Revolutions mark the end of the eighteenth century. Students must see the successful American revolution in that setting. It is, however, one of the most significant historical revolutions. Here I want to survey the American revolution and the Industrial revolution.
I. Seeds of the American Revolution
Several factors influence American revolutionary spirit, but none of these alone caused the American revolution.
A. The geographical factor. Separated from the new world by the Atlantic Ocean, England could hardly keep tabs on events occurring 3,000 miles away. Colonial needs and grievances often went unnoticed because distances made it impossible to deal with them in a timely manner.
Geography also created a different climate in America. Americans had land, and plenty of it! This very fact bred new attitudes not understood in England where land remained limited. The sheer abundance of land instilled an attitude that anyone could make a new start, own property, and make something of themselves. If land weren't available in one location, a move west opened up whole new possibilities. With land came freedom, freedom of a sort unknown in Europe.
B. The religious factor. England's "Act of Toleration" in 1689 forced colonials to officially adopt religious toleration. New England Puritans saw this as their experiment's death knell. The erosion of the original Puritan ideals regarding citizenship, complicated as much by the forces of their own theology and social structure as immigration, forged a representative system based on land ownership rather than church membership.
In Virginia, the emerging vestry system brought a sense of participatory government and autonomy to the local churches then to colonial government.. When English bishops assigned clergy to Virginia parishes, some Virginians distrusted them because in their minds, and in reality, Anglican clergymen were merely stooges representing royal policy. Because of this, and the cost factor, many American Anglican churches opted for "Readers" and kept their pulpits vacant leaving the vestry in charge. This representative vestry, comprised of selected leaders from the parish, became the model for the Virginia legislature (House of Burgesses) and contributed to the growing spirit of self-rule.
C. The economic factor. The French and Indian War (known in Europe as the Seven Years' War) left England $700 million in debt. England also maintained a garrison in America to "protect" colonists from Indians at a prohibitive cost. Imagine a 3,000 mile stormy Atlantic supply line over which you transported needed supplies.
Parliament felt the colonists should pay "their fair share." The crown soon levied taxes on the colonies to pay for their protection and to offset a slumping English economy. The "Stamp Act" created the greatest protest. This act, levied in the 1760s, taxed playing cards, dice, newspapers, and legal documents. Colonists soon cried out, "No taxation without representation!" England responded that Parliament represented everyone in the British Empire. Most Americans considered themselves loyal Englishmen. As such, they wanted direct representation. A tax on tea provided the straw which broke the camel's back and Bostonians enjoyed a little "tea party" at East India Company's expense.
D. The political and philosophical factor. As far as the colonists were concerned, they were Englishmen. The Magna Charta guaranteed them certain rights just as it did those in England. The colonists, like most Englishmen, were tough minded and the American experience only toughened them further. American philosophy differed from the English version, however. Americans read Enlightenment material published by John Locke and Voltaire. The ideas of these "Philosophes" challenged some of the old European ideals regarding royal prerogatives and right to rule.
In addition, some Englishmen came here at gunpoint; their loyalty could not be guaranteed. Then, too, by 1775 at least 1,200,000 (40%) of the colonial population came from countries other than England, primarily Ireland and Germany.
All of this, taken together, meant that loyalties to "Mother England" grew more and more strained.
II. The Revolutionary War
The war broke out near Boston, Massachusetts. Skirmishes occurred at Lexington and Concord. At Lexington, the colonists formed on the town green. Some believe the formation was only a muster of the local militia for drill. Others, taking into consideration the fact that the British were searching for arsenals, weapons caches, and large supplies of powder, lead to the conclusion that the formation was an intentional effort to prevent British searches. When the British Redcoats approached the "minute men" ran but someone, no one knows who, fired a shot. British soldiers returned fire and mowed the Americans down. The British march stopped briefly giving the Americans time to summon the larger militia which gathered at the Concord bridge. Meanwhile the British politely continued their search of the town for arms and ammunition. No revolution would have occurred had the British kept marching. This failure to act decisively marked most British actions in the war's early stages. With the militia at Concord, the British withdrew, but the Americans sniped and peppered the British all the way back to Boston.
With the war begun, the revolutionary Continental Congress appointed George Washington as commander over a far more experienced Charles Lee. You can credit early American successes to surprise more than brilliant military planning. At the end of the French and Indian War, Britain stood alone against their arch enemies France and Spain, countries that were searching for means to exact revenge. At the time the War of the American Revolution broke out, British forces were standing down and both the army and the fleet were neglected and undermanned. The British government could barely field 15,000 regulars in America. Because of this fact, King George made a fatal mistake. He hired German mercenaries to fight English subjects, a fact which served only to raise American rancor even more.
III. The revolution's results
The American Revolution brought about a truly constitutional government with a system of checks and balances. When the war ended the colonies first ratified the "Articles of Confederation." These articles loosely bound the colonies together without any real cement to their relationship. Internal strife and tariff disputes almost tore the weak fabric apart during the years following. Over tremendous opposition, leaders discarded the articles and adopted the present constitution in 1787. George Washington then became the United States' first president in April 1789.
The revolution disrupted society and added to an already confused moral situation. During the war, the Continental Congress found a valuable ally in France. After the war, French Enlightenment writings were more widely circulated throughout the country influencing many. Drunkenness reached staggering proportions and sexual promiscuity ran rampant.
