HIS 2213 LU10 Were the Founders Democratic Reformers or Economic Opportunists?
Learning Unit #10: Lecture “Were the Founders Democratic Reformers or Economic Opportunists?”
Part One:Intellectual & Social Originsof the American Revolution & Constitutional Government
TheEnlightenmentis also knownas “The Age of‘Reason.” This labeldescribes a historicalperiod (late 1600s -late 1700s) whenpeople began rejectingsuperstitious beliefsand instead startedrelying on their ownmental faculties toprovide rationalexplanations aboutthe world anduniverse.
The Enlightenment affected many areas of human endeavor, but the advances in science were its most impressive. Sir Isaac Newton, father of modern physics, was at the forefront of scientific inquiry. A devout Christian, Newton felt he was discovering the hidden, holy laws by which God governed HisSir Isaac Newton Creation--like a divine 1643-1727 clockmaker who has set the mechanism in motion.
Some minds began to askwhether ‘scientific’ lawsmight also exist that could beapplied to the improvementof society with the samecertainty as the lawsof physics. At the time,hereditary monarchies ruledacross Europe, most witheven more power than kingsduring the Middle Ages.Enlightenment thinkersbegan to questionmonarchism as a rationalbasis for governance. Theyinstead called for republics(i.e., representativedemocracy), the codificationof laws, and the most radicalof them for universal malesuffrage.
“Not only do I say “Sovereigns that Christians should are bound to“Inalienable rights are tolerate each other their subjectslife, liberty, and the but that all men are by a socialpursuit of property.” brothers.” contract.” Locke Voltaire Rousseau The ideas of several European Enlightenment thinkers (philosophes) influenced American Revolutionaries such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Franklin.
Enlightenment ideas Printingwere disseminated by pressesvarious means toan increasingly literateaudience. Secret fraternal organizations Salons and coffeehouses
The people who consumed Enlightenment writings were oftenthe newly wealthy “middle class,” who found that they now hadmoney but little or no say in how they were governed.
Notice how manyAmericans ownedproperty! Social Classes in Colonial America
How ‘revolutionary’ can a revolt by thepropertied class really be? The Second Continental Congress Less than 1/3 of England’s inhabitants belonged to the “middle class,” yet 3/4 of white American colonists could bedescribed as “middle class” for that time ( = more status than now).
Ben Franklin: Franklin, Paine, & Jefferson areThe FirstAmerican? the only Americans of their era typically regarded as Enlightenment thinkers. Franklin was a world-class scientist, inventor, printer, and statesman. His Autobiography is the first articulation of what has since come to be known as ‘the American Dream.’ For most of his life, however, Franklin thought of himself as an Englishman--until 1774, that is, when his role in the exposure ofa double-dealing Royal governor came to light. He was publiclyembarrassed and condemned by the British Government. Fromthat point forward, Franklin never again thought of himself asEnglish but as American. Indeed, a recent biography of Franklinis titled The First American. (His son stayed loyal to theEnglish!)
Part Two:The Role of Global Imperial Conflict in American Independence
From 1756 to 1763, Great Britain & France engaged in a worldwide geopoliticalstruggle called the Seven Years’ War. Their conflict in N. America was calledthe French & Indian War. It pitted the French and a majority of allied OhioValley Indians against American colonists, British soldiers, & an Indian minority.
Before After French & Indian WarFor decades, the British and French had been on a collision course over controlof the N. American continent’s interior. Most Indians wanted to stay out of thewar but chose the French as the lesser of two evils. By the time the Iroquoisfinally sided with the British in 1759, English victory was a foregone conclusion.
Great Britain won the F. & I. war & became the dominant imperial power in North America, BUT the costs of victory left them heavily in debt. Great Britain decided to centralize control over its empire and compel colonists to share costs of their defense. With the Proclamation Line of 1763, the British closedEnglish off further settlement ofwere nowIndians’ western territoriessole beyond the Appalachiansource of Mountains (“thetradegoods. backcountry”) and sent full-time British troops to enforce the ban, keeping settlers and Indians apart.
American colonists expected a preferred position in the British Empire after helping defeat the French, but instead a series of English govt. officials levied new taxes on them to pay the cost of Sons of Liberty maintaining an unprecedented attack a standing army in America. The tax collector.colonists responded with boycotts, greater inter-colonialcommunication, and violence. The most objectionable taxes were on paper and tea.
