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What is a Revolutionary War?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Numerous nations have achieved independence through a revolutionary war, and residents of each will inform you that their revolutionary war is “The Revolutionary War.” Revolution is a time-honored method of achieving freedom from colonial nations or oppressive governments, and some nations in fact seem to enjoy it so much that they have experienced several revolutions and periods of political uncertainty.

Listing every revolutionary war in history would require quite a long time, but some revolutions are particularly worthy of note, for a variety of reasons. Some were remarkable for their time, serving as an inspiration and a model for other nations, while others reflected ongoing turmoil and arguments about the nature and the role of government. Many 19th and 20th century civil wars involved a violent rejection of monarchies, for example, with citizens fighting for democratic government rather than hereditary rule.

One of the earliest recorded instances of revolution occurred in 615 BCE, when the Babylonians revolted against the Assyrians. The Roman Empire also struggled with a number of revolutionary uprisings as it expanded across Europe and parts of the Middle East and the native people rebelled. In some cases, these rebellions were put down quite brutally, as in the base of Boudica's Rebellion, setting the stage for simmering resentments which erupted explosively later.

More recent examples of revolutionary war include the 1566-1648 80 Years War between Spain and the Low Countries, along with the 1642-1653 British Revolutionary War, which ended in the restoration of the Monarchy. The American War of Independence from 1774-1783 inspired a number of nations struggling under colonialism, including Mexico, which won independence in 1821, and the Philippines, which revolted against Spain between 1896-1898.

The French Revolution, from 1792-1802, marked a transition from a monarchy to a democratic government. In 1908, the Young Turks in Turkey forced a restoration of democracy, while revolutionaries in Russian in 1917 overthrew the Tsar with the October Revolution, which ushered in a Communist government. India's long war for independence, which relied heavily on nonviolent and political tactics, lasted from 1916-1947, and the Cuban Revolution from 1956-1959 brought Fidel Castro to power.

Another notable series of revolutions occurred in 1989, when members of the Eastern Bloc nations revolted against the centralized Russian government and established their independence. The 1990s was also marked with a series of convulsive revolutionary and civil wars in Africa as nations fought for independence and attempted to establish governments.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By sammyG — On Dec 03, 2010

When I think of what a revolutionary war is obviously think of America. But to many, the idea and concept of a Revolutionary war is not so glamorous nor freedom bringing to the people that live within that country's walls and confines. It is sad to think that there've been many revolutions in our history of civilization that were both unjust and very bloody. Sometimes we call these wars civil wars. But just because this label makes a difference in the way that we say the word, doesn't mean that the situations that were occurring within the region were any different than what a revolutionary war is.

A good example of this is the Civil War within the United States during the 1860s. It was these very bloody years spent fighting amongst the brothers within the United States that is a good example of an uprising from the south that wish to secede from the union. To the people who are fighting in the south, they were fighting for their own way of life. While personally I am glad with the outcome of that war, there were many who felt disenfranchised from the union and have never been the same sense. These legacies are passed through generations and animosity builds up to the point where we have states in the South but still want to fly the Confederate flag above their capitals. This can give you some sense of just how sensitive these issues of revolution can be even within the confines of what we define as the Civil War.

By jeancastle00 — On Dec 02, 2010

I think one of the most interesting parts of the world that is experiencing a significant amount of Revolutionary war acts within the recent history is South America. In the past 50 years alone, we have seen dictators and fascists come to power in fall over and over again. Currently, the move toward socialist states in the area of South America is significant.

These sweeping and why political changes are significant not only to the regions citizens but also to the rest of the world. Many natural resources come from South America and because of this we must be careful in not only our intervention in these revolutions but also in the way that we act to the rebellions that occur. Two metal within the international affairs of these South American countries is similar to the way that old colonial countries and empires would influence their overseas property.

As with any major event in history, we must be careful to take the steps needed to ensure that the loss of blood among people and humans is minimized. Obviously there are just reasons for revolution, but the truths and facts must be known before one can make these decisions.

By GraniteChief — On Dec 01, 2010

@IceCarver, While I agree with you that our own revolution here in the United States was absolutely necessary for us to create the greatness that is now America, I don't think that every revolution is I either needed or just. We must in fact base these judgments on the actual facts and knowledge that we have of a certain situation.

Many times in history there've been uprisings and rebellions in attempts to create a revolution that have not been just and actually were undertaken by an evil mean or people. It is important that we have and continue to have strong publications and news outlets to ensure that the proper information reaches our citizens. Only when the mass public has the actual truth of what is going on in events and politics, will they be able to decide for themselves if a given revolution is actually valid and just. Once these individuals citizens realize that the revolution is just they can then make the individual decision to decide whether or not to participate.

Sometimes the word revolution is also taken for granted. Do we really need an armed revolution or rebellion to be able to overturn a political scheme that we do not agree with? I don't think this is always the case and in fact whenever we have elections we are in fact having a revolution. It's a nonlethal and harmless way to be able to decide on whether or not you agree with the politics of the status quo.

By IceCarver — On Nov 28, 2010

I can only imagine what it is like to live in a time of a Revolutionary war. Think about what it was like to be a citizen of the colonies when the American Revolutionary war happened. The intense emotional feelings that must come up with inside of people are something that you can only experience if you are in that moment of history. I wonder what it was like for mothers and fathers to think where their children will be in 20 years. How will they survive, how will they be able to make do with pay rent or buy their home if the future of their country is uncertain.

The bloodshed and hurt and pain that comes from any war is horrible, but at least in the Revolutionary war, there is some validity behind the notion of why the war is happening. Generally speaking, Revolutionary war causes are usually just or at least based on some discontent of the citizens and the mass public. Just as in our Revolutionary war here in the United States, we were upset with the rule of the King and Queen without representation from our colonies. It was enough for us to decide that bloodshed was necessary to regain our freedoms that we held self-evident. Looking back now it is obvious to us that the efforts made by our forefathers to create our own nation were worth it. But it does sadden me to think about the many nations that tried to have a revolution and were never able to.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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