Comparing the Two Sides

British Specific Strength and Weakness

Repeatedly, the British seem to fail because they don’t think through how their actions will look to others or how the enemy may act in innovative ways. Bottom line: It is a strength to have a self-righteous enemy.




Experienced, trained army

Able to field an army with little preparation

Also have lack of discipline at the level of General Howe (1777+)

Experienced, trained naval force

Able to shut off Patriot shipping and their supplies.

The greatest navy in the world.

Face battles inland

Need for soldiers in the region

Able to pay mercenaries (the Hessians)

Enrage the citizens (This became one of the charges in the Declaration of Independence.)


Recruit African slaves with promise of freedom

Enrage or frighten the Southerners, who the British thought were their best allies

Patriot Specific Strength and Weaknesses





Personal commitment to battle to defend own homeland

Citizen-soldiers have short-term enlistments, are untrained and undisciplined, and may never have faced combat (and both risk to life and pain of taking life) before


Loans and gifts from foreign nations, primarily from those nations that hated Britain, and it is French support that brings in the other allies

Continental Congress with authority only to issue paper money and borrow. It will not be able to pay its own soldiers or even feed them well. The troops are dependent on France for gunpowder, but French support does not come until 1777 with the battle of Saratoga.

Government in foreign relations

Benjamin Franklin as a person able to persuade the French

The 13 states are obviously vulnerable.

Government in general


The Articles of Confederation create a weak organization of virtually sovereign states. The centralized effort is primarily with the army itself.


It cannot:

§  Draft troops

§  Tax

§  Control trade


French navy

There is no navy.


General Comparisons of the British and Patriot Vulnerabilities and Strengths

The first two rows cover issues detailed in the prior tables; the last two rows cover larger issues that reveal the interconnections between weakness and strengths of opponents, especially in a civil war and a guerrilla war.





Face 1500 miles of coast, distant supply lines, and difficulties with supply inland.

Fight on familiar and home land. Can fight and then quickly look like innocent civilians.

Power, relative

Have the power of a great nation.

Have the allies (initially secretly) of those who hate a great nation that has previously defeated them. Patriots received aid from such nations as France, Spain, and the Netherlands.

Public position

Are stopping a rebellion of those who want their own nation.

Are fighting for the goals in the Declaration of Independence, the type of goals that lead men like the Marquis de Lafayette to volunteer.

Requirement for victory

Must force the Patriot army or the people to quit fighting. (To force a civilian population to surrender may lead to hatreds of multiple generations.)

Must avoid having the army be wiped out. (They can retreat for a long time if needed.)

How Does It End?

The Peace

Pat. negotiators are Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay. Treaty (Preliminary peace in November)—separate negotiation with Britain (Spain wanted Gibraltar); Franklin keeps peace with Vergennes.


The peace terms included:

  • Recognition of the independence of the U.S.
  • Territory from Canada to Florida and the Atlantic to the Mississippi (although the Br. did not rapidly leave the territories)
  • Recommendation to the States of restoration of Loyalists’ rights and property (although the American States did not)

The New Nation

  • Loyalists leave. 100,000 leave for Europe or Canada because of the animosities (An estimated 1/5 to 1/3 of the colonists are Loyalists.)
  • The blacks recruited to this and other service had a mixed fate. Some were sold into slavery; some were settled in Nova Scotia by the British; and some migrated to Sierra Leone (West Africa).
  • Religion, which had been a key factor since the 1600s, changed. The Anglican Church was no longer an established church, financially subsidized by the government; it reformed as an independent Protestant Episcopal Church after the Revolution. Quakers, with their pacifist position, were weakened, but those supporting the Patriot cause–the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists, and somewhat the Catholics–were strengthened.
  • The economy was vulnerable. Both states and the national government had large war debts. The new nation entered a three-year recession. Some new trading patterns were established with China and with other previously restricted regions.
  • The governmental structure—the Articles of Confederation—was vulnerable.



Copyright C. J. Bibus, Ed.D. 2003-2020


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