American Revolution (Part 2)
Creating new state constitutions
- Following the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775, the Patriots had control of Massachusetts outside the Boston city limits; the Loyalists suddenly found themselves on the defensive with no protection from the British army.
- In all 13 colonies, Patriots had overthrown their existing governments, closing courts and driving British officials away. They had elected conventions and “legislatures”; new constitutions were used in each state to supersede royal charters. They declared they were states now, not colonies.
- On January 5, 1776, New Hampshire ratified the first state constitution. Later Virginia, South Carolina, New Jersey ,Rhode Island and Connecticut followed.
- In April 1776 the North Carolina Provincial Congress issued the Halifax Resolves, explicitly authorizing its delegates to vote for independence.
- In May 1776, Congress voted to suppress all forms of crown authority, to be replaced by locally created authority. Congress called on all the states to write own constitutions.
- The new states were all committed to republicanism, with no inherited offices.
- In states where the wealthy exerted firm control over the process property qualifications for voting, bicameral legislatures, with the upper house as a check on the lower; Strong governors, with veto power over the legislature;The continuation of state-established religion.
- In states where the less affluent had organized sufficiently to have significant power—especially Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New Hampshire—the resulting constitutions embodied universal white manhood suffrage, or minimal property requirements for voting; strong, unicameral legislatures; relatively weak governors, without veto powers; prohibition against individuals holding multiple government posts.
1776, 9 January: Thomas Paine’s Common Sense published
- The pamphlet which reached hundreds of thousands of homes, stated in clear language that Americans should reject the “monarchial tyranny” of the King and the “aristocratical tyranny” of Parliament and create independent republican states.It stated that in common sense, it is not posible for a small island like Britain to rule over sch a big continent like America.
- It contributed significantly to spreading the ideas of republicanism and liberalism together, bolstering enthusiasm for separation from Britain, and encouraging recruitment for the Continental Army.
Second Continental Congress:
- The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting in the summer of 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met between September 5, 1774 and October 26, 1774, also in Philadelphia.
- The second Congress managed the colonial war effort, and moved incrementally towards independence. By raising armies, directing strategy, appointing diplomats, and making formal treaties, the Congress acted as the de facto national government of what became the United States.
- June, 1776 – The staunch Loyalists and anti-independence moderates withdrew from the Continental Congress, leaving the Patriots completely in charge and unchallenged. Congress then appointed a committee, led by Jefferson, which drafted the Declaration of Independence.
July 4, 1776: Declaration of Independence
- It was a document that was approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and that announced the separation of 13 North American British colonies from Great Britain. It explained why the Congress on July 2 “unanimously” by the votes of 12 colonies (with New York abstaining) had resolved that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be Free and Independent States.”
- Declaration stated that the King had “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having a direct object of the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states.” “Injuries” included dissolving colonial government, controlling judges by limiting trial by jury, sending armies of occupation, cutting off colonial trade with other parts of the world, and taxing without colonial consent.
- It also stated that “We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness“.
- The Declaration of Independence was written largely by Jefferson, who had displayed talent as a political philosopher and polemicist in his A Summary View of the Rights of British America, published in 1774.
- The Declaration of Independence has also been a source of inspiration outside the United States. It encouraged Antonio de Nariño and Francisco de Miranda to strive toward overthrowing the Spanish empire in South America, and it was quoted with enthusiasm by the Marquis de Mirabeau during the French Revolution. It remains a great historical landmark in that it contained the first formal assertion by a whole people of their right to a government of their own choice. What Locke had contended for as an individual, the Americans proclaimed as a body politic; moreover, they made good the argument by force of arms.
Help from France and Spain
- In 1778 – The Patriots’ prospects for victory improved. The U.S. formed a military alliance with France, the most powerful nation on the European continent, and with Spain. The alliance brought the Americans money, troops, and supplies, as well as changed the nature of the conflict from a colonial rebellion to an international war. Thereafter, British forces not only confronted troops in North America, but also had to defend the West Indies and India against France and Gibralter against Spain.
Articles of Confederation (1777–1781)
- The Second Continental Congress approved a new constitution, the “Articles of Confederation,” for ratification by the states on November 15, 1777. The Articles were formally ratified on March 1, 1781. At that point, the Continental Congress was dissolved and on the following day a new government of the United States in Congress assembled took its place, with Samuel Huntington as presiding officer.
- The Articles of Confederation served as the written document that established the functions of the national government of the United States after it declared independence from Great Britain. It established a weak central government that mostly, but not entirely, prevented the individual states from conducting their own foreign diplomacy.
Yorktown 1781: Surrender of British Army
- The British army under Cornwallis marched to Yorktown, Virginia. Cornwallis was trapped. In October 1781 under a combined siege by the French and Continental armies under Washington, the British surrendered.
- The British Army surrendered at Yorktown in October – but it took diplomats two more years to end the war. Peace talks began in 1782, but the French stalled for time, hoping for a naval victory or territorial conquest.
