Some scholars have argued that economics and class conflicts caused the American Revolution. However, most experts now endorse the traditional theory that the Revolution was a political conflict, caused by irreconcilable differences about how the American colonies should be governed. By 1776, the British were committed to the view that Parliament must exercise unchallenged authority in all parts of the empire, including the power to tax Americans without their consent. Americans believed that they were entitled to certain fundamental rights, the “rights of Englishmen,” which put certain activities beyond the reach of any government. Inability to compromise on these ideas led in 1775 to an appeal to arms.
Because of the strong bands of law, loyalty, faith and blood uniting the two peoples, many Americans were surprised that a war against the British had occurred. Most Americans believed themselves to be as English as their kin in the mother country, differing from them only in living in another part of the empire. Even on the eve of declaring independence most Americans would have been happy with what is today called “dominion status,” which would have meant owing allegiance to the British monarch but otherwise enjoying political autonomy.
Since it began in 1775, the fighting was bloody. The Revolution, concluded by a preliminary peace treaty in the fall of 1782, was, after the Civil War, the costliest conflict in American history in terms of the proportion of the population killed in service. It was three times more lethal than World War II.
The brutality of the war convinced leading American statesmen such as George Mason (1725-1792) that enduring hostility would exist between Britain and America. Mason wrote in the autumn of 1778: “Enormities and cruelties have been committed here, which not only disgrace the British Name, but dishonor the human kind. We can never trust a People who have thus used us, Human Nature revolts at the idea.”
Although hostility remained after the war, many Americans continued following British ways as eagerly as ever. In the 1790s one of the two leading American political parties sought a “rapprochement” with Britain — a powerful testimony to the strength of what Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), in the Declaration of Independence, called the “ties of our common kindred.”
The pattern of early American imitation and absorption of British models and the gradual reversal of the process to a more reciprocal interrelationship also manifested itself in popular culture. After independence Americans continued to import British sports and games, transforming them in some instances — for example, turning rugby into football. British popular music maintained its ascendancy, as did British theater, particularly evident in the many performances of Shakespeare’s plays and Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas. The circus was another nineteenth-century British import that enjoyed enormous popularity in America.
By the mid nineteenth century, American inventions such as minstrel shows and, after the Civil War, Wild West shows gained a foothold in Britain. These entertainments paved the way for the popularity after World War I of American popular music — jazz and the blues — and of American motion pictures. American influence in areas of mass popular entertainment increased after World War II and led some observers, who also noted the influx of many features of American consumerism — such as fast food, supermarkets, and household appliances — to comment, sometimes negatively, on the “Americanization” of Britain.
In the 1950s, American rock and roll music was imitated by British groups, who then refined it and, in the view of some, improved it. In the 1960s, they exported their version to the United States with such success that American commentators spoke of a “British invasion,” led by groups including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Along with the music came British fashions, such as the miniskirt, longer hairstyles for men, and the “Twiggy” look.
At the end of the twentieth century, British performers continued to be much in evidence on the American stage and screen. British programs are hits on American public television. American interest in British celebrities, including the Royal Family, remains high. Meanwhile, most British towns have McDonald’s and Pizza Huts as well as American-style traffic jams. Mutual imitation and innovation, most conspicuously in music, continues at a dizzying pace.