Archive for the ‘Revolution’ Category

Excerpt from Bailyn on Power

By historian Bernard Bailyn.

Excerpt: The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Chapter 3, from pp 55-69

The theory of politics that emerges from the political literature of the pre-Revolutionary years rests on the belief that what lay behind every political scene, the ultimate explanation of every political controversy, was the disposition of power. The acuteness of the colonists’ sense of this problem is, for the twentieth century reader, one of the most striking things to be found in the eighteenth century literature: it serves to link the Revolutionary generation to our own.

The colonists had no doubt about what power was and about its central, dynamic role in any political system. Power was not to be confused, James Otis pointed out, with unspecified physical capacity—with the “mere physical quality” described in physics. The essence of what they mean by power was perhaps best revealed inadvertently by John Adams as he groped for words in drafting his Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law.  Twice choosing and then rejecting the word “power,” he finally selected as the specification of thought he had in mind “dominion,” and in this association of words the whole generation concurred. “Power” to them meant the dominion of some men over others, the human control of life: ultimately force, compulsion….

Most commonly the discussion of power centered on its essential characteristic of aggressiveness: its endlessly propulsive tendency to expand itself beyond its legitimate boundaries. In expressing this central thought, which explained more of politics, past and present, to them than any other single consideration, the writers of the time outdid themselves in verbal ingenuity. All sorts of metaphors, similes, and analogies were used to express this view of power.  Power, it was said over and over again, has “an encroaching nature”; “… if at first it meets with no control [it] creeps by degrees and quick subdues the whole.” Sometimes the image is of the human hand, “the hand of power,” reaching out to clutch and to seize: power is “grasping” and “tenacious” in its nature; “what it seizes it will retain.” Sometimes power “is like the ocean, not easily admitting limits to be fixed in it.” Sometimes it is “like a cancer, it eats faster and faster every hour.”….

What gave transcendent importance to the aggressiveness of power was the fact that its natural prey, its necessary victim, was liberty, or law, or right. The public world these writers saw was divided into distinct, contrasting, and innately antagonistic spheres: the sphere of power and the sphere of liberty or right. The one was brutal, ceaselessly active, and heedless; the other was delicate, passive, and sensitive. The one must be resisted, the other defended, and the two must never be confused….

Not that power was in itself—in some metaphysical sense—evil. It was natural in its origins, and necessary. It had legitimate foundations “in compact and mutual consent”—in those covenants among men by which, as a result of restrictions voluntarily accepted by all for the good of all, society emerges from a state of nature and creates government to serve as trustee and custodian….

Belief that  a proper system of laws and institutions should be should be suffused with, should express , essences and fundamentals– moral rights, reason, justice– had never been absent from English notions of the constitution….[I]f the ostensible purpose of all government was the good of the people, the particular goal of the English constitution–“its end, its use, its designation, drift, and scope”– was known by all and declared by all to be the attainment of liberty. This was its particular grandeur and excellence; it was for this that it should be prized….

Notes on the Declaration of Independence

Continuing our discussion of the ideological and philosophical differences that lay at the roots of the drive toward rebellion and revolution by the colonists, I have included our notes we took today after we read and discussed the Declaration of Independence.

Some links at which you need to look: – This is the text we read in class.

You can also look in your textbook on pp. A1-A3. The text of the Declaration included in your book also explains (in blue text) the antecedents of each of the specific acts to which Jefferson alludes in each of the grievances against the King, so look at that as well.

The notes we went over in class after reading the Declaration are as follows:

Main Political Claims/ Political Theory Expounded in the Declaration:

(Directly derived from Locke)

1. All men are created equal. (which means that…)
2. All men have certain natural rights. (life, liberty, property)
3. Government is formed BY THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED to protect those rights.
4. If the expectations of #3 is not fulfilled, consent may be withdrawn, and government can LEGITIMATELY be abolished.

Note that the colonists are no wild-eyed anarchists– they want a LEGITIMATE government that respects and protects their rights, not no government at all. In fact, note that in the last paragraph, Jefferson points out that states are now independent– and they all had state governments. On July 5, it is those state governments where the power given up by the people by consent now resides. This also touches directly upon the claims made in the Example of a Letter from a Committee of Correspondence.

The Crux of the Problem: Where is the Philosophical Difference of Opinion Between the Colonists and the British Government:

Is consent required?

Basic Charges against the British Empire:

(4 points–These can be seen as being paired)
1. Laws were not passed that we needed– 2. Laws were passed to which we did not assent.

3. The British authorities subverted our ability to govern ourselves– 4. The king’s government violated our rights and liberty and therefore did not legitimately govern us either.

Links for more information that you must look at: –This puts phrases from the Declaration of Independence parallel to the Lockean arguments in the Second Treatise on Government. – Interesting facts about the Declaration

The Shot Heard ‘Round the World!

Poor William Dawes gets dissed again….

The Declaration of Independence and Slavery

Read this:

Annotated Declaration of Independence

Read This and be ready to discuss:

Or try clicking here: decindep. I have placed copies of this outside my classroom.

This will provide part of the information if your Adobe reader is not working:

That list of grievances that Jefferson listed in the Declaration of Independence? Jefferson had been mulling them over for a long time:

Read the Preamble to the Virginia Constitution:

Here is a link to the Virginia Declaration of Rights:

Excerpts from Paine’s Common Sense

From the Gilder Lehrman site:

“I know not,” John Adams wrote in 1806, “whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs for the last thirty years than Thomas Paine.” After enduring many failures in his native England, Paine (1737-1809), whose father was a Quaker, arrived in Philadelphia in November 1774 bearing invaluable letters of introduction from Benjamin Franklin. By far the Revolution’s most important pamphleteer, Paine exerted enormous influence on the political thinking of the revolutionaries. His pamphlet Common Sense, which sold as many as 150,000 copies in the year after it was published in January 1776, demanded a complete break with Britain and establishment of a strong federal union. It was also a powerful attack on the idea of monarchy and hereditary privilege: For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others forever…. [A king is] nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang. Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.

In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense…. I have heard it asserted by some, that as America has flourished under her former connection with Great-Britain, the same connection is necessary towards her future happiness, and will always have the same effect. Nothing can be more fallacious than this kind of argument. We may as well assert that because a child has thrived upon milk, that is never to have meat, or that the first twenty years of our lives is to become a precedent for the next twenty. But even this is admitting more than is true; for I answer…that America would have flourished as much, and probably much more, had no European power taken any notice of her. The commerce by which she hath enriched herself are the necessaries of life, and will always have a market while eating is the custom of Europe.

But she has protected us, say some…. We have boasted the protection of Great Britain, without considering, that her motive was interest not attachment…. This new World hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe…. As Europe is our market for trade, we ought to form no partial connection with any part of it. It is the true interest of America to steer clear of European contentions, which she never can do, while, by her dependence on Britain, she is made the make-weight in the scale of British politics. Europe is too thickly planted with Kingdoms to be long at peace, and whenever a war breaks out between England and any foreign power, the trade of America goes to ruin, because of her connection with Britain….

There is something absurd, in supposing a Continent to be perpetually governed by an island…. No man was a warmer wisher for a reconciliation than myself, before the fatal nineteenth of April, 1775 [the day of the battles of Lexington and Concord], but the moment the event of that day was made known, I rejected the hardened, sullen-tempered Pharaoh of England for ever; and disdain the wretch, that with the pretended title of FATHER OF HIS PEOPLE can unfeelingly hear of their slaughter, and composedly sleep with their blood upon his soul…. Where, say some, is the king of America? I’ll tell you, Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the royal brute of Great Britain…. So far as we approve of monarchy…in America the law is king….

A government of our own is our natural right…. Ye that oppose independence now, ye know not what ye do: ye are opening the door to eternal tyranny…. There are thousands and tens of thousands, who would think it glorious to expel from the Continent, that barbarous and hellish power, which hath stirred up the Indians and the Negroes to destroy us….

O! ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the Globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.

Chapter 8 Questions

Always include specific names, locations, and dates where possible.

1. What was the timing  between the battles of Lexington and Concord and the convening of the 2nd Continental Congress? What is the significance of the number of colonies who sent delegates to this meeting? What did most of the delegates originally seem to favor as the course of action to take?

2. What was the most important thing the Congress did and what were the reasons why they made this decision? What characteristics did George Washington have that made him a good choice? What qualities did he lack?

3. What was unusual about the time period from April 1775 to July 1776? What did the Continental Congress do in July 1775 that seemed at odds with military events during that time, and what was the response from the king in August 1775?

4. List and describe the early military engagements in the war in 1775. How did the invasion of Canada undercut colonial claims of fighting defensively based upon ideology?

5. What happened on Evacuation Day?

6. What were the specific reasons why the colonists delayed in declaring their outright independence until July of 1776?

7. Explain the basic republican ideology behind Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence? What were the main tenets about government articulated by both Paine and Jefferson? What conditions were considered necessary to have a successful republican government?

8. What were the examples the colonists drew upon when arguing the feasibility of self-government?

9. Summarize the grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence.

10. What were the specific tasks performed by the Patriot militia?

11. Explain the main differences between the Patriots and the Tories in terms of location, education, wealth, etc. Why did some remain Loyalists while others gambled everything by declaring themselves revolutionaries? How did most people feel about revolution?

12. Why was the Battle of Long Island significant? What were Washington’s two greatest successes in 1776-early 1777, and where were these located?

13. Create a simple chart detailing which British and American generals were associated with which battles, and the date and region in which the  battles took place.

14. What was the intent and significance of the Model Treaty? Who negotiated it?

15. When and why did France come to the aid of the colonists? What was the catalyst for their open support? What specific advantages did America gain? Were there any disadvantages?

16. What calamity struck the American forces on the heels of the French alliance?

17. How were indigenous peoples and the frontier affected by the war? Why did some native tribes fight for the British? What did the Treaty of Fort Stanwix do?

18. What do privateers do? What role did they play? How did the US Navy perform during the war? add some specific details to support your answer.

19. What happened at Yorktown? Why do some historians claim that it was not accurate to claim that the Americans won there?

20. What were the main provisions of the Treaty of Paris of 1783, and why were they so relatively generous to the Americans?