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The American Revolution: A Reactionary Period in History

The American Revolution: A Reactionary Period in History

By : chicago

Throughout history there have been many events that have been labelled as revolutions. One of them is the American Revolution. It has freed the United States from the British and replaced their government with a republic. United States became one of the worldâ s first functional democracies in the world. This is the picture that people around the world see when they think about American Revolution. Upon more analysis of the effects of the American Revolution one can clearly see that it was really not a revolution at all and in reality retained a lot of the old customs and systems of the colonial period. The acronym PERSIA is used to determine the criterions examined to see if the American Revolution was revolutionary or not. PERSIA stands from political, economic, religious, social, intellectual and artistic. From the political point of view it can be seen that the American taxation system was soon enacted that closely mimicked the British.

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soon enacted that closely mimicked the British. Published on Copyright © chicago, 2014 Publish your

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The American Revolution: A Reactionary Period in History

The American Revolution: A Reactionary Period in History


Throughout the ages the world has seen many events that have changed the face of this earth. According to Merriam-Websterâ s dictionary these events are called â revolutionsâ and the definition is: a sudden, radical, or complete change (Revolution). Some have increased industrial output manifolds by initiating mechanized manufacturing such as the Industrial Revolution in England and anthers such as the Green Revolution in India provided food and much needed nutrients to over a billion people. These

â revolutionsâ are less common and happen at most once every century. The second definition provided

by the dictionary is: a fundamental change in political organization; especially: the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed (Revolution). These are revolutions like the French and Haitian Revolutions. One of the first of all these revolutions is the American Revolution that lasted from 1775 to 1783. It was a conflict between the thirteen British colonies in North America and their parent country Great Britain. Its effects were two-fold; firstly the American colonies gained independence from Great Britain and secondly led to the creation of the American union to form the United States of America. Although dubbed as a revolution, one might think that â changeâ inevitably happened in the newly created country, but on the contrary after careful and unbiased evaluation of the events that look place at that time one will understand that instead of being revolutionary, the American Revolution was actually reactionary and conservative in nature. Being â reactionaryâ is the exact opposite of bringing change and is one of the other side of being revolutionary on the political spectrum. It is defined by Princeton University as being: â an extreme conservative; an opponent of progress or liberalism (Reactionary).â Hence one can deduce that the American Revolution did not bring any chance, but retained many colonialism era customs and rules.

Approach Used

Before starting to scrutinize the American Revolution the acronym PERSIA (politics, economics, religion, social, intellectual and artistic) will be used. It provides a meaningful and holistic approach to look at any changes breaking events into their respective effects in the aforementioned areas. The political aspect is the change in power and to see who makes and enforces the rules. Other than this one also observes how power is used to accomplish goals and the process by which public decisions are reached. Economics would be how people use scarce resources to produce goods and services and to see how they are sold and to used in the most effective manner possible. Religion is about how people view God and looks at the unique ways that they worship him. Another aspect of religion is the morality that guides people to take certain actions. Social is about how people live with others and to see the classes that they belong and the daily rituals of life such as milking the cow first thing in the morning and taking care of children. Intellectual is about the minds of the people and the various methods they express their knowledge and seek meaning about life through the pursuit of knowledge. Finally artistic is about the creativity of the population and them seeking to express it through a plethora of means such as through paintings, sculpture, architecture, music and literature.


One of the earliest cries of the American Revolution was â no taxation without representationâ a principle dating back to the Magna Carta which means that if citizens are not represented in the government, then the government does not have the authority to tax them (no taxation). The American colonists cited this principle when they opposed the authority of the British Parliament to tax them. This argument was made

