called themselves the United Empire Loyalists.


Many Patriots were active before 1775 in groups such as the Sons of Liberty, and the most prominent leaders are referred to today by Americans as the Founding Fathers. They represented a cross-section of the population of the Thirteen Colonies and came from many different backgrounds. According to Robert Calhoon, between 40 and 45 percent of the white population in the Thirteen Colonies supported the Patriots' cause, between 15 and 20 percent supported the Loyalists, and the remainder were neutral or kept a low profile.[2] The great majority of the Loyalists remained in America, while the minority went to Canada, Britain, Florida, or the West Indies.[3]


Historians have explored the motivations that pulled men to one side or the other.[4] Yale historian Leonard Woods Labaree used the published and unpublished writings and letters of leading men on each side, searching for how personality shaped their choice. He finds eight characteristics that differentiated the two groups. Loyalists were older, better established, and more likely to resist innovation than the Patriots. Loyalists felt that the Crown was the legitimate government and resistance to it was morally wrong, while the Patriots felt that morality was on their side because the British government had violated the constitutional rights of Englishmen. Men who were alienated by physical attacks on Royal officials took the Loyalist position, while those who were offended by heavy-handed British rule became Patriots. Merchants in the port cities with long-standing financial attachments to the British Empire were likely to remain loyal to the system, while few Patriots were so deeply enmeshed in the system. Some Loyalists, according to Labaree, were "procrastinators" who believed that independence was bound to come some day, but wanted to "postpone the moment", while the Patriots wanted to "seize the moment". Loyalists were cautious and afraid of anarchy or tyranny that might come from mob rule; Patriots made a systematic effort to take a stand against the British. Finally, Labaree argues that Loyalists were pessimists who lacked the Patriots' confidence that independence lay ahead.[5][6]

No taxation without representation

The Patriots rejected taxes imposed by legislatures in which the taxpayer was not represented. "No taxation without representation" was their slogan, referring to the lack of representation in the British Parliament. The British countered that there was "virtual representation" in the sense that all members of Parliament represented the interests of all the citizens of the British Empire. Some Patriots declared that they were loyal to the king, but they insisted that they should be free to run their own affairs. In fact, they had been running their own affairs since the period of "salutary neglect" before the French and Indian War. Some radical Patriots tarred and feathered tax collectors and customs officers, making those positions dangerous; according to Benjamin Irvin, the practice was especially prevalent in Boston where many Patriots lived.[7]

List of prominent Patriots

Most of the individuals listed below served the American Revolution in multiple capacities.

Statesmen and office holders

Businessmen and writers

Military officers

African-American Patriots


  1. ^ "Patriot" in Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed. online 2011). accessed 19 December 2011.
  2. ^ Robert M. Calhoon, "Loyalism and neutrality" in Jack P. Greene; J. R. Pole (2008). A Companion to the American Revolution. John Wiley & Sons. p. 235.
  3. ^ Thomas B. Allen, Tories: Fighting for the King in America's First Civil War (2011) p. xviii
  4. ^ On Patriots see Edwin G. Burrows and Michael Wallace, "The American Revolution: The Ideology and Psychology of National Liberation," Perspectives in American History, (1972) vol. 6 pp. 167–306
  5. ^ Leonard Woods Labaree, Conservatism in Early American History (1948) pp. 164–65
  6. ^ See also N. E. H. Hull, Peter C. Hoffer and Steven L. Allen, "Choosing Sides: A Quantitative Study of the Personality Determinants of Loyalist and Revolutionary Political Affiliation in New York," Journal of American History, 65#2 (1978), pp. 344–66 in JSTOR
  7. ^ Benjamin H. Irvin, "Tar and Feathers in Revolutionary America," (2003) Archived 2010-06-18 at the Wayback Machine


  • Ellis, Joseph J. . Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (2002), Pulitzer Prize
  • Kann, Mark E.; The Gendering of American Politics: Founding Mothers, Founding Fathers, and Political Patriarchy, (1999) online version
  • Middlekauff, Robert; The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (2005) online version
  • Miller, John C. Origins of the American Revolution. (1943) online version
  • Miller, John C. Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783, (1948) online version
  • Previdi, Robert; "Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America," Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 29, 1999
  • Rakove, Jack. Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America (2010) excerpt and text search
  • Raphael, Ray. A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence (2002)
  • Roberts, Cokie. Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation (2005)
This page was last edited on 5 April 2019, at 03:18
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