U.S. History/war for America


Hello, My questions is as follows; How popular was the fight for independence among the colonists? What accounts for their positions regarding whether to be a patriot, loyalists, or not take a side?

Thank you for any help offered. I have been stuck on this one for a bit now.


Hi Jeanette,

As you might guess, people's positions changed over time, at least publicly.  Shortly before the war, John Adams estimated that about 1/3 of the population supported independence, 1/3 opposed it, and 1/3 went along with whatever side they thought would win.  Obviously those are very rough estimates in a time before polling or any real measures of public opinion.

Generally speaking, before the war started, most people did not think independence was realistic against the world's greatest super power.  The also feared the potential chaos and lawlessness that might ensue if British authority was overthrown.  The greatest push for Independence came from Massachusetts and Connecticut where violent clashes had been going on for some time.

Independence took on much more popularity in the spring of 1776 when the British were forced to leave Boston and move to Canada.  At that point, there was no significant military presence in any of the Colonies.  Many Colonists saw victory as possible and even rather easy.  This changed quickly when the British invaded New York a few months later.  So which side appeared to be winning had a big impact on how many people supported which side.

Loyalists tended to be more numerous in the middle colonies and the South.  But even many southerners, especially Virginians, supported Independence.

Loyalists tended to think that life was pretty good under British control.  Even if they did not agree with every policy, Loyalists feared the anarchy that would occur without an established government, as well as the possible danger of invasion by other powers, particularly France or Spain.  

Patriots primarily feared that British abuse would only continue to get worse.  The looked at the ways England had treated earlier areas, such as Ireland and Scotland, where they sucked out most of the wealth over time and left the people dependent and impoverished.  With no political power, the American colonies could easily suffer the same fate.  They believed the colonies had become a powerful force in their own right.

Exactly what pushed some groups one way or the other varied greatly.  For some it was religion.  For others it was family.  In some regions, one group would join one side just because another rival group had joined the other side.

In short, there were a great many reasons for individual choices.

I hope this helps!
- Mike

U.S. History

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Michael Troy


I can answer just about any question on early American History. My specialties are the American Revolution through the Civil War/Reconstruction. I also have greater expertise in matters relating to military, political or legal history.


I have lectured at George Washington University regarding the Civil War, as well as several elementary school Civil War demonstrations. I was also a member of a Civil War reenactment group for about 10 years.


J.D. University of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

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Truman Scholar

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