- Strategic and tactical decisions of the British were fatally flawed because they underestimated the challenges posed by the Patriots. Support for the conflict had never been strong in Britain, where many sympathized with the rebels, but now it reached a new low. Although King George III personally wanted to fight on, his supporters lost control of Parliament, and no further major land offensives were launched.
Peace treaty (Treaty of Paris,1783)
- The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3. It formally recognized the independence of the U.S. Britain retained Canada north and west of the Great Lakes. All land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River was ceded to the new American republic – and the British promised to withdraw its garrisons throughout the territory.
- In the Treaty of Versailles, signed at the same time, Britain made peace with France and Spain.
- French territorial gain was the Caribbean island of Tobago,
- The Spanish reacquired Florida from Britain.
- Both treaties were vague in defining the boundaries between the United States and its British and Spanish neighbours. Thus, territorial disputes would mar relations for the next 30 years.
- The British abandoned the Indian allies living in this region; they were not a party to this treaty and did not recognize it until they were defeated militarily by the United States.
- Since the blockade was lifted and the old imperial restrictions were gone, American merchants were free to trade with any nation anywhere in the world, and their businesses flourished.
Creating a “more perfect union” and guaranteeing rights
- After the war finally ended in 1783, there was a period of prosperity. The national government, still operating under the Articles of Confederation, was able to settle the issue of the western territories, which were ceded by the states to Congress. American settlers moved rapidly into those areas and new states came out.
- However, the national government had no money to pay either the war debts owed to European nations and the private banks, or to pay Americans promissory notes for supplies during the war.
- Nationalists, led by Washington, Alexander Hamilton and other veterans, feared that the new nation was too fragile to withstand an international war, or even internal revolts such as the Shays’ Rebellion of 1786 (An armed uprising led by revolution veteran Daniel Shays, that took place in Massachusetts. Fuelled by perceived economic problems, high taxes and growing disaffection with State and Federal governments)
- Calling themselves “Federalists,” the nationalists convinced Congress to call the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. It adopted a new Constitution that provided for a much stronger federal government, including an effective executive in a check-and-balance system with the judiciary and legislature. After a fierce debate in the states over the nature of the proposed new government, the Constitution was ratified in 1788. The new government under President George Washington took office in New York in March 1789. As assurances to those who were cautious about federal power, amendments to the Constitution guaranteeing many of the inalienable rights that formed a foundation for the revolution were spearheaded in Congress by James Madison, and later ratified by the states in 1791. (American Constitution has been dealt in separate chapter. Click Here )
Ideology and Factions
- The population of the 13 Colonies was far from homogeneous, particularly in their political views and attitudes. Loyalties and allegiances varied widely.
(1) Ideology behind the Revolution
- The ideological movement known as the American Enlightenment was a critical precursor to the American Revolution.
- Chief among the ideas of the American Enlightenment were the concepts of liberalism, republicanism and fear of corruption. The acceptance of these concepts by a growing number of American colonists began to foster an intellectual environment which would lead to a new sense of political and social identity.
- John Locke’s (1632–1704) ideas on liberty greatly influenced the political thinking behind the revolution, especially through his indirect influence on English writers. He is often referred to as “the philosopher of the American Revolution,” and is credited with leading Americans to the critical concepts of social contract, natural rights,”born free and equal”, protestant ideology. He argued that, as all humans were created equally free, governments needed the consent of the governed.
- In 1689, Locke argued in his Two Treatises of Government that political society existed for the sake of protecting “property”, which he defined as a person’s “life, liberty, and estate”. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence which was drafted by Thomas Jefferson. The root of Jefferson’s thought was in Locke’s doctrine, Jefferson replaced “estate” with “the pursuit of happiness”.
- The United States Declaration of Independence, also referred to the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” as justification for the Americans’ separation from the British monarchy.
- The theory of the “social contract” influenced the belief among many of the Founders that among the “natural rights” of man was the right of the people to overthrow their leaders, should those leaders betray the historic rights of Englishmen. In terms of writing state and national constitutions, the Americans heavily used the analysis of Montesquieu (French Philosopher) regarding the wisdom of the “balanced” British Constitution and balanced separation of powers.
- A motivating force behind the revolution was the American embrace of a political ideology called “republicanism”, which was dominant in the colonies by 1775, but of minor importance back in Britain. The republicanism was inspired by the “country party” in Britain, whose critique of British government emphasized that corruption was a terrible reality in Britain. Americans feared the corruption was crossing the Atlantic; the commitment of most Americans to republican values and to their rights, energized the revolution, as Britain was increasingly seen as hopelessly corrupt and hostile to American interests. Britain seemed to threaten the established liberties that Americans enjoyed.The greatest threat to liberty was depicted as corruption. The colonists associated it with luxury and, especially, inherited aristocracy, which they condemned.