The American Revolution: A Reactionary Period in History

largely in part of a response to the British governmentâ s policy of Salutary Neglect. It was the phrase used to describe British Prime Minister Robert Walpole's economic policy for the American colonies. It meant that mercantilist trade restrictions were not enforced in hopes of increasing the flow of trade between England and its colonies (salutary neglect), but after the French and Indian War, the British government was in heavy debt and desperately needed money to repay it. The government looked to itâ s American colonies to pay some of it because they believed that the settlers in the Americas also had a responsibility to pay for the security that the British soldiers provided. In order to raise money the government passed the Sugar Act in 1764, which was a reconfiguration of the tax on sugar and molasses and indicated that the British government was taking a heightened interest in colonial affairs after decades of seeming indifference (Sugar Act (1764)). Shortly afterwards the Stamp Act was passed in 1765 it taxed all printed items such as newspapers and playing cards and finally culminated with the Townshend Revenue Act which imposed a levy on a number of goods imported to the American colonies. Enacted by the British Parliament in 1767, the Townshend Acts quickly sparked widespread colonial protests, particularly because the new laws established an American Board of Customs charged with cracking down on smuggling. The colonies responded with letters of protest to the British government, non-importation agreements, and the notorious Massachusetts Circular Letter, which called for the various colonies to unite against the acts. Parliament gradually rescinded the tax on all of the items enumerated in the laws except tea (Townshend Acts (1767)). After Americaâ s independence from Great Britain the government of the United States enacted laws that once again started to indirectly tax the nation through tariffs through the Hamilton Tariff. The tariff would protect industries in the North by making foreign imports expensive to import, but harmed the Southern farmers whose exports were counterd with tariffs in foreign countries. The government even attempted to curtailing smuggling of goods as seen by the general order from the Secretary of the Navy William Jones issued in July 29th, 1813 only a few years from the recognition of the United States by Great Britain which states â this intercourse is not only carried on, by foreigners, under the specious garb of friendly flagsâ ¦. but the same traffic, intercourse and intelligence, is carried on, with great subtlety and treachery, by profligate citizens (curtailing smuggling (1813))." These actions taken by the American government were no different from the actions taken by the British patrol to enforce their smuggling laws where British general Thomas Gage was instructed to "such force as you shall think necessary to Boston" in order to stop smuggling. Through this example one can clearly see the similarities between the actions taken by the colonial rulers and the newly founded American government and that the policies did not change even as the revolution changed the control of the government from British to American thus partially proving that the revolution was reactionary in nature.

States Rights

After the revolution that gave United States independence from Great Britain, the U.S. government vowed to give the states more power over their affairs and make the federal government as small as possible. Initially this is what happened with the Articles of the Confederation where it stated in Article II that â each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled (Articles of Confederation).â This means that each state is can act more like a sovereign country and the federal government cannot tax, regulate interstate or foreign trade and raise an army. The articles were in response to a weak executive part that the states learned could act like tyrants in the colonial era. The new constitution that was written at Independence Hall, Philadelphia reverted all the new freedoms of the states and once again gave power to a central government much like the during the colonial era and shows the reactionary events that took place immediately after the American Revolution.

New Era of Mercantilism

The revolution might have freed the United States from the economic tyranny of the British, but paved the way for a new form of economic domination of one region at the expense of another. Just like the British had gone earlier, the newly created United States government how also levied taxes at eight and a half percent tax

The American Revolution: A Reactionary Period in History

on imports like molasses, steel, and nails. This later increased to twenty-five percent by beginning of the War of 1812 (Tariffs). Manufacturing states pleaded with the government and with the approval of the new constitution the federal government could now control trade with foreign countries. These tariffs hurt people of the south that had to import most of their products from others sources and made everything more expensive for them. These actions were modelled on the mercantilism that was practiced by the British who also wanted to protect their industries by taxing American manufactured goods. Now the northern states replaced the British industrial power that became a nightmare for the people of the south. This proves that the revolution was once again reactionary in nature because of the actions of the government favoured one portion of the population over than and also had the same protectionism principles that the British followed.

Economic reactions was one the most important reactions that the United States declared itself independent from Great Britain. The British protected their industries at the expense of American manufacturers by outlawing that America manufactures any goods. Americans envisioned that the independence would bring economic prosperity. This was greatly hampered when the Revolution had a great impact on the mercantile marine of the United States and was further effected by the Barbary States preying on American ships. Subsequently the American during the Revolutionary War also did the same thing. Privateers who were pirates were given permission by a government to raid British ships and steal their cargo. During the war the heavily outgunned American navy found themselves at a disadvantage and the Continental Congress, the de facto government of the Americans issued a statement that privately owned ships were permitted to sail forth and, "by Force of Arms, attack, subdue, and take all Ships and other Vessels belonging to the Inhabitants of Great-Britain (Kuhl). Without British protection the Americans were also attacked by the Barbary States, autonomous provinces of the Ottoman Empire located in North Africa and the Americans responded harshly by attacking them just like the British had. President Thomas Jefferson decided to teach the pirates a lesson. In 1804, after the USS Philadelphia raid, the Navy bombarded Tripoli, the capital of one the Barbary States. The task was given to U.S. Navy Lieutenant Steven Decatur whose mission was to burn the ships that the Barbary States took over. His mission was greatly described by one of his crewmen who states: "Board!" Decatur shouted. Swords flashed in the moonlight as he and his men charged onto the ship. The terrified pirates fell before the Americans' slashing steel (George). When their vessels were being raided by the Barbary States, the American responded harshly clearly demonstrating the reactionary nature of the revolution where the foreign policy of the U.S. government began to imitate those of the British.

