The United States appears divided right now. A bitter presidential election recently concluded with a tight finish in the Electoral College. Four states were decided by less than a percentage point.

Many people see only two sides; the Republicans and the Democrats. However, there has been major political division since this country’s inception.

In the late 1700s, the Revolutionary War split the American people into two camps. On one side was the patriots; a group that advocated for independence. The other group, called the loyalists, wanted to remain under British rule.

Read on to learn what distinguished American patriots and loyalists. Explore the history behind one of the most consequential revolutions in modern times.

What Were the Issues Behind the Revolutionary War?

Tensions started to simmer following the French and Indian War. Britain’s successful military campaign in North America had dramatic consequences.

For instance, the British Empire doubled its national debt to finance the war. They also installed a permanent British military presence in the colonies.

To pay down debt and the new military presence, the British Parliament passed a series of burdensome taxes. In the first four years after the war, the British passed the Stamp and Townshend Acts. In 1773, the Tea Act raised taxes once again.  

Many American colonists were outraged over the new taxes. When they rallied for a protest, British troops fired on the American colonists. The event known as the Boston Massacre resulted in the deaths of five colonists.

After the Boston Tea Party in 1773, the British Parliament passed the Coercive Acts. These laws reasserted British authority in Massachusetts. Instead, Britain’s attempt to restore order resulted in the rise of the patriots.  

Who Were the American Patriots?

The patriots had enough of British rule. They opposed taxation without representation and the oppression of British rule.

The American colonists had few rights and fell under the rule of a British King a world away. The Tea and Coercive Acts increased tensions to a boiling point.

The colonists’ response was the First Continental Congress held in Philadelphia. This momentous event included some of the most high profile patriots. In attendance were American heroes like George Washington and Samuel Adams.

The following year, the British marched on Boston to seize weapons. Patriots such as Paul Revere sounded the alarm and colonists fought back. Armed conflict at Lexington and Concord represented the official start of the war.

At the Second Continental Congress, American patriots added Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to their ranks. These patriots formed the Continental Army led by George Washington.

On July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed by prominent patriots. Thomas Jefferson primarily wrote this historical document. Signatories included Founding Fathers like John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

Are Patriots Around Today?

The title of a patriot is complicated in today’s political environment. In the past, a patriot was someone who expressed American pride in daily life.

They wear apparel with the American flag on it. Patriots proudly display the American flag on their front porch.

However, divisive politics of the past decade have complicated the patriot label. Now, members of each political party both attempt to claim the title.

One fact remains true is that the American people love their patriotic gear. Regardless of the party, both sides want to show their love of country and rep the flag.

What Did the Patriots Want?

The patriots wanted a new form of government. The Founding Fathers wanted no part of another monarchy.

They drew inspiration from the French and sought the Democratic Republic. The goal was a representative government of the people, for the people, and by the people.

The main byproduct of the patriot movement was the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These documents afforded citizens the freedom of speech, press, and religion. 

The Bill of Rights also established due process of law. It set the standard for our legal system in which you are innocent until proven guilty.

Executive Branch

The Constitution established the United States government. Every four years, citizens vote for the leader of the country.

The U.S. President is the commander-in-chief of the military. He or she also is responsible for foreign policy and running government agencies.

However, the patriots did not want too much power to rest with a single person. Instead, they drew up a complex system of checks and balances.

In addition to the United States President, they established a bicameral Congress and apolitical judicial system. With three co-equal branches of government, one group cannot become too powerful.

Legislative Branch

The primary concept behind Congress is no taxation without representation. The bicameral legislative branch includes two separate entities; the Senate and House of Representatives.

Legislation has to pass both the Senate and House before being signed by the President. The legislative branch is afforded tax powers by the U.S. Constitution.

Each state receives two Senators regardless of the population. These Senators are voted on every six years.

The other side of Congress is the House of Representatives. Each state is given an allocation of representatives based on its population. Representatives are voted on every two years.

Judicial Branch

The patriots wanted to give people the ability to contest unfair legislation. The vehicle to do so is the judicial branch.

The judicial branch is responsible for ensuring legislation is constitutional. It is a multi-tiered system. There are district and appellate courts.

Petitioners to the court can appeal judicial decisions. The final say belongs with the United States Supreme Court.


The patriots also did not want too much power for a centralized government. They established a federalist form of government instead.

This afforded substantial power to state and local governments. States have the ability to manage education, health care, and taxes within their borders.

Did All Colonists Support American Independence?

The American Revolution was not as popular as many believe. A sizable percentage of the population did not support the war. A significant share of the population had no opinion and tried to stay out of the war.

According to historians, roughly 45% of the population supported the war. This large group falls in the patriots’ camp.

In fact, an estimated one-third of the colonists actively supported the British. This camp was designated as the loyalists.

Who Were the Loyalists?

The loyalists wanted the American colonies to remain with Britain. They were loyal to the crown and not swayed by the patriots.

Loyalists were concerned about their economic prospects without the British. Many were traders that relied on the British for commerce. Others had direct family ties in Britain.

The British government paid loyalists for their support. Some fought in the war on the side of the red coats. These loyalists served in the Loyal Greens or the Royal American Regiment.

It was not easy to be a loyalist during the Revolutionary War. Colonists that were supportive of the war effort stopped supporting loyalists’ businesses. Many loyalists were harassed by radical patriots.

Ultimately, the vast majority of loyalists returned to Britain. Many lost their businesses and homes during the war.

Some felt ashamed for not supporting the winning effort. Those loyalists with fewer financial resources migrated to Canada to start over.

There were some notable loyalists during the Revolutionary War. Perhaps the most famous was Benedict Arnold. Originally a general in the Continental Army, he eventually changed sides and joined the Royal British Army.

Other famous loyalists included Thomas Hutchinson and Joseph Galloway. Hutchinson was the Governor of the Massachusetts colony. Galloway started the war serving as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, but later joined the British army.

How Strong Was the Loyalist Movement?

Historians estimate that 15% to 20% of the colonists supported the crown. The Royal British Army expected 50,000 colonists to fight beside them. However, the British military only received a fraction of this number.

Roughly 19,000 loyalists joined the Royal British Army under regular duty status. The vast majority came from New York. Here, ties to Britain were strong and economic prospects tied to global trade.

Loyalist numbers were bolstered by other groups. Over an 8-year period starting in 1775, the British military was supported by 12,000 African-American slaves. They were promised their freedom in exchange for military service.

Additional support came from the Quebec Province of Canada. Mohawk Nation, a Native-American tribe, also fought with the British.

There were a few loyalist strongholds in the colonies during the war. New York City and Long Island served as a political and military base of operations throughout the war.

In the South Carolina backcountry, loyalists recruited more members than the patriots. In coastal Georgia, a civilian government formed in support of the loyalists.

While significant, the loyalists were greatly outnumbered by the patriots. From a political support standpoint, patriots likely outnumbered loyalists four to one.

Distinguishing American Patriots and Loyalists: A Recap

The battle for the patriot label rages on hundreds of years later. Everyone wants to be a patriot.

Those loyal to the British crown moved on and are extinct. Today, people proudly wear the flag and display it on their porch. The American experiment resulted in the most powerful country in modern history.

If you belong to the American patriots, check out our collection of patriotic gear.