- The Founding Fathers were strong advocates of republican values, particularly Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, George Washington, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, which required men to put civic duty ahead of their personal desires. Men had a civic duty to be prepared and willing to fight for the rights and liberties of their countrymen.
- While some republics had emerged throughout history, such as the Roman Republic of the ancient world, one based on liberal principles had never existed. Thomas Paine’s best-seller pamphlet Common Sense contributed significantly to spreading the ideas of republicanism and liberalism together.Paine provided a new and widely accepted argument for independence, by advocating a complete break with history.
- For women, “republican motherhood” became the ideal; the first duty of the republican woman was to instil republican values in her children and to avoid luxury and ostentation.
(2) Impact of Great Awakening
- Dissenting (i.e. Protestant, non-Church of England) churches of the day were the “school of democracy.” Throughout the colonies, dissenting Protestant ministers preached Revolutionary themes in their sermons, while most Church of England clergymen preached loyalty to the King. Religious motivation for fighting tyranny reached across socio-economic lines to encompass rich and poor, men and women, frontiersmen and townsmen, farmers and merchants.
- Evangelicalism of the era challenged traditional notions of natural hierarchy by preaching that the Bible taught all men are equal, so that the true value of a man lies in his moral behaviour, not his class. It worked together to unite rationalists and evangelicals and thus encouraged American defiance of the Empire.
(3) Class and psychology of the factions
- John Adams concluded in 1818: “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”
- In terms of class, Loyalists tended to have long-standing social and economic connections to British merchants and government. In addition, officials of colonial government and their staffs, those who had established positions and status to maintain, favoured maintaining relations with Great Britain.
- By contrast, Patriots by number tended to be farmers, craftsmen and small merchants who joined the Patriot cause to demand more political equality. They were especially successful in Pennsylvania but less so in New England, where John Adams attacked Thomas Paine’s Common Sense for the “absurd democratic notions” it proposed.
- Leaders of both the Patriots and the Loyalists were men of educated, propertied classes.
- Older and better established men, Loyalists tended to resist Revolution. They thought resistance to the Crown—which they insisted was the only legitimate government—was morally wrong, while the Patriots thought morality was on their side.
- Many Loyalists realized that independence was bound to come eventually, but they were fearful that revolution might lead to anarchy, tyranny or mob rule. In contrast, the prevailing attitude among Patriots, who made systematic efforts to use mob violence in a controlled manner, was a desire to seize the initiative.
- The Patriots viewed independence as a means to gain freedom from British oppression and taxation and, above all, to reassert what they considered to be their rights as English subjects.
(4) King George III
- The war became a personal issue for the king, fuelled by his growing belief that British leniency would be taken as weakness by the Americans. The king also sincerely believed he was defending Britain’s constitution against usurpers, rather than opposing patriots fighting for their natural rights.
- At the time, revolutionaries were called “Patriots”. They included a full range of social and economic classes, but were unanimous regarding the need to defend the rights of Americans and uphold the principles of republicanism in terms of rejecting monarchy and aristocracy.
- Newspapers were strongholds of patriotism, and printed many pamphlets, announcements, patriotic letters and pronouncements.
- Around 40–45% of the white population in the Thirteen Colonies supported the Patriots’ cause, 15–20% supported the Loyalists, and the remainder were neutral.
- They were highly sensitive to the issue of tyranny, which they saw manifested in the British response to the Boston Tea Party. The arrival in Boston of the British Army heightened their sense of violated rights, leading to rage and demands for revenge.
- Those who actively supported the king were known at the time as “Loyalists”, “Tories”, or “King’s men”.
- The Loyalists never controlled territory unless the British Army occupied it. Loyalists were typically older, less willing to break with old loyalties, often connected to the Church of England, and included many established merchants with strong business connections across the Empire, as well as royal officials.
- There were 500 to 1000 black loyalists who were held as slaves by patriots, escaped to British lines and joined the British army.
- The revolution could divide families. The most dramatic example was when William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin and royal governor of the Province of New Jersey, remained loyal to the Crown throughout the war.
- Recent immigrants who had not been fully Americanized were also inclined to support the King, such as recent Scottish settlers in the back country.
- After the war, the great majority Loyalists remained in America and resumed normal lives. Some, such as Samuel Seabury, became prominent American leaders. Estimates vary, but about 62,000 Loyalists relocated to Canada, and others to Britain or to Florida or the West Indies.
- Nearly all black loyalists left for Nova Scotia, Florida, or England, where they could remain free.When Loyalists left the South in 1783, they took thousands of their slaves with them to be slaves in the British West Indies.
- Most kept a low profile, but the Quakers, especially in Pennsylvania, were the most important group to speak out for neutrality. As Patriots declared independence, the Quakers, who continued to do business with the British, were attacked as supporters of British rule.
(8) Role of women
- Women were involved on both sides.
