American Revolution Essay, Example Composition Writing on American Revolution
Essay Example 1: An Essay about American Revolution
After the French and Indian War, Britain needed money. As a result, the British government placed taxes on the American colonists. The British thought that the colonists should help pay for the war since it had been fought partly to defend the colonies.
The first tax was the Stamp Act. It said that colonists had to buy tax stamps for printed materials. Many colonists refused to pay. They said they had not voted on the tax (No taxation without representation). Colonists under the leadership of Samuel Adams formed the Sons of Liberty to protest the Stamp Act.
Since the Stamp Act did not work, Britain replaced it with a tax on imported goods, the Townshend Acts. So colonists refused to buy imports. The Daughters of Liberty formed to make tea and cloth.
The colonial boycott was hurting British merchants; therefore, King George III ordered British soldiers and warships to the colonies. Tensions rose to and explosive level in Boston between the colonists and the British soldiers on March 5, 1770. Shots were fired and in the end five people laid dead. This event became known as the Boston Massacre.
As a result of colonists’ protests, Britain removed all taxes except the tax on tea. The Tea Act said that the British East India Company was the only company allowed to sale tea to the colonists. Angry Boston colonists led by Samuel Adams dressed as Mohawk Indians and threw a load of tea off a British ship into Boston Harbor. This event became known as the Boston Tea Party. That action caused Britain to punish Boston further.
In reaction to the Boston Tea Party, Parliament passed a series of laws known as the Intolerable Acts to punish the people of Boston. The people of Boston were ordered to feed and house British soldiers, Massachusetts was put under the control of Thomas Gage, and the port of Boston was closed until the people of Boston paid for the tea they destroyed. The Intolerable Acts had two effects: closing of the port hurt businesses that depended on trade and many people were out of work, but it also had a positive effect, it forced colonists to take sides. Those that supported the people of Boston became known as Patriots. Those that wanted to stay loyal to King George III and Britain became known as Loyalists.
In response to the Intolerable Acts, Americans representing 12 colonies (Georgia did not attend) met in Philadelphia for the First Continental Congress. They voted to stop trading with Britain until the Intolerable Acts were repealed, and to start training colonists to fight.
In March 1775 Patrick Henry made the most famous speech of his career. Henry warned Virginia’s militias to prepare for war with Britain. "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" were the last words spoken at the meeting by Patrick Henry. War was inevitable.
Essay Example 2: How radical was the American Revolution.
At the outset of this essay, I feel it is important to highlight the fact there is no stereotypical revolution, there are commonly perceived notions of what cause, and what is involved in revolution, but no example to which one can compare different revolutions. Therefore, the best one can attempt to do is show the similarities and differences between revolutions. It can be argued that all revolutions are essentially radical, as no two are the same. If radicalism is measured by suffering, then the American Revolution is conservative in comparison to others. But, if the radicalism is measured by the amount of social change that actually took place, by transformation in the relationship that bound people to each other, then the American Revolution was as radical as any in history.1
Although in more general terms the more interesting question would be, not how radical the American Revolution was, but rather was it a revolution at all, or simply a rebellion? However, in this essay, I shall attempt to highlight those aspects of the American Revolution that are unique, by comparison to other revolutions. But, due to the restraints imposed by the length of this essay, I have decided to focus my attention on the impact the American Revolution had on social structures in the colonies, and slavery, rather than offering a general overview of a large number of aspects.
One of the major aspects associated with revolutions as a rule, is that they are generally uprisings, instigated by the lower echelons of society, aggravated by: social wrongs, class conflict, impoverishment, and a grossly inequitable distribution of wealth.2 Examples include: the French Revolution (1792) and the Russian Revolution of (1917). However, in the case of the American Revolution, the unrest began with upper echelons of society. There were more political than social wrongs, impoverishment in the colonies was minimal and wealth was reasonably evenly distributed. If the American Revolution had conformed to the common perception of revolutions, then presumably it would have been landless labors, or some other such downtrodden social group who would have initiated the rising. Even the slaves, rebelling against oppression by the colonists would have been a more logical group to rebel.
