Dylan Dance Dmd2225 HIS 315K The American Revolution The events in England’s North American colonies from

1775 to 1783 can be more precisely described as a revolution, rather than merely a war for independence. It was the unique American ideals that had taken shape just before the war which led to both the overthrow of a government and the formation of a republic, and also the revolutionary social changes that followed. By 1775, Americans were ready for a government entirely independent from and drastically different than Great Britain’s constitutional monarchy. It is through an understanding of these new American ideals that this becomes evident. Prior to the French and Indian war, colonists were largely unaffected by the monarch in their day to day lives. Both Great Britain and the American colonies benefitted from mutual trade and the colonies had more or less run themselves with little effort from the king. England won the war by 1763, but had also amassed a huge amount of debt and the British East India Company was on the verge of bankruptcy. England turned to the colonies to pay off this debt, and it was then that the ideologies of the old monarchy and the American colonies clashed. Once England began to implement taxes such as the Stamp and Townshend Acts, it became apparent to the English colonists that their purpose for commerce was far different than the British Empire’s. The empire used income from the colonies to fund foreign wars, conquer foreign resources and glorify England’s aristocracy. The colonists, on the other hand, sought profit from commerce only to benefit their own prosperity. Thomas Payne argued that the colonies had no affair with such foreign interests, besides “what have [the colonists] to do with setting the world at defiance”(Payne)? He saw that their priority and “plan [was] commerce” which would, “well attended to… secure [them] the peace and friendship


This idea of democracy was very different from that of England’s: there the king was actually a symbol of liberty and was portrayed as someone who looked after the rights of his people. It might seem insignificant by today’s standards. but in fact it was an essential principle for the creation of a republic “for the people”. through many years of hard work. The colonies needed more than just independence from Great Britain. they much more appropriately sought individual independence. instances of social independence. Rhode Island. premarital pregnancies and elopement rose dramatically from 1760 to 1775. English colonists saw that liberty allowed them to act independently. but in English colonial America such things were bold signs of resistance to a system that had been imbedded in English culture for centuries. By the time he was sixty he had become the richest man in the town: owning several slaves and having the means to employ several men. rather. There were also. become rich. One such man. Because of lucrative and mostly unaffected commerce. moreover. This may at first seem only like a reason for the colonists to declare independence from Great Britain. Moses Cooper.Dylan Dance Dmd2225 HIS 315K of all Europe”(Payne). many poor men were able to begin successful businesses and. Simply put. Quite notably. They realized they did not need or want a monarch. had humble beginnings as a farmer and sawmill owner in Glocester. on the other hand. Much of this growing sense of independence was of an economic nature. a government that would facilitate such liberty would allow them to rely on themselves for their own well being. 2 . This is widely interpreted as defiance against the patriarchal system by children of the period.

republicanism had not significantly changed the lives of poor whites. It is true that some state constitutions limited the rights of the poor and slaves. any taxpaying male over the age of twenty could vote.Dylan Dance Dmd2225 HIS 315K As unrest grew in the colonies just before the American Revolutionary War. as they are blatantly inconsistent. and slaves. fighting broke out between the revolutionaries and the loyalists. it is inadequate to explain the ideals of early American republicanism through the states’ constitutions. it was clear that the colonists were ready for social reform. upon further inspection this kind of analysis becomes largely ineffectual. it was difficult to see just how liberty would realize itself in the new government. Furthermore. the Continental Congress would create a new confederation of republics. In some states. Nevertheless. These all may seem like valid viewpoints to the modern historian. women. such as Massachusetts and Maryland. Yet. almost every state chose to more or less ignore extending rights to women. Before a form of government could be carefully chosen. Amidst the turmoil of war. and yet. laws still existed to keep poor whites out of office. it was abolished altogether in states like Rhode Island and Massachusetts. They claim that by the end of the war. some historians argue that the formation of these republics was not the source of revolutionary social change. and in southern colonies like Virginia and South Carolina slavery was still practiced on large scales. In short. This declaration was not just a petty power dispute with the British Empire: it was a well thought out and revolutionary set of ideals that sought to create a better society for its people. The 3 . And though slavery continued in southern colonies. It is far more practical to study the Declaration of Independence if we seek to understand the merits of the republican revolutionaries. in others such as Pennsylvania. however.

