This American Revolution glossary contains definitions of key terms and concepts related to events in America between 1763 and 1789. Words from L to Z. This glossary has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest an important term or concept for inclusion in this glossary, please contact Alpha History.
land speculation (see speculation)
A legislature is a political body, such as a parliament or assembly, responsible for passing laws. Legislatures involved in the American Revolution include the British parliament and the colonial assemblies.
Legislation is law produced and passed by a legislature. It is also known as an act or a statute.
letter of marque (see privateer)
‘Levelling’ is an 18th century term for a policy, action or measure that may redistribute power or wealth from the upper classes to the lower classes.
Liberal describes a person, group or ideology that favours the protection and expansion of individual rights and freedoms.
Liberty is a state of individual freedom, particularly from oppression or coercion by a government or military force.
The lieutenant governor was a royal official in colonial America. He was second in command to the governor.
‘Lobsterback’ is a derogatory 18th century term for a British soldier. It referred both to the red tunics of soldiers and their scarred and reddened backs, the result of disciplinary floggings.
A Loyalist is a person who remained faithful to the monarch or old regime during the American Revolution. Loyalists could be British officials or American-born colonists who did not support the revolution. Loyalists were also referred to as ‘Tories’ or ‘King’s-men’.
The Loyal Nine was a Boston group, formed in early 1765 to protest against the Stamp Act. Its members were small businessmen, many of them later involved in the Sons of Liberty and the Boston Tea Party.
macaroni (or macarony)
Macaroni is an 18th century term for a man who dresses in a flamboyant, extravagant or effeminate fashion.
The Mandamus councillors were 36 Loyalist officials, appointed by General Thomas Gage to govern Massachusetts after the suspension of its assembly in 1774. They became targets for revolutionary hatred and persecution.
Manumission is the voluntary granting of freedom to one’s slaves. Manumission was sometimes incorporated in a slave owner’s will, allowing his or her slaves to be freed after their death.
The Mayflower Compact was a political charter, signed in November 1620 by the Puritan settlers who landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts. It committed the settlers to forming a “civil body politic” and upholding the rule of law. Its ideas were said to have influenced American revolutionary ideology.
Mercantilism is an economic theory which suggests that colonies exist primarily to supply and enrich the mother country. The economic interests of colonial societies are consequently secondary to those of the imperial power. Mercantilism underpinned the operation of the British Empire during the 18th century.
A merchant is an individual who imports and trades goods. In colonial America most merchants imported goods from abroad for wholesale or retail sale.
A meritocracy is a system or society where wealth and status are indicators of one’s talent and ability, rather than their hereditary position or privileges.
The Middle Colonies were located between New England and the southern colonies. They comprised Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
middling classes (or middling people)
The ‘middling classes’ is an 18th century term for those who owned small amounts of land, wealth or property. They were the precursors of the modern middle class.
A militia is a part time or reservist military force, usually comprised of civilian volunteers. In colonial America local militias were formed to deal with potential emergencies, such as Native American or slave uprisings.
In the British political system, a minister is a significant politician who oversees a certain area of policy, such as finance, trade or foreign affairs.
The Minutemen were members of colonial American militias, particularly during the crisis of 1774-75. The colloquialism ‘Minutemen’ describes their ability to assemble and fight at short notice.
A mob is a large group or crowd, assembled for a specific purpose and sometimes behaving violently or disorderly. In the 18th century these crowds had negative connotations, particularly among the upper classes, who viewed mobs as a source of political radicalism.
A monopoly is an economic condition where one company dominates the market for a particular product or service. The British parliament’s Tea Act (1773) was interpreted as forming a state-sanctioned monopoly, because it awarded the British East India Company exclusive rights to sell tea in colonial America.
A mutiny is an uprising or rebellion within a military unit, such as an army regiment.
In the context of the American Revolution, nationalism describes a developing sense of American identity, the emerging idea that America could exist as a separate, independent nation rather than as a British colony.
Natural rights are an Enlightenment political concept which suggest that all people receive certain rights at birth. These rights are inherent and cannot be removed by governments. English philosopher John Locke, for example, suggested that individuals were entitled to life, liberty and property.
