Women in the American Revolution Essay
Women in the American Revolution
As had been the pattern in Europe over the centuries, women in early America were not supposed to play any political role in society. Following the ideas and values brought here from the Old World, colonial leaders decided that women’s main place was in the home, centered around conventional activities for example housework, cooking, cleaning, as well as childrearing. Besides taking care of the household, it was accepted; women could partake in some phases of the religious life of the community.
However a sharp difference was drawn between religion and politics. When the question arose in early Massachusetts regarding possibly permitting all church members a political voice irrespective of their other status, Puritan minister John Cotton argued that merely independent adult men had the essential qualifications to act sensibly in the political sphere. “Women and Servants,” he said, are not reckoned “capable of voting in the choice of Magistrates, though they may be and are, church members.
”1 Cotton and others felt that women may exercise some decision-making authority within the family, however in society at large men alone could be rulers. Certainly, not all men in early America had access to the political realm. As noted in Reverend Cotton’s remarks, bound servants were to be excluded. Furthermore, religious dissenters, white men without property and, certainly, black slaves were generally barred from any form of political participation.
Members of these groups, along with women, had been conventionally looked upon as lacking the independence and personal qualities believed essential for becoming a voter or officeholder. Thus far women were obviously a special case, which is perhaps why it ultimately took longer for them to lawfully get political rights. Perhaps, too, it elucidates why in colonial times few theorists even measured the prospect of women having any sort of political role. In the second half of the 18th century, certain writers elaborated further as to why women did not belong in the political ground.
A foremost advice book of the time, The Polite Lady, published in England however extensively read in America, stated that women’s natural abilities were not equal to such a difficult task as politics. Female education, as currently conducted, said the author, was too slight and superficial to allow women to be competent judges of such matters. Just before the colonists stated their independence, Massachusetts lawyer and emerging statesman John Adams reiterated some of these views.
Like the previous writer, Adams did not assert that women lacked any intellectual capacity. To a certain extent, he thought that they were unsuited both by temperament as well as training for such a worldly pursuit as politics. “Their delicacy,” Adams insisted, “renders them unfit for practice and experience in the great business of life, and hardly enterprises of war, as well as the arduous cares of state. Besides, their attention is so much engaged with the necessary nurture of their children, that nature has made them fittest for domestic cares.
”2 Women in the Patriot Cause: These few instances of female participation despite, the foregoing criticism reveals the fact that women were not seen as having a justifiable place in the political community. The passage of time had brought much development to the colonies however none concerning any institutionalized political role for women. That women should have no business dealing with matters of state was an approach maintained not merely by notable men in America but as well among the great minds of the late 18th century European Enlightenment.
Outside of the French philosopher Condorcet, no intellectual of the period seriously thought that women belonged in the public sphere. Though, the American Revolution would force as a minimum some rethinking of women’s connection to the political realm here in the New World. Even though no formal context existed for women entering the civil polity, they would in several ways become attached to the movement looking for political independence from England. As historian Linda Kerber has noted, women’s services turned out to be highly sought after either for the army or on the home front.
Consequently, women were challenged to commit themselves politically and then validate their allegiance. In a little while the age-old question was raised: could a woman be a loyalist, an essentially political person, and, if so, what form would it take? The issue, as Kerber indicates, never achieved full resolution. However without doubt many women, at least for a time, went beyond their conventional roles and started engaging in some kinds of public activity.