by establishing “that all men are created equal”. Progress was made towards such ends as soon as the late 1770s. and blacks. the Declaration also did nothing to imbed a patriarchal system into the republic. and “that they are endowed … with certain unalienable Rights”. and its virtues can be partly credited for the eventual advancement of women’s rights in much later years. and that any efforts towards social equality were largely fruitless.Dylan Dance Dmd2225 HIS 315K Declaration itself did nothing to disenfranchise the rights of poor whites. The Northwest Ordinance was also a republican effort to quell the practice of slavery in future states. 266). which seem to have developed synonymously with liberty. On the other hand. Women generally enjoyed more virtuous marriages and more agreeable divorce rights. hence. the abolition of slavery in these states was the direct result of republican merit. The same can be said about the issue of women’s rights. though. Indentured servitude also declined dramatically soon after the Declaration was established. they mostly made no advances in public or political affairs. Nonetheless. The Declaration may have not abolished slavery in itself. In fact. but it created an environment in which slavery and servitude in general was no longer justifiable. Howard Zinn argues that “the rebellion against British rule allowed a certain group of colonial elite to replace those loyal to England… and leave working 4 . in Philadelphia the percentage of the unfreed population (including indentured servants and slaves) had decreased to 13 percent in 1775 from nearly 50 percent in the 1750s (Gordon S Wood. For example. women. Other historians argue that the war for independence was only a ploy for colonial elites to take power from the British. the Declaration set the precedent for these rights to be extended to all citizens. Many states’ constitutions emulated the clause which stated that all men were created equal.

realized that “a little rebellion … is a necessary medicine 5 . This difference exemplified itself during the Townshend Act in 1767. 257). and demanded it from their government. Shay’s Rebellion in 1786. The American Enlightenment led by the founding fathers promotes liberty. This argument miserably fails to understand the objectives of the American idealism which led the country to war in the first place. that such efforts were ultimately balanced out by the social changes that had taken place. when the patriotic poor and wealthy English colonials alike boycotted British goods. while the latter movement promotes total social equality. The founding fathers were by no means “social levelers” (Wood. who was somewhat of an elitist himself. though. It soon became apparent.Dylan Dance Dmd2225 HIS 315K people … in very much their old situation” (Zinn. 255). some wealthy colonials undoubtedly resisted more democratic reform. Even Thomas Jefferson. Many wealthy colonials became patriots once the revolution started: consider every founding father. but came about from colonial “connections to monarchal authority” instead (Wood. The two concepts are certainly not one in the same. Of course. The wealthy actually began to embrace frugality and appreciate the industriousness of the lower classes. for instance. Such resistance makes itself clear in many of the states’ constitutions: Massachusetts had an especially conservative constitution. The patriotic colonial upper class was in fact fundamentally different from British aristocrats and wealthy colonial loyalists. Colonial American Liberalism did not find its roots in only the lower classes: the themes of liberty spanned all English colonial social classes. 257). English colonials did not see that their problems arose from social classes. Zinn confuses the liberal movement of the English colonists with the more modern socialist revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries. exemplifies that the American people had already institutionalized democracy.

The colonial overthrow of the monarch was more than just a shift of power from English to American aristocrats. more or less. about the plight of the working class. but the same American colonial idealism which fueled the revolution still fuels the American people today. it was a social revolution which led to an unprecedented companionship between social classes. undoubtedly. instead. 6 .Dylan Dance Dmd2225 HIS 315K for the sound health of the government” (Jefferson). The revolution brought about an upper class that embraced and cared. only the beginning of a long democratic process to pursue liberty. It was.

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