The Newburgh conspiracy was a potential uprising among officers of the Continental Army, stationed in New York, in March 1783. Frustrated by unpaid salaries and pensions, a group of officers talked of taking some indeterminate action against the Congress. The conspiracy was quelled by George Washington.
New England refers to the four northernmost of the 13 British colonies: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
New France was a name given to French colonial possessions in North America until 1763. It was much larger than the 13 British colonies, taking in territory west of the Appalachians to the Mississippi valley.
The non-important agreements were formed between American colonists, who agreed not to order or purchase goods from Britain. Organised and casual boycotts were a protest against the Townshend duties and other British trade policies.
‘No taxation without representation’
‘No taxation without representation’ and ‘Taxation without representation is tyranny’ were slogans used by American revolutionaries between 1765 and 1774. The implication of these slogans was that taxes can only be levied on citizens by their elected representatives.
Papism is a derogatory term for Catholicism, common in late 18th century America. It implies that Catholics worship the Pope rather than God.
A ‘Patriot’ is a colloquial term for a person who supported the American Revolution.
Popular sovereignty is an Enlightenment era political concept. It suggests that the authority of a government comes from the consent of the people, rather than from God or the government itself. Popular sovereignty provides the basis for democratic and representative forms of government.
The Powder Alarms refer to a period of public panic and military preparations in Massachusetts in late 1774. They were triggered by General Thomas Gage’s order to seize stores of gunpowder from colonial towns and villages.
A president is the head of state and the head of government in a republic. Presidents are usually elected by the people. In the case of the United States, presidents are vested with a considerable amount of executive power.
Primogeniture (‘first born’) is an antiquated legal convention that requires a father’s estate to pass entirely to his oldest son. Primogeniture ensured that large estates remained in the family and were not sold or ‘broken up’ to be shared by siblings.
A privateer is an individual or ship, recruited by a government during a time of war. Privateers were given a government license, called a ‘letter of marque’, which authorised them to attack enemy shipping and steal its cargo. They were, in effect, state-sanctioned pirates.
A proclamation is a formal announcement by a monarch or government, usually to publicise new laws.
A property qualification is a restriction on voting rights. It requires citizens to own a certain amount of property or pay a certain level of tax, before they can exercise the right to vote. British property qualifications were extensive, to the point where only five per cent of adult males were entitled to vote. Property qualifications were also used in some American states, before and after the revolution.
Quartering refers to the provision of accommodation, food and supplies to members of the military.
A ‘Redcoat’ is a colloquial term for a British regular soldier of the 18th century.
To repeal an act or law is to annul or abolish it, as in “The Stamp Act was repealed in 1766”.
A republic is a political system where power resides with the people and the head of state is an elected or appointed president, rather than a hereditary monarch.
A requisition is a government order or request, seeking the supply of money or goods.
Resolves are a set of resolutions or declarations, passed by an assembly or other body. During the American Revolution dozens of colonial assemblies and town meetings issued resolves to protest against British policies.
The Revenue Act was a piece of British legislation, passed in 1767. It was the most significant legislation behind the Townshend duties.
‘Salutary neglect’ is a term that describes Britain’s imperial policy pertaining to America, between the late 1600s and 1763. It suggests the American colonies actually benefited and prospered from British indifference during this period.
scrip (or colonial scrip)
Scrip is an early form of paper currency that was issued by some American colonies prior to the revolution.
Self determination is a political principle where the people are given the right to determine their own political future, such as on questions of independence or a system of government.
separation of powers
The separation of powers is an Enlightenment era political theory, suggesting that government power should be divided between separate branches, such as the executive, legislative and judicial branches. This division creates a balance of competing interests that prevents an accumulation of excessive power. The separation of powers doctrine was refined by French philosopher Montesquieu. It formed the basis of the United States Constitution.
Shays’ Rebellion was an armed uprising against debtors’ courts and the Massachusetts state government in 1786-87. The rebels were farmers from western Massachusetts and were led by Daniel Shays, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. They were opposed to high state taxes, falling grain prices and the harsh penalties given to farmers who defaulted on debts. The rebels operated for several months and forced the closure of several state courthouses, before they were dispersed by government troops in mid 1787.
Sons of Liberty
‘Sons of Liberty’ was a name given to colonial American groups organised to protest against, undermine or oppose British policy, particularly the Stamp Act (1765).
