They believed they could best achieve such equality by limiting the State to a very negative role. This view united them in their opposition to the statism of the Court Party and its evident inequalitarianism. They fully accepted the implications of the emerging urban-market revolution. They were in no way philosophically wedded to agrarian life. Farmlands were simply another area where market and technological techniques would yield important improvements. State interventionism was the enemy.
A final group was, perhaps, the most important and representative of all. Their rhetoric was usually agrarian. They understood the virtue of the agrarian life: the apparent political stability of a nation of independent yeomen. But they realized the potential benefits from an urban-market sector within society. They were also disenchanted with the long-range corruption of a state financial system based upon great extremes of wealth and the creation of an urban proletariat without property.
The ideology flowing from the English Revolution needs to be linked to the social change in the American colonies during the eighteenth century. In this reassessment the most important is Rowland Berthoff and John M. Franklin Jameson, when in he broached the question of the Revolution as a social movement, nor Frederick B. Tolles, in reassessing the matter in , paid any attention to the possibility that social causes impelled the political events of the years to One recent example is Gordon S. Berthoff and Murrin suggest that in American society a recurrent tension between this conservative, even reactionary, ideal and the practical liberty and individuality that their new circumstances stimulated is a familiar theme of colonial history—Puritanism against secularism, communalism eroded by economic progress, hierarchic authority challenged by antinomianism.
The opposite explanation is more compelling. Feudal projects collapsed in the seventeenth century, not because America was too progressive to endure them, but because it was too primitive to sustain them. A feudal order necessarily implies a differentiation of function far beyond the capacity of new societies to create. In every colony the demographic base was much too narrow…. By the older colonies had become populous enough to make the old feudal claims incredibly lucrative.
On the shifting social pattern imposed by the State Berthoff and Murrin are worth quoting at length:. By the s the largest proprietors—and no one else in all of English America—were receiving colonial revenues comparable to the incomes of the greatest English noblemen and larger than those of the richest London merchants. Indeed the Penn claim was rapidly becoming the most valuable single holding in the Western world.
Even prior to the Revolution the most violent protests against the pseudofeudal revival, as Berthoff and Murrin note, came from areas where the settlers were transplanted from New England. The growth of cities and the development of a market economy are blamed for differences while the continued inequalities engendered by the statism of the political system itself are ignored. To what extent did differences occur within the overall development of a rapidly expanding economy in which many were moving upward, though some more rapidly than others?
In addressing these long-run social trends, Jack P. Greene points out that one has to be careful not to ascribe social tensions too great a role in causing the Revolution. Revolutions, of course, are not begotten by abstract social changes extending over a century, but by living individuals who come to feel social repercussions over relatively short periods of time.
To survey this accelerating human drama of the American Revolution, we need to describe the shifting composition of the protest coalition as the issues moved toward self-defense and later independence. Two distinct and dissatisfied groups launched protests against the elites who dominated a colonial society marked by inequalities. Both breathed inspiration from the Country-Whig tradition and its stress on equality.
American Revolution Essay | Bartleby
The first group, representing the mechanics and artisans of the burgeoning colonial urban centers, resented being cut off from full participation in the political system and its expanding social differentiation. As in Europe, where such unequal disfranchisement was even more extensive, organized rioting became a carefully orchestrated symptom of politics.
The second group comprised the townspeople and farmers in the western segments of several colonies, who chafed at the inequities of their underrepresentation in the assemblies. Serious protests erupted in New York, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas during the same period as the developing quarrel with British imperial authorities. But the most unifying action of all was the Stamp Act of Nothing better demonstrates the British notions of inequality and subordination. But the most lasting result of the Stamp Act protest was institutional: a communication network among the Americans grew out of the numerous protest organizations ranging from the Stamp Act Congress to the Sons of Liberty.
What provoked the final crisis, of course, was the Tea Act. This defiance was a brilliant stroke to polarize the issue and undermine British legitimacy. In the context of the crisis of legitimacy, the Intolerable Acts form a sort of watershed of revolution. The Americans responded by calling a Continental Congress. It is noteworthy that the internal dynamics of the protest coalition were also changing, especially in Massachusetts, the heart of protest.
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The first fighting, of course, occurred when the British sought to march to Lexington and Concord, literally into the teeth of this armed countryside of agrarian militia. Time, itself, is something of a legitimizer. Each day that American institutions ruled the country solidified the notion of their legitimacy. What Adam Smith realized in his memorandum quoted earlier to the British government was that local American leaders, having come to rule themselves and their communities for some period of time, would not easily surrender that role.
