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How Revolutionary Was The American Revolution?

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Written by   16
3 months ago

The time period from 1763 to 1791 revolutionized America’s political, social, and economical structure. While previous nations had been united by a similar heritage, religion or culture, America was uniquely shaped around a government built for the people, by the people. This ideology resulted in the incorporation of an electoral college and three branches of government to preserve balance both interstately and within the national government, a concept unheard of in Britain. Spurred on by the colonists’ enlightenment period, and the war, new ideas about the role of women, marking the beginning of a continuous pursuit of remodeling of society to include all peoples. Though one may not be able to pinpoint a specific moment when the colonist’s cause became revolutionary, it did generate radical political and social changes so that by 1791 it is clear that the movement as a whole was. 

From their hatred for a suppressive monarch sprouted the young nations’ insistence for democracy. First, they drafted the Articles of Confederation to ensure a weak Federal government. While this document did not last very long, it demonstrates the colonist’s core values about balancing the ruling class, as it left congress with little authority other than representing the nation in the war and coining money. This starkly contrasted the powerful, overreaching parliament they had endured as non-voting British subjects. This document radically overhauled the government at the national level and ensured that the national government could never trample on any of the colonists’ fundamental rights like the British had. 

Though its successor, the Constitution, may seem like a step back from the ultimate democracy the Articles had set up, it, too, maintained that core value of having an extremely limited central government. When the state’s respective delegates met to draft the Constitution, it was clear that their fears of monarchy had not subsided. Yet, they understood that, in order for the union to survive, they would need to strengthen the central government, mainly because of consequences of the nation’s ever mounting debt. What’s more, the resulting document now also had to appeal to all the demands of the drastically different states. 

To fulfil the first point, they established checks and balances where each part of the triad could counteract the others. Spreading the power amongst three independent branches prevented any one sector from taking over. More importantly, if any branch disagreed with a policy passed by another branch, it could check it; the president can veto bills from congress but the congress can override it with a ⅔ vote from both chambers. The supreme court can declare the president or congress’s actions unconstitutional but congress can pass amendments to make more policies constitutional. Furthermore, the president nominates the supreme court justices but that requires approval from congress. In this heavily interlocked way, all three branches rely on the cooperation of all the others. Thus, spreading power amongst three branches, each of which could check the others was a radical change from the British’s legislative body and single figurehead king.

Additionally, while the electoral college is often seen as a step back from the fair democracy that the colonists persisted, at its core, it sought to reduce the chance of mob rule. As a result, it has lessened the impact that cities had in presidential elections, encouraging presidential candidates to campaign in more remote or rural areas of the country. The colonists had once been one of the more remote regions of the British empire and this provision prevented a repeat of virtual representation. While admittedly faulty, nothing of that sort had ever surfaced in Britain, making it a radical change from the preexisting system. 

Although America did not have any distant territories yet, they did have states with very different needs. To protect the sovereignty of individuals, a strong desire of the anti-federalists, the Bill of Rights handed the bulk of ruling rights to the states themselves, believing that small, local governments would better serve the communities they managed. Still on the subject of the Bill of Rights, the founding fathers also recognized their new constitution must have the flexibility to survive the test of time. Both of these, along with their continued distaste for despots, led to an amendable Bill of Rights. Although Britain did have their own bill of rights, no one could change it and overall power was solely granted to Parliament. By contrast, the American Bill of Rights recognized the need of adaptability and made it possible to modify national rights over time while still allowing states to make smaller adjustments faster. 

Outside of the changing political landscape, women also began improving their social standing and took on different positions British society not given to them. Though the roles of women weren't drastically involved in the government, their role in Republican Motherhood was considered non-traditional and thus it was a radical idea at that time. While many men still treated their daughters or wives as mere property, the image of a republican mother first emerged from the American Enlightenment Period. To best serve the next generation and to teach males proper morals, this concept argues that women, too, require a proper education, leading to the first colleges for women by the 1790s. This revaluation of the role of women came as a direct result of women’s active participation in the war when they demonstrated their capability to boost the American economy, as seen in the homespun movement or run the farm while their husbands were away at war. While England and Europe still saw women as objects of men, in America the radical shift granted women more respect, the first step to equality. 

Fundamentally, even the act of defying the most powerful fighting force of the time ought to be considered momentous but to fully appreciate the more subtle marvels of the revolutionary movement, the actions of the colonists must be solely compared to their European counterparts in the same time period. Take the electoral college as an example. While being a deeply flawed system, it attempted to make room for the needs of smaller states to be heard. Colonists had themselves had once been considered indifferent to Britain's many other colonies, being granted nothing but virtual representation in Parliament. 

Or consider the displacement of the powers of a king. Though Britain was certainly making strides towards that ideal, it was the colonists that finally had enough and leapt into the arms of a republican democracy. Later, the French Revolution modeled their movement after the American’s, not the British’s slow crawl towards democracy. 

Even women’s right to education, today taken for granted and deemed insignificant when compared to other human rights movements, came as a momentous change after Europe’s continued reluctance to allow that. 

Colonists had taken their plea for freedom from oppressive governments and applied it to every aspect of their new nation, completely cut ties to their mother country and vowing to succeed where she had failed them. As expected, they’d also made some poor, somewhat counterproductive choices but the rapid, radical reversal of political and social policies established by the British, constituted the movement between 1763 and 1791 as a true revolution.

An essay I had to write a while back. Let me know what you think about the American Revolution (or any other major historical event!)

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Written by   16
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The American Revolution led to such an interesting experiment, but it's sad how far the country has fallen as it slowly abandoned its ideals and is but a shadow of what those early idealists envisioned.

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