Movement Essay, Research Paper
“The Effects of the American Revolution”
J. Franklin Jameson s book, The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement, explains how our revolution was more than a war for political change to democracy. The revolution caused a social movement in addition to the political purpose of it. This social movement caused many changes in America, changes that far exceeded a switch to a democracy.
First, Jameson said that the war affected American society by changing the status of persons. During the war, the Continental Congress of 1774 had stopped the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. They made a non-importation agreement which said, “We will neither import nor purchase and slave imported after the first day of December next, after which we will wholly discontinue the slave trade, and will neither be concerned in it ourselves, or will we hire our vessels nor sell our commodities or manufactures to those who are concerned in it”. The terms of this agreement were carried out and throughout the war, it was followed.
Jameson said that slavery was ended in much of the US by the war, and abolishment of slavery became a political force. Pennsylvania made an act in which slavery would be abolished gradually which said that no black person born after 1780 should be held in any sort of bondage after he became 28 years old. Up to that age his services would be like that of an indentured servant or an apprentice. The Superior Court of Massachusetts declared that slavery had been abolished in that state by its constitution, which states, “all men are born free and equal.” Connecticut and Rhode Island passed acts in 1782 that said that any owner of slaves might freely release all his slaves if he made sure that their support should not become a public burden. In eight years, it led to the freeing of more than ten thousand slaves.
Jameson also made a point about the restrictions placed on expansion of the territory that the States covered, and how the social revolution controlled these. The king made a proclamation in 1763 forbidding the settlement of lands beyond the Alleghenies. There was also the Quebec Act of 1774 that restricted westward expansion and the formation of new, interior colonies. This act wasn t solidly executed, but was still a check on land expansion. Once the war broke out, these checks on expansion were removed since America was no longer under control of the king. All of the lands that were formerly parts of England were now in the hands of the States and were no longer checked by any boundaries.
A third point of Jameson s about the effects of a social revolution was that of quit-rents. In most of the colonies, according to their terms, all land that was granted to individuals must be paid for to the crown or proprietary of the province. Quit-rents were annual payments ranging from a penny an acre to a shilling a hundred acres. When the revolution broke out, England had collected almost $100,000 this way. Quit-rents acted as barriers to the ready acquisition of land. This was another reason why the revolution allowed growth in the United States; land became cheaper to retain. The colonists viewed quit-rents with hatred and were very quick to abolish them in the making of their new constitutions.
Another issue regarding land and the social revolution that Jameson talked about was the impedance of Britain on what colonists could do to their land. In order to secure a ready supply of masts for the ships of the royal navy, colonists were not free to cut down white pine trees on their own property. The land would have to be surveyed by the king s surveyor, and he would mark all the white pine trees that could not be cut. They were free to mark as many trees as they liked, and often did so. This restriction on the resources that could be used by private persons was also removed as a result of the war.
The final effect of the social revolution, Jameson said, was the overthrow of old-fashioned customs that existed in the land laws. The two particular customs he mentioned were strict entails (a landholder could not sell his land or even give it away), and that of primogeniture. Primogeniture means if the father made no will, all his land would be turned over to his oldest son, with no land being given to any of the other children. In Jameson s eyes, no means were better for keeping a land-holding aristocracy, and primogeniture was eliminated as a result of the social revolution because the United States wanted to be as far from the aristocracy as possible. When the revolution first broke out, Pennsylvania and Maryland readily abolished primogeniture, and South Carolina abolished entails. Although, in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, entails and primogeniture were still in effect. Virginian entails were stricter than the English ones, and all the New England colonies had a rule of democratic distribution, and did not want to cut away from their old English ways. New England had decided that all the children inherit the same amount of land, but the eldest son would get double his share. Within ten years of the Declaration of Independence, every state had abolished their entails except for two, but those states very rarely were subject to these entails. In fifteen years, every state abolished primogeniture and gave equal inheritance.
The significance of Jameson s topic was that the Revolution was more than just a war for political independence. He made the points that a social revolution was very apparent; people were given equal rights, checks on land were removed, land didn t have to continually be paid for, resources became available for free use to their owners, and entails and primogeniture were thrown out. In the end, the American Revolution was a social, as well as political, revolution. Even though the original intent was merely to gain freedom, its effect turned out to the beginnings of a great social movement for what became the most socially advanced country in the world today.