The reason the American Revolution did not conform to this aspect of revolution was that, even prior to the revolution, colonial society was drastically different to anywhere else in the world. There was nowhere near the same gulf in wealth between the upper echelons of society and the merchants, or even smaller landholders. Planters in the colonies were far more involved in the hands-on running of their estates, in a manner, which would have been alien to wealthy Englishmen.3 The hierarchical system, dominant in the Western World, was not nearly as evident in the colonies as it was in Britain. In Massachusetts for example, there is evidence from the probate, tax and deeds records that indicate there were few men who might be considered wealthy and a few who were poor, but that the great masses of men were middle-class property owners. Furthermore, most of these men had sufficient property to qualify as voters.4
And, even if one were to believe the argument that there was in fact, substantial class divisions in the colonies, then surely the revolution would have been the poor in colonial society, rising against their colonial superiors. Of course, the reason this did not happen was because it was not the wealthy and powerful in the colonies which held supreme power, but rather the British government and Crown. This aspect is very unique in revolutionary terms, in that the wealthy and aristocratic members of the colonial society were not running the country. The closest comparison to this situation pre-1776 is the Republican movement in Ireland, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In both cases the colonies were initially looking for a form of “Home Rule”, but this idea was supplanted and radicalised into the demand for a Republic.
The change of social structures in the colonies is perhaps the most radical element of the entire Revolution. Although I have already stated that the class difference in the colonies was not as great as in Britain, the Revolution still served as a means of bridging any gaps that were present. This was due to the fact that many loyalists who left during the Revolution were wealthy.5 Therefore this removed a large number of people from the top tier of society in the colonies, thus enabling the expansion of the already substantial middle-class. Gordon wood perhaps best describes the social change in the population of the colonies by saying that the colonists changed from being “subjects to citizens”.6
One of the major causes of the growth in the aforementioned middle-class were the changes made in the distribution of land. With the abolition of Royal restrictions on the acquisition of land in the West (Louisiana Purchase), state legislatures freely gave land as bounties for military service during the war. Furthermore, primogeniture was abolished in favour of absolute equality, resulting in even more men acquiring land of their own.7 But, in spite of all these radical changes to social structures, the Revolution failed to abolish the property requirement for holding office and voting.8 So, even though the franchise was indeed extended, with more men acquiring land, the process was still far from the ideological view of democracy. However, other areas experienced change, for instance religious tolerance was promoted, and the Anglican Church was disestablished.
There is an argument that all the aforementioned social changes would have occurred with or without the Revolution. And, certainly there is some truth in the idea that there were moves towards changing existing social conditions prior to the Revolution. However, social change and the political Revolution are so intrinsically interwoven it is next to impossible not to link the two. While it is possibly true that social change would have occurred without the Revolution, there is no guarantee that this would be so, and to base a historical theory on “maybes” is a risky endeavor. Whereas it is more than fair to say that the Revolution acted as an immense catalyst for social changes in the colonies.
