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A Conservative’s Revolution: Myths of the American Revolution Revealed (Paper #2)

This is an alternative topic I chose to do instead of recounting the contradictions of Jefferson, I got an A on it.

Nick Ford
Position Paper #5
10/28/10

A Conservative’s Revolution: Myths of the American Revolution Revealed

Living in America we tend to think that the American Revolution was a huge change both politically and socially. In reality however, the American Revolution did little to nothing to change anything except the people in charge and notions of what freedom really means. It’s not because the American Revolution was only mildly violent compared to other noticeable revolutions throughout history like the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution. Revolutions are not revolutionary because of the violence they instill but the change that occurs as a result of the revolution itself. Therefore a true political and social revolution would be one in which the system that is in place is changed in some major way, although not necessarily through any sort of violence. Revolutions are not chiefly about causing havoc on social and political systems but fundamentally changing the way they function. And to change a political or social system violence may not even be necessary. The reasons for the American Revolution not being as revolutionary as commonly thought have nothing to do with violence. Instead, in this paper I’ll posit that the American Revolution was not as revolutionary as commonly thought because no real fundamental change of the political and social system happened once it was over.
America was in many ways an opportunity for people to work hard and live a good life it was also indicative of social ills such as slavery and oppression of women and the landless. None of these social ills however are what fueled the revolution. Instead issues like “taxation without representation” and the British troops staying in people’s houses with or without their permission as well as a lack of fundamental rights for them were raised. Already signs of a social revolution being left out of the picture are apparent. If the revolution was to be at all revolutionary in the form of political and social change it would have to do something for these people and substantially change the way they live.

In Gordon S. Wood’s The Radicalism of the American Revolution he makes the mistake of equating a revolution that does nothing to really promote significant change and political change. A truly radical revolution would not only plan to abolish the current system where such inequality in gender, race and class is not only accepted but perpetrated but also replace it with a more equal and fraternalistic society. This is what was attempted with the French Revolution but failed due to their overzealous love with immediate effects and violence making their revolutionary in the end just as dull as the American one started off to be. Woods also claims that because most people perceived government as the cause of most social evils as well as political evils then they had a decidingly political message but this was not the case. The social change would not happen by just changing the government and how it was organizing and if government truly was the root of this political and social injustice it would have done the Americans revolutionaries more good to just have government abolished then minimized or reorganized like they did. That sort of revolution would not only cry out against political injustice but social injustice as well and truly hold some radical connotations to it.

Once the revolution was over one of the most radical things that happened was that the Articles of Confederation were ratified. This gave the state governments sovereignty over their own territory and people and established a weak congress and federal government in place of any sort of monarchy. Eventually however it was determined that this system of truly small government that fit the ideals of classical liberalism and those of the revolution to a great degree were too far. This was especially considered such by Alexander Hamilton and those who emerged from the revolution as Federalists, which are people who supported a strong central government. Eventually one of the leading figures George Washington would take control of the government via a popular election and this same Federalist government that was desired by Hamilton and others was created.
For instance the most wealthy and well connected still had the top offices; the people could now just elect them into said offices in some cases. And this sense of election didn’t much matter when the people who got in the offices had similar agendas and economic goals. And while leadership was not determined by bloodline it was more than often in the early presidencies determined by who were the most prominent in the revolution. Not only that but while there was a congress to check the president’s power it seemed like it didn’t matter. When a rebellion happened against what poor farmers felt was unfair taxation Washington and his own troops went to stop it through violence. John Adams used the Alien and Sedition acts to quiet dissenters and jail reporters with opposing viewpoints effectively nullifying the first amendment. And when Jefferson was president he bought millions of acres of land through the Louisianan purchase without getting congress’s approval. This would seem to indicate a lack of authority on congress’s part and an excess of his own power. Nor did he get it when he sent an army after the Barbary pirates. He did both of these things even though the constitution gave him no such power and Jefferson was supposed to believe in a strict interpretation of the constitution. So although a heavily tyrannical and unfair system has just been overthrown it seems that gradually a new one develops as political power becomes more centralized.
So while little political change happened social change seemed from the get go to be left out of the picture. Women were not given any more rights than they had before. Voting was still not an option; neither was having most of the basic rights and women were treated as property during the contract of marriage well after the revolution. Historians have noted that women grew to have associations and political talks where they could finally speak out but this wasn’t as much a result of the intentions of the revolution than of their own actions. The revolution only gave the oppressed a new sense of freedom, it didn’t give them this freedom only inspired them to ask for it and in some cases demand it and get it themselves. This can be said to be the greatest good that the revolution did in the end. Not the actual good that it itself did but the good that happened afterwards as a byproduct. For example, many women like Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams reminded her husband constantly that the new government of America should take care not to forget the women. But in fact the America Revolution left the previously oppressed behind the most, for the only people who could really vote or had much say immediately after the revolution was still the men who were white and owned land and preferably lots of it. This was a trend that eventually came to a close due to more political reform but again was by no means a real intent of the revolution.
The original intent of the American Revolution was for taxation to be done more fairly, a more self-empowered people and a more representative government. What happened instead was the leaders of the revolution soon abandoned what radical beliefs they had once they were in power. Hamilton wanted more centralization and Washington and others went along with it resulting in more government expansion and less self-government. Most of the people who led the revolution didn’t even represent the people most hurt by the British either. Most of the founding fathers were wealthy, owned slaves or lots of land and were part of the upper class. To add to that after the revolution the wealthy still controlled political power and while bloodline was not a factor it was apparent who was getting in the top offices. The most well connected, the people most involved with forming the revolution and keeping it together and leading it, etc. So while slight variances in the system were obvious in the end social ills were not corrected to being plain left alone in the name of politics and political progress turned on itself. It would be more apt to call the American Revolution a kind of revolution in conservative thought and not liberal. In theory it was a radically classical liberal idea but in practice it was only radically conservative when the revolution was over.

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2 Comments

  1. Well this seemed like a legitimate comment so I added it but either way, thanks for the compliments, I appreciate it.

    I don’t like writing towards a page limit, etc. either I feel like it limits my creativity in either giving me too little time, too much, or me figuring out the right amount on my own anyways.

  2. Anonymous

    Writing up to a word count is very bad for your style. Reread Strunk & White’s Elements of Style before writing each new paper.

    Still, awesome thesis, decent argument, decent writing. Depending on the class, you earned the A.

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