Radicalism of the American Revolution

Essay 1 “Radical”, a term generally defined by many as an event or action that fundamentally changes the political, cultural, and/or economic nature of a society. The American Revolution was a time of great change within the structure of society, greatly transforming certain parts of America, yet leaving other parts relatively unchanged over the course of the Revolutionary period. When asked whether or not I consider the Revolution to be “radical”, I can give no absolute yes or no response.
Instead I will have to take more of a “grey area” approach to the question and say a bit of both yes and no, because although the revolution did change quite a bit, there were still areas it was unable to change. In my opinion, I would say the American Revolution was “radical”, but only to a point. Some of the most important changes that the Revolution did make in American society were focused heavily on expanding and redefining political freedom throughout the country, and establishing religious tolerance. One important way that the revolution did not change the American society was in social hierarchy.
Prior to the American Revolution, politics consisted of many voting, but few actually holding any kind of political power, those who did have power not listening to voters, no parties, and few public political arguments. During the Revolution, however, many Americans had a much more powerful voice in politics. This newfound power was due to an ending of old governments and authority, and the fundamental “need to reinstitute legitimate governments”. Election campaigns also became very public arguments over what the government “should” be, this is very different than what the political scene was in post-Revolution Colonial America.

Some of the most radical movements can be seen in the Revolution in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, the pro-independence radical took control, abolishing such political offices as governor. The issue of voting rights was also a very contentious subject in politics. John Adams believed that the “common rabble” of men in the country had no “judgment of their own”, and the removal of a property qualification to vote would “confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level”.
Pennsylvania, for one abolished the property qualification for voting, but retained the tax payment qualification, whereas other states did away with both. Prior to the Revolution, only a few colonies embraced religious tolerance, those being Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Most of the colonies in the country still had established state churches. However, colonists began to regularly associate religious freedom with “liberty” and evangelicals particularly supported this movement towards religious liberty, having suffered much oppression, and believing that “government corrupted religion”.
An assault on state churches developed with The Elites, a. k. a. , Founding Fathers agreeing that religion could be potentially dangerous when apart of government. This “Enlightened” religion argued that religion had often supported unjust governments. Most of them would have been Deists. Deism, a popular belief among elites in the 1700s, held belief in God, but that he was rarely and distantly involved in human affairs, and viewed many Christian beliefs as superstition.
Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on Virginia, 1782 saying that “The whole history of these books is [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it”. The Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom was a Virginia bill introduced by Thomas Jefferson in 1779. The bill eliminated religious requirements for voting and office-holding, eliminated government finance for religion, and barred the state from forcing participation in religion. One important way that the Revolution did not change the American Society was in social hierarchy.
Although the American Revolution changed many things, it still left some unchanged, like the much higher sociopolitical power of the upper class aristocrats within the country. The social classes were arranged from highest to lowest as such: Upper class, merchants, tradesmen, farmers, working men, indentured servants, slaves, and finally Indians. Not much had changed since Colonial America with the wealthy upper class controlling much of everything from politics to religion. Slavery continued, women had no rights whatsoever, and the system was simply not open to all white men yet.
Wealth always made a difference, as it usually does. They were the land owners, the voters, the senators and congressmen. Normal people couldn’t be or do any of these things without having the money and success. In conclusion, the American Revolution, in my opinion, can be seen as partly “radical” and partly not. Similar to many other revolutions, it could not have changed every single thing overnight, and in fact, it did not. But there is no denying that, at least then, it did radically change things in the country, but also left some the same.

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