The Significance of the American Revolution
Or perhaps it was 'only' a rebellion.
But a rebellion was a "Big Thing" in the 18th century, and according to Walter McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner, this rebellion was especially significant for Americans by "making them aware of the 'new men' they had become":
Americans ceased to behave and self-consciously started to act. (312)
What does this mean? Think of "behave" in the sense that a behavioral psychologist might use the term: conditioned behavior. Or in the sense that parents use in telling their children: "Behave yourself!" With the great rebellion, Americans stopped behaving and started self-consciously acting up -- or acting out a new role as citizens of a republic rather than subjects in a monarchy.
What was different about Americans, compared to Europeans? Several things:
American sons and daughters increasingly left their homes and hometowns, married whom they pleased, changed churches, and chose their own trades. Americans as a whole rebelled against the metaphor of a "mother country" nurturing her colonial children. The men of 1776 were in most cases the first of their families to obtain a college education, wealth, or social prestige. They imagined something Europeans considered outrageous and, in their settings, impossible: that every man might aspire to education, wealth, prestige, and power. Just as shocking was the founding Americans' concept of virtue. To be sure, their views of human nature were derivative, but they carried into practice the astounding proposition that what others damned as sin or vice might "have the virtue" of enriching lives, expanding liberty, and fostering the pursuit of happiness. Commerce was "next to religion in humanizing mankind" . . . [and] Americans craved equal opportunity, equal rights, and a broadly expanded franchise. (311)
In other words, Americans differed from Europeans in demanding the freedom to choose their own lives as individuals in a democratic republic whose legitimacy was based on the concept and practice of equality before the law and whose expansion was based on commerce as a source of power and prestige.
Not everybody benefited from these things. American women were freer than European women but still derived most of their advantages through their husbands and sons, American Indians lost out as white Americans took more and more land without the restrictions imposed by the British crown, and African Americans gained nothing from the new system beyond the dubious 'distinction' that each African-American male had come to possess through being worth 3/5 of a man.
Yet, this new political system contained this seeds of greater liberty and justice for all.