-The American Revolution was not caused by poverty or class struggle, unlike in the French Revolution, and was comparatively limited in its violence. But it was no less radical. It was not the conservative, bourgeois rebellion in defense of the status quo that many historians have made it out to be. The Revolution was so radical because it completely transformed social relationships, ¬the bonds between people. Its radical effects were felt in social change. Because the world at the time could not conceive of society apart from government, the Revolution was social, even though it appears political to us. By changing their government, they were also radically changing their society. The American Revolution transformed the United States, more than any other event, from a sparsely populated cluster of colonies into the most liberal, democratic, commercially minded, and modern nation in the world through its social radicalism.
Paragraph 1: Personal Relationships/Relationship Between the Ruler and the Ruled
- Power in colonial society originated in the structure of personal relationships, rather than political organization, like today.
- The world still seemed small and intimate enough that the mutual relationships that began with the family could be extended outwards into the society to describe nearly all other relationships as well.
- The American colonies, even more than the mother country, had to be organized in these personal terms. In the strung-out colonies there were no institutions in which impersonal relationships might dominate.
- The changes in family power dynamics in the colonies were unknowingly affecting the relationships of all superiors and subordinates.
- The comparison of family and monarchy came to hold true, as soon as parents became limited monarchs. Because parents had to earn the respect and trust of their children, and children had to consent to their parents’ rule.
- The family relationship could now legitimately be equated with the now-consensual relationship of rulers and subjects, one of both rights and obligations.
- Americans turned their familial relationship with the crown into a contractual one. It was easy for them to see their relationship with the state as similar to their relationships with one another. This substitution made it easier for them to rebel against authority. Contracts are not binding if one party does not fulfill its obligations to the other.
- The prevailing mindset in the colonies now was that government was an artificial, man-made contrivance having little natural relationship to the family or society. The relationship between monarch and subject was voluntary.
Paragraph 2: Paper Money/Interest (as the bond to tie people together)/Equality
- The mercantilist bias against paper money increased the influence of local lenders, which magnified the people’s sense of personal clientage and dependence.
- Paper money had a corrosive effect on traditional patronage and dependencies by reducing the need of city merchants for credit and by increasing the ability for impersonal transactions to take place.
- America suddenly emerged as a prosperous, scrambling, enterprising nation not because the Constitution was created or because a few leaders formed a national bank but because thousands of ordinary people began working harder to make money and get ahead.
- The United States realized that they needed bonds to tie people together that were stronger than any other nations, as America was a boiling pot of identities and people. To be an American was to have freedom to make money and pursue happiness.
- Many people concluded that interest was something all Americans had in common. They could not be controlled by force, or else they would have no liberty. But appeals to virtue could not contain these busy people either. Only interest could restrain them. Americans govern themselves because it is in their interest to do so.
- With everyone being alike in working for profit, no one, including servants, had to feel degraded because they work. Because every American was presumed to work at something and for pay, every American was to that extent equal.
- And more money did not justify any feelings of superiority. In America, “no man has a greater claim for his $100,000 than I have for my $5”. That was what American equality had come to mean, and indeed still means.
Paragraph 3: Monarchy/Republicanism
- Monarchy was never as entrenched in America because all the topmost tiers of English society were missing in the colonies. The gentry had less influence to exert, and political leaders were often elected.
- Republicanism rose up to fill this void. It challenged the primary assumptions and practices of monarchy—its hierarchy, inequality, patriarchy, patronage, and dependency. It offered new conceptions of the relationships between the individuals, the family, and the state. Republicanism offered nothing less than new ways of organizing colonial society.
- Americans did not invent republicanism in 1776. They simply brought it to the surface, shedding monarchy and taking up republicanism with “as much ease as putting on a new set of clothes”.
- The advent of republican thought prompted the question: “Who remembers the fathers of Homer and Euclid?” Such a question was a republican dagger driven into the heart of the old hereditary order.
- And as Thomas Paine said simply: “Virtue is not hereditary”.
- These powerful yet simple and rational messages conveyed the foundation of republicanism to the masses. People began to question the legitimacy of the authority of their superiors.
- The gentry’s source of disinterestedness, leisure, was labeled idleness and subject to unprecedented criticism. Productive labor now came to be identified with republicanism, and idleness with monarchy.
- Anyone who was dependent was declared servile, a direct insult to Americans, who were a fiercely independent people, and all too aware of how close they were from falling from freedom into slavery.
- And after the Revolution, the spirit of Republicanism effectively did away with indentured servitude and bespoke work, the remnants of monarchy. Cash payments of wages replaced the older paternalistic relationship between masters and workers, further weakening patriarchal authority.
- Because English culture was so republicanized, it was difficult for the colonists to appreciate how radical their thinking was. In resisting tyranny, Americans saw themselves acting only as good Englishmen should.
What happened in America following the Declaration of Independence was only an extension of what the revolutionary leaders had advocated. People had only taken too far the belief that they were free and equal with the right to pursue their happiness. For many Americans the ability to make money—not whom one knew, or who one’s father was, or where one went to college—now became the only proper means for distinguishing one man from another. “Wealth became the grand leveling principle”. Many could only conclude that private interests ruled most social relationships. It was the greatest tie one man could have on another. Republicanism acted as a corrosive force on monarchy, and although it was later supplanted by democracy, its radicalism was at the heart of the new society. The American Revolution brought respectability and even dominance to the working class of people, to an extent never before seen in the world. It made the interests and prosperity of ordinary people the goal of society and government, through its radicalism and the elimination of monarchy.