The AMERICAN REVOLUTION – SYNOPSIS
PART I – REVOLUTION CAUSES
REVOLUTION CAUSE #1 – The “ENLIGHTENMENT”
1)An AGE OLD QUESTION: Can people be trusted to govern themselves?
2)The historical term “Enlightenment” refers to the use of reason and science, sources of “light” in a “darkened” world.
3)Reason and “science” could be used to discover nature’s “laws” and bring
order and harmony to human society.
4)Thomas Jefferson viewed self-government as an experiment in “political science”.
5)“Natural rights” were discovered from the study of “laws” from the state of
nature. People, like animals, possessed inherent freedoms and “rights”.
(e.g. Who tells a bird where to fly or build a nest?)
6)English philosopher John Locke concluded people were born “free and equal”,
their freedom and “natural rights” a gift from “the Creator”.
7)Locke’s three basic “natural rights” were life, liberty and property.
8)Locke called government that interfered with citizen’s natural rights TYRANNY.
9)Locke’s principles of “the social contract” stated the governed formed government
by agreement, for their own consent. (to protect their “natural rights”).
10)Popular Sovereignty stated that political power was “sourced” in “the people”.
11)Locke also concluded that if “government” did not serve the best interests of
the “governed”, they had a “right” to rebel against government.
12)French philosopher Voltaire espoused tolerance. He famously stated,
“I disapprove with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
13)Frenchman Montesquieu stated that the best way to prevent government abuse
of power (“tyranny”) was to separate or “divide” power[s].
REVOLUTION CAUSE #2 – MERCANTILISM
14)MERCANTILISM is the economic regulation of a colony’s economy for the
benefit of the “mother” country.
15)British victory in the French – Indian War gave them control of non-Spanish
16)As a result, the British government wanted the colonists to start paying taxes to
help cover the costs of their own protection.
17)Mercantilist economics would eventually lead to colonial political revolution over the issue of “rights” and “representation”.
18)The mercantilist practices of trying to regulate and tax the colonies had
19)”Indifferent” or “loose” British government of the colonies was in part due to
geography. (they were separated by 3000 miles of ocean [“The Pond”])
REVOLUTION CAUSE #3 – “The AMERICAN SPIRIT”
20)The people who settled in “America” were often MISFITS who often did
quite “fit into” the “Old World” from which they came. (If they had been entirely satisfied or successful in the “Old World”, why would they have risked going to the untried “wilderness” of the “New World”?)
21)Were/are Americans “non-conformists” in either religious, political, economic or social contexts – naturally independent, rebellious or discontented in “spirit” to accept “rule” by corrupt and/or incompetent “outsiders”?
“PROTESTANT” / “PURITAN” RELIGIOUS INFLUENCES
British colonists of North America first came in two groups. The first group settled Jamestown in 1607, in what is Virginia today. The “Pilgrims” were a group of English Protestant “Puritans” seeking religious liberty. The Puritans rebelled against a “corrupt” english church and GOVERNMENT They settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1620. Certain “Puritan” ideals and worldviews helped establish and still persist as “American” ideals and values today.
22)”The Promised Land” – like the Biblical Israelites, the Pilgrims viewed themselves as escaping a world of persecution and slavery to enter a refuge homeland promised by God
23)“Chosen People” – idea that “Americans” were “unique” and had a
Special and unique “destiny” to fulfill to the world
24)“City on a Hill” – idea that America was/would become an “ shining example” to
the onlooking world
25)Mayflower Compact – this “social contract” would guide Puritan “self-government”
democratic government by member consent and participatory government based on law
26)Protestant/Puritan Work Ethic – labor was viewed as a beneficial and noble endeavor that avoided the evils of idle (lazy) inactivity and developed positive values, towards “perfecting” people & society; material $ucce$$ showed God’s blessing
28)Basic “Protestantism” said follow your individual conscience, questioning human
traditions of the past and “corrupt” institutions.
29)Protestantism reflected what would later be termed as fierce American individualism
30)The QUAKERS were another group of English colonial “non-conformists” who
sought religious liberty in the “new world”, settling initially in Pennsylvania.
31)Quaker worship was “non-hierarchal” (no “superiors” or “inferiors” – it was
“group meditation” amongst “equals” (egalitarian) in someone’s house
32)Leader William Penn stated, “governments are instituted for the sake of the governed and … require the people’s consent…” Political power was centered on “the people”.
33)Penn viewed the eventual of colony of Pennsylvania as a “holy experiment”. Thomas Jefferson would later view the future “United States” as an “experiment” in “democracy” and “self-government”
34)Many thought the Quakers were too “extreme” in their individualism and
non-conformity. Nontheless, Quaker attitudes towards individuality, society and
government would later influence future, “modern” America.
PART II – POLITICAL REVOLUTION
35)The issue of taxation and “representation” would lead to colonial revolution.
36)Armed military conflict and revolution would begin in and around the Boston area.
37)The colonists had a choice – stay loyal to the most powerful empire in the
world or fight against “tyranny” and create their own nation.
38)Who was on what “side” was not so simple. Many colonials, maybe a third, were loyalists to King & Parliament. Many in Britain thought colonial rights were being abused by an incompetent and abusive imperial government. About a third of the colonials were revolutionary “patriots”. About a third were somewhere in between.
39)Thomas Paine’s 1777 pamphlet “Common Sense” argued it was “natural” to fight for independence, arguing, “… because a child have thrived on milk, is [it] never to have meat?”
40)Paine’s graphic but plain “Common Sense” analogy persuaded many to “grow up”
and fight for the cause of national independence.
