The American Revolution had international consequences that went beyond spreading the ideas of democratic republicanism. Indeed, Jasanoff persuasively contends that “the 1780s stand out as the most eventful single decade in British imperial history up to the 1940s.” What she calls the “spirit of 1783” that emerged out of the peace treaty with America animated the renewed British Empire well into the twentieth century. Ultimately, she says, it had more worldwide significance than the “spirit of 1776.” This “‘spirit of 1783’…provided a model of liberal constitutional empire that stood out as a vital alternative to the democratic republics taking shape [in this period] in the United States, France, and Latin America.”
The events of the 1780s created an enduring framework for the spread of the principles of British centralized hierarchy and liberal humanitarianism to the farthest reaches of the globe. It was Britain that defeated Napoleon and stood for ordered liberalism against the reactionary forces of the Holy Alliance. It was Britain that backed up the Monroe Doctrine and prevented conservative Europe from reconquering the New World. It was Britain that led the world in the abolition of slavery. And it was British ships that scoured the seas and enforced the ban on the international slave trade. According to Jasanoff, the loyalist exiles played an important part in this nineteenth-century expansion of the liberal British Empire, a worldwide expansion that more than compensated for the loss of the North American colonies. It was even an American loyalist, James Mario Matra, who put forward the first serious proposal to colonize Australia.
The loyalists were the losers in what was clearly a civil war. Americans have been generally reluctant to admit it was bloody fratricidal conflict. At least a fifth and maybe as many as a third of the two and a half million British colonists in 1776 opposed the break from Great Britain. They suffered greatly for their loyalty to the king—their property was confiscated and they were intimidated by mobs, tarred and feathered, and assaulted and brutalized to a degree not often described by American historians. At least 19,000 of them joined provincial regiments to fight their fellow Americans in the long and bloody war.
At the same time the Revolution also divided the native peoples. While the Mohawks, for example, sided with the British, the Oneida Indians joined the American rebels, and in the end both Indian nations suffered. The white loyalists were not the only losers. About 20,000 black slaves, including almost two dozen belonging to the author of the Declaration of Independence, fled to the British lines with the promise of freedom, resulting, writes Jasanoff, in “the largest emancipation of North American slaves until the U.S. Civil War.”
By the end of the conflict in 1783 tens of thousands of loyalists and slaves had moved for safety to New York and other cities dominated by British troops. Of these about 60,000 chose to leave the United States along with the 35,000 British and Hessian soldiers.