A Radical Revolution

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“The story of post-revolutionary America,” writes Rosemarie Zagarri, “is the story of how American women and men sought to define – and ultimately to limit and restrict – the expansive ideals they had so successfully deployed against Britain.” In this excerpt from Revolutionary Backlash, Zagarri depicts the extreme radicalism of the American Revolution, while also suggesting that there were some constraints to its extremism. Unlike the normal way of life in European government and society, Americans desired a nation in which the inherent rights and freedoms of individuals were recognized and respected. While these rights and freedoms were ultimately achieved, many groups of people were still left out. Women of all kinds, people of color, and men of poverty were often unable to enjoy and appreciate America’s newfound rights and freedoms. Despite these limits and restrictions, however, the American Revolution was still extremely radical in the sense that it was able to surpass traditional, European political and social ideology.

The Enlightenment period can be accredited to having an impact on the radicalism of the American Revolution. “During the eighteenth century, many educated Americans began to be influenced by the outlook of the European Enlightenment.” Enlightenment thinkers were particularly fond of rationalism and reasoning as a government of human life. John Locke, a philosopher and author of this period, brought up in Two Treatises on Government the idea that the government and the governed should have a mutual agreement. This agreement, known as Locke’s “social contract” held that men should surrender themselves to be governed, and in turn, the government would recognize the natural rights of men. Life, liberty, an...

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..., certain women were able to participate in politics and government issues like never before. People of color were given freedom and able to form communities that likely would not have existed if not for the principles of the Revolution. The inherent rights and responsibilities of all men, women, coloreds, and whites were eventually recognized and respected, and the Revolution served as a starting point. Zagarri states, “The Revolution established universal ideals as the benchmark by which American society would subsequently judge the fairness and equity of its policies.” These established ideals and this story of extreme change in the way people viewed freedom is nothing short of radical. The successful way in which the Revolution surpassed European political and social traditions can only be described as radical. The American Revolution, therefore, was radical.
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