- While formal Revolutionary politics did not include women, ordinary domestic behaviors became charged with political significance. They participated by boycotting British goods, spying on the British, following armies as they marched, washing, cooking, and tending for soldiers, and in a few cases fighting disguised as men.
- Above all, they continued the agricultural work at home to feed their families and the armies. They maintained their families during their husbands’ absences and sometimes after their deaths.
- American women were integral to the success of the boycott of British goods, as the boycotted items were largely household items such as tea and cloth. Women had to return to knitting goods, and to spinning and weaving their own cloth.
- A crisis of political loyalties could disrupt the fabric of colonial America women’s social worlds: whether a man did or did not renounce his allegiance to the King could dissolve ties of class, family, and friendship, isolating women from former connections. Legal divorce, usually rare, was granted to Patriot women whose husbands supported the King.
- In early 1776, France set up a major program of aid to the Americans, and the Spanish secretly added funds to buy munitions.
- American rebels obtained some munitions through the Dutch Republic as well as French and Spanish ports in the West Indies.
- French forces were crucial to helping the Americans win the Revolutionary War. But this reliance on France and other European allies does not diminish the American victory. Rather it adds a global dimension to the struggle and it requires us to remember that winning wars usually requires the help of allies.
- Spain did not officially recognize the U.S. but became an informal ally when it declared war on Britain on June 21, 1779.
(c) Native Americans
- Most Native Americans rejected pleas that they remain neutral and supported the British Crown, both because of trading relationships and its efforts to prohibit colonial settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains.
- Facing starvation and homeless for the winter, many natives fled to the Niagara Falls area and to Canada, mostly to what became Ontario. The British resettled them there after the war, providing land grants as compensation.
(10) African Americans
- Free blacks in the North and South fought on both sides of the Revolution, but most fought for the patriots to further their interests. Both sides offered freedom and re-settlement to slaves who were willing to fight for them.
- British tried to turn slavery against the Americans but England greatly feared the effects of any such move on its own West Indies, where there are large number of slave-holding Loyalists and wealthy Caribbean planters and merchants. The British elites also understood that an all-out attack on one form of property could easily lead to an assault on all boundaries of privilege and social order.
- American advocates of independence termed British calls for slave freedom hypocritical ,as many of British leaders were planters who held hundreds of slaves.
- Many slaves escaped to British lines throughout the South, causing dramatic losses to slave-holders and disrupting cultivation and harvesting of crops. After British defeat they were evacuated and resettled from New York to Nova Scotia or in England or in the West Indies of the Caribbean and later in Sierra Leone.
Interpretations of American Revolution
- In the 200 years that historians have written about the American Revolution, four major schools of thoughts, have emerged. Each of them presents a firm argument about what the Revolution really meant and how we should view it.
Covered in glory: The first historians
- These people actually lived the event. Whether Loyalist or patriot, they wrote colorful, biased accounts espousing the justice and glory of their cause.
- The Tory Thomas Hutchinson wrote a popular account presenting a negative view of the Revolution. This was countered by David Ramsay’s History of the American Revolution, which portrayed the patriot cause as just and inevitable. Mason Locke Weems wrote the first biography of George Washington, playing loose with the facts, turning him into a folk hero.
- These first historians had some difficulty being objective about the great events they had experienced.
- Later, in the 19th century, a new generation of historians, who had not been alive during the war, compiled the basic documentary history of the war that we use today. To these historians, the Revolution was morally right, a unique turning point in human history. American victory was inevitable so that the nation could fulfill its destiny of freedom.
It was all about economics: The determinists
- The determinists, writing in the early 20th century, argued that the Revolution was about class conflict. All the rhetoric about republicanism, inalienable rights, and equality was so much window dressing to justify hard-core economic motivations. These historians said that the struggle wasn’t just about independence but about empowering an elite ruling class of Americans here at home. They pointed to the wealth of many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and contended that they merely used the Revolution to further their own grip on power.
The Revolution was conservative: The Neo-Whigs
- After World War II, a new school of thought emerged. A group of historians who called themselves Neo-Whigs (a term that implied conservatism) argued that the Revolution was neither unique nor radical. Instead, it was simply a conservative reaction to protect American rights and property from Parliament. The republican ideology was real enough, they conceded, but in the end, the patriots were simply conserving rights they already enjoyed. Thus, the American Revolution didn’t represent anything brand new or radical beyond one group protecting its interests against another.
It was radical and ideological: The debate today
- In the last couple of decades, the pendulum has swung back in favor of the radicalism and ideological nature of the Revolution. This new group of historians argues that the revolutionaries were motivated by ideology, had much to lose, and that their Revolution was something quite radical by the standards of the age. The Revolution represented a real change in the social life of America, they say, in favor of more equality, more economic opportunity for ordinary people, and greater individual autonomy.
- Revolution, regardless of its causes, was a radical event which had a transformative effect on large segments of American social and economic life. These factors may not have been motivations for revolution, but the ideals of traditional gender roles, deference, and patriarchy were radically altered.
