12.5 The American Revolution

By the 1770s, Britain was a major power in Europe with territories around the globe. Although upheavals in the 1600s had created a limited monarchy, a new king was eager to recover powers the crown had lost.

Illustration of a port outside of a city, showing a variety of ship types and sizes sailing into the harbor.

England had a vast trading network that included its thirteen North American colonies. This image shows the busy port of Charleston, South Carolina.


  • Describe how Britain became a global power.
  • Understand the events and ideas leading up to the American Revolution, including the impact of the Enlightenment.
  • Summarize key events of the American Revolution.
  • Identify the political and legal ideas in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

Key Terms

  • George III
  • Stamp Act
  • George Washington
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • popular sovereignty
  • Yorktown, Virginia
  • Treaty of Paris
  • James Madison
  • federal republic
  • checks and balances

Britain Becomes a Global Power

Trade and Commerce

Britain's rise to global prominence had multiple causes. England's location and long seagoing tradition placed it in a position to build a vast trading network. By the 1600s, England had trading outposts and colonies in the West Indies, North America, and India. A new merchant class expanded trade and competed vigorously with Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch traders.

During the 1700s, thousands of settlers sailed to North America to build colonies. At the same time, British merchants expanded into the profitable slave trade, carrying enslaved people from West Africa to the Americas.

Britain's economic policies added to its prosperity. England offered a climate favorable to business and commerce. It put fewer restrictions on trade than some of its neighbors, such as France.

Territorial Expansion

In the 1700s, Britain was generally on the winning side in European conflicts. In the Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession, France gave Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to Britain. As a result of the French and Indian War, Britain gained all of French Canada, as well as rich islands in the Caribbean in 1763.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments