The Radicalism of the American Revolution
One of the more intriguing questions in the field of American history is this: How ôradicalö was the American Revolution? Historian George Wood believes that the true radicalism of the American Revolution lay in its destruction of an older hierarchical order, i.e., the monarchy, and the development of an entirely new set of normative social relationships that were not primarily dependency relationships, with people tied together by patronage, blood, and kinship. With few exceptions, Wood was for many years alone in his belief that the American Revolution was a very radical revolution indeed; many other historians saw the Revolution as an essentially conservative rejection not of monarchy per se, but of the immediate acts of a monarch and a British Parliament.
Wood, in contrast, has made the case that part of the radicalism of this Revolution rested upon his commercialism, its capitalist underpinnings, and its materialism. The ôyeoman farmerö so revered by Thomas Jefferson was a less viable stereotype of the colonial era than the mercantile capitalist. Other historians are also looking again at key acts and actors in the American Revolution and coming to the conclusion that it was a very radical event after all. This thesis will be explored herein with respect to the literature.
The period leading to the American Revolution was one in which British colonial rule became increasingly harsh and repressive. Certainly, however, in 1763 the colonists were not plotting rebellion against the Crown. They were, for the most part, proud to be part of the British Empire and, with the elimination of a meaningful French presence and the reduction of Spanish influence in North America, they were enjoying a sense of freedom and autonomy. Paradoxically, an invigorated imperial program imposed new restrictions on the colonials came at the very moment when the colonists themselves felt ...