The War of American Independence, 1763-1783: Falling Dominoes


April 8, 2024
by Timothy Symington Also by this Author


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BOOK REVIEW: The War of American Independence, 1763-1783: Falling Dominoes by Stanley D. M. Carpenter, Kevin J. Delamer, James R. McIntyre and Andrew T. Zwilling (New York, NY: Routledge, 2023)

The War of American Independence, 1763-1783: Falling Dominoes is the latest addition to Routledge’s War and History series, and it is being marketed primarily as a textbook on the history of the Revolution. The purpose is succinct right from the get-go: “provide a concise, highly readable study of the War of American Independence that students of history from high school through post-graduate education will find useful and instructive.” (page, xii) The group of authors who have contributed to this study have indeed provided a book that is easy to follow and presents the world-changing events that occurred over a twenty-year span in a clear narrative. The use of the term “Falling Dominoes” in the title makes it evident throughout the book that the events in North America were not isolated to that continent. The war affected many people and situations in other parts of the planet. The best way to explain the use of falling dominoes analogy can be taken from the book’s segment on Pontiac’s War:

Pontiac’s War is often portrayed as the watershed event that created concern about the cost of maintaining an army in the colonies. As the narrative goes, that expense precipitated the parliamentary decision to levy taxes, which in turn sparked the rebellion. Like a series of dominoes falling one after another, each event was a link in a chain of events. Rather than a singular path, a network of interconnected incidents influenced the growing dissension in the colonies. (p. 29)

This description can be applied to practically all the major events of the Revolutionary War – the line leading to consequences was not straight or simple. Many factors were involved every step of the way.

The starting point in Part I: “Blowing the Matches” is the Seven Years War, or the French and Indian War as many people refer to it. Great Britain’s relationship with many global powers is explained, and the victory over the French in 1763 led to the problem of taxation policies in the North American colonies. The destruction of tea in Boston at the end of 1773 was just like blowing on a fire, fanning the flames to the volatile conditions. The second chapter, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” covers the start of the conflict at Lexington and Concord and goes through the siege of Boston, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the failed invasion of Canada. Chapter 3, “High Water Mark,” continues with the British plans to win the war by taking New York. Just when the situation seemed hopeless for the Americans under their commander, George Washington, victory came at Princeton at the end of 1776. It must be pointed out that the story of the Declaration of Independence is not part of this book.

Part II: “Stalemate in the Middle” and Part III: “Southern Gambit” briefly describe the occupation of Philadelphia, the winter at Valley Forge, and the war in the southern colonies. The French are a force the British had to contend with by this point. Part IV:0” A Measure of the Utmost Importance” takes the reader out of the land campaign and focuses on the naval war, including privateers and British operations. The eleventh chapter, “A Global War,” reinforces the understanding that the Revolution was not simply a North American war. The British had to fight in North America, the English Channel, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean. Chapter twelve, “War Termination,” examines the deals that were negotiated in Paris to secure a successful peace treaty.

The War of American Independence, 1763-1783: Falling Dominoes is surely a book that all scholars and students of the American Revolution should have on their bookshelves. It is an excellent resource text. Its brevity and concise narrative succeed in making the book useful and instructive. Job well-done!

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One thought on “The War of American Independence, 1763-1783: Falling Dominoes

  • From your review, the naval and military professors produced an excellent primer on the American Revolution, which is great.

    One aspect gives me a bit of a pause. Portraying the Revolution as falling dominoes might lead to historical fallacies and oversimplification. First, the Cold War’s domino theory, the conversion of one country to communism, leading to others, engendering a cascade of Marxist takeovers, was a concept fraught with issues. History has proved this theory overly simplistic and simply wrong. Concerning the American Revolution, the domino theory does not explain why some colonies revolted while others remained loyal. In particular, the domino effect did not lead to Canada joining the Rebels.

    Additionally, using a theory to look backwards can lead to improper, overly deterministic views. Looking forward as the Revolutionary events unfolded, founders were uncertain about the revolt’s outcome, with many, such as Benjamin Franklin, opining that its new country might not last. During the conflict’s ups and downs, the outcome was far from determined, and the result could have been significantly different with slight changes in circumstances at critical points. For example, Pontiac’s Rebellion might have led the British to institute colonial taxes, but that did not cause Canada to revolt. And the failure to conquer Canada did not lead to the Rebellion’s demise.

    I am cautious about employing a modern term to explain past events, especially when the term’s implications have been debunked and are offered from a backwards-looking determinist point of view. Perhaps the authors found a domino reference by a founder, in which case, a careful read is required to understand the premise behind the book’s title.

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