Peopleâ s Rights

One of the most famous lines quoted from the Declaration of Independence is that â all men are created equal.â Sadly this did not apply to the slaves in the United States whose status in society was chattel or property. During the revolutionary period slaves played a large role and even helped soldiers on both sides for example aiding the British army to capture Charleston, the capital of South Carolina. Slaves were twenty percent of the population â a larger proportion than any other time in history and commanded a larger part of the population in the south than in the north, not because of any moral issues, but because the highly fertile lands of the south demanded a higher price for a slave. It was businessmen from New England that dominated the slave trade. Initially there were talks about freeing the slaves because they were not profitable enough and the growing abolitionist movement in Great Britain such as the passing of the Slavery Act of 1807 made the Americans fearful that such a movement will gain momentum in the United States (The Century of Slavery). This abolitionist movement wrote articles such as â An Act for the Gradual Abolitionâ papers were written where they talked about the vile acts of the British in the American colonies as quoted by:

â When we contemplate our abhorrence of that condition to which the arms and tyranny of Great-Britain

were exerted to reduce us; when we look back on the variety of dangers to which we have been exposed, and how miraculously our wants in many instances have been suppliedâ ¦. which not only deprived them of the common blessings that they were by nature entitled to, but has cast them into the deepest afflictions, by an

The American Revolution: A Reactionary Period in History

unnatural separation and sale of husband and wife from each other, and from their children. (An Act for Abolition).â

From this quote one can deduce that during the revolution there were talking about making the newly independent country as a new country that will be different from the British and they recognized the inhumane actions that the slaves had to suffer. The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney helped make cotton farming extremely profitable the southern United States became a leading cotton producer in the world. This action of increasing the practice of slavery after the Revolutionary war shows the reactionary nature of the war where Americans wanted to preserve institutions started during the colonial era.

Grave inequality was not only suffered by the slaves, but also poor whites living in the United States. The Declaration of Right of the Stamp Act Congress clearly stated in Article 2d that â His Majesty's liege subjects in these colonies are entitled to all the inherent rights and privileges of his natural born subjects within the kingdom of Great Britain.â The Continental Congress called for equality for all and that declared that everyone is entitled to the same right. In reality universal suffrage was a dream because one required paying poll taxes before voting. The severe problem of income inequality after the revolution led to Shayâ s Rebellion. It was led by a former captain of American Revolution (Bailey 273). The reason for this was the large amount of debt and imprisonment that faced if they failed to repay it. The rebels sought protective legislation and radical reduction in taxes. The response of the government was to spends thousands of dollars to create an army to face the rebels than to actually help them before less dependent on loans. These actions were reminiscent of the British Army when the government hired Hessian mercenaries at an expense of thousands of pounds of gold instead of listening to the American colonists. From this one can again see the similarities between to British government prior to the war and the Americans after it.

Womenâ s Rights

Gender inequality was another problem in the United States after the revolutionary war. Just like the publication of Mary Wollstonecraftâ s â A Vindication of the Rights of Womenâ caused uproar in Great Britain even among of the most liberal of mind (Flexner), American women faced differences in right at every level compared with men. In the United States where women did not enjoy the rights that men enjoyed such as the right to vote, own property, work at public offices or even attend universities. Other than this woman also did not have any legal standing and could not make legal contracts such as divorcing her abusive husband or gain custody of her children. Under the guise of the concept of â Republican Motherhoodâ women were given special responsibilities of raising their children to create a better future for the United States where inequality was further solidified. Whereas men were free from such social constructs and could pursuit other aims at their leisure, women were bound to their homes to take care of their children. Other than this the concept of the â Republican Motherhoodâ model which actively promoted differences between the sexes where the sons were to pursue liberty and roles in the public sphere, the daughters were bound to the domestic sphere.