One of the more interesting areas of study in the American Revolution in regards to radicalism is the impact of the Revolution on slavery. Slavery and Black oppression are some of the most important issues in American history, and it was the Revolution which first put these issues to the fore in American society. In the wave of egalitarian feeling which swept through the colonies in the aftermath of the revolution, the call for the emancipation of the slaves truly found its voice. The number of Blacks enjoying freedom swelled under the pressure of revolutionary change, from a few thousand in the 1760’s to almost 200,000 by the end of the first decade of the 19th century.9 Prior to the Revolution such a call had fallen on deaf ears. Despite the fact there were attempts to slow the importation of slaves, it was only slave involvement, on both sides, during the Revolution that had really forced the issue.10 The British in particular had lured slaves into the army by offering freedom in return. In November 1775, for example, Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, freed all slaves that were able and willing to bare arms in His Majesty’s service.11 Another example, is when the war turned in 1778, General Henry Clinton, British commander-in-chief promised liberty to all who deserted their masters for British service.12 Some colonies also offered similar deals to slaves, but they were mainly Northern colonies, Southern colonies remained reluctant to arm the slaves for fear of a rebellion. Many of the slave masters kept their word, and large numbers of slaves were emancipated in the aftermath of the Revolution. This led to a radical change in the position of Black people in some parts of the new nation, primarily in the North. For instance, the Maryland census of 1755 shows that, only 2% of the population was free blacks. However, in the period 1755-1790 the number of free Blacks increased 350% to approximately 8,000, and by 1810 that number had risen to 34,000.13 The reason for the increase in the number of freed Blacks was not solely attributed to emancipation, but also the families of Blacks who had their servitude bought out for them by emancipated slaves. While there was radical change in the position of the Blacks in the upper South and North of the colonies, the same can not be said of the lower South. From an economic point of view, the loss of men during the war increased the need for slave labour in the South, especially with the boom in the cotton industry. These factors led to South Carolina reopening slave trade with Africa in 1803.14 Furthermore, it is estimated that at least 250,000 slaves were forcibly moved from the old South to the frontier, and at least 100,000 new slaves were imported during the quarter-century after the Peace of Paris.15
The Revolution did not produce an egalitarian economy; a fifth of Americans remained enslaved.16 One can conclude that there was certainly radical change in the social position of slaves immediately after the Revolution in the colonies. However as the years passed, egalitarian feelings subsided somewhat, and it was only in the upper South and North that this trend continued. In the South and frontier regions slavery not only continued but in some instances worsened. Thus, in terms of slavery the newly formed nation missed a golden opportunity to radically change its culture and abolish the practice altogether. Instead, the half measures put in place were later to lead to tensions between the anti-slavery North and pro-slavery South, eventually becoming a major factor in leading to the outbreak of Civil War in 1861.
How radical was the American Revolution? In political terms not all that radical really. The ease at which the colonies adopted republicanism is testament to how republicanized Britain had become, Britain was a republicanized monarchy, and much of the prestige of the monarchy was gone.17 Furthermore, Americans’ restraint and by the success with which they avoided the cycle of revolution and counterrevolution and continuing violence, is not only unique, but also illustrates how little change really took place and how readily the colonists took to the new ideals.18 In fact the American Revolution can be seen as a war to “preserve” the democracy that was already present, not a war to democratize an aristocratic American society.19 On a more general scale, the Revolution proved to the world that the republican form of government could function effectively, while it was also the first time in history that a large group of communities had formed their own government’s under written constitutions.20
I have focused upon two areas in this essay, changes in social structure and slavery. To take the latter first, there was undoubtedly radical change in the system of slavery in the colonies after the Revolution, particularly in the North. Above all else, the ideology of the Revolution made colonists take stock and really look at the issue of slavery, leading to the realization that it did not fit into the fundamental beliefs put forward in the founding of the new nation.
However, despite the major steps taken towards emancipation, the issue prevailed and worsened with the South’s refusal to abolish slavery, eventually culminating in the American Civil war. The opportunity was there for the founding fathers to go for the extremely radical option and abandon slavery in its entirety, this missed opportunity was eventually to cost them dearly.
Whatever about the radical changes made and missed in the arena of slavery, there can be no doubt as to the radical changes in the social structures of the colonies. The new society that developed was different to anywhere else in the world. The colonists’ hierarchy of ranks was cast off to become the most liberal, democratic, commercially minded and modern people in the world.21 What is even more astounding is that this social utopia of its time was created without industrialization; urbanization, railroads, and the aid of any of the great forces one usually invoke to explain modernization. The ideologies adopted by the new nation, although not a new departure had never been realized in such near completion by any society in history. The new America now offered the world a model of liberty to aspire to.