social/political folk, and ordinary American folk. The
social/political structureThe American Revolution was single-handedly one of the most important events of the 18th century. This revolution marked the first time that a former European colony in the New World (America) successfully declared and achieved independence, and sought a course of development separate and distinct from its Old World (England) forerunners. However, the point to which the American Revolution can genuinely be declared “revolutionary” is quite debatable. The American Revolution challenged the existing structure of society, in both America and Great Britain and furthermore promoted at the time a radical sense of equality, but these benefits of equality were unequally distributed among the American people, and the lofty ideal of equality was restricted and exclusive. Admittedly, if we look at the effects of the Revolution or the lack of the impact of the Revolution, significant components of American society, including women, black slaves in the South, and even the Indians, the Revolution could be characterized as a fundamentally conservative movement, in the sense that pre-American Revolutionary societal roles, economic structures, and political privileges largely continued in the direct post-American Revolutionary period. When discussing the ideals of equality as part of the American Revolution, we should begin by recognizing the roots of this idea and identifying the groups that were meant to be summarized by this approach. The revolutionary concept of equality seems to have originated out of a desire by American elites (rich white folk) to attain equity with their British counterparts. The decisive turning point where the Americans realized what needed to be done, however, came when American elites underwent an official shift where they began to regard themselves as a unique nation, and not merely a by-product of a more significant (and superior) British nation. This realization of the American elites shook up both British elites, ordinary British folk, and ordinary American folk. The idea of equality was crucial to the changing dynamic of the American-British relationship. By offering the view that “all men are created equal,” American elites could directly attack the British treatment of colonials as their social subordinates. Indeed, the newly-proclaimed virtue of equality allowed American elites to occupy the moral high ground, and transform their sense of inferiority into one of supremacy. Sooner or later, the desire for “equality” became a permanently connected ideal with the American desire for “liberty.” An American man could not have true liberty unless he was on an equal social and political status with other men, including those men whom he previously identified as his superiors. As an outcome of the American Revolution, the idea of equality was exhibited in numerous ways, one of many which was the equalization of religion before the state. Before the American Revolution, many states had their own officially established religions, which were favored over other, non-established religions. Often, this official favoritism could lead to followers of non-official churches being abused.Virginia played a pioneering role not only in the movement to abolish religious institutions and to equalize religions but also in support of equality in a general sense. It is well known that it was Thomas Jefferson, a Virginian man, who stated the famous lines “All men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Despite these powerful words, slaves, nor women nor Indians were counted in on the statement, “All men are created equal.”SlaveryThomas Jefferson’s conflicting words lead to my next issue with the American Revolution. When it comes to slaves, the most significant changes in their status only happened in the north. Slavery gradually died out in the decades shortly following the Revolution. For instance, the number of slaves in Pennsylvania fell from 3,707 in 1790 to just 211 in 1820; likewise, the amount in Connecticut dropped from 2,648 to 97 over the same period of time, and in Rhode Island, the numbers fell from 958 to just 48. In total, the number of slaves in all states north of Maryland dropped significantly between 1790 and 1820. Trend #2 — shifting patterns of slave ownership However, it is crucial to keep in mind that the number of slaves in the Northern territories were quite small, to begin with when compared to the Southern territories, and nowhere in the North did slaves play an essential economic role relative to their role in the Southern plantation economy. This fundamental difference between North and South can be summarized as a difference between a “slave society” and a “society with slaves.” For example, Haiti or Jamaica is a place with said slave society. It is a region where slavery is necessary to the functioning of the economy, and without slaves, the economy would collapse. In areas that are considered “slave societies” the social and political elite (rich people) are usually slave owners. In these areas, it is not common to find that the primary purpose of government is the control and supervision of slaves, and where slaves were viewed more as properties or belongings than as normal, everyday people. In contrast to “slave societies,” a “society with slaves” is one where slaves exist, but the slaves are marginal to the society as a whole. This was the case in Northern states. Naturally, it is far simpler to eliminate slavery in a “society with slaves” than to eliminate slavery in a “slave society.” In this sense, it is debatable whether we can even use the term “revolutionary” when describing the continuous decline of Northern slavery following the American Revolution. Although views towards slavery unquestionably changed in the North, the insufficient nature of slavery meant that no notable economic or social revolution supplemented these developing attitudes.On the contrary, in the South, where slavery was the core and foundation of their economy, barely any advancement was made in the post-Revolutionary period with regards to the rights and freedoms of slaves. The outer slave trade continued until its final ban in 1808, and during the two decades between the confirmation of the Constitution and the American prohibition on slave imports, the Southern states imported around 230,000 slaves, which is nearly equal to the number of slaves imported into all of British North America in the previous one hundred and fifty years. Sadly, there was, in fact, a hastening in the slave trade in the years immediately following the American Revolution. At least in Southern territories where slavery was a vital part of the economy. Furthermore, the institution of slavery itself would continue to survive, and thrive, for over half a century after the fact, until its final demise in the aftermath of the Civil War. Rather than slavery being contained, it expanded into new states such as Alabama as the American people kept on expanding onto new lands. This persistence and expansion of slavery was aided and validated by the emergence of a “white solidarity” that was closely tied with the “revolutionary” ideal of “equality.” In the American South, the Revolution could be described as a blessing for the poor white man, but as a cause of great distress for the common slave, to whom the idea of equality did not extend. women rightsBesides slaves in post-Revolutionary America, another primary group that did not receive the benefits of egalitarianism were women. For a while, there were apparent signs of progress being made on this front, including some female participation in politics and public debate, and a recognition that women possessed rights similar to men. However, by the 1820s, there was a counter-revolutionary backlash that saw women more marginalized than possibly ever before. Instead of obtaining more rights post-Revolution, women remained confined mainly to their pre-Revolutionary roles as housewives with insufficient social rights whose primary purpose was to temper the passions of men.Native AmericansFinally, we should say a couple of words about Native Americans, who – probably more than any other group – were extensively marginalized in the decades following the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. The Native Americans, as with blacks and women, did not receive the benefits of the revolutionary ideology of egalitarianism. Not only were the more “savage” Indian nations (who preserved their own culture and refused to conform into Euro-American civilization) deemed inferior to white Americans, but even the “Civilized Nations” such as the Cherokee (who adopted literacy, Christianity, and plantation agriculture) were denied an equal status with whites, as seen in the well-known forced removal of the Cherokee nation from their lands in the 1830s. The fundamental inequality between whites and Indians can be seen in several primary sources from the post-Revolutionary period, such as the tendency for the U.S. government to impose one-sided demands on Indian nations for the sake of obtaining peace. All in all, the persistence of the white American attitude towards Native Americans as unequal inferiors demonstrates another limit of the revolutionary idea of equality.ConclusionIn conclusion, the great American “Revolution” can be assumed to have different effects on different groups of people, and the degree to which the American “Revolution” can truly be described as “revolutionary” varies depending on which particular group one focuses on. For disadvantaged whites, particularly in the South, the American Revolution can indeed be described as “revolutionary,” to the extent that it promoted a then-radical sense of social equality and intra-racial like-mindedness that exceeded class divisions. Furthermore, the Revolution resulted in the freeing of many slaves in the northern states, though the extent to which this was “revolutionary” is questionable given the minimal economic importance of slavery in the North. However, for groups such as black slaves in the South, women (regardless of race), and Indians, the American Revolution can barely be described as “revolutionary.” In the case of women, there was a brief window during which revolutionary change might have been possible, but this window had closed by about 1820 or so, and women’s status and role in society remained conservative rather than being radically transformed.