With this one should be aware that women were not abused in any way, but were seen as being different. According to the book entitled â Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Nationâ by Cokie Roberts, she points out that the American Revolution would not have been possible without the aid of women, especially the wives of the founding fathers of the United States. Women such as Prudence Wright did take part in the revolutionary effort by dressing-up as men, but nevertheless did greatly contribute to the war effort. Wright organized an army of women dressed in menâ s clothing and armed them with pitchforks and muskets. Their accomplishments include successfully defending their town of Peperell, Massachusetts and later captured a British spy delivered his intelligence to the Americans (Roberts 82). Others like Martha Washington and Kitty Greene indirectly helped in the war effort. Mrs. Washington arrived at Valley Forge

The American Revolution: A Reactionary Period in History

during the winter of 1778 and found that soldiers had died of starvation, and others chanted the â No bread, no soldierâ slogan. She bought them food and started the sewing circle with the other officersâ wives to supply the soldiers with clothing (Roberts 94). This shows that even though womenâ s roles were restricted to domestic life, at times of crisis they were the first to be called upon to help. Others like Kitty Greene, the wife of Nathanael Greene a general in the Revolutionary Army hosted a party to mark the first anniversary of the alliance with France and later accepted a bet from George Washington that he could win the stamina contest in dancing. This again shows that women were also sometimes included in even such as foreign affairs. According to Nathanael Greene, they â danced upwards of three hours without sitting downâ (Roberts 116). These events greatly lifted the moral of the soldiers. Other than foreign affairs women like Abigail Adams, the wife of John Adam, the second president of the United States took control of his farming business and also started collecting his legal fees that were due when he went off to war (Roberts 104). Eli Whitneyâ s famous cotton gin would not have been a success without help of Kitty Greene and some even believe the cotton gin was actually the work of Kitty Greene herself (Roberts 249). The cotton gin made cotton more cost efficient and cotton grew to be the new nationâ s largest export bringing in valuable foreign currency. Women were not only the heroes of the Revolutionary War, but also the villains. Benedict Arnoldâ s wife Margaret Shippen was recruited as a spy for the British Army. While the other Philadelphia women were raising money for the American soldiers, she was sold them out (Roberts 131). From this one can deduce that a clear grey area existed where even though women did not directly play any direct roles in the revolutionary and their lives revolved around domestic affairs, the revolution brought many changes to the lives of women that British women could not have ever imagined and that American womenâ s roles in society were increasing even to the point where Wollstonecraftâ s quote that "I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves" began to seem like a reality where they were doing thing at their own wishes such as Wrightâ s war efforts and Mrs. Washington independently helping the troops at her own wishes. Their roles in the era were so important that it led John Adams to quote that â behind every great man, there is a great woman (Roberts 101).â


Religion played an important part of the lives of Americans during the revolutionary era. It not only provided them with a place to congregate and worship God, but also a place where they could talk about their daily affairs. At first glance, one would think that the churches just separated from their British parents such as the Church of England turning into the Episcopalian Church and the Church of Scotland turning into the Presbyterian Church (American Revolution) and that no change took place before and after the revolution. One of the most crucial things took place that would become the separation between church and state in the United States that would make government free from any direct influences of any established church. This was revolutionary because Britain still had a state church and in many places around the world it had great influences on the government.

Intellectualism and the Arts

Though many effects of the American Revolution had a reactionary stance, the intellectual backbone of the United States took off during this era. Before the revolution the United States did not boast of any intellectuals because the general populace was too busy settling new frontiers and farming the new land. Without the exception of colleges founded such as Harvard and Yale were created to train local church ministers, but they were not intellectual because all of the works they studied was from Europe. In other words the United States did not require any intellectuals because most of the information came from Europe. The revolution provided a perfect opportunity for intellectualism to grow and create literature based on it. One of the first was Thomas Paineâ s â Common Senseâ which stated the reason that the United States should become free from Great Britain by providing one of the first experiences of nationalism where he made the argument that a small island nation such as Great Britain should not rule an entire continent by stating (Common Sense (1776)): â small islands not capable of protecting themselves are the proper objects for kingdoms to take

The American Revolution: A Reactionary Period in History

under their care; but there is something very absurd in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island.â It also paved way for the common American belief that all men were created equal when it stated that:

â for all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have the right to set up his own family in

perpetual preference to all others for ever, and thought himself might deserve some decent degree of honors of his descendants might be far too unworthy to inherit themâ (Common Sense (1776)).

