Historians have often times struggled with understanding the holistic impact of the American Revolution. This essay, written by one of the talented writers at Ultius, dissects early U.S. independence and how America’s struggle for freedom was not solely fought against Great Britain, but involved domestic challenges which hampered the new Republic from immediately becoming the land of liberty.
Struggles within the American Revolution: Holistic freedom & liberty
In discussing the American revolution, the role of individual liberty and equality is at the forefront of important matters. While the war was viewed holistically as struggle between Great Britain and the colonists, there were also important internal issues among the colonists themselves. Unlike the French revolution, the War for Independence sought the establishment of a new nation, not simply humane treatment within an existing one.
In America, the equality of people among different social classes, races and genders played a serious role in terms of determining what kind of nation would most effectively foster equality. In Eric Foner’s Give Me Liberty, chapter six offered insight into how these internal struggles manifested and what kind of implications they had. While matters such as social class, race and gender were important during the American Revolution, these factors were just few of many others related to the broader theme of equality.
Throughout the secondary accounts of various social issues during the revolution, other facets of society such as religion and political views were also relevant to the discussion. Mainly, religious freedom was something that was also taken into account. In the segment titled “Toward Religious Toleration”, the author outlined that church and state had to be separated in order to ensure that people’s views were not used as means by which others were oppressed. James Madison even outlined that the United States of America would be a haven for those that were religiously oppressed in other nations. The attention paid towards religion reflected a much broader focus on holistic freedom.
The revolution was also a struggle with regards to freedom of opinion. For instance, The Limits of Liberty outlined that loyalists, or “those who retained their allegiance in the Crown,” were forced to swear allegiance and even chose to emigrate in some instances. This represented the nature of internal struggles within the revolution that extended beyond just Great Britain. Surely, not everyone in the revolution agreed that a new order was the right course of action for the colonies.
In fact, the revolution was highly related to defining the scope, context and definition of an individual and what liberties they were entitled to. In the segment titled “Defining Economic Freedom”, having opportunity to pursue wealth was cited as a core facet of the freedom that people were entitled to. This was meant to be independent of factors such as race, social class and gender; albeit women, minorities and Indians were excluded from the same opportunities as white men. The role of the government was also defined and shaped in terms of how much influence they would have over controlling economic matters. such freedoms are defined in the Bill of Rights.
The grasp and power of the government
The viewpoints regarding how much government intervention was appropriate did reflect a key issue during this time period: whether small or big government was the proper means by which to rule a nation. This topic was explored within the Federalist papers and is still the underlying difference between different political parties. Finally, as “Democratizing Freedom” highlighted, liberty was also defined from the perspective of voting rights; that is, who had the right to vote was related to one’s economic opportunity and other factors such as gender, race and social class. This was evident based on the example provided of how the backlash of Pennsylvania elites had “radical potential” for political disruption. Ultimately, the fact that some people denounced the revolution epitomized the way in which society was carefully structured around those that had resources.
As we have seen, social class, gender and race were not the only relevant factors in terms of the internal struggles of the American Revolution. Religious and political views were also important because the founding fathers expressed serious concern regarding toleration and allegiance to the new government. Finally, defining freedom and how it was related to economic opportunity and voting rights were relevant struggles as they would cause later social issues and wars in American history.
Foner, Eric. “The Revolution Within.” In Give Me Liberty: An American History. 3e ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011. 200-233.
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