Effects of the American Revolution
(1) Loyalist expatriation
- About 60,000 to 70,000 Loyalists left the newly founded republic; some left for Britain and the remainder, called United Empire Loyalists, received British subsidies to resettle in British colonies in North America, especially Quebec,Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia (currently in Canada).
- The new colonies of Upper Canada (now Ontario) and New Brunswick were created by Britain for their benefit. However, about 80% of the Loyalists stayed and became loyal citizens of the United States.
- Some argues that the events were not “revolutionary,” as the colonial society was not transformed but replaced a distant government with a local one.
- But American Revolution was a unique and radical event that produced deep changes and had a profound effect on world affairs, based on an increasing belief in the principles of the Enlightenment as reflected in how liberalism was understood during the period, and republicanism. These were demonstrated by a leadership and government that espoused protection of natural rights, and a system of laws chosen by the people.
- However, what was then considered the people was still restricted to free white males who were able to pass a property-qualification. Only with the development of the American system over the following centuries would a government by the people promised by the revolution be won for a greater inclusion of the population
(3) An inspiration
- Three major events of the American Revolution had great influence on Europe:
- Signing the Declaration of Independence
- Implementing the ideas of Enlightenment
- Forming the U.S constitution
- By declaring independence, America demonstrated that it was possible to overthrow “old regimes”. This was the first time a colony had rebelled and successfully asserted its rights to self-government and nationhood. This inspired many European nations and colonies to revolt.
- The United States had created a new social contract in the form of its Constitution, in which they realized the ideas of Enlightenment. The natural rights of man, and the ideas of liberty, equality, and freedom of religion, were no longer unrealistic utopian ideals.This made the bourgeoisie of Europe reconsider their own government and monarchic systems.
- After the Revolution, genuinely democratic politics became possible.The rights of the people were incorporated into state constitutions.
- The example of the first successful revolution against a European empire, and the first successful establishment of a republican form of democratically elected government, provided a model for many other colonial peoples who realized that they too could break away and become self-governing nations.
- The American Revolution was the first wave of the Atlantic Revolutions: the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and the Latin American wars of independence. Aftershocks reached Ireland in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and in the Netherlands.
- The Revolution had a strong, immediate influence in Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, and France. Many British and Irish Whigs spoke in favour of the American cause.
- In Ireland, there was a profound impact; the Protestants who controlled Ireland were demanding more and more self-rule. While Ireland did have a parliament which could make decisions, only Protestants voted for it and the British could control it. Campaigners for reform in Ireland reacted to the struggle in America by organising a boycott of British imports and groups of armed volunteers.The King and his cabinet in London could not risk another revolution on the American model, and they made a series of concessions to the Patriot faction in Dublin. Britain thus relaxed its trade restrictions on Ireland, to allow them to trade with British colonies and freely export wool, and reformed the government by allowing non-Anglicans to hold public offices. They repealed the Irish Declaratory Act while granting full legislative independence. The result was an Ireland which remained part of the British Empire after reforms.
- The Revolution, along with the Dutch Revolt (end of the 16th century) and the English Civil War (in the 17th century), was among the examples of overthrowing an old regime for many Europeans who later were active during the era of the French Revolution, such as Marquis de Lafayette.
- The American Declaration of Independence influenced the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789.
- The spirit of the Declaration of Independence led to laws ending slavery in all the Northern states and the Northwest Territory, with New Jersey the last in 1804—long before the British Parliament acted in 1833 to abolish slavery in its colonies. States such as New Jersey and New York adopted gradual emancipation of slaves.
(4) Status of American women
- The democratic ideals of the Revolution inspired changes in the roles of women.
- The concept of republican motherhood was inspired by this period and reflects the importance of Republicanism as the dominant American ideology. It assumed that a successful republic rested upon the virtue of its citizens. Women were considered to have the essential role of instilling their children with values conducive to a healthy republic.
- During this period, the wife’s relationship with her husband also became more liberal, as love and affection instead of obedience and subservience began to characterize the ideal marital relationship.
- Patriarchy faded as an ideal; young people had more freedom to choose their spouses and more often used birth control to regulate the size of their families. Society emphasized the role of mothers in child rearing, especially the patriotic goal of raising republican children rather than those locked into aristocratic value systems.
- Whatever gains they had made, however, women still found themselves subordinated, legally and socially, to their husbands, disfranchised and usually with only the role of mother open to them. But, some women earned livelihoods which were not originally recognized as significant by men.
(5) Societal Impacts of the American Revolution
- The Revolution brought myriad consequences to the American social fabric. There was no Reign of Terror as in the French Revolution. There was no replacement of the ruling class by workers’ groups as in revolutionary Russia. How then could the American Revolution be described as radical?
- Nearly every aspect of American life was somehow touched by the Revolutionary Spirit. From slavery to women’s rights, from religious life to voting, American attitudes would be forever changed.
