Making the Revolution: America, 1763–1791 | National Humanities Center

Primary Source Guides

Making the Revolution: America, 1763–1791

Made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Image of the first page of the Constitution of the United States
The Constitution of the United States.

Making the Revolution: America, 1763–1791” is an open educational resource that delves into the transformative period of American history spanning from 1763 to 1791. This primary source guide is organized into five sub-topics and each section contains a vast collection of primary source materials including historical documents, literary texts, and works of art which have been contextualized with annotations and notes, and feature a set of discussion questions for classroom use.

Crisis, 1763–1775

  • Explores the factors that shifted many Americans from loyal British subjects to rebellious Patriots.
  • Examines the reasons behind the loyalty of some Americans to Great Britain and their opposition to rebellion.
  • Investigates how Patriots and Loyalists conveyed their viewpoints through contemporary media outlets.
  • Contemplates the inevitability of the American Revolution and the existence of a “point of no return.”

Rebellion, 1775–1776

  • Examines the various rebellions and internal conflicts that occurred within the colonies as the Revolutionary War approached in the mid-1770s.
  • Analyzes how colonists expressed and debated differing opinions and dealt with political opponents.
  • Considers the fading of moderate voices from the political arena and the factors that led Americans to support or oppose independence.

War, 1775–1783

  • Investigates how Patriot leadership, across military, diplomatic, and governmental realms, influenced both the promotion and hindrance of the war effort.
  • Explores the effects of the war on various groups, including Patriots, Loyalists, Native Americans, African Americans, and women, and the resultant changes in power dynamics.
  • Highlights the pivotal decisions made by Britain and France and their impact on the war's outcome.
  • Questions whether victory marked the last achievement of the thirteen colonies or the first achievement of the new nation.

Independence, 1783–1791

  • Explores how Americans envisioned independence and the idea of nationhood in the immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War.
  • Examines the process of constructing a national identity distinct from their colonial identity as British subjects.
  • Considers the challenges faced by the new nation in its early years, akin to a “child just learning to walk.”

Constitution, 1787–1791

  • Traces the evolution of Americans' concept of self-governance from 1776 to 1789 and the factors driving this change.
  • Explores how the emerging national identity influenced this process.
  • Examines the divisions in political ideology that emerged during this period and their role in shaping the final Constitution and Bill of Rights.
  • Reflects on how the Constitution and the Bill of Rights embody the ideals of the American Revolution.

This educational resource provides a comprehensive exploration of the tumultuous events, intellectual shifts, and social changes that characterized the American Revolution and the subsequent establishment of the United States as a nation. It invites readers to consider the complex dynamics and profound questions that defined this pivotal period in American history.

Institute Scholars
  • Alan Taylor (NHC Fellow, 1993–94)
  • Margaretta Lovell (Professor of the History of Art, University of California, Berkeley)
  • David Shields (McClintock Professor of Southern Letters, University of South Carolina)
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History / American History / American Revolution / Confederation Period / United States of America /


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