HST 141                                                                                                                                  Dr. Kerns


The Unfinished Nation: Chapter 5 The American Revolution


Chapter 5 Main Themes


  1. The political strategies employed by the 2nd Continental Congress in declaring their independence from England and uniting the colonies in military endeavor.


  1. The battle strategies and military contingencies that characterized the three distinct phases of the American War of Independence.


  1. The attempt by Americans to apply revolutionary republican ideology to the building of the nation and to the remaking of society, and how this application affected such minority groups as African-Americans, Native-Americans, and women in the newly independent colonies.


  1. The problems that remained after, or were created by, the American Revolution and that were faced by the weak national government under the Articles of Confederation.



A thorough study of Chapter 5 should enable the student to understand:


  • The historical debate surrounding the nature of the American Revolution and the reasons for disagreement.


  • The defining of American war aims and the importance of Thomas Paine's Common Sense.


  • The origins and content of the Declaration of Independence.


  • The three distinct phases of the War for Independence, and its transformation into a new kind of conflict that worked against British military superiority.


  • The impact of the Revolution on women, African-Americans, Native-Americans, and other minorities.


  • The assumptions and rhetoric of the political philosophy of republicanism.


  • The types of governments created by the new states, and the important features in their governments.


  • The features of the Articles of Confederation, and the reasons for its creation.


  • The domestic and diplomatic problems faced by the government under the Articles of Confederation and how they were addressed.





Confederation   A group of sovereign states that unite for specific purposes (defense, foreign policy, trade, and so on), yet otherwise act as independent bodies.


Consensus School   Disagreeing with the emphasis (and, in some cases, with the evidence) produced by the progressives, the consensus school argued that what had really shaped America was not the social, economic, and political conflicts on which the progressives dwelled, but the remarkable degree of agreement that had existed. Had it not been for this consensus on such issues as representative government, popular participation, economic opportunity, and social mobility, the Revolution could not have succeeded. It was to preserve the liberties gained during salutary neglect, liberties threatened by England's new colonial system, that the Revolution had been fought. After the Revolution, the Constitution had been written to guarantee that these hard-won liberties would continue to be enjoyed by all American citizens.


Constitution   The fundamental laws and principles by which an organization (nation, state, and such) is governed. In America, after the Revolution had begun, the state constitutions were written so as not to rely on tradition and previous legal practices as guides for governing.


Constitutional Convention   A special assembly of the people, inaugurated in Massachusetts and later used by the United States as a whole, that would meet only for the purpose of writing a constitution.


Depression   The reverse of inflation, caused by a reduction of the money supply that retards economic activity, drives prices down, and results in business failures and unemployment.


Hessians   German mercenaries hired by the British to fight in the Revolutionary War.


Imperial School   Following on the heels of the Nationalists, and in many ways as a reaction to them, the Imperial school placed the thirteen American colonies within the context of the whole British Empire. Writing for the most part in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and influenced by America's growing international involvement, the Imperial school concluded that Britain's colonial policy, when considered as a whole, had been far from oppressive. Instead, it had been beneficial to colonies and mother country alike, which seemed to suggest that the American Revolution could not have been solely an attack on British policies.


Inflation   The economic condition caused by an oversupply of money (generally paper) in a market undersupplied with goods to buy. The result is high prices and a corresponding reduction in the value (buying power) of money. If the inflation is prolonged, a serious disruption of the economy might occur.


Nationalists   This group, writing mainly in the nineteenth century, was greatly influenced by the spirit of nationalism (a strong belief in, and devotion to, the nation; a willingness to put national interests first; a glorification of the national character) that prevailed at that time. To them, the Revolution had been a struggle of an oppressed people against a tyrannical king determined to subject them to his will. Seen in heroic terms, patriot leaders were pictured as champions of liberty who had brought the nation through the Revolution and the "critical period" that followed and who had given us the most perfect blueprint for government yet devised--the Constitution.


New Left Or Neoprogressives   At present, no single school of interpretation has taken hold. Instead, historians seem to be combining elements of past interpretations in an effort to find a more satisfactory view of the past. Influenced by the disruptions of the 1960s, a group of scholars, designated the New Left, has sought and found evidence of deep social and economic divisions that were overlooked in previous works. Joining the New Left in its search, but less radical in its interpretation of the evidence, is a group whose emphasis seems to hark back to the days of the progressives. However, armed with new means of analysis (especially computers), these historians have been able to digest more complex data on economic growth and sociopolitical patterns than have their namesakes. What has begun to emerge is something of a meeting of the consensus and progressive schools, which, by using a variety of research techniques, may give us a clearer understanding of the forces that shaped early America.


Progressive Historians   This group added to the imperial school's interpretation by focusing on the struggles for power among the colonists themselves, struggles that had made use of the tensions aroused by Britain's colonial policies. Stressing economic and social conflicts that had manifested themselves in politics, the progressives saw the war, and the period that followed, as an era in which the crucial questions had been not only that of home rule, but also that of "who would rule at home." Although they failed to agree on the meaning of the outcome of the latter struggle, the progressive historians forced Americans to realize that their Revolution had touched the entire fabric of society.


Rebellion   The rising against a power or government; organized resistance.


Revolution   A successful rebellion, in which one form of government or one ruling group is replaced by another.


Speculation   The practice, especially prevalent in western land dealings, in which an individual or a company (the speculator) purchased large blocks of land at a low price per acre (often on credit), divided the land into small units, and resold the property at a higher price per acre. This made many speculators rich, but the land did go to the farmers who could not have afforded large purchases.