Thursday, May 30, 2013

How Revolutionary was the American Revolution and for Whom?

Before I begin with the topic at hand, I just want to write about something that has been on my mind for the past few days. As someone who has spent countless hours pouring over history books, going to numerous history classes, traveling to historic places all over the state and even some places out of state, and who has made the conscious decision to teach others about the history of New York State and the United States as a whole, it gets on my nerves a bit when someone says they don't like when immigrants come to the U.S. (whether legally or illegally) and want to change how things are here and try to change the American way of life so it suits them. Let's think about that for a moment. And yes, this does tie in to the topic for this blog post.

Regardless of what country's history you are studying (in case you haven't figured it out by now, this blog focuses on United States history), there is a central theme and that theme can be described in a single word: change. Why do we study history? To see how events, people, and places have shaped and changed our country, our world even. Change is what got us where we are now. In case you haven't noticed, a lot has changed in the 400+ years of American history, and everything has shaped what we consider to be the "American way of life". How can you love your country and want to see it prosper and be the best it can be if you don't want some things to change? "Change is the essential process of all existence" (to quote Mr. Spock in the "Star Trek" episode titled "Let This Be Your Last Battlefield") and it is what pushes us along and advances us to get to where we need to be in order to compete in the world, and these changes can be easily measured.

Let's rewind a bit and go back a couple of blog posts. I highlighted the causes of the American Revolution, and although there were a lot of different causes, they all had something in common--the colonists who rebelled against their tyrannical government wanted to change how the way of life was in the colonies to something that suited them. That fact is truly how this country was born, it's where our laws came from and continue to come from.

Change. Without the want and/or need for change, this country may not be what it is today...this country may not even be its own country now if not for change. People seem to forget how important change is and how it affects things in the grand scheme of life.

When discussing the American Revolution, people often discuss the various battles or historical figures, but sometimes a discussion about the war may seem like the person is just stringing facts together and throwing out names and dates in hopes that something sticks in the learners' minds (one of my education professors called this the "spray and pray method"). In this post, however, I want to discuss the changes that the Revolution had on groups of people, because in middle school and high school, all we seem to learn about as the outcomes of the war were that we gained our freedom from Great Britain, we constructed our own form of government and our own laws, and we would eventually go on to have a war against ourselves. Truly, there was much more than those few outcomes we learn about in school and, sadly, for many people that is where their knowledge of the American Revolution ends.

So, how revolutionary was the American Revolution and for whom? Well, let's see.

  •   Elites--gained liberty through being able to own land which gave them the right to vote and to hold public office (control the government = home rule)

  • Poor whites--gained liberty through being able to own land, vote (elect officials and be able to be elected themselves), economic independence and opportunity, and the ability to control others (such as slaves)

  • White women--gained liberty through compassionate marriage and education. The colonial ideal of marriage was that the wife would be a helpmeet to her husband. They did not necessarily love each other, but the wife's duty was to have children, raise those children, and take care of the running of the household. Often, the woman would do work inside the home such as sewing to make some extra money for the household or would go to the market to sell surplus crops. Many times, the marriage was arranged between the two families for economic purposes. The early republic ideal of marriage was that of romance and emotion (love) and that those factors overruled judgment and economic purposes. Also, once the war was over, a few women were able to go to school and gain a better education than what they had already acquired. Many women would go on to attend colleges which were established so that they could become teachers and better educate their own children and others' children as well.

  • African-Americans--many gained their freedom by fighting for either side during the war, others gained their freedom due to manumission (voluntary emancipation by the owners), others crafted freedom petitions, and others escaped during the war. However, slavery would continue to hold a prevalent role in United States history until the mid 19th century.

  • Native Americans--had their land seized (they had been left out of the Treaty of Peace of Paris).

  • Religion--religious policies were colony-based. After the Great Awakening, there was a liberty of conscience, liberty of association, and liberty of speech (which was subject to approval). There was also more tolerance of Protestants.

Knowing that there were more changes that came out of the American Revolution, some positive and some negative, we will be able to further discuss American history and to travel down the winding road of time to figure out how we got to where we are now in our nation's history.

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