Name: Kit Larson Class, Day & Time: History 101 M/W
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Neutral Nation, Radical Revolution Kit Larson History 101 M/W Class 11:10a.m. Word Count: 1,692
1 What does it take to start a revolution? It has been said that “every revolution was first a thought in one man's mind; and when the same thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era.” The eighteenth century marked a new era for Americans, an era of change. In a time where communication was slow, the American Revolution demanded a series of moderate actions in order to set in motion what would become radical change. The American Revolution proved to be a radical revolution as a group of scattered colonies came together to tackle an international superpower head on, meanwhile establishing a new patriotic sense of identity and paving the way for future revolutions that soon followed. In order to come to accurate rationalization as to whether or not the American Revolution was indeed Radical, one must define what it is and what isn’t moderate. How ironic it is that the seizure of the ship Liberty would ultimately lead to the Boston Massacre, an event that could easily be debated as one of the more momentous events that pushed towards independence. In retrospect, historians know that this “massacre” was indeed nothing close to a massacre at all. It was the moderate retaliation from the Sons of Liberty’s own Paul Revere, that produced one of the most influential pieces of propaganda during the revolutionary period. Revere’s depiction of the Boston Massacre included a print in which British soldiers, aligned into formation, are illustrated to be firing fiercely into an innocent crowd of Colonists. There were no angry mobs of revengeful seeking colonists in response to the casualties. Instead, this single portrayal of the event acted as a prelude to a growing social change, as the repercussions of the massacre would be chaperoned by John Adams, a man viewed as elite in the eyes of the general public.1 Adams didn’t believe that lower-class mob action was an effective way of contending British polices.
Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History, Seagull 3rd Edition (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011), 193 1
2 This belief was publicized strongly throughout the community as Adams defended the British soldiers apart of the Boston Massacre, convicting only two of seven in the court of law. The complement acts of John Adams and Paul Revere inform historians that ordinary colonists were largely influenced by the elites of early America. John Adams had set forth a perfect example of a moderate, non-violent action that in turn reached the minds of ordinary American colonists. Paul Revere’s propaganda may not have immediately reached every set of eyes along the coast of the New World, however it’s impact was enough to rally together a small group of likeminded individuals, that would unexpectedly result in the unification of the separate colonies against British Empire. Now in no way I am saying that Revere was some sort of a Godfather to the American Revolution, however his tactics did quickly prove to be effective during the events amid the Tea Act. This time it would be not one but a group of colonists that gathered to sabotage Britain’s prized East Indian Company. They hit the British where it hurts: their wallets, as the colonists dumped €10,000 worth of sub-par Chinese tea into the Boston Harbor. This destruction of goods was viewed to be a radical offense in the eyes of the British, as well as whoever’s pocket got a little lighter. €10,000 was a lot of money, however, when you really think about it: Was it really all that drastic to the British Empire? For an international superpower that was able to a fund The Seven Years’ War, totaling over €150 Million, (equivalent to tens of trillions of dollars in todays currency) the amount of money lost during the Boston Tea Party was hardly a dent in the grand scheme of things.2 Nevertheless, the actions of the small group of American colonists spoke louder than any words scribbled on a signed petition or shouted from an angry crowd with snowballs. The people of America felt the need to act, and by doing so moderately
Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History, Seagull 3rd Edition (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011), 185 2
3 and without drastic violence, a small group of Boston colonists disguised as Indians spoke for an entire nation regardless if aware of it at the time.3 We are able to distinguish the rebellious acts of the American colonists failed to come across as radical even to British Empire through the perspective of Richard Price. A well respected philosopher and friend to America, Price noted in his observations that in the eyes of parliament, they viewed “the malcontents in the Colony of Massachusetts were a small party, headed by a few factious men, that the majority of the people would take the side of the government as soon as they saw a force among them capable of supporting them, that, at worst, the Colonies in general would never make a common cause with this province, and that the issue would prove, in a few months, order, tranquility and submission.”4 Little did the colonists of Boston know that Frederick Lord North, the newly appointed leader of Parliament, would respond to the event so vigorously. As a result, Parliament closed all access of trade to Boston harbor’s until the tea had been paid for in full, a decree that would ultimately test the true nature of the young nation in it’s entirely.5 Parliament’s intentions to enforce their power by depriving Boston from it’s harbor effectively disconnected the city from the rest of the world, but on the contrary it unexpectedly brought Boston closer to it’s neighboring colonies. Up until that point, the thirteen American Colonies had been divided. With cities and towns scattered without any efficient means of transportation, each colony had begun to develop their own identity apart from each other. But
Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History, Seagull 3rd Edition (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011), 194 3
T.H. Breen,The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Products Shaped American Independence, Kindle Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), Location 265 4
Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History, Seagull 3rd Edition (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011), 194 5
4 over the course of only a few weeks, word of the Boston Port Bill spread, resulting in an abundance of support from it’s allied colonies. Livestock was donated from Connecticut, grain was greatly appreciated from Pennsylvania. 6 Throughout the American Colonies the notion that “The town of Boston is now suffering in the common cause of all America” became more and more definitive. 7 Mutual discovery had been unprecedented for the American Colonies up until that point, and it was seen as something of a miracle that “Thirteen clocks were made to strike together.” Any chance of union between the colonies seemed so farfetched that their “enemies seemed confident of the impossibility of our union...” 8 You would have to be a fool to defy Great Britain, the most powerful empire in the world at the time. However the Americans treaded softly on uneasy waters, as they cautiously progressed foreword with their thoughts of revolution. The act of aiding their fellow Americans in a time of need, apposed of blindingly striking back with violent retaliation revealed to be effective, and by doing so, the American people began to form one of their early foundations of the national identity. To this very day, America has had a set of core values and beliefs that distinctly sets it aloft the rest of the world. An extremely patriotic country, America is proclaimed the “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave,” a nation in which the courageous acts of ordinary folk overcame the adversity of imperialism, claiming their independence against all odds. America does not negotiate with terrorists, and since World War One, America has taken it upon themselves to be a
T.H. Breen,The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Products Shaped American Independence, Kindle Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), Location 265 6
T.H. Breen,The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Products Shaped American Independence, Kindle Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), Location 276 7
T.H. Breen,The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Products Shaped American Independence, Kindle Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), Location 311 8
5 moderate power in the world, stepping in to enforce justice in the face oppression. To this day, this self-conceived responsibility America has brought upon themselves to aid those in need has forever been a byproduct of the Boston Port Bill.9 In addition, this great nation is home to the American Dream: The (in)famous notion that this nation guarantees the proper framework that leads to success and prosperity at the end of the road. That in this great nation, you are rewarded for holding true to your beliefs and working for your keep. Despite that the American Dream becomes more commonly acknowledged during a later part of American history, the belief that a better life awaited out west was present even in the American Colonies’ infancy. However this notion of a better life was re-enforced during the revolutionary period due to the fact that the American colonists made a better life for themselves by fighting for what they believed in against all odds. Despite the fact that the American Revolution was compiled of a series of moderate acts, successfully claiming independence from Britain’s global empire was an extremely radical event that inspired the minds of foreign countries looking for change in government. A nation that would soon follow in America’s footsteps would be the France. Most European countries had been under the constant rule of a Monarch and much like the French, had gone without a revolution for many years. It wasn’t until the American colonies established and were able to maintain their independence when the european nations began to imagine a life under a new style of government. In 1793, the French Revolution took and extremely radical turn with the execution of King Louis XVI, along with numerous aristocrats and foes of the new
Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History, Seagull 3rd Edition (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011), 246 9
6 government.10 By comparing the two revolutions side by side, as historians we are able to gain our greatest understanding between what is radical action and what is not. There is no question that the French modeled their revolution’s intentions off the acts of the Americans, however, both nations go about overthrowing their monarch in two very different ways. Throughout history, great leaders of change have been praised throughout the world with their names and faces engraved into our textbooks and identities. However, as time goes on and ways of life develop and become anew, we begin to see that the first man to make motions for change is not the most critical. A revolution for the common good can only thrive when another man stands by his side. As Paul Revere influenced the minds of his fellow Americans, we see that it wasn’t the propaganda that brought about great change, but the men who shared the same thoughts and beliefs that brought a whole nation together.
Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History, Seagull 3rd Edition (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011), 297