- Some changes would be felt immediately. Slavery would not be abolished for another hundred years, but the Revolution saw the dawn of an organized abolitionist movement.
- English traditions such as land inheritance laws were swept away almost immediately.
- The Anglican Church in America could no longer survive. After all, the official head of the Church of England was the British monarch.
- States experimented with republican ideas when drafting their own constitutions during the war.
- All these major changes would be felt by Americans before the dawn of the nineteenth century.
- The American Revolution produced a new outlook among its people that would have ramifications long into the future. Groups excluded from immediate equality such as slaves and women would draw their later inspirations from revolutionary sentiments.
- Americans began to feel that their fight for liberty was a global fight and they tried to export their liberty and democracy in other nations.
(6) Financial Impact on America
- Congress and the American states had too much difficulty financing the war.The British made the situation much worse by imposing a tight blockade on every American port.
- One partial solution was to rely on volunteer support from militiamen, and donations from patriotic citizens. Another was to delay actual payments, pay soldiers and suppliers in depreciated currency, and promise it would be made good after the war. In 1783 the soldiers and officers were given land grants to cover the wages they had earned but had not been paid during the war.
- Not until 1781, when Robert Morris was named Superintendent of Finance of the United States, did the national government have a strong leader in financial matters. Morris set up the private Bank of North America to finance the war, saved money by using competitive bidding for contracts, tightened accounting procedures, and demanded the national government’s full share of money and supplies from the confederated states.
- The skyrocketing inflation was a hardship on the few people who had fixed incomes—but 90 percent of the people were farmers, and were not directly affected by that inflation. Debtors benefited by paying off their debts with depreciated paper (due to inflation). The greatest burden was borne by the soldiers of the Continental Army, whose wages—usually in arrears—declined in value every month, weakening their morale and adding to the hardships suffered by their families.
- Congress repeatedly asked the states to provide money but were little help. By 1780 Congress was making requisitions for specific supplies of corn, beef, pork and other necessities—an inefficient system that kept the army barely alive.
- Congress sought to raise money by loans from wealthy individuals but the scheme raised little money many of the rich merchants were supporters of the Crown.
- Starting in 1776, the French secretly supplied the Americans with money, gunpowder, and munitions in order to weaken its arch enemy, Great Britain. When France officially entered the war in 1778, the subsidies continued.
(7) Impact on Britain
Diplomatic and Imperial Effects
- Losing the war and the 13 colonies was a shock to Britain. The war revealed the limitations of Britain’s fiscal-military state when it discovered it suddenly faced powerful enemies, with no allies, and dependent on extended and vulnerable transatlantic lines of communication.
- Britain may have lost thirteen colonies in America, but it retained Canada and land in the Caribbean, Africa and India. It then began to expand in these regions instead, building up what has been called the ‘Second British Empire’, which eventually became the largest dominion in world history.
- Britain’s role in Europe was not diminished, and its diplomatic power was soon restored, and able to play a key role in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
- Loss of the American colonies enabled Britain to deal with the French Revolution with more unity and better organization than would otherwise have been the case.
- Britain gave self rule to many white colonies in fear of loosing them like America.
- Britain’s war against the Americans, French and Spanish cost about £100 million and 40% of the money was borrowed. Taxes had to be raised as a result. The trade which Britain relied on for wealth was severely interrupted, with imports and exports experiencing large drops and the recession which followed caused stock and land prices to plummet.
- Britain had a sophisticated financial system based on the wealth of thousands of landowners, who supported the government, together with banks and financiers in London and efficient British tax collection system. Heavy spending brought France to the verge of bankruptcy and revolution, while the British had relatively little difficulty financing their war, keeping their suppliers and soldiers paid.
- Trade was affected by naval attacks from Britain’s enemies.
- On the other hand, wartime industry such as the naval suppliers or the elements of the textile industry which made uniforms experienced a boost, and unemployment fell as Britain struggled to find enough men for the army, a situation which would cause them to hire German soldiers.
- British ‘privateers’ experienced as much success preying on enemy merchant ships as almost any of their opponents.
- The peace in 1783 left France financially prostrate, while the British economy boomed thanks to the return of American business.
- The effects on trade were short term, as British trade with the new USA rose to the same levels as trade with them in colonial form by 1785, and by 1792 trade between Britain and Europe had doubled. Additionally, while Britain gained an even larger national debt, they were in a position to live with it and there were no financially motivated rebellions like those of France. Indeed, Britain was able to support several armies during the Napoleonic wars.
- The conclusion of the American Revolution led to political upheaval; people didn’t stay in power for very long. Lord North, the British Prime Minister who had been a consistent proponent of the war and the king, resigned in disgrace in 1782. Lord Rockingham was asked to form a government to make peace, though his death only a few months later after forming a government caused the prime ministry to fall to Lord Shelburne, who was himself forced out of power soon after taking the post. The activist government, which finally did form in 1783 under William Pitt the Younger, passed reforms taking control of India from the East India Company and making further parliamentary reforms which marginalized the king’s power.
Demand of Reform
- In Britain the failure of the American Revolutionary War led to demands for constitutional reform.
- The defeat heightened dissension and escalated political antagonism to the King’s ministers. Inside parliament, the primary concern changed from fears of an over-mighty monarch to the issues of representation, parliamentary reform, and government retrenchment. Reformers sought to destroy what they saw as widespread institutional corruption.
- Petitions flooded from the ‘Association Movement’, demanding a pruning of the king’s government, the expansion of who could vote, and a redrawing of the electoral map. Some even demanded universal manhood suffrage.
- The power the Association Movement had around early 1780 was huge, and it managed to achieve widespread support. It did not last long.
- In June 1780 the Gordon Riots paralysed London. While the cause of the riots was religious, landowners and moderates were frightened away from supporting any more reform and the Association Movement declined.The moment passed.
- Also the crisis ended after 1784, thanks to renewed confidence in the system engendered by the leadership of the new Prime Minister, William Pitt.
(8) Other Effects
- American War of Independence struck the first blow at the rock of Colonialism. Here after England followed a liberal policy towards her Colonies.
- The War led to the opening of the First English settlement in Australia. Before the war. Great Britain used Viginia in America as a place of exile for the English convicts. But after the war the English Government searched for another place. They looked to Australia. In 1787 some convicts were sent to Botany Bay In 1788 the first Australian settlement was made ‘Gradually a new British Empire was built in Australia.
Q. How did the American Revolution influence the French Revolution?
- The culmination of all these factors was seen in the French Revolution, where the revolutionaries formed their own slogan, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. Europeans obtained information about the American Revolution from soldiers returning from America. French soldiers returned to France with ideas of individual liberty, popular sovereignty and the notion of republicanism. The French then revolted against their ineffectual monarchy, which they saw as tyrannical.
Q. How did the American Revolution influence slavery?
- The Revolution had contradictory effects on slavery. The northern states either abolished the institution outright or adopted gradual emancipation schemes. In the South, the Revolution severely disrupted slavery, but ultimately white Southerners succeeded in strengthening the institution. The Revolution also inspired African-American resistance against slavery. During the Revolution, thousands of slaves obtained their freedom by running away. Thomas Jefferson estimated that 30,000 slaves fled their masters during the British invasion of Virginia in 1781.
- Inspired by the natural rights philosophy of the Revolution, free blacks agitated against slavery. They petitioned Congress to end the slave trade and state legislatures to abolish slavery. They repeatedly pointed out the contradiction between American ideals of liberty and equality and the base reality of slavery.
- Slaves began to speak the language of natural rights. In 1800, a group of slaves in Virginia plotted to seize the city of Richmond. Led by a man named Gabriel, the insurrection was inspired in part by the slave revolt that began in the French colony of St. Domingue (Haiti) in 1791. It was also motivated by the ideals of liberty that had led the American colonists to revolt against Britain. About 30 of the accused conspirators were executed, and many others were sold as slaves to Spanish and Portuguese colonies.
- President Thomas Jefferson recognized that the Virginian slaves had been motivated by the same ideals that had inspired white colonists to revolt against Britain. In a letter to the U.S. Minister to Britain, Jefferson proposed that a group of the insurgent slaves be deported to Sierra Leone in West Africa, where an English abolitionist organization had established Freetown as a home for former slaves. Jefferson told the minister to assure the British that the rebel slaves were not criminals, but men aspiring for freedom. The negotiations with the British were unsuccessful, and most of the accused conspirators were sold as slaves to Spain and Portugal’s New World colonies.
Q. “American War of Independence deprived great Britain of one empire; but it strengthened the foundations of another”. Comment.
- (See the section of previous years solved paper for answer)
Q. The American Revolution “was a natural and even expected event in the history of colonial people who had come of age.” Comment.
- (See section of previous years solved paper for answer)
Q. Was the American Revolution a revolution – a radical event that truly revolutionized American society, or an evolution – a conservative event that did not significantly change American society?
The best way to address this question is through the lens of two noted historians: Gordon Wood and Carl Degler.
Revolution – Gordon Wood’s strict interpretation – that the Revolution was a radical event that truly changed American society.
- Colonial America did not have the social conditions generally believed to be the cause of all revolutions – colonists were not an oppressed people and knew they were “freer, more equal, more prosperous” than any other people of their time.
- The Revolution was truly revolutionary because it transformed a society that had been bound by English hierarchy of ranks into a society that was egalitarian, democratic, and commercial.
- Created the first nation built upon democratic values.
- By focusing upon what the Revolution did not accomplish – abolition of slavery, equality for women, greater voting privileges – “is to miss the great significance of what it did accomplish.” The Revolution paved the way for the abolition of slavery, for women’s rights movements, and for the broadening of democracy.
