The American Revolution: A Middle Class Movement

The American Revolution: A Middle Class Movement

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Revolutions are generally defined by certain causes and results stemming from discontent in the governed people. Among these outcomes are change in the political, social and economic order of society. In the American Revolution, however, not all of these areas of the nation were altered in a way conducive with a true Revolution. The government was overthrown and a democracy was formed. Nevertheless, no large variance was apparent in the economic trend of development, and the tiers of society remained all but untouched following the Revolution.
As is the case in many revolutions that have taken place in the world, wealth was a contributing factor. The poorer masses become disgruntled at the overwhelming wealth of a select few. The upper class, most times, is also the ruling class. This springs from the longstanding principle in a lot of cultures of primogeniture and hereditary titles, especially with a monarchical government, as was the case in England in pre-Revolutionary times. The ruling class would feel the full wrath of the people, and more often than not got stripped of their land, money, title, and sometimes even their lives. This is where the American Revolution differs from say their French or Russian counterparts. Commonly, the riches acquired as a result of revolt were then given to the people, or used in a manner beneficial to the people, and the formerly rich were done away with. Post-American Revolutionary "spoils" consisted of large quantities of land left behind by loyalists who fled the country, or were kicked out but not killed and land which had belonged to the Crown. The majority of these plots of land, numbering millions of acres over all, were sold piece by piece to speculators or men who already had a substantial amount of land under their belts. In this specific country, land was abundant, so it was not absolutely necessary for the poorer masses to automatically acquire the land, but this, and the detail that the reformers did not dispatch their previous leaders, shows how much less radical the American movement was than those in Russia or France. Because the less fortunate did not see any of the physical aspects of the bounty of the Revolution, the land stayed within the middle class, and lower upper class, of the people. This also further defined the social classes in the newly founded United States.
In the initial settlement of America, social classes existed solely based on being settled by the English.

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Social distinctions were so bred into English culture that they thought to not have a difference of the classes was preposterous and barbaric. When the first few slews of boats cam to the New World, they had high hopes because, dissimilar to England, they were given a chance to rise, to a certain extent, in class through wealth. It is true that the lower classed people who came to America began as indentured servants, but they had faith that once free of their servitude they would make a great deal of money off their own land. As Crane Brinton writes, one of the conditions present as causes of major revolutions is that people are initially hopeful about the future, but they are forced to accept less than they had hoped for. This is what the lower classes in America experienced, but their burdens were not fully alleviated following the Revolution.

The key leaders of the Revolution, from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Revere, were all of the middle class. Taking into account Robert Morris and Joseph Hewes, who at least worked hard for the money they had as opposed to inheriting it, these principal activists still had money to give to the cause. These leaders were not only leaders of the revolt; they were also leaders in their respective states. The majority, by far, of the signers of the Declaration of Independence held governing offices, or high positions in the military, in the areas where they lived. For example, Patrick Henry was a member of the Virginia Assembly, and George Washington was in the Virginia Militia. After the Revolution the question, as Carl Becker put it, was about "who was to rule at home". A large portion of these same chief revolutionaries retained their offices and titles. There was no dissipation of class divisions, nor did many of the lower classes gain access to these offices or titles. Granted, these men could have had a fear of mobocracy, the masses of uneducated people ruling the nation and making poor decisions. However, the fact remains that there was no great shift in the American social hierarchy.
One must also take into account the difference in the governing body prior to the American Revolution, in contrast to those in Russia or France, and the way it affected the adherence to a strict definition of a true Revolution. The monarch who governed the American people, King George III, was an ocean away. He placed ruling boards in the New World to keep order, and his word, throughout the land. However, when the uprising occurred, the loyalists that had been appointed by him were sent to Canada or back to England. Because the king himself was not bodily evident, and it took weeks to bring troops to the New World to fight, taking over the government was not as difficult as in France, where the bourgeois was no less than 25 miles away throughout the rebellion.
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