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Home : American History : 20th Century 
AMERICAN HISTORY : 20th Century

 

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The Republican Ideology And The American Revolution

The republican ideology is a facet of the social fabric of the colonial citizens of America that may, arguably, have had the greatest affect on the struggle for independence and the formation of a constitutional form of government in the United States. The birth of the republican ideology, while impossible to place an exact date on, or even month, can be traced back more than a decade before the Revolutionary War. It can also be argued that this social machine began to function as a result of circumstances which led many colonist to choose to come to America. The uniformity of this ideology, however, would change and modify itself as circumstances warranted in the period between 1760 and 1800.

It is first necessary to understand the exact reasons why the ancestors of the American revolutionaries chose to live in America, as opposed to staying in England, where a healthy and prosperous life was a much greater possibility. America was, in the eyes of its first English settlers, an open book with no writing on the pages. It was the foundation of a building that had not yet been built. Many felt that it was up to them to shape the way this new land would function, as opposed to the way Parliament or the King felt it should. The memories of these early pioneering settlers were a common theme for American revolutionaries before the Revolutionary War. These early settlers were the creators of the foundation to the building the revolutionaries would finish.

Another common theme which drove the revolutionary ideology was the knowledge not only of the monumental significance of the job to be undertaken, but also the impact a free democracy on a scale as large as America would have on future generations of Americans who, certainly, would not take their freedom for granted. The ideology held by most American revolutionaries was one in which they knew their sacrifices would be acknowledged and appreciated by future generations of Americans. There was also the knowledge that America would serve as an example to God and the rest of the world of what the advantages of a free society could be.

Religion also played an important role in the establishment of this ideology. God, in the eyes of the earliest revolutionaries, was on the side of liberty. There was religious justification for actions undertaken by both England and America. The English stated that rebellion was a sin, while the Americans stated that the corruption of England, as well as its intolerance of liberty to the point of warfare, was also a sin. War, from the religious perspective of the revolutionary in America before the outbreak of war with England, was seen as a necessary evil. God could permit war as a means of escaping tyranny, such as that which England was symbolic of. God was, in the eyes of the pre Revolutionary War revolutionaries, without question on the side of liberty and personal freedom.

The suffering of Americans under the tyrannical hand of English government was much the same as the suffering undertaken by Jesus at the cross. He suffered for all the sinful people of the world. He died for our sins. The revolutionaries felt much the same way about any suffering that may be incurred throughout the war. They felt that it would be looked back upon as a sacrifice that they made for the success of future generations of Americans. On an even larger scale, it would also be looked upon as a sacrifice for liberty and freedom in all countries around the world who suffered under the sinful hand of oppression.

The revolutionaries also had their own ideas about independence as well. To them independence was a necessity. It was absolutely key to any further advancement towards their ultimate goal of freedom to enjoy personal liberties. How exactly independence was physically achieved was not as important as the fact that it had already, and would always be, achieved in the minds of Americans. Their thoughts and actions were already that of an independent people regardless of whether or not England still had legal domain over them. Independence was a essential aspect of self-preservation which, according to the revolutionaries, was their objective. Their motive was not an act of active rebellion against authority as much as it was one of self-preservation.

As the Revolutionary War continued to wage on longer than had been expected by many revolutionaries, it became clear that some sacrifices, or modifications of this ideology would have to be made. One of the first clear examples of this can be seen with the formation of the Continental Army. An army went directly against the revolutionary ideology in that it necessitated a sacrifice of personal freedom and liberty. While the decision of one to join this army was well within the boundaries that were deemed acceptable by revolutionaries of the time, the rules and sacrifices one would have to make to serve in this institution would go against the ideals set by revolutionaries. An army was seen by the revolutionaries as a machine of possible corruption, in that it held power significant enough to wield itself against the principles of liberty and democracy.