Evolution – Carl Degler ‘s loose interpretation – Revolution was a conservative event that did not significantly change American society
- Colonial society had already developed a society of equality only for white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant males (WASP); assigned governmental rule to men of wealth and privilege; and distributed property in a way that wealthy men and speculators, not small landholders or the landless, owned the vast amount of land.
- The Revolution did not change the “fundamental outlines” of American society: WASP men still relatively equal in terms of ability to gain wealth, but women and persons of color had no equality; men in power before the Revolution were still in power afterwards; most land remained in the hands of the wealthy.
- Even when “one has added together the new constitutions, the enlightened religious innovations, and the stimulus to equality, it is quickly apparent that the social consequences of the Revolution were meager indeed. In both purpose and implementation, they were not to be equated with the massive social changes which shook France and Russia in later years. For the most part, society of post-Revolutionary America was but the working out of social forces which were already evident in the colonial period.”
Q. American Revolution or evolution?
- The traditional telling of the American Revolution is filled with mythology: The colonists had suffered over a hundred years of unfair taxes; the rule of King George III was tyrannical; all Americans united in a patriotic defense of independence; Americans won the war single handedly; and the victorious Americans immediately created a democracy.
- The real story of the American Revolution is more interesting and is one that acknowledges the way in which socio-economic status, race, and patriotic allegiances complicated colonial society much as they complicate American society today.
- Neither the actions of the British government nor those of the American colonists prior to the Revolutionary War were revolutionary. Rather, British actions were consistent with and predictable of a colonial power; while colonial actions were primarily acts of resistance both against British policies and those of colonial legislatures.
- The actions of declaring, fighting, and winning the Revolutionary War were revolutionary: the American colonists revolted against the British government and that revolution resulted in American independence.
- However, the consequences of the War were evolutionary: the War did not dramatically change the structure or content of American society.
- It did not establish a truly democratic government – but remember, there were no truly democratic nations in the late 18th century.
- It did not create a new economic structure; rather, it kept capitalism in place while also speeding up the process of industrialization.
- It did not significantly change the structure of American society; rather, it reinforced the political, economic, and social status quo.
- It did not abolish slavery; rather, it continued to allow slavery to flourish in the South.
- The Revolutionary War was a war of independence from colonial domination, a civil war between the various forces within American society, and a world war fought both in North America and on the European continent.
- The Revolutionary War placed Americans on an evolutionary road to creating a more democratic nation.
Q. “Two documents that greatly influenced the course of the Revolutionary War: Common Sense and The Wealth of Nations”. Comment.
Common Sense by Thomas Paine
- It is ironic that it took an emigrant from the lower classes of England, who only arrived in America in 1774, to fully grasp that America could mean a “sanctuary of freedom for humanity.” Of all pamphlets and documents written during the crucial years of 1775 – 1776, Common Sense stands as the most widely read and most influential.
- This 47-page pamphlet sold 120,000 copies within three months, and during the pivotal year of 1776, some 500,000 colonists bought copies.
- Common Sense reflects the free thinking and revolutionary idealism of a person who decided to seek something better than the monotonous life of a poor working class Englishman. Though neither well-educated nor a particularly a profound thinker, Paine was intelligent and had read the philosophers of the Enlightenment.
- Reportedly, George Washington was so persuaded by Paine’s words that he decided to stop supporting the King of England.
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
- The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, was probably the most influential book ever written on market economics. In 1766, Smith began research for his book, beginning with a study of the French and Indian war and how the British government had decided that the colonists must help pay down the war debt through tax measures.
- In his almost 1000-page book, Smith attacked the 18th Century European economic system of mercantalism in which each nation’s goal was to increase exports to its colonies and other nations, limit imports from them, and then end up with a “favorable balance of trade.”
- Mercantilists believed that the more gold and silver they acquired, the more wealth they possessed. Smith felt this was foolish, believing that it limited the potential for “real wealth” which he defined as “the annual produce of the land and labor of the society.”
- He further insisted that the British colonial empire and the mercantile trade restrictions it placed on its colonies – especially in North America – was “hurtful to the general interest of society.” It only helped British special interests, not society as a whole
- His solution:
The British should institute a free market system – “an obvious and simple system of natural liberty” – that would produce true national wealth. A free market economy – one based on supply and demand with little or no government control – occurs when buyers and sellers are allowed to freely buy, sell, and trade goods based on a mutual agreement on price without state intervention in the form of taxes, subsidies or regulation. This, free market economy, Smith argued, would benefit all social classes, not just the privileged few who benefited from mercantilism.
To achieve economic growth and social betterment, the British should get rid of its network of government economic privileges and restrictions and let the “free market mechanism” operate on its own without government interference – laissez faire.
Because the colonies had cost the British more than they gained for the sake of maintaining a monopoly of trade, Parliament should let the American colonies peacefully go their own way.
These thoughts of a free market economy greatly influenced the thinking of the American colonial leaders as they moved toward war with England.