Tuesday, October 29, 2013
How Revolutionary was the American Revolution?
Richard Price, a British Unitarian minister, called the American Revolution "...the most important event in the history of the world since the birth of Christ." Ok, that might be a bit of a stretch, to say the least, but the core of his argument is that the American Revolution was a major world changer. Yet when we look through the pages of history, it seems difficult to argue that the American Revolution was a great social revolution, such as the French Revolution in 1789, the Russian Revolution in 1917 and even the revolution that takes place in China in 1949. According to most historians, a true social revolution destroys the institutional foundations of the old order and transfers power from a ruling elite to new social groups.
When we look at the American Revolution, we have to ask, was it a true social revolution or was it merely a rebellion? In the context of the American Revolution this is an important question that historians have been arguing about for generations. The question is whether or not the revolution was conservative in tone and tenor—essentially replacing one ruling stucture in Great Britain with another in America—or radical in the sense of changing the class system in society as well as changing the political structure. Carl Becker said it best a century ago: “The war was not about home rule, but about who would rule at home” (Carl Becker, The History of Political Parties in the Province of New York, 1760-1776,” [University of Wisconsin Press, 1909]).
This Week's Topic Question:
Do you believe that the American Revolution was truly "revolutionary" or do you agree with Carl Becker, that the American Revolution was purely a transfer of power from one elite group to another?