British PoliticalCartoon Critical ofLord North’sEconomic PoliciesWith Regard to theAmerican Colonies,Which Are DepictedAs the “Goose ThatLaid the Golden Egg.”
In reality, British soldiers did not fire a coordinated volley; white men were not the only ones involved in the incident; and Bostonians provoked the soldiers with taunts and thrown objects. They resented the mere presence of British troops in peacetime. Paul Revere’s Depiction of the BostonMassacre. It was not an accurate representation of what happened, but that did not stop people from believing it was true.
Alonzo Chappel, The Boston MassacreThis artistic representation probably comes nearer “the truth,” but it is still just an interpretation and was not painted until almost 100 years after the event.
Relations between Great Britain and the thirteen colonies continued to deteriorate. These are not real Indians.The Boston Tea Party led to the Intolerable Acts (1774)
Battles of Lexington and Concord, 04/19/1775 In fact, actual fighting ‘on the ground’ between American patriots and British Army ‘redcoats’ had begun over one year BEFORE the revolution’s political leaders approved a formal ‘declaration of independence’ in July 1776.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense• Appeared in January, 1776.• Attacked King George III directly.• 100,000 copies sold in less than three months.• Made independence seem the next logical step.
Did Jefferson mean to include African-Americans and women when he wrote “All Men are Created Equal?”Yes, but how ‘natural rights’ were understood in the1700s and even later is complex. From aphilosophical standpoint, Jefferson believed allhumankind possessed rights of “life, liberty, and pursuitof happiness,” but, at that time, it did not follow that“liberty” meant the right to full political participation insociety. People in the 21st century assume thatnatural rights and civil rights mean the same thing butnot back then. Of course, slaves and many women didnot in fact possess “liberty” even as it was defined inthat day, i.e., the ability to move about freely and enjoy In 1998, DNAthe fruits of one’s own labor. Jefferson was remarkably evidenceenlightened given his social situation as a Virginia showedslaveholder, BUT he was undoubtedly a species of that Jefferson fathered atracist and a walking contradiction. “All men are least one childcreated equal” is arguably the most radical political with his slavestatement ever made, however, and it has inspired Sally Hemings.many revolutions other than the American.
The American Revolution was never Patternsa single, unified movement whose ofmembers all agreed on what they Allegiance:wanted. Not even all Britons living Loyalist &in America agreed that they wanted Rebelindependence from King George III. SupportThe Revolution was not only arevolt but also a civil war betweenPatriots (Rebels), who took up armsagainst King and Parliament, andLoyalists (Tories), who remainedloyal to the British Crown. When thewar was over, an estimated 100,000Loyalists left the United States forCanada or the British isles--including Benjamin Franklin’s sonWilliam and the Penn family,founders of Pennsylvania.
British Surrender at Saratoga, NYAmerican independence could not have been achieved without the aid offoreign allies. Victory at Saratoga convinced the French to form an alliancewith the American rebels & declare war on Great Britain. Spain and Hollandsoon followed suit, making the British defend other parts of their empire.
Gen. Benedict Arnold –Hero of the Battle ofSaratoga, but who laterbetrayed the Patriotcause by falling inlove with a Loyalistwoman and sellingout to the British.
Oct. 1781 -- After General Cornwallis’ forces were bottled up at Yorktown, VA,by Washington’s troops & the French navy, his surrender all but ended the war.The world’s superpower had been defeated by its own colony!!! For the British,it was the 18th century equivalent of the Americans’ 20th-century experience inVietnam. Cornwallis Surrenders to Washington
As a military commander, Washington knew when to cut his losses, beat a retreat, & fight again another day. He was also an outstanding spymaster. He walked away from political power TWICE after the war, and herein lies his greatness. After most revolutions, a military dictator emerges as ruler. That did not happen in America thanks to George Washington. Of course, he was a slaveholder. He even used govt. resources to hunt down runaways from Mount Vernon. He freed the slaves in his power upon his death--unlike Jefferson,Gen. George Washington who was too indebted to do so.
