History 3.3
Oct. 11-16-18, 2001

Unintended Consequences of the American Revolution

I. Ideological Escalation: From Home Rule to Natural Rights

A. Continuing crises during the 1760s and 1770s caused progressive escalation of American rhetoric and ideas.

1. Elite need to recruit supporters among the common people led to argument that Americans fought for liberty itself, not just against particular taxes.

2. All coercive authority/sovereignty came under suspicion.

3. American leaders reconsidered the basis of their rights. "Rights of Englishmen" that once made Americans proud came to seem limited and insufficient.

3. New basis would be "natural rights": identified by reason, possessed in state of nature, universal, eternal & absolute.

B. The Reaction to the Coercive Acts, 1774

1. Triggered Locke’s right of revolution and led to the disappearance of British authority in colonies. Committees of safety and provincial congresses took over.

2. Calling of 1st Continental Congress: more a meeting than a government. Still avoided criticizing the King.

II. War and Independence, 1775-76

A. The Outbreak of War, But Not Independence

1. Fighting breaks out when British try to seize American arms and leaders outside Boston, April 1775.

2. Newly organized "minuteman" companies respond, are defeated at Lexington, but rout British force at Concord=s North Bridge, 19 April 1775.

3. Attacked by militia and citizenry all the way back, retreating British suffer 275 casualties. Savagery erupts on both sides.

4. Full-scale war then broke out, as New England troops captured Ft. Ticonderoga (May), fought British to a costly standstill at Bunker Hill (June) and invaded Canada (Sept.-Dec.)

5. Less fighting in South, but a shocking development in Lord Dunmore's Proclamation (Dec. 1775): Royal governor of VA freed slaves who joined the British.

6. 2d Continental Congress called and national army organized.

B. Slow movement toward independence spurs more escalation.

1. Thomas Paine and Common Sense, 1776, appealed to common people, defined struggle as one against monarchy and for political liberty and equality.

2. Paine’s shockingly democratic ideas about government: Annually-elected national legislature, w/o an upper house or a permanent executive.

3. Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence: invoked right of revolution, installed natural rights & Paine's ideas as founding principles of new nation.

4. As Declaration spread, mobs tore down the symbols of royal authority and real revolution began.

III. The Revolutionary Transformation of America

A. Overview of the Transformation

1. A process began of making every aspect of American life consistent with Revolution=s stated republican & egalitarian ideals.

2. "Outgroups" and reformers developed their own interpretations of Revolutionary ideals, took Revolutionary changes much further than the protesters of the 1760s had ever dreamed.

B. The Revolution and the Problem of Slavery

1. A contradiction revealed, between equality/natural rights, and chattel slavery. Blacks petitioned for freedom or otherwise showed that they did not want to be enslaved.

2. New England: quick abolition, sometimes by legal ruling.

3. Middle States: gradual abolition, growth of an independent black community.

4. During war, British freed or confiscated thousands of slaves. Blacks fought on both sides.

5. Upper South: increased manumission, liberalization.

6. Lower South: harsher slave codes, increased imports.

C. The Revolution Against Patriarchal Authority

1. Decline of deference in daily social life and styles.

2. Relative democratization of child-rearing and marriage.

3. Beginnings of the recognition of womens’ rights.

D. The Democratic Revolution in Politics

1. Written state constitutions (world’s first) put tight limits on government authority.

2. Features of early state constitutions: weak governors, weak judiciaries, broad suffrage. Most radical was the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776.

3. Confiscation of Loyalist property.

4. Democratic state politics: new men in power, laws protecting debtors, localism, and lack of cooperation with Congress.

5. Common people (including soldiers) rebelled, rioted, and mutinied when their rights were violated, even by Americans.

E. "Disestablishment" of the churches in the South and the Middle States. Increases sectional difference.