As the war raged on, however, it became clear that some type of army would be necessary. It was an evil necessary to achieve the ends envisioned by the revolutionaries. What resulted was an army that, in many respects, was different from any other army of the time. The Continental Army became a mixture of traditional military discipline and republican ideology. The call to fight using an army existed, but at the same time the suspicions of an army lingered. The Continental Army would need a special form of discipline, as well as a unique individual to lead it.

George Washington became the man for this job. Having past military experience in the French and Indian War, as well as political experience in the Virginia House of Burgesses, he was to make an ideal general for the task at hand. Throughout his military duties in the Revolutionary War, he was always under the command of Congress. This insured that there would be no way for him or his army to grow beyond the smallest size necessary. Washington was faced with many difficulties, however, in his term of military service during the Revolution. He had to respect the personal liberties his soldiers possessed as Americans, as well as keep some form of effective discipline, and constantly plead with Congress for essential equipment for his army. His handling of all of these problems is what kept the Continental Army cohesive and effective throughout the war.

Another military figure in the Revolutionary War who serves to show the unique nature of the Continental Army was the Prussian general Baron von Steuben. It is he who formed a uniform system of discipline that catered to the soldiers revolutionary beliefs, while at the same time making an effectively disciplined military machine. The separation of the officers from the common soldiers, which in traditional military discipline was deemed absolutely necessary, was discarded in the Continental Army. Officers were to eat, train, and drill their soldiers personally. Von Steuben knew that this would be a more effective means to discipline an army whose members fought not for an officer, or for fear of an officer, but for a much larger cause which did not even necessitate their participation in an army anyway. The result of Von Steuben�s methods was the development of a sense of professionalism in the Continental Army which, coupled with the ideologies of the men, was sufficient motivation to fight until the end.

One of the most significant challenges to the original republican ideology didn�t come from the formation of an army, but came after the war in the political arena which was, at the time, under construction. Faction in the system of government, which can be seen as an enemy of liberty and personal freedom and as potentially destructive to the original republican ideology, developed in the newly formed government after the war.

The faction developed, in some respects, along social lines. Many merchants and businessmen had different ideas about how the government should be run, than did rural agrarian farmers which made up a large percentage of the voting population. It is these rural farmers and small scale merchants who tended to cling to the original republican ideology more than urban merchants and businessmen. What was developing was a party system consisting of two parties that had much the same objectives, but differed greatly on the means necessary to reach these objectives. What made this situation so volatile, was the fact that a party system, according to the original interpretation of republican ideology, was a breeding ground for corruption. The reasons for this assumption can be clearly seen in the English Parliament, which consisted of three parties.

The way in which the American people responded to this can be seen in several different ways. Although parties were looked upon as a bad thing according to the original version of the republic ideology, as it became clear that they were here to stay, many Americans were forced to modify their opinions. One man whose personal struggle with this issue is well documented is James Madison. Madison, at first, supported a multiplicity of parties over a system of only two parties. The reasons for this clearly coincide with the ideals of the Americans at the time. There should be many parties for Americans to choose from because each person has the right to believe whomever he or she wants. For this reason, there should be many parties in which people could freely choose to follow.

As time and circumstances progressed however, Madison opinion on the subject changed drastically. Madison came to believe that parties, while a possible enemy of a free government, are inevitable and unavoidable. He then realized that the best response to the problem would be to control the affects. He also realized that a multiplicity of parties would not be conducive to stability in a government which, in the case of the United States at the time, was a necessity. The specific advantage to having only two parties, as seen by Madison, was that given equal power and representation, they could keep each other in check. This would make it nearly impossible for any one party to take too much control of the government.

It can clearly be seen that the ideology in which the American people subscribed to prior to the Revolutionary War did go through several challenges and modifications by 1800. Although parties did not arise until after the Revolutionary War, there were still modifications and challenges much earlier, as can be seen in the Continental Army. What is also unique is, despite the numerous challenges and slight modifications, the ideology was able to persist through these traumatic years and shape a nation and a government in ways that history had not before seen done with such ease. This is a true testament to the fortitude and durability of the republican ideology and America as a whole.



 

 



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