The American Revolution is not only the most seminal moment in the history of the modern America, but it is also a seminal moment in the history of the world. For the first time in modern history, the British imperial forces were driven from Continental America by states which went on to form the US. However, there has always been a debate on how radical, or conservative and moderate the revolution was. Among other things, the people who espouse the conservative view explain that the revolution did not substantively change the condition of some groups in the society. This essay seeks to argue that the American Revolution was radical.
Reasons why the American Revolution was Radical
The first reason that the revolution manifests as radical is its instance on rights and liberty of the people. Historians have argued that the entire revolution was a struggle for liberty. The right and liberty discourse was a new dialogue on which to base the political consensus of, as hitherto, they had a basis for the divine right of the monarchy. In other Anglo-British spheres, there was a talk of rights of man as the basis of political participation, but this never went as far as the case of the American Revolution. In other cases, the rights had the interpretation to mean the right of the English Monarchy to rule over the people including those as far as America. However, in the American Revolution, there was a complete reversal in that the king was not taken to have any rights over the individual.
The revolution was radical in that it also produced a new political order in the Americas. Before the American Revolution, the Americas, from the South to the North, had been ruled as colonies of European colonial powers. Thus, many perceived the New World as an extension of the political structures of the European colonial masters. However, the American political and military revolution changed all that. In continental America states, the biggest colonial power, the British, lost its colonial possessions. The states then proceeded to form a sort of government that was rare then, and based on structures that were novel such as the presidency, federalism, and representation of the people. This political experimentation with republicanism, rather than the monarchy that the European colonial powers had held as form of government for centuries made the revolution radical rather than moderate.
Thirdly, the revolution was radical for its introduction of the concept of equality for all the people in the US. One has to acknowledge that in the US, the majority population still viewed some groups such as the black Americans as unworthy of rights with the white people continuing to “steal labor from them” using the institution of slavery. However, the revolution made equality possible for the people in the United States by stating explicitly in the famous expression of the American Declaration of Independence that "all men are born equal and with inalienable rights." According to Zagarri, the Revolution led to a tremendous increase in the power of natural rights ideas in and their potential to alter the political landscape in the newly independent America. The old order had a basis on manifest inequality in that; it had a nobility who by their birth, were predisposed to rule over the commoners. However, the revolution introduced the concept of equality, socially, politically and legally thus eliminating the old social consensus that had seen some groups perpetually rule over the others. In the case of the African-Americans, while it did not lead to immediate liberty for them, the revolution was radical in that it sent forth the steps that would lead to the dissolution of the institution of slavery and the guarantee of equal rights for all. Among other arguments, the emancipation relied on the slaves “natural right to be free” an idea that was radical by the standards of the era. Consequently, the revolution was a radical rather than a moderate one.
The Revolution was also a phase in the progression of the rights of women. Prior the Revolution, there was a little conceptualization of the rights of the women in the Anglo-American world. While there was still a precarious relationship between gender, politics, and rights during this period, the American Revolution led to an acknowledgment by men that the women could as well be bearers of the rights that the Constitution had introduced. Zagarri traces this concept to the publication of pioneer feminist Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792 which painted the woman as an independent bearer of rights, with “a voice" and a natural right to participate in the rights of humankind. In the newer political and social sphere, there was still an explicit patriarchy in the society, but, there were manifest efforts to reconcile the two conflicting principles of equality of men and women and the subordination of men to women. As many men and women were still opposed to the idea of social and political equality, many of the proponents of the rights of women focused on the spiritual sphere by undermining the interpretation of the women as the original sinner. Moreover, for the women, the Revolutionary War would offer the first instance that they could participate in the fields that had hitherto seemed to be a reservation for men with as many as twenty-thousand serving in the Army in various capacities. As well, men left women in charge of the farms and household during the war, thus relegating the argument that women could not act in their own capacity. The new political era ensured that the dignity of women that the previous political order had hitherto denied them was enforceable enforced by challenging the assumption that the rights could only be considered the prerogative of men.
The issue of property rights is also an extension of the radicalism espousing from the Revolution. The radicalism in property rights is apparent when one compares the rights of the peasants in England against those of the yeoman in the US. Young sums this up by explaining that the feeling in the post-Revolutionary times was that the territory which the US occupied (and occupies) had once been the property of King George but “he lost them (the lands) and by the American Revolution, and they became the property of the people who fought for them” In the US, the people were afraid of the losing a title to their land, and would thus oppose any of the political solutions that would be a threat to their title in land such as taxation. Right to acquire land, and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor was an early political discourse in the country. With no title to land, the people would be impoverished, and with taxation, they might end up as debtors to the state. These well-defined political issues in the aspect of property law novel in the Anglo-American rights among people who were not the nobility. Consequently, one can affirm that the revolution was radical.
Lastly, the revolution was also radical in that it seemed to increase the antagonisms of the revolutionary era. The Revolution enabled many people to acquire an advanced consciousness of themselves, which one of the ways for many of them to establish a presence in American life as both individuals and as communities. According to Young, there was a “we” versus “them” mentality immediately after the Revolution. The poor, uneducated people wondered if the "lawyers, the men of learning, and moneyed men” would improve or make the situation of the poor and the uneducated in society better, or they would “swallow” them up. This radicalism was also driven by the fear from the nonelites that the new government that came about as a result of the revolution would fall into the hands of a few people with the influence and money. The conservative elites in also wanted their place in the new political dispensation secure thus fostering an antagonism with the nonelites. This constant antagonism was between the various classes drove the radicalism of the first few centuries of the new nation.
Despite some popular assertions that the American Revolution was not radical, the evidence seems to point out that it indeed was. First, the revolution was radical was introduced the rights and liberty of the people, an assertion that was not possible in the colonial era. Secondly, the revolution also radical as it led to a novel political order in the Americas in contrast to the monarchy that had existed before. Thirdly, the radicalism is apparent in that that it espoused the concept of equality that was then a novel political idea in the nation. Fourthly, it also severed as a boost to the rights of women. Fifth, the property rights, in which the yeoman opened his land as compared to the monarchy or the government, was also a radical disposition. Lastly, the Revolution also served to increase the radical class antagonisms of the pre-Revolutionary era.