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Evolution vs. Revolution

By skilaxman Oct 16, 2013 1255 Words
As the great American Gordon Wood once said, “ The revolution resembled the breaking of a dam, releasing thousands upon thousands of pent up pressures. There had been seepage and flows before the war, but suddenly it was as if the whole traditional structure, enfeebled and brittle to begin with, broke apart, and people and their enemies were set loose in an unprecedented outburst”. The American colonies had been experiencing signs of revolt ever since their creation. Hundreds of evolutionary ideas gave the power to eventually burst open into war. The ‘dam’ of British rule simply would not be enough to hold the growing of America. Evolution is a process of gradual, progressive change or development, as in social or economic structure. And the colonies certainly display all the qualities of an evolutionary process, which can be seen throughout their history via Mercantilism, The Mayflower Compact, Bacon’s Rebellion, and the taxation acts. The British and American relationship strain began many years before the revolutionary war began. The colonies were set up by the English as an attempt to increase their power, land, and money. The 13 American colonies were set up with the belief that they existed solely to serve the mother country. This system of mercantilism worked out great for England. They benefitted greatly from the trade and introduction of new items into their culture. The colonies began as weak entities that barely survived the first winter, but quickly turned into huge ports for Britain to buy and sell products to benefit their economy. However, because England was so wrapped up in their wonderful economic benefit, they ended up neglecting the colonies. The colonies continued to go on about their lives, and come up with their own views on how to live. They changed their lifestyle, religious views, and their own identity started to form. Mercantilism as a system failed the British and allowed for the colonies to start the process of growing on their own without the presence of the mother country. The lack of English guidance during this period, shows the capability of the Americans to live on their own and run like clockwork without any supervision. This knowledge that they could function and prosper without the King looking over their shoulder, proved key in the decision to eventually break away. In addition to mercantilism as a whole, we see roots of a desire for self rule starting more specifically in the early 1600s. The earliest form of self-governance can be seen in New England, more specifically off the coast of Plymouth, MA. And this beginning is represented by the creation of the Mayflower Compact. The Mayflower Compact was a document created by the separatists of New England as an attempt to govern themselves. The Mayflower had missed their target of Virginia and landed almost 600 miles north off the coast of Massachusetts. Because of this, they had no civilization to join, and no guidelines to follow. On November 11, 1620, all the men on the ship got together and wrote a set of guidelines for the people of Plymouth to follow. This framework for a self-governed body of people paved the way for a governmental body later down the road. It allowed for the people of Plymouth to get along, and act together as a well functioning and able body of people. This is a key step in the evolution of America, because The Mayflower Compact represents the first constitution like document, which eventually became the basis for everything we know today.

Along with the north, we see the roots of the American Revolution starting in the southern state of Virginia. To encourage the movement of population to the Americas and to fix the problem of labor shortage, the headright system was implemented in 1618. The headright system allowed for people to gain land easily and set up their lives and businesses. The head of the family unit (male) paid for 50 acres of land, and gained an additional 50 acres of land for every person such as indentured servants who came with him. Due to its geography Virginia was split into two regions: tidewater and piedmont. The tidewater region was the fertile flat land close to the shoreline and the piedmont was the slightly harder to access inland region. Naturally, the earlier and higher standing settlers took control of the tidewater region leaving the piedmont for the stragglers. Almost all the decision-making and power holders resided in the tidewater region. After a while, those of the piedmont became frustrated and couldn’t deal with the leadership of governor William Berkeley and his ignorance to the piedmont region. The man that lead the rebellion against Berkeley and his ideas was Nathaniel Bacon. Bacon and his over 500 followers marched straight into Jamestown and demanded a say in the government. Finally on July 30, 1676, Bacon and his men issued the “Declaration of the People of Virginia”. This document is very similar to and provides roots for the declaration of independence. Nathaniel Bacon and his rebellion, even though squashed fairly easily, show the rebellious nature of the colonists and their will to have a say in what they want. A rebel in Virginia sparked the idea that they can and will stand up for what they believe in in the mid 1600s. This idea was cherished and evolved into something on a much larger scale by the time 1775 came around.

Lastly, the events that completed the evolution of the American population were the numerous taxes imposed on the colonies after the completion of the seven years way. Due to the fact that England played a key role in helping the colonists defeat the French in 1763, it found itself in a state of great debt. And to help rid itself of its debt, England and the king decided to tax the colonists in many different fashions. After many decades of neglect and limited interference with American life, the British suddenly decide to reinforce their dominance. This did not go over well with the people who were used to going about their business with no worry. The first tax implemented was the Sugar Act (1764), which was a tax on all imported molasses and sugar products. This roused uproar within the colonies. The American people thought it was outrageous that they should be taxed. Eventually after much boycotting and smuggling, the English government repealed the act. However, it was quickly replaced by the stamp act (1765). This hit a nerve for the colonists, due to the fact that it was now internal products that were taxed rather than just imports. The colonists’ reaction was that of huge rebellion with the slogan “No taxation without representation!”. This continued cycle of acts imposed by the British and American rebellion continued for about 10 years with the Townshend acts (1767), tea act (1773), and lastly the intolerable acts (1774). Eventually, revolution became inevitable. The evolutionary change of the colonists was almost complete and all that was left was the battle.

The evolutionary process that leads up to and in turn causes the American Revolution, is an inevitable process that began way before the actual beginning of blood being shed. The numerous events kept piling on and pressing up against the dam of British rule causing a break to be unavoidable. The system of mercantilism, signing of the mayflower compact, bacon’s rebellion, and the numerous taxation acts, prove how the American Revolution was the result of an evolution and not a revolution. The American Revolution was a process of gradual, progressive change or development and not a sudden overthrow of an established government.

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