Parent Category: 18th Century History Articles
Category: American Revolution
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The American Revolution was more than a political revolution; it was also a social revolution. The whole concept of life in the Colonies changed; the American revolutionaries dismantled the British institutions and created new institutions based on the ideals of the Enlightenment.

The greatest event on the domestic side of the war was the increase of religious freedom. Americans suffered less religious persecution than the Europeans did. There was a small degree of religious persecution throughout the Colonies. The established churches, the Congressionalist Church in New England and the Anglican Church in the South, were the main culprits of this persecution.

The Puritans of New England are the best example of this type of persecution. They made laws and ordinances to such a degree that they were inadvertent creators of discontent and other Colonies. The establishment of Rhode Island as a refuge from religious persecution in Massachusetts is an example. This persecution spilled over into the political sector of colonial life. For example, only Congregationalist and Anglican Church members could hold public office in Northern and Southern colonies respectively.

The revolutionary elite saw religion as backward, closed and a hindrance to social growth. They were totally against any form of organized religion. Many of the revolutionary elite practiced Unitarianism or Deism. Unitarians saw Jesus Christ as a great teacher. Deists saw God taking only a small part in creation, then sitting back and shaking his head and letting the world continue on its own. This devotion came from the ideas of the Enlightenment. Because of this, they became devoted to institution religious and political freedom.

The established churches attempted to protect their privileged position in the colonies. This battle went on throughout the colonies, particularly in Virginia and New England. In Virginia, the battle was against the Anglican Church. In 1776, the House of Burgesses passed the Virginia Bill of Rights. Many Anglicans challenged this statement because they refused to accept the death knell of the established church in America. The two men behind this Bill of Rights were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Both men disliked established organized religion because the established church was a British institution.

The Bill of Rights relieved non-Anglicans from the burden of supporting the Anglican Church through taxes. The state governments suspended this form of taxation for one year and continually renewed this suspension thereafter. This supporting of a church that you did not belong was exactly like taxation without representation, only it was in the realm of religion.

In an attempt to solve this problem to their advantage, the Anglicans, led by Patrick Henry, gathered their forces and came up with the idea of the general assessment, a user fee. The money collected from this assessment would support all churches. Washington and Marshall supported this idea. In 1784, James Madison waged an effective one-man campaign against the general assessment idea. It was so effective that, by 1785, the general assessment plan was dead. In 1786, the Virginia legislature passed the statute of religious liberty. This statute gave Americans the freedom to go to and support the church if they so choose, or they did not have to do if they so choose.

In New England, the battle was against the Congregationalist church. The colonies included in this fight were New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. In these colonies, outdated puritanical laws were written off the books. The Congregationalists like the Anglicans in the South proposed a modified general assessment plan. This modified plan said that the Congregational Church would receive all of the raised revenue and there would be no religious freedom. However, this plan extended toleration to Quakers and dissenters.

On the national level, a general assessment plan was proposed. This proposal of 1785, which set aside church land, was defeated because there was no unanimous consent within congress. In 1787, the Northwest Ordinance set aside land for schools that the founding fathers hoped would teach the ideas of the Enlightenment to future generations. The battle over the established church ended in 1791, with the acceptance of the first amendment to the Constitution. This amendment declares that the government shall make no laws establishing a religion, nor could it prohibit religious freedom.

The next social change during the American Revolution was the attack upon the privileged. Americans particularly disliked privilege because of their experience with British nobility. Americans felt that this privileged status was too much of a British institution of control.

Many people may want to be like the privileged but they do not want to be subservient. Americans had a particular distaste for the hereditary privilege. In the United States, there is no nobility but there is an aristocracy based on wealth, which is present even today. The founding fathers were trying to displace these aspects of privilege and subservience in American society. For example, the colonist ousted two wealthy Tory families, the Johnsons, and Pipernells, from the country. As explained before, there is no nobility in this country because nobility is a British institution.

Wealth is another matter entirely. Many people harbor distaste for wealth but they want to be like those with wealth. They want the money, the finery and the social status that come with such wealth. In 1776, Maryland outlawed titles and the Articles of Confederation abolished titles on the national level. In 1785, the nobility could not gain citizenship until they gave up or renounced their titles. Congress would not even recognize the Baron Von Stuben until he dropped the 'Baron' title from his name.

In 1787, the Congress passed a law where foreigners with titles cannot become citizens until they renounced their titles nor could American citizens receive them. The American attitude towards aristocracy was so entrenched that there was considerable hysteria when two former officers of the Continental Army, Henry Knox, and Von Stuben created the order of Cincinnatus. The public believed that this institution was creating an American form of aristocratic nobility because the orders bylaws allowed only officers of the continental army to join.

A cause for further public concern was that the eldest sons of each member automatically become a member of the order. The order of Cincinnatus was the brainchild of Henry Knox and Von Stuben. The first elected president of the order was George Washington. The members of this society paid dues. The public was fearful that the members would use this money to buy power or public office. Jefferson and Madison advised Washington to drop the hereditