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Read/review the following resources for this activity:

  • Textbook: Chapter 5, 6
  • Lesson
  • Minimum of 1 scholarly source (in addition to the textbook)

Initial Post Instructions
For the initial post, pick two (2) of the leading causes of the American Revolution.

  • The Proclamation Act of 1763
  • The Navigation Acts

Then, address the following for your selections:

  • Analyze the cause and effect of two acts passed by the British Parliament on British North America. Which of your two selections do you consider the most significant and why?
  • Examine and explain the significance of the Declaration of Independence to the development of the American Revolution.

Week 2 Lesson: Revolution: From Rebellion to Jeffersonian Democracy

Table of Contents

Introduction

The end of the American Revolution was the beginning of the formation of a new republic, but the transition was not easy, as the Articles of Confederation that first bound the thirteen colonies proved too weak to confront the problems that faced the new nation after the war. The transition from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution to Jeffersonian Democracy is the focus of this week’s work.

A Different Kind of Revolution

The American Revolution has spawned a vast amount of literature as it created the first new nation-state of the modern era. Yet, compared with the French and Russian Revolutions that followed, it was a “conservative” revolution. It did not radically change the colonial society that existed before. From 1763 to 1776, the colonists argued that they were fighting for the rights of “Englishmen.” While some historians maintain that the revolution was radical, some aspects were not.

Still, the founding fathers did believe that they were creating something new. The great seal proclaims, a “novus ordo seculorum” (a new world order), and world opinion abroad concurred with this opinion. One French observer complained of America’s experiment with “liberty and justice for all.” After all, the new nation lacked the prerequisites of nationhood: mythical origins, ancient folklore, one church, and common ethnic roots. In 1782, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur published Letters from an American Farmer. He described Americans as a new people, dedicated to the principles of equal opportunity and self-determination. His work provided an understanding of the “New World” that helped create an American identity in the minds of Europeans. Crèvecœur (1782) wrote, “What then is the American, this new man?…He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced…Here individuals of all races are melted into a new race of man, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world” (Letter III, p.48).

Reflection

Think about how this applies today: “What then is the American?” How have prejudices and manners evolved throughout history? How are they similar and different today than they were during the Revolutionary period?

Men like Crèvecœur and later Alexis de Tocqueville believed that Americans were truly different because they were tied together by the ideals of the Enlightenment – liberty, individuality, and the idea of government by the people and for the people. July 4th became “the” national holiday, and the Declaration of Independence became a sacred text. It was only after the Civil War that due emphasis was placed on the Constitution. The national motto, e pluribus unum – from many one – expressed the new American ideal. The founding fathers did see something new in America, but it was more prescriptive than descriptive. Freedom for many was still an illusion.

Causes of the American Revolution

As a student of history, it is important to understand that the American Revolution began several years prior to the actual War for Independence. At the time when the colonial charters were written and issued by the English monarchy, these stated that the English citizens in British North America would enjoy and be entitled to the same rights and privileges as their fellow citizens who remained in the mother country. Most every English citizen understood their individual rights and freedoms since the rule of King Edward III who had implemented the parliamentary system and King John I who signed the Magna Charta – the British Constitution.

Prior to the French and Indian War, the British Monarchy had neglected the colonies in British North America. The colonists had grown custom to and enjoyed their prosperous lives in British North America. The wealth from cash crops in the South and New England industries had blossomed for decades. This was interrupted by a series of taxation laws and revocation of the original charters that stated that the English citizens who settled in British North America were entitled to the same rights and freedoms as their fellow citizens in the mother country.

Magnifying glass enlarging the word Tax

As the French and Indian War came to an end, most of the Royal treasury was spent to protect British interest and citizens in British North America. When King George III of England ascended to the British throne, his intentions were to replenish the treasury by acts of taxation (Bobernick, 1998). The Magna Charta stated that any jurisdiction of Great Britain and citizens were not taxable without representation in Parliament. The colonists knew that they did not have representation in the British Parliament. The colonists also understood that any acts of taxation against them were unlawful. It was during this trying time that the colonists were introduced to the ideas of independence by Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Paine adopted many of John Locke’s writings and philosophy, which were inspired by the Enlightenment movement in Europe.