Sovereignty refers to the autonomy or independent legislative power of a nation or state.
specie (or ‘hard money‘)
Specie is currency which has intrinsic or natural value, such as gold or silver coins. It retains its value better than speculative currency like scrip or banknotes.
Speculation is the practice of buying up large amounts of something, in order to sell it later for profit. Many wealthy American colonists were keen land speculators who hoped to acquire sections of the newly acquired western territories after 1763.
The Stamp Act was legislation passed by the British parliament in March 1765. It required the purchase of tax stamps to authenticate a range of official documents. Among the documents affected were publications, almanacs, contracts, mortgages, titles, bills of sale, court documents, playing cards and dice. The passing of this act was a significant source of revolutionary tension in the mid-1760s.
stamp duty (or stamp tax)
A stamp duty is a form of government tax. It requires citizens to endorse certain types of documents with stamps purchased from the government.
A standing army is a regular military force that operates in times of peace as well as war.
States’ rights refers to the sovereignty and autonomy of states, particularly in a federal system where their power is shared with the national government.
The Sugar Act was an act of the British parliament, passed in April 1764. It lowered the amount of duty on molasses and other items, but also strengthened measures for collecting customs duties.
The sunset clause was a section of the United States Constitution that prevented Federal restrictions on the slave trade until 1808, or 20 years after the Constitution was drafted. Like the ‘Three-fifths clause’, the sunset clause was a compromise with slave-owning interests in the southern states.
tarring and feathering
Tarring and feathering was an 18th practice for punishing and publicly humiliating individuals. Though it varied, most victims had their clothing removed and were doused with liquid tar and feathers. Tarring and feathering was carried out spontaneously by mobs; it was not a punishment of the courts or official bodies. Some forms of tarring and feathering could leave the victim with significant injuries or even be fatal.
The Tea Act was passed by the British parliament in May 1773. It gave the British East India Company exclusive rights to sell tea in British colonies.
A tenant farmer is a farmer who pays rent to occupy and work land. This is distinct from a yeoman farmer, who owns his own land.
terms of enlistment (or terms of service)
Terms of enlistment are the agreed conditions by which an individual volunteers for military service. Some specific terms of enlistment include the length of their service, pay and other bounties or rewards.
The ‘Three-fifths clause’ was a section of the United States Constitution pertaining to African-American slaves. It ruled that three-fifths of slaves should be counted as the population of a state for representation and taxation purposes. It was included in the Constitution as a compromise with slave-owning interests in the southern states, where slaves made up a significant number of the population.
Tory describes a person or group with conservative political views. In the British parliament, the Tories were ministers and politicians who aligned with King George III and favoured stronger measures in the American colonies. In America, Tory became a derogatory term for Loyalists.
Townshend duties (or Townshend acts)
The Townshend duties referred to British legislation and policies, adopted in 1767, that sought to extract revenue from the American colonies through trade duties. They were named for their sponsor, British minister Charles Townshend. Most of the duties were repealed in March 1770, following American non-compliance, boycotts and resistance.
Treaty of Paris
The Treaty of Paris refers to two significant agreements. The first Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, ended the Seven Years’ War and gave Britain control of French territories in North America. The second Treaty of Paris, signed in 1783, ended the American Revolutionary War.
Tyranny describes a state of oppression, where leaders or governments pass laws that ignore or trample on individual rights and freedoms.
Virtual representation is a political concept which suggests that citizens are represented by all members of a legislature, rather than by a specific member. Virtual representation was a British response to colonial American claims that citizens could not be taxed by a parliament in which they had no direct representatives.
Westminster is the area of London where the Houses of Parliament were located. It is sometimes used as a synonym for parliament or the British government.
Whig is an 18th century term for a person or group which possesses liberal or progressive political views. Broadly speaking, the Whigs were supportive of American revolutionary ideas.
yeoman farmer (or yeoman)
A yeoman farmer is a farmer who works land that he owns, rather than land rented from another party.
This page was written by Steve Thompson and Jennifer Llewellyn. To reference this page, use the following citation:
S. Thompson & J. Llewellyn, “American Revolution glossary L-Z”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/americanrevolution/american-revolution-glossary-l-z/.