Every 4th of July, Americans are told the story of the American Revolution. We remember the oppressed colonists fighting against the tyrannical King George III and the formidable red coats. Patriotic heroes are remembered, evil kings are cursed, and the liberties and freedoms won from the war are celebrated. Though America often likes to look back to the revolution, the question of just how much a revolution was the American Revolution is rarely asked. While the American revolution was not as radical of a revolution as we like to remember today, it still changed the political, social, and ideological aspects substantially of the thirteen colonies. Americans deservedly have to rite to remember the revolution, regardless to the fact of if there was true reason to start one, as a true full fledged revolution.
To decide just how much of a revolution the American Revolution was, one has to first explain what a revolution is. As defined by Princeton University, a revolution
“The overthrow of a government by those who are governed”
In accordance with this definition, for a protest to considered revolution, the established government must be overthrown by the people it governs over. The American Revolution easily fulfills this definition. The British government was overthrown by those it governed, the colonists. Since this criteria is met, the American Revolution can be considered a technical revolution. But to understand of just how much of a revolution the separation of America and Britain was, one has to look at the changes made in the political, legislative, and ideological aspects in colonial life.
The biggest change in America after the revolution was the colonies political system. Before the revolution the colonies were governed by Britain’s parliament. Parliament is not to much different from what Americans know congress to be today. Lead by the Prime Minister, parliament was filled with appointed officials to make and vote’s political decisions, such as congress does today. There are distinct differences between parliament and the congress though. First, a spot in parliament was (with the exception of the House of Commons) either appointed to you by the king, or was a birth right position. There was little decision from the people as to who would govern them. This was one of the biggest areas of contention from the colonies. They would argue that they were not full represented in congress. No person from the colonies actually presided in parliament. Parliament argued that they were virtually represented by a representative that was elected by a select few, rich upper class colonists. Colonists argued that this was not a valid form of representation, and demanded direct representation. Colonists wanted someone that the mass majority elected to represent them. Acts such as the stamp act, tea act, and intolerable acts, were used as proof by the colonists that they were being unfairly represented in parliament, as they were being taxed without direct representation.
Another thing about parliament that bothered colonists is that the king had supreme authority over all governmental decisions. A man with this much power can and, according the declaration of Independence, did invoke tyranny. The colonists felt the king, after the pamphlet of Common Sense came out, was doing nothing to help stop the unfair practice of “taxation without representation”. In fact they came to the conclusion he was helping and supporting the taxation. After the revolution the government would be radically changed. No longer was a monarchy instituted. Now a republic was in place. This was a government that was uncommon in the 18th century. The government was set up in to three branches, the Legislative Branch for deciding laws, the Executive Branch for declaring wars and overseeing the safety of the nation, and Judiciary branch which would decide if laws of America were in accordance to the guidelines written in the new constitution. Unlike the 18th century parliament, the new republic was created with a circle of checks and balances, so no one part of the government could rule over the other with supreme authority, which starkly contrasts with the power of the king with in a monarchy. Another main difference of the new republic to the parliament was almost all officials were elected by the people, granting the direct presentation the colonists had yearned for. This was a radical change to parliament, in which a majority of representatives were appointed.
Socially America was also impacted from the revolution. Before the revolution, the colonies viewed themselves as thirteen separate entities. Even during the revolution the colonies struggled to accept themselves as one nation. When the Articles of confederation pass, all colonies were allowed to have their own currency and local militias. The colonies viewed themselves bound under the “league of friendship”, but nothing more. It was not until the Constitution was written, when the actual revolution ended, did the colonies unite themselves under one local government, established one currency, one military, and became one country, The United States of America. Before the war, many of the colonists were proud to be part of the British empire, and did not want to break away from the mother country. By the end of the revolution America was now its own entity, separate from Britain.
The last major change was the ideology of the pre-revolution American and post-revolution America. As stated before, the thirteen colonies, before the revolution, was ruled under a monarch. The people of America had virtually no say who represented them. In fact they were, for the most part, proud to be part of the British empire, and to be ruled over by her. They were not angry they had no direct representation in parliament. Though during the revolution this was a topic of contention, before that it was not. Before salutary neglect ended, the majority of colonists were not angry about this. Salutary neglect was a policy that Britain had with the colonies, basically allowing the colonies govern themselves. During this time of salutary neglect, 1607 – 1763, the colonies had no contention with parliament. It was not until Parliament began to tax the Colonies and limit their trade with the navigation acts that they began to cry out injustices against their mother country. Before these acts the colonies were fine being under the control of the aristocratic government of Britain, one that gave the people no power. After the revolution, Americans strongly focused on the power of the people. As mentioned before, the argument over direct and virtual representation caused the colonists to be sure to institute a government that was ruled by the people rather then the king. That is why the democratic republic was put in power, as it fundamentally based on the will of the people. The republic is inherently the opposite of the aristocratic parliament of Britain, which was ruled mostly by the rich. Even though the original republic of America was severely limited, as only white males has say in it, it still allowed more say from the people then the British parliament. The ideology of the people being in power was so strong, that the writers of the constitution did away with term king itself. They feared even the title of king would lead people to believe they were not in power. Rather, the equivalent of the king in the republic would be refereed to as a president.
As defined by Princeton, the American Revolution technically fits the bill of an actually revolution. After examining the political, social, and ideological changes from pre-revolution to post-revolution America, it is clear to see the revolution effected the colonies tremendously. Thirteen separate entities came together as one nation in a relatively short time, a monarchy from over three thousand miles away is replaced with a local democratic republic, and ideology of a King and the wealth parliament, being replaced with the idea of the people ruling their own government are all things that are the direct products of the revolution. The American Revolution is something that is not only important to American history, but to world history. This was the birth off what is now the greatest nation in the World, and an event that influenced many other revolutions around the globe.
Butler, Jon. Becoming America: The Revolution before 1776. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.
Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (Oxford History of the United States). New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2007.
Raphael, Ray. A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence. New York: Harper Perennial, 2002.