The American Revolution as a conservative movement Essay
The American Revolution as a conservative movement
The American Revolution , while it may have been the first war that was started to actually put into practice some ideas that previously had only been talked about, did not have any ideas that were new. Nothing really changed as far as the average man was concerned, after the revolution. Slaves were still enslaved, Indians were still considered savages, women were not given equal rights and the governments were still basically the same, except now there were no royal govenors. Most of the main ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence were borrowed from John Locke, a famous english philosopher. He believed that if the “ruling body if it offends against natural law must be deposed.” Locke saw it as a right and sometimes an obligation of subjects to overthrow their government, if it became oppressive. The Americans fully embraced this idea. They did not make up their own ideas. The most radical idea of the revolution was the idea that the COMMON people should have the right to govern themselves. In a world where monarchies were the status quo, and people believed that monarchs ruled by divine right, the idea THAT the average joe even had the ability to rule himself was mind-boggling.
While the Americans preached this idea and made it the backbone of their excuse for breaking away from Britian, in truth they didn’t really practice it. All of those at the Continental Congress were upper class white men who owned land and held important places in their respective states. After the revolution was over, the upper class still ruled. There was not some earth-shattering, sudden and over-whelming clamor for national equality. Things mostly remained the same and the upper class made most of the laws. One problem with naming the revolution as ANY kind of movement is that it depends on whose side you were on and what year you are talking about. Those things determine what the definition of conservative and radical is at the time. The Articles of Confederation were very conservative because, at this time, anything that proposed anything other than a weak central goverenment was considered radical, such as the constitution which we presently live under. In our current time, even the constitution is seen as pretty conservative though, mostly because it didn’t call for the freeing of slaves or deal with any other big issues. Basically those issues were ignored. The thing that really needs to be stressed in all this is that the revolution didn’t really change ANYTHING.
It was mostly just a cosmetic change as far as government goes. Now, instead of Parliment and the Crown taxing America, it is Congress. Big change. No major reforms were made, no drastic rebuilding of social ,political, or economic structures, nothing was done to disrupt the etablished rules and regulations of what was considered to acceptable behavior. The main staple of John Locke, and America’s explanation as to why a country (in this case the u.s.) had the right to sever their ties to the ruling body (England) was that the power of the legislature “… is limited to the public good of the society. It is a power that hath no other end but preservation, and therefore can never have a right to destroy, enslave, or designedly to impoverish the subjects… To this end it is that men give up all their natural power to the society they enter into, and the community put the legislative power into such hands as they think fit, with this trust, that they shall be governed by declared laws, or else their peace, quiet, and property will still be at the same uncertainty as it was in the state of Nature.”
This is interesting because it comes in direct conflict with the widely accepted idea of the day that power lay with the government, not the people. This paticular Lockean ideal states the exact opposite. It determines that men GIVE the government the right to rule, and therein give up some of their natural liberties in exchange for the the protection and stability that a government affords. By the same token, since the people allowed the government to have this power, it goes on to state that they also have the power to take what was given to the ruling body away, if it is abused. This idea had never actually been put into practice in Europe, and even some of the founding fathers wondered if it could actually work.
On that point they were extrememly conservative as well, because they didn’t take the idea anywhere near to the extreme that Locke proposed. People like Hamilton believed that the average man could not, in actuality, govern himself. Many of those at the Continental Congress shared this sentiment. For this reason the electoral college and the idea of a representative democracy were created. In the end, the American Revolution was more about political reforms and taxes than about true freedom. The revolution was a rich man’s revolt, not truly a revolt of the people so, as a result, the people who were in charge (the rich) sought to change little about the society that already favored them. And why did they need to? They were already on top.