In 1775, King George III declared that the colonists were in a rebellion; this declaration was printed alongside Thomas Paine’s article from Common Sense. The news quickly spread, and the colonists were ready to embrace the Enlightenment ideology of political, economic, and social freedom. The Great Awakening had taught many colonists their God-given rights, but it is important to note that later revolutions do not endorse Biblical principles but rather expelled these from society altogether.

The many grievances and acts performed by King George III were plainly documented within the Declaration of Independence. Each offense was a landmark of the wrongs with a list of abuses by the King of England against the colonist. The Declaration of Independence served as a rallying cry for war against the King of England and parliament that were viewed as a tyrannical by the colonist. The soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War did not fight because they were “patriotic,” but they fought for their rights as Englishmen with the understanding that “government was to exist for the benefit of the people” (Maier, 1998, p. 195).

From Confederation to Constitution

After the Revolutionary War, the patriots feared giving the new American government too much power. Early state governments argued over how much power to give the people. Thomas Paine sought changes that would promote democracy while Alexander Hamilton feared giving too much power to the common man. Larger states like Massachusetts and New York chose to create a conservative state constitution, with a bicameral legislature, but patriots continued to argue over who should be given the right to vote. John Adams (1776) warned that allowing the poor to vote would “confound and destroy all distinctions and prostrate all ranks to the common level” (Chapter 13, Document 10).

Leaders of the Continental Congress – John Adams, Morris, Hamilton, Jefferson

Tholey, A. (c. 1894). Leaders of the Continental Congress – John Adams, Morris, Hamilton, Jefferson. [Print].Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/november-15/

In 1777, the Continental Congress drafted the Articles of Confederation. Drafted under the leadership of John Dickenson of Pennsylvania, the Articles were a loose confederation of thirteen states with very little power given to the federal government. The new federal government consisted of a congress of delegates chosen by state legislatures rather than by voters. It had no President or executive branch. The Articles granted only limited powers to Congress—to declare and conduct war and to regulate foreign affairs. Amending the articles was almost impossible, as all thirteen states had to agree. One of the most important accomplishments of the Congress was the creation of the Northwest Territory, a vast area of land west of Pennsylvania and north of the Ohio River. The Land Ordinance of 1785 designed a system for distributing the land to settlers and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 provided a government for the western territories. Eventually, the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin would be carved out of this region.

However, the new Congress was too weak to deal with threats from Spain and Britain. Great Britain, who at first tried to cultivate good will with the new nation, returned to a policy of mercantilism, or trade in its own interest. They prohibited American ships – in particular those from Massachusetts – to trade with the British West Indies. It soon became clear that the Articles themselves were part of the problem. Under the Articles, the federal Congress had no power to deal with the growing national debt. When the Congress tried to seek an amendment to levy a tax on imported goods, the amendment failed for lack of one vote. Meanwhile, with a slowdown in trade, more and more farmers went into debt. In 1787, Daniel Shays, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, led about 1,000 farmers in rebellion against the Massachusetts courts. While the rebellion quickly died out, it pointed to the weakness of the federal government in dealing with the growing national debt. The stage was set for the Constitutional Convention of that same year.

Federalist Timeline

The following timeline traces the evolution of the federal government from the Articles of Confederation to Jeffersonian Democracy. The Articles of Confederation proved too weak for the fledgling republic, so a new Constitution emerged in 1787. This gave rise to the two-party system, with men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison leading the Democratic Republicans and George Washington and Alexander Hamilton remaining Federalists. With the election of Thomas Jefferson as President in 1799, American democracy took on a new, more populist flavor.

References

Adams, J. (1776). 26 May 1776 [Letter to James Sullivan]. In The founders constitution: Volume I. http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch13s10.html 

Bobernick, B. (1998). Angle in the whirlwind. Penguin Group

Dyer, J. (Director), & Dyer, J. (Producer). (2011). U.S. government 03-2 [Video]. Dallas County Community College District. Academic Video Online.

Dyer, J. (Director), & Dyer, J. (Producer). (2011). U.S. government 03-3 [Video]. Dallas County Community College District. Academic Video Online.

Maier, P. (1998).  American scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. Vintage Books

St. John de Crèvecoeur, J. H. (2003). Letters from an American farmer. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4666