The Republican Ideology And The American
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
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
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 Steubenï¿½s 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 didnï¿½t 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.