More than a military effort by the British would be needed to undo the organic development and growing legitimacy of such a revolutionary society. In this interim, American thinking increasingly recognized that independence was the only solution to the problem. Equality, as noted, had been a conspicuous thrust of the Whig tradition.
Paine denied that independence would inaugurate a civil war among the colonies. As John M. Popular pressures, rising up through the state governments especially after mid-May, changed the picture. The Declaration of Independence was not, of course, in any sense a blueprint for a revolutionary society. At the same time, its emphasis on equality voiced something more than just a declaration of freedom from British rule.
In recent years it has become fashionable to talk about the American Revolution as simply a conservative, colonial rebellion. These tensions swirling around the issue of equality would seem to belie that image. We need to define precisely what criteria are being employed in making such an assessment. Many years ago R. Palmer noted the large percentage of Loyalists who left America, never to return. And in a recent study, Men in Rebellion: Higher Governmental Leaders and the Coming of the American Revolution, James Kirby Martin has estimated that elite turnover averaged 77 percent, but ranged as high as percent in several colonies.
Compared with the 50 percent in Russia after , this seems very radical indeed! Finally, a word is in order about the Tories, or Loyalists. Despite some errors, William H. The occupations and social classes of the Loyalists cut across American society even if they were more highly represented among the old oligarchy. Thus, of the people banished from Massachusetts in , about a third were merchants and professional men, another third were farmers, and a final third were artisans, shopkeepers, and laborers.
Nelson identifies two areas where Loyalists concentrated: the extreme western frontier from Georgia up into New York, and the maritime regions of the Middle Colonies. Religion also played a part, especially among minorities:. Almost all the Loyalists were, in one way or another, more afraid of America than they were of Britain. Almost all of them had interests that they felt needed protection from an American majority…. There existed a conflict of fundamental world views.
The question of how the Americans won the Revolution has for the most part been treated essentially as a military problem usually in terms of conventional armies confronting each other in a series of set battles and campaigns. Some theorists on guerrilla warfare such as Lewis H. Gann, Guerrillas in History, for example, have seen the American Revolution as of little relevance to understanding that mode of warfare:.
Regarding revolutions in general, nothing can be more dangerous to insurrectionary planners than the romantic notion that virtuous peoples—rightly struggling to be free—must necessarily win in their struggles against tyrants. This interpretation is based on a misconceived idea of revolutionary wars that many textbooks help to perpetuate. According to the old version, the Americans won the War of Independence because the British Redcoats were no match against liberty-loving farmers sniping from behind cover against over-disciplined regulars….
But the American War of Independence was not mainly won by guerrillas but by regular soldiers and sailors. British soldiers were perfectly capable of becoming as skilled in skirmishing as their American opponents. While guerrilla warfare is a part, a tactic, of revolutionary warfare; the two are not the same. Certainly, neither virtue nor mass support of a population can guarantee victory—a superior foe willing to employ a pacification program involving mass genocide may win—but the support and involvement of the people is a necessary prerequisite to victory in revolutionary warfare, and it is significant that this aspect is now in the process of rediscovery.
However, it is peripheral to the essence of revolutionary warfare whether the regular soldiers of an occupying force can develop counterinsurgency techniques. For revolutionary warfare is essentially a political activity, as the quote from Mao above clearly implies. As James W. Since the Americans controlled the country, except where there were British troops—and several times during the war when British armies were in transport at sea none of their forces were on American soil—the British had to devise a strategy to regain North America.
For most of the war the British imagined this as an essentially military problem. But from the standpoint of revolutionary warfare and legitimacy, much more was involved. George Washington had to devise a strategy to counter that of the British. A great deal has been made of the idea that several times, after American defeats, the British were near victory. A corollary is that American victory was possible only through an alliance with France. In the light of what we know about revolutionary warfare and the tactics of counterinsurgency, both of these assumptions appear wide of the mark.
It is also necessary to deny the enemy the use of any sanctuary into which he can retreat or from which he can secure supplies. Viewed in this light, it is evident that the British never took the first step toward victory.
Lacking that first step, pacification became impossible. New England, staunchly Patriot—94 percent in Connecticut, for example—was the sanctuary of American forces. From this source supplies and troops flowed, on an irregular basis to be sure, to the American army. Every fall these farmers went back to plant, but in the spring, year after year, they returned to fight again.
The above suggests that a sociological analysis of the American army would be of value. Here again, the inequalitarian-equalitarian-egalitarian tension played an important part. From a sociological perspective, the courageous army that struggled through that memorable winter at Valley Forge was hardly representative of either the army or the population supporting it.