This also paved the way for the new American democracy to form which stated that â monarchy is ranked in scripture as one of the sins of the Jews, for which a curse in reserve is denounced against them.â It was through this that American Revolution can be called a revolutionary where a completely new way of thinking of the people ruling their country instead of a king. Others like the Land Ordinance Act of 1785 where a land was reserved to finance public education (federal public lands). This was the first time in American history that the government made education a priority and enacted laws to publicly finance and thus becoming one the most revolutionary actions of the era. Along with the birth of new intellectuals, the revolution kicked off the launch of new American literature such as the Federalist Papers which were a series of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison (Federalist Papers) convincing them that to approve the newly written constitution. Not only did it mark the beginning of paper written by American authors, but also created a unique American style of democracy where one needs the approval of the masses.


Though the American Revolution had many portions that was clearly reactionary such as the treatment of slaves and poor people, others parts such as intellectuals and the unique form of the American democracy was one of the first of its kind. The revolution might have not been â completelyâ revolutionary, but it brought change on a unprecedented level. Without the American Revolution, many questions where other major revolutions such as the French Revolution would have happed at all. In the words of Marquis de Lafayette, who would play an instrumental part in the French Revolution â admiring the new resolution, in which the fair ones of Philadelphia have taken the lead,â praising the American Revolution.

Works Cited

â American Revolution.â Encarta. CD-ROM. Seattle: Microsoft, 2004.

"An Act for Abolition." The African American Experience. American Journey Online. Woodbridge, CT.:

Primary Source Microfilm, 1780. Student Resource Center - Gold. Gale. Northside C Prep. 24 Feb. 2009 .

"Articles of Confederation" American History. 2009. ABC-CLIO. 23 Feb. 2009 .

The American Revolution: A Reactionary Period in History

Bailey, Thomas A., David M. Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen. The American Pageant. 11th ed. Boston:

Houghton Mifflin, 1998

"Common Sense (1776)." American History. 2009. ABC-CLIO. 25 Feb. 2009 .

"curtailing smuggling (1813)." American History. 2009. ABC-CLIO. 23 Feb. 2009 .

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"Federalist Papers." American History. 2009. ABC-CLIO. 25 Feb. 2009 .

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George, Daniel P. "Shores of Tripoli: Stephen Decatur became one of America's first heroes fighting the Barbary pirates.(Brief Article)." Boys' Life. 92. 9 (Sept 2002): 14(1). Student Resource Center - Gold. Gale. Northside C Prep. 24 Feb. 2009 .

Kuhl, Jackson. "Pirates vs. privateers: which would you rather be?." Odyssey. 17. 6 (July-August 2008):

14(1). Student Resource Center - Gold. Gale. Northside C Prep. 24 Feb. 2009 .

"Mary Wollstonecraft." World History: The Modern Era. 2009. ABC-CLIO. 25 Feb. 2009 .

"no taxation." American History. 2009. ABC-CLIO. 23 Feb. 2009 .

"Reactionary." Perl. Princeton University. 26 Feb. 2009 .

The American Revolution: A Reactionary Period in History

"Revolution." Merriam-Websters. 26 Feb. 2009.

Roberts, Cokie. Cokie Roberts: the Women Who Raised Our Nation. New York: William Morrow, 2004.

"salutary neglect." American History. 2009. ABC-CLIO. 23 Feb. 2009 .

"Sugar Act (1764)." American History. 2009. ABC-CLIO. 23 Feb. 2009 .

"Tariffs." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. Ed. Thomas Carson and Mary Bonk. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Student Resource Center - Gold. Gale. Northside C Prep. 24 Feb. 2009 .

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The American Revolution: A Reactionary Period in History

The American Revolution: A Reactionary Period in History

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