The American Revolution Was Just One Battlefront in a Huge World War

In the US, the American Revolution is taught as a David and Goliath story of a small ragtag army of colonists taking on the British Empire and winning our freedom. That's not wrong, but we did have a lot of help. You have to wonder why the French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were so interested in American independence. The answer is clearer when you pull the lens back to see the conflict on a global scale.

In a global context, the American Revolution was largely a war about trade and economic influence—not ideology. France and Spain, like Britain, were monarchies with even less fondness for democracy. The Dutch Republic was primarily interested in free trade. The leaders of all three countries wanted to increase their nations’ trade and economic authority, and to accomplish that, they were willing to go to war with their biggest competitor—Great Britain.

To the French, Spanish and Dutch governments, this was not a war about liberty: It was all about power and profit. If American colonists won their independence, that would cause harm to British interests and open new trade opportunities in North America and elsewhere for those who allied themselves with the colonists.

An exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, The American Revolution: A World War, looks at the American Revolution through the eyes of the other world powers of the time. Read an overview at Smithsonian. 

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Our brilliant forefathers were able to manipulate events, opinions and world leaders to create the greatest country. Just because it played into the hands of doomed despots does not mean we were part of their plan.
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After I moved to Santa Fe, I took an adult ed course in NM history. The teacher pointed out that some of the money Spain contributed to the revolution came special taxes which were collected in then Nuevo Mexico. The NM historian who dug up these documents went to the archives in Spain to find them. He started with "What do you have about the American Revolution?" Their response was, "which one?"
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