The political Nov. 1775, British At the time the rhetoric of the offered freedom Revolution started, Patriot cause to any slave slavery existed in all 13 confused who could many join them; colonies. In 1780, citing blacks. 1000s the “All-men-are- did. created-equal” language from the Declaration, Massachusetts became the first state to free slaves; Vermont soon followed. NY & PA offered only gradual . abolition--whereby allAt first,Washington Northern slaves eventuallywas reluctant free blacks became free by theto use black were 1820s. Most northernsoldiers, but a lack especially states ended slaveof manpower left him welcome to enlist. trade during or rightlittle choice. after the Revolution.“The Bucks-of-America” all-black unit service badge
Native Americans in the Revolution Most Indians fought for the British, including the powerful Iroquois. While Americans consider G. Washington the “father of our country,” the Iroquois know him as “town burner.” Some small Indian tribes already surrounded by whites fought on the American colonists’ side. Individual acts of bravery by Indians were rewarded by states, but tribes fared poorly overall. The British simplyThayendanegea (Joseph Brant) abandoned the Iroquois at the Iroquois leader Paris peace talks.
Women in the Revolution Women took on a variety of roles inAbigail Adams, the Revolution, from sewing to servingfuture First Lady in combat. As the quote below by Abigail Adams to her husband, John, shows, they hoped for nothing less than a voice in the new nation: "...In the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I would desire you would Remember the Ladies.... Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.... If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.” (March 1776)
Part Four:Establishing a Republic: The U.S. Constitution
We Won the Revolution! Now What? The Articles of Confederation, which had created a weakcentral government in 1778, proved to be an unsatisfactoryplan of government to those Americans who were thinking in national terms rather than just locally.
The solution was to write a new Constitution, largely the work of James Madison. There was no republic (a form of representative democracy) anywhere in the world at that time to use as a model, so the Founders turned instead to examples from classical antiquity (Greece, Rome); their English legal & constitutional heritage; local experiences with colonial legislatures; & the ideas of the Enlightenment. What theycame up with did not meet with universal approval but instead sparked debates over thepossible direction of the country’s future. A notable contribution to these debates wereThe Federalist Papers, a series of essays mostly written by Madison & AlexanderHamilton. People did not think a large republic could exist because of the competinginterests of merchants & farmers. Madison argued that a large republic was best becauseamong so many differing viewpoints no one dominant “faction” could emerge.
What is “Faction”?• The Founders were concerned about controlling “factions” and preventing mob rule without forfeiting liberty.• Madison would acknowledge that making the new central government as “democratic” as possible was not the Framers’ overriding motive. In fact, they feared “democracy” could possibly lead to mob rule & endanger the property rights of the minority (i.e., wealthy citizens). Madison was so wary of mob rule that he placed the greatest number of ‘checks and balances’ on the House of Representatives, the most democratic U.S. institution.• The Founders also stressed that a republic could not survive without “virtue” [i.e., participating in civic affairs for the common good] on the part of both leaders and citizenry.• For us, an election without party competition is no election at all. But the Founders equated parties with factions, which they saw as evils.
Two Forms of Popular Government• Madison [Fed. 10] distinguishes between two types of popular government [i.e., “government by the people”]: – “a [pure] democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person [e.g., “town meeting” or “participatory democracy”], and – “a republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place.”• The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: – “first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; – “secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.”• Clearly, we mostly use the term “democratic” today to refer to systems that Madison would call “republican.”
What Was Revolutionary about the Constitution?• New and different type of state: Only republic in the world at that time.• Despite failing to secure political rights for women and blacks, there was far greater social mobility in the early republic than at present. Ben Franklin called the USA the “best poor [white] man’s country in the world.”• Flexible document; ability to add amendments is the beauty of the Constitution.• Universal white male suffrage (by 1820s). (Not even the British could say the same until the 1870s!)• Official state churches were abolished; freedom of religion and freedom from religion.• Civic nationalism in theory: Every citizen gets to vote.
Weaknesses of Constitution• Went as far as it could go (but not far enough) toward limiting the sovereignty of the states.• What if some states like federal govt.’s tariff policy and others do not? How will issue of slavery be determined in new territories and states? North will come to believe it gave up too much power to the South by allowing them to count 3/5 of their slaves for purposes of determining proportional representation in the House of Representatives and Electoral College.• Ethnic nationalism in practice: States get to decide who qualifies as a “citizen”; the USA will be a “White Man’s Democracy” & a “Slaveholding Republic” (although briefly some New England states actually allowed free blacks and women of property to vote).