Saroosh . H. Khan American Evolution or Revolution? The theme has been subject to excessive discussion over the course of more than two centuries encompassing the existence of the United States. Although it has been taught for as long in our schools and classrooms and all other educational institutions that the year 1776 Anno Domini marks the year of American Revolution, but amidst historians and intellectuals the dilemma to whether to call it a revolution or an evolution has never been out of question. Reader!
Doesn’t it enthrall one that a single word could bifurcate scholars and create factions amongst the erudite. ?Por que (why? ) there must be a reason and there is! The answer is simple yet rational: Perspective. Albert Einstein, (the famous physicist) most remembered by his theory of relativity, concluded that distance and time were not absolute. History resides in the same niche. It is more than a chronological account of past events of a period or a livelihood or development of a people, an institution, or a place. But what it is not is absolute.
It is always left upon interpretation, scrutiny, analysis, probing and pondering. The perception or perspective gained through such rigorous processes is also subject to the base of a historian. It is very uncommon to find historians sharing their bases of initial learning and therefore the effect of their own era, age, surroundings and upbringing must also be taken account of. A revolution, defined by Encyclopedia Britannica is: a major, sudden, and hence typically a violent alteration in government and in related associations and structures.
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On the other hand Oxford dictionary defines an evolution as: the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form. Let us decide upon the usage of the word Revolution, which one can venture out to say, could be dated from the year 1775 with its ignition being the battle of Lexington and Concord and culmination being the ratification of the constitution of the States in 1782. Seemingly easy doesn’t it? It doesn’t really respond to how fundamentally did the thoughts, ideals, ideology and mindset of a 2. 5 million inhabitants change and led to he chain of events that became known as the American Revolution. What I believe is that no people in the course of history have ever rebelled against a certain state, condition or ideology without a buildup of grievances, resentment or a gradual shift of attitude towards accepting a better socio-dogma. Let’s go back to the early 17th century when immigrations began to take place into the New World. Herds of folks comprising of German, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Jewish descent and not to mention the French Huguenots, began pouring into the lands in order to escape from the fetters of the Old World.
They did not have any more an appetite for its rituals, its doctrines, its curbing of civil liberties, and mostly the cost of living in it. One can even say at this particular time, that they were revolting as a denouement of the evolution of the aforementioned causes. So it would be appropriate to say that a 17th century Europe was in revolution. Let’s go further with this theory and say that the immigrants reaching the New World were revolutionaries. Almost 150 years of Pax Americana (used strictly in context with the time period and not according to current usage) so to say was enjoyed by the colonists.
During this time, some changes irrevocably did take place. This is evident from the fact that the language that the majority of the immigrants originally spoke had evolved into a different dialect. So from this we can also entrust upon the belief that alongside linguistics political and socio-economic changes did also take place. A political change that actually began with the migrations was the rise of a political ideology known as Republicanism. Technically ruled by Great Britain or more accurately looked over, the colonies practiced the policy through their town halls and city councils.
Very famous examples of such republican instruments were the Virginia House of Burgesses and the Massachusetts Assembly. These were regulated by either representative or direct democracy. The symbol of democracy at the time was looked upon as the House of Commons in England, however it did seem a bit more than contradicting to have the Buckingham Palace towering high in the very country. The colonists did give their allegiances to the monarch but because of the fact that it was kind of conditional. Although they did not realize it nor was it formally declared but they remained docile because they were never tampered by British legislations.
They had during this time, created their own principles, created their own system of jurisprudence, law, justice, methods of trade, commerce, education, agriculture etc. When after the French and Indian war, the British began actively participating in the earlier enumerated colonial components of society; it would’ve obviously been not received glad handedly by the Colonists as it did not. Let’s now examine the economic evolution that took place to ensure America’s Independence. The 150 year old period was in terms of trade and commerce coined as a period of salutary neglect.
For the colonists it brought economic prosperity and industrialization. For the British it was shooting themselves in the foot. Intentional lax in order to show the appreciation for economic freedom while regulating the policy of mercantilism. Does it make any sense? One would question Robert Walpole’s sanity between all of this; however he is not our subject of concern. What you shall so sow so shall you reap; a very old and passed around saying isn’t it? But it does make sense in the context. The British for a very long period of time followed the policy and the colonist enjoyed its benefits.
Smuggling was nothing out of the blue, very common. Other European nations also benefitted from it, the Colonial agriculture products such as hay, wheat, barley, maize and cotton were valued highly in foreign markets. When the British annoyed at Colonial stubbornness to pay taxes, passed the writs of assistance; there was an outrage. There had to be one, like it did, smuggling was not put up with anymore and a flow of revenue generation created as a result of foreign trade stagnated. How were the merchants to run their businesses without the freedom of trading being allowed to them as it had always been?
Hence there was an outcry by the merchants who went bankrupt as a result of such legislation. Ah! One cannot expect the theme to be talked about without the mentioning of taxes somewhere or another. The country was not at all familiar with taxes; once again it is necessary to mention that when we talk about being not being tampered for almost 150 years it is meant more than it sounds. Citizens in Britain were obliged to pay taxes, however their brethren in the New World were not. I do at times believe that absolute freedom corrupts absolutely, there should be some harnesses or bridles put on in order to let ivility root in or in this case for rule to sustain. When suddenly exposed to direct taxes such as Stamp Act and Sugar Acts why would it not cause havoc with in the colonists? It would lead to acrimony towards the crown like it did, it would lead to mass protests like it did and would lead to severing of ties like it did. In the beginning I wrote about how a historical event is subject to independent interpretation. How historians may or may not agree on something because of the different elements molding the shape of the basis for their knowledge.
I must confess that it is not arbitrary and applies to myself as it does to any other individual. I believe that evolution without revolution is lame and revolution without evolution blind, very similar to what Einstein said about religion and science. One thing is for certain though, nothing is by nature revolutionary. There has to be friction to beget fire. During the 150 year period evolutionary changes in political beliefs, social policies and economic mechanisms did take place otherwise the colonists would’ve never armed themselves to teeth and hoisted the flag of revolution.
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