Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Tuesday Sept. 7 : War and Revolution I

U.S. HISTORY AT THE HIGHLANDS AT PITTSFORD
Fall 2004


Tuesday Sept. 7 : War and Revolution I
Prelude to Revolution: The French & Indian War

In the mid-18th century, people of English language & descent dominated colonial society via language, customs, law, & political institutions (and the sheer weight of numbers & prior arrival.) Newer immigrants had to learn to conform to Anglo-American society to some extent. Accustomed to a high degree of self-rule through colonial assemblies, free British North American colonists still acknowledged the English king as their monarch & took pride in the title of Englishman & Englishwoman.

What ideas or events caused a significant number of these colonists reject their coveted “Englishness” & redefine themselves as “Americans” in the period 1763-1776?

I. Ideas that Influenced the American Revolution

The ideas that most influenced the Revolutionaries were

  • Enlightenment natural rights theory
  • Classical republicanism
  • English common law legal tradition
  • Covenant theology
  • And a strong tradition of British political & religious dissent.

Important event milestones in the creation of American nationalism include

  • The French & Indian War of 1754-63
  • The war's aftermath, the end of Britain's “salutary neglect” of the colonies
  • And the series of English Parliamentary enactments & measures involving taxation in the period 1763-1775.

A. The Enlightenment in America

1. Basic Enlightenment Principles

  • Faith in man's ability to reason
  • Belief in natural laws, which can be discovered through reason
  • Mankind/society is rational & capable of improvement
  • Legitimacy of government rests on the consent of the governed

2. John Locke

  • 1690: Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government
    Governments are created by social compacts (or contracts) to preserve peoples’ natural rights to "Life Liberty & Property." Government rests on consent of the governed.
    Governors who do not fulfill their part of the contract to preserve "Life Liberty & Property" can be replaced.
  • “An Appeal to Heaven”
    Chapter III of Locke’s Second Treatise refers to the unhappy condition of a people subjected to unjust government characterized by “a manifest perverting of justice, & a barefaced wresting of the laws to protect or indemnify the violence or injuries of some men, or party of men.” Such people, Locke states, “having no appeal on earth to right them . . . are left to the only remedy in such cases, an appeal to heaven,” i.e. rebellion.
  • Locke’s ideas strongly influenced the leaders of the American Revolution.

B. Classical Republicanism

  • At the time of the American Revolution, republicanism referred to the concept that sovereignty—political authority—is vested in the people—the citizens of the nation.
  • Republican governments derive authority from the consent of the governed & are based on the principles of rule by law & legislation by elected representatives.
  • A Republic requires a citizenry who have virtue, i.e. are capable of unselfish, honest service to the republic.

C. English Common Law Tradition

  • Under English common law people charged with crimes have certain protections.
  • The right to a trial & the right to have fair trial procedures.
  • Habeas corpus, the right of a person detained by authorities to be brought before a judge to see if the detention is valid.
  • The right to be secure in your house unless authorities obtain a search warrant.
  • The right to property
  • Compare with U.S. Bill of Rights (1791)

D. Covenant Theology & Dissenting Traditions

  • Puritans' idea of government as a compact between people and God
  • Many colonial settlers sought religious & political refuge from established order in Europe, and had a long history of living in opposition to established churches and government