The Revolution Within

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After the Revolution, equality became a much stronger component. Abigail Adam’s became one of the revolutionary era’s most articulate and influential women. She married John Adams, a young lawyer about to emerge as a leading advocate of resistance to British taxation and, eventually, of American independence. Abigail kept her husband informed of events in Massachusetts and offered opinions on political matters. Later, when Adams served as president, he relied on her advice more than on members of his cabinet. Abigail did not believe in female equality in a modern sense. She accepted that a woman’s primary responsibility was to her family. She resented the “absolute power” husbands exercised over their wives.

The Revolution unleashed public debates and political and social struggles that enlarged the scope of freedom and challenged inherited structures of power within America. In both Britain and its colonies, a well-ordered society was widely thought to depend on obedience to authority, the power of rulers over their subjects… husbands over wives, parents over children, employers over servants & apprentices, slaveholders over slaves. Inequality had been fundamental to the colonial social order. The Revolution challenged it in many ways. American freedom would forever be linked with the idea of equality, equality before the law, equality in political rights, equality of economic opportunity, and for some, equality of condition.

The Revolution’s radical potential was more evident in Pennsylvania than in any other state. Pennsylvania adopted a new state constitution that sough to institutionalize democracy by concentrating power in a one-house legislature elected annually by all men over age twenty-one who paid taxes. It abolished the office of governor, dispensed with property qualifications for office holding, and provided that schools with low fees be established in every country. It also included clauses guaranteeing “freedom of speech, and of writing,”...
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