It was noted above that the backbone of the fighting army of the spring and summer—whether militia or Continentals—often returned to their farms during the fall and especially the winter. Apart from the officers, a high percentage of the winter soldiers were what might otherwise be called displaced men. With few roots in the society, they had nowhere else to go. The ambitions of much of the officer corps, and the sense of inequality in some of them, must also be related to the function of the regular army as a military instrument.
It also reveals one of the major fault lines within the revolutionary coalition. Such a force tends to be essentially defensive, as we shall see. It fights best when the enemy invades its community. It has neither the organization, training, weaponry, nor motivation for an offensive action, let alone a sustained one. Its very decentralization mitigates against very effective hierarchical command from above.
Unlike the militia, an organized army is capable of a sustained, offensive campaign. It can initiate an assault, capture, and hold extensive territory. Beginning with a mentality of equality, a few Americans did not stop with an ideology of republicanism, but carried the analysis a step further, toward a world view of empire. Even young John Adams, who was less drawn toward empire than some other leaders and could write about its contradictions in the Novanglus letters, was capable of such an imperial vision. The most immediate example of the focus of this kind of world view was Canada.
Can it be accidental that in , with the British army bottled up in Boston, the American leadership took the opportunity to launch a nearly successful, and then ultimately disastrous, attack on Canada? Assuming the Americans thought the Canadians wanted liberation, which soon appeared an illusion, how can we explain the continued appeal of a Canadian expedition except in terms of empire? As the war drew to a close, Washington and others were still envisioning such a campaign, despite their scant resources. The dreams of empire died hard.
The question of Canada, however, leads to another facet of the war, the French Alliance.
Richard B. Morris in The American Revolution Reconsidered, is one of the few historians who suggests, with plausibility, that victory would have been possible without the Alliance, and that the Alliance probably created as many problems as it solved. The opportunity to acquire Canada was also a factor in the alliance with the French. The continued American desire for Canada and the French coolness toward this imperial thrust is described in William C. Some Americans wanted not only independence, but independence and empire. To understand better that goal and its relationship with the Alliance, the situation in late and early must be recalled.
Late in the British had not only suffered a significant defeat at Germantown, but had also lost their first army at Saratoga. The peace feelers that resulted in the Carlisle Commission were superceded by the news of the French Alliance. What is most interesting is the shrill tone with which the American leadership greeted these efforts at negotiation.
Surely at that date, this was not a question of undercutting the legitimacy of the American leadership. The more hawkish British leaders correctly indicated that the very negotiations with the Congress added to its legitimacy. What the Congress seemed most intent on doing was cutting off any dialogue between the members of the Carlisle Commission and the larger American population. It does not seem unfair to suggest that the great fear might have been that negotiations, once under way, might culminate in independence without empire.
The alternative of independence without empire might satisfy the great majority of the people; it was certainly less acceptable to a segment of the leadership concerned with empire. The most complete study is Weldon A. The failure of these negotiations protracted the war for over three more years with great suffering on both sides. In a peace two years after that, the Americans finally settled for independence without empire. What, then, did the Americans gain from the Alliance?
Little more than might have been negotiated in The exhaustion of his army in its weaving campaign through the South had been very much the work of regular, partisan, and guerrilla American units. Hugh F. That every successful insurgency culminates in regular army forces accepting the surrender of their counterparts should never obscure the role of the irregulars. By that time, many of the irregulars remained in the countryside to administer order, or had returned to their work.
After , British strategy moved toward the possibility of developing a pacification program. The British and their allies were fascinated by the rebel militia.
Poorly trained and badly led, often without bayonets, seldom comprised of the deadly marksmen dear to American legend, the Revolutionary militia was much more than a military joke, and perhaps the British came to understand that better than did many Americans themselves. The militia enforced law and maintained order wherever the British army did not, and its presence made the movement of smaller British formations dangerous. Washington never ceased complaining about his militia—about their undependability, their indiscipline, their cowardice under fire—but from the British viewpoint, rebel militia was one of the most troublesome and predictable elements in a confusing war.
The militia nullified every British attempt to impose royal authority short of using massive armed force. The militia regularly made British light infantry, German Jager, and Tory raiders pay a price, whatever the cost to the militia itself, for their constant probing, foraging, and marauding. The militia never failed in a real emergency to provide reinforcements and even reluctant draftees for the State and Continental regular forces. With such demands, writing a revolution piece such as a revolutionary war essay becomes an uphill task.
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