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Learn about the impact of the Revolutionary War throughout the world, especially on various segments of American society. We'll look at political, social, and economic impacts.
The 1783 Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War, and the world would never be the same. The contagion of liberty spread, inspiring people to revolt against their leadership in France, Haiti, Ireland, Poland, the Netherlands, and throughout the Spanish empire. New colonies and nations emerged, and many of them formed democratic governments. But the greatest effects were felt within the 13 former colonies of the new United States of America. Politically, the Marquis de Layafette summed it up this way: 'Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.'
For two decades, Americans had been focused on their rights, Enlightenment ideals and the proper role of government. Now that the war was over, they had to create this perfect government in which talent and hard work were supposed to be more important than hereditary privilege. They succeeded.
One of the most dramatic effects of the Revolution was to include more men in the formal political process. Yeoman farmers and urban artisans made up a majority of elected officials in northern states and significant minorities elsewhere. In many ways, those two groups of people have come to represent the ideal citizen even today: honest, hard-working, independent, talented laborers. John Crockett was a poor frontier farmer whose participation with the Overmountain Men helped him become a magistrate in the newly created Tennessee Territory. His son, the famed Davy Crockett, was elected to Congress.
While it may seem that white men got everything they wanted, the impact of the Revolution was a different story for women, African Americans and Native Americans. An enlightened government would succeed only if the men in charge were well educated. This elevated the role of mothers in a family, who were the primary teachers for most American children. The concept was called republican motherhood, and it became an ideal for middle and upper class white families. To properly instruct her sons in classical subjects, as well as the bible and republican virtues, a woman needed proper schooling herself, and so there were expanded educational opportunities for girls.
The publishing market responded by releasing novels written by, for and about women. The war had helped to equalize the genders, as women had run farms and homes and businesses in their husbands' absence. They had served as spies and nurses, and at least two women disguised themselves and joined the fight. Yet women gained no legal rights.
How do you suppose Abigail Adams felt? Her husband John had consulted her on many issues. When she heard that Congress was thinking about declaring independence, she asked him to pay attention to women's rights. John Adams scoffed at her idea, suggesting that women would quickly subject men to the so-called 'despotism of the petticoat.'
Similarly, many African Americans had fully believed the new government would defend their rights as well. Unfortunately, it would be 80 years before the Civil War and the Constitution prohibited slavery outright, but the seeds of change had been planted. Rhode Island initiated a policy of gradual emancipation beginning in 1784, and many northern states followed suit. Even in the South, declining profits from tobacco resulted in large-scale emancipation. Planters like George Washington began to grow less labor-intensive crops, such as wheat.
If the institution provided no economic benefit, many people began to suspect that slavery would simply fizzle out. As much as 10% of the enslaved population had been emancipated by the armies during the war, and free blacks kindled the abolitionist movement that had started during the war. Many whites - especially Quakers - were sympathetic to their cause.
Other institutions emerged to serve the social needs of thousands of free African Americans. The most notable and lasting of these was, perhaps, the black church movement. After purchasing his own freedom, Richard Allen became a Methodist minister. But he was only allowed to have services for black parishioners. They had to be very early in the morning, and they weren't even allowed to meet in the same sanctuary as the whites. He left the church and formed the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1816, he and other ministers consolidated several black congregations into the African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination (or, simply, the AME) which is still active today.
To imagine the Native Americans' situation after the war, picture this: You and a friend are driving out in the middle of nowhere, and he gets stuck in a muddy ditch. The two of you work together and get the car out, but when the job is done, he just takes off and leaves you there stranded on the side of the road. That's how the Native Americans felt.
Four of the six nations in the Iroquois Confederacy supported the British and had their land, towns, and farms systematically destroyed by the Continental Army. Their confederacy, which had been active for as many as 300 years, came to an abrupt end, and many of them were forced to move to Canada. But the Native Americans weren't even invited to the peace talks, and the British totally ignored their interests. Though the land west of the Appalachian Mountains had been closed to American settlement since the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the Treaty of Paris granted all of that land to the new United States. As whites poured into the territory, even the nations who had supported the Patriots found their rights trampled. A coalition of Indian nations, under the leadership of Mohawk leader and British officer Joseph Brant, formed the Western Confederacy to resist U.S. expansion.
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Perhaps the most tangible impact of the Revolution on the lives of everyday Americans was economic. Estimates vary widely, but as many as half of all white men of fighting age served in the Continental Army or a state militia during the war; 12-15% of these soldiers died or were seriously wounded, affecting the economies of their households. Thousands of civilians also suffered the loss of homes, possessions, life and limb. Countless women were widowed and children were orphaned. One orphan, named Andrew, had lost his immigrant father shortly before his birth, and he lost both brothers and his mother in the war. Andrew joined the Patriots as a courier beginning at age 13.
After being captured by the British, he nearly starved to death, contracted smallpox and was slashed across the face by a British officer's sword when he refused to shine his boots. It wasn't easy to be alone in the world as a teenager, but these experiences helped Andrew Jackson to become America's seventh president.
Just about every possible factor worked against the colonial economy after the war. To begin with, the war had emptied out the people and businesses from the port cities, where the colonial economy had been the strongest. Then, 80,000 loyalists took off - they'd been some of America's wealthiest citizens.
Before the war, American businessmen and farmers had guaranteed buyers in England and the colonies. Those markets were now closed. Inflation went through the roof, since Congress had printed Continental Currency and borrowed money to pay for the war. Afterwards, the new government struggled to finance its debts and to pay war pensions, so they passed new taxes at a time when people and business were already struggling, which just stalled economic growth. Import duties increased prices even further. It took 20 years for America to climb out of the recession caused by the convergence of these factors.
Let's review. The American Revolution inspired similar revolts around the world and fundamentally changed America. Things weren't perfect in the new nation, but the war had gone a long way toward equalizing society, providing new opportunities especially for white men of all economic classes. A new notion of republican motherhood idealized the situation for white women, and the abolitionist movement was gaining ground. Native Americans united under Joseph Brant to resist U.S. incursions onto their land. However, the American economy suffered an enduring recession as a result of casualties, population changes, shifting markets, inflation, national debt and import duties.
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