41)Thomas Jefferson wrote much of the Declaration of Independence adopted in 1776,
one if not the most revolutionary political manifestos of world history. Jefferson stated it was obvious (“self-evident”), “… that all men are created equal.”, …”Endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights – life, liberty the pursuit of happiness.”
Since “… governments derive their power from the consent of the governed, “ when faced with “absolute despotism”, (“tyranny) they could “throw off such
government.” Truly revolutionary words and sentiments.
42)Despite winning most of the military battles, the British lost the war which ended
in 1781 after British defeat at the Battle of Yorktown.
43)In 1827, M. Chamberlain interviewed revolutionary war veteran captain Levi Preston:
m.c.: “did you men take up arms against ‘intolerable oppressions’?- i did not feel them Were you oppressed by the tea tax? – “I never drank a drop of the stuff”
Did you read Locke about the eternal principles of liberty”? – “never heard of them” We read only the Bible, the Catechism … and the Almanack.” “WELL, THEN, WHAT was the MATTER???” – we had ALWAYS GOVERNED OURSELVES, and we ALWAYS MEANT TO. They didn’t mean we should.”
44)The American Revolution was both “radical” and “conservative” – it sought to
preserve the freedoms they already had. Expanding government threatened them.
45)Despite winning most of the military battles, the British military lost the war,
which ended in 1781 after British defeat at the Battle of Yorktown.
PART III – AMERICAN GOVERNMENT and SOCIETY
46)The Articles of Confederation were America’s first “government”.
Many felt dissatisfied with the weaknesses of this form of government,
which included a “rotating” presidency (no “strong” executive leader).
9 of 13 states had to approve any action by this body. Nothing much ever got done.
47)There was no power to tax. Having just fought a war against government taxes and tyranny, Americans were hesitant to create a tyranny of their own making.
48)Sate delegates met to change or “revise” the Articles. They ended up
“starting all over again” with a new written plan of government – the “Constitution”.
49)Americans debated over the ROLE, SIZE and POWER of GOVERNMENT.
50)”Federalists” wanted a centralized government that would “unite” the thirteen states.
51)”Anti-Federalists” (e.g. Samuel Adams) were concerned that creating a centralized federal (national) government would create “tyranny” of our own making.
52)Anti-Federalists emphasized the power of state and local government.
53)The framers of the Constitution sought a limited government, adopting the principle
of “separation of powers” to prevent potential government tyranny or abuse of power.
54)Federalism is the vertical division of government(s) on federal, state and local levels.
55)National government was divided “horizontally” into legislative, executive
and judicial “branches”. (remember Enlightenment philosopher Montesquieu?)
56)The U.S. Constitution “balanced” the power of large and small states in part by
creating a “bicameral” (2 house) legislature.
57)The U.S. Senate consisted of 2 representatives per state, regardless of the
size of the state. (equal votes for both large and small states)
58)A state’s number of representatives in the House of Representatives was
determined by a state’s population. (more power to states with more people)
59)The opening Preamble summarizes the role of American constitutional government:
“We the People, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice,
insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense,
promote the general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty, to ourselves
and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States.
60)The “Federalist Papers” were a series of articles published around the
nation to explain and persuade the public that the Constitution should be approved.
The Constitution was formally ratified in 1987.
61)The Bill of Rights was added in 1791 to protect the power of the individual
against potentially “oppressive” government.
THE AMERICAN BILL OF RIGHTS
62)First Amendment – freedom of speech, religion, press, “expression”
63)Second Amendment – the right to “bear arms”
64)Fourth Amendment – freedom from “unreasonable” searches
65)Fifth Amendment – you do not have to “incriminate” oneself in a court of law
the state has the “burden of proof” to show a defendent’s guilt
66)Sixth Amendment – ”speedy” trials, right to be confronted by witnesses against you “impartial” juries, “right” to defense counsel
67)Tenth Amendment – powers not stated in the federal Constitution are “delegated” to the States
68)The“11th Amendment” in the Bill of Rights is your God-given right to be an idiot! I/you must respect your right to be wrong. (o.k., I added that, but it’s true!)
69)The United States is “democratic”, but not a “pure” democracy.
Everybody does not vote on everything.
70)The U.S. is a “republic” – the people elect representative to vote for us
and do the daily “business” of government.
71)The Founder distrusted an all powerful state, yet also placed a limited trust
in the masses or the “majority” American government tries to “balance”
the rights of majorities and minorities.
72)The “majority” (more than 50%) does not always rule. The majority wins when
it comes to elections.
73)The Bill of Rights protects the “minority” – individuals.
(We are all a “minority” of one.)
74)Examples of a limited trust of the masses include the Electoral College, which
directly elects the President. (the President is indirectly elected by popular election)
Another example is that originally only those who owned land could vote.
75)”Liberal” society in principle aims at freeing the INDIVIDUAL in political,
economic, social and religious terms.
76)A “free” and “open” liberal society allowed individuals freedom of choice in a
77)Is the American “genius” in joining and reconciling extremes ???:
“E Pluribus Unum” – reconciling “one” and “ many”;
There is no “single” America – though we are single Americans.
combining optimism (people can govern themselves) and pessimism
(power “corrupts” and is eventually “abused”);
balancing power between majority and minority;
taking unchanging old (the past) and making them always changing new (the future)
avoiding “anarchy” or “chaos” (no order) and “tyranny” (too much order)
78)In the context of world history, the American Revolution is “UNIQUE”.
It continues today as an ongoing “experiment” in “revolution” and self-government.
79)The United States can be viewed as an EXPERIMENT , BOTH OLD and NEW.
It is “old”, based upon never-changing, “eternal” religious principles of
“creation”, yet “new” as a product of “modern” and “liberal” political science and of “the Enlightenment”.