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The Revolution Within

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After the Revolution, equality became a much stronger component. Abigail Adam’s became one of the revolutionary era’s most articulate and influential women. She married John Adams, a young lawyer about to emerge as a leading advocate of resistance to British taxation and, eventually, of American independence. Abigail kept her husband informed of events in Massachusetts and offered opinions on political matters. Later, when Adams served as president, he relied on her advice more than on members of his cabinet. Abigail did not believe in female equality in a modern sense.

She accepted that a woman’s primary responsibility was to her family. She resented the “absolute power” husbands exercised over their wives. The Revolution unleashed public debates and political and social struggles that enlarged the scope of freedom and challenged inherited structures of power within America. In both Britain and its colonies, a well-ordered society was widely thought to depend on obedience to authority, the power of rulers over their subjects… husbands over wives, parents over children, employers over servants & apprentices, slaveholders over slaves.

Inequality had been fundamental to the colonial social order. The Revolution challenged it in many ways. American freedom would forever be linked with the idea of equality, equality before the law, equality in political rights, equality of economic opportunity, and for some, equality of condition. The Revolution’s radical potential was more evident in Pennsylvania than in any other state. Pennsylvania adopted a new state constitution that sough to institutionalize democracy by concentrating power in a one-house legislature elected annually by all men over age twenty-one who paid taxes.

It abolished the office of governor, dispensed with property qualifications for office holding, and provided that schools with low fees be established in every country. It also included clauses guaranteeing “freedom of speech, and of writing,” and religious liberty. Pennsylvania’s new constitution reflected the belief that since the people had a single set of interest, a single legislative house was sufficient to represent it. Conservative patriots thought it was ridiculous that “every silly clown and illiterate mechanic” deserved a voice in government.

John Adam’s believed en without property, had no “judgment of their own,” and the removal of property qualifications, therefore, would “confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate ranks to one common level. ” Eliminating traditional social ranks, however, was precisely the aim of the era’s radical democrats, including the most influential promoter of independence, Thomas Paine. Overall, The Revolution led to a great expansion of the right to vote. Until the state of New Jersey added the world “male” and “white” in 1807. Baptists who refused to pay taxes to support local Congregational ministers were still being jailed in Massachusetts.

The War of Independence weakened the deep tradition of American anti-Catholicism. The end of British rule immediately threw into question the privileged position enjoyed by the Anglican Church in many colonies. Religious liberty became the model for the revolutionary generation’s definition of “rights” as private matters that must be protected from governmental interference. Pennsylvania’s new democratic constitution required citizens to acknowledge the existence of God. To finance the war, Congress issued hundreds of millions of dollars in paper money.

This produced an enormous increase in prices. In 1779, with inflation totally out of control, Congress urged states to adopt measure to fix wages and prices. The policy embodied the belief that the task of republican government was to promote the public good, not individuals’ self interest. Altogether, an estimated 20 to 25 percent of free Americans remained loyal to the British, and nearly 20,000 fought on their side. There were loyalists in every colony, but they were most numerous in New York, Pennsylvania, and the backcountry of the Carolinas and Georgia.

The struggle for independence heightened existing tensions between ethnic groups & social classes within the colonies. In the South, numerous slaves sided with British, hoping an American defeat would bring them freedom. The War of Independence was in some respects a civil war among Americans. Dr. Abner Beebe spoke “very freely” in favor of the British, and a mob attacked his house and destroyed his gristmill. Beebe himself was “assaulted, stripped naked, and hot pitch tar was poured upon him. ” Pennsylvania arrested and seized the property of

Quakers, Mennonites, an Moravians- pacifist demonstrations who refused to bear arms because of their religious beliefs. American leaders believed the new nation needed to establish an international reputation for fairness and civility. States soon repealed their test oaths for voting & office holding. Loyalists who did not leave the country were quickly reintegrated into American society, although despite the promise of the Treaty of Paris, confiscated Loyalist property was not returned. The Indians were still forced off their lands and took over their property.

Washington himself had acquired over 60,000 acres of land in western Pennsylvania after the Seven Years’ War by purchasing land vouchers from his men at discount rates. Some tribes such as the Stockbridge tribe in Massachusetts suffered heavy losses fighting the British. Many tribes tried to maintain neutrality, only to see them selves break into pro-American and pro-British factions. Slaves fought for American independence and many thereby gained their freedom. Yet far more slaves obtained liberty from the British.

Nearly 100,000 slaves, including one-quarter of all slaves in South Carolina and one-third of those in Georgia, deserted their owners and fled to British lines. Gradual as it was, the abolition of slavery in the North drew a line across the new nation, creating the dangerous division between free and salve states. On the eve of independence, virtually every black person in America had been a slave. Now, free communities, with their own churches, schools, and leaders, came into existence. They formed a standing challenge to the logic of slavery, a haven for fugitives.

Finally, revolutionary women, Deborah Sampson, enlisted into the army as a male, fought, and even extracted a bullet from her own leg so as not to have a doctor discover her identity. For women, the marriage contract superseded the social contract. A woman’s relationship to the larger society was mediated through her relationship with her husband. Abigail Adams recommended that men should willingly give up “the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. ” The subordination of women did not become a major source of public debate until long after American Independence.

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