The revolution also fragmented American religious life. Americans moved away from strict Reformed Calvinism because they believed "men had rights by nature, that the pursuit of personal happiness was an inalienable right, that all men were essentially equal, that personal freedom was necessary for societal well-being . . . ." Calvinism's "Five Points" did not fare well against such concepts and an optimistic view of man.
The revolution resulted in cut ties between American and European churches, particularly English churches. Congregational churches became totally autonomous and Presbyterian churches severed all English ties. Anglicans cut their umbilical cord and became the Episcopal Church in America. Methodists retained some relationship with English Methodism because Wesley personally appointed Thomas Coke as superintendent. Coke then became a typical Methodist bishop leading some independent minded Methodists to withdraw to form the Republican Methodists.
One important result of the revolution and the aftermath was the "Bill of Rights." Among these first ten amendments to the Constitution was one which began religion's disestablishment. The First Amendment prohibits the federal government from naming any religion as the new nation's "state church." When one seeks to understand the Constitution's wording by how it was originally interpreted, this meant that the national government would not name any Christian denomination as the United States' "state church." How could they? No denomination held a clear majority. Which one would they name? The only clear majority was the Protestant denominations, when taken together.
The First Amendment says the national government will "make no law regarding the establishment of religion." That statement does not prohibit the states from doing so. States can have state churches if they choose and several maintain their "established churches" for years. One-by-one the states see the wisdom of disestablishment and begin removing state church status from favored denominations. Massachusetts was the last state to disestablish its state church. In 1833, the state disestablished the Congregational Church as its favored church.
Disestablishment, in turn, promoted competition between denominations. Since states no longer guaranteed salaries, a preacher could only guarantee his livelihood if he gathered a large congregation and influenced them to give. Congregations soon develop a sense of doctrinal and creedal superiority.
Pluralism in American religious life existed prior to the revolution. Congregationalists, Universalists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Catholics, Reformed, Moravian, Baptist and Mennonite churches all existed here. After the war these groups began mixing more and more in society. Further, new groups and immigrant churches multiplied.
IV. Another revolution - the Industrial Revolution
The Industrial revolution began in England simply because England offered a better economic climate than other European areas. England enjoyed a vast market, capital, a mobile labor force, along with a business oriented government.
The revolution began with an increasing demand for cotton cloth. Cotton cloth came from India to England in the 1700s. The English found cotton clothing superior to woolens because they were cooler and lighter. Demand for cotton soared leading to a series of inventions which in turn led to increased cotton production. These inventions changed the western world.
In 1733, John Kay invented the "flying shuttle" which made for efficient weaving. In 1764, James Hargreaves invented the "spinning jenny" which led to dramatic production increases. In 1769, the water frame transferred the power source from manpower to water power. By 1779, spinning machine improvements resulted in a machine essentially identical to those used today.
As these inventions increased production, the textile companies demanded an increasingly large supply of cotton. The English imported cotton from India, but the distance made it cost prohibitive. Americans grew "long staple" cotton on islands off the Georgia and Carolina coasts but the island acreages limited production. "Short staple" cotton grew on shore but its tight fiber and numerous seeds made it difficult to clean for market. In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the "cotton gin" and all that changed. The cotton gin made "short staple" cotton profitable and the southern economy oriented itself almost totally to cotton production.
The north advanced along a different road. In the south, slavery provided cheap labor. In the north, labor came more expensively. Northerners sought methods to reduce the need for laborers as well as the cost. The first developments came in the use of steam power in mines and factories. The first steam powered piston pump was used in England about 1705 where it was used to pump water from coal mines. The coal required to fuel the engine proved too costly for mine use, but not so in factories. James Watt invented a true steam engine which was adapted for use in cotton mills in 1785.
As American industries grew, they required raw materials. To stimulate innovation, trade, and growth, the government improved roads and canals to facilitate transportation. Entrepreneurs invented the steam ship and the railroad which enhanced transportation.
Farmers, too, demanded tools. Cyrus McCormick invented the reaper making it possible for American farmers to dramatically increase grain production. With improved equipment, northern farmers shifted from subsistence agriculture to market agriculture. In time the nation's breadbasket moved from western New York, to Pennsylvania, then to Indiana and Illinois.
Northern industrialism (there was very little southern industrialism) promoted a gradual shift in population. Jobs existed in the cities. When the nation experienced drought or other climate caused crop failures, or when recession or depression reared its head, the farmer left the land and moved to town to find work. The urban value system challenged the rural value system causing increased stress and hardship.
In time, the factory's development created wretched working conditions. Early factories looked like garden spots. Owners kept up the exterior appearance and tried to keep company housing neat. When recession came, cutbacks occurred. The quest for profit usually meant decreased attention to external appearance, working conditions, and safety. By the late 1700s and early 1800s, most factories lacked even the most rudimentary sanitary conditions. Companies considered the worker at fault for any accident and they accepted no responsibility for the injured or their families. Immigration created a vast labor pool and those unwilling or unable to work found themselves without jobs. Pregnant women worked to within a day or two of delivery and then returned as soon as the child was born. Children, some as young as 5-years-old, worked in factories under intolerable conditions.
All of this created an atmosphere of rapid change everywhere but in the south. King cotton held sway there and even as some soil played out other regions opened up. Not until after the Civil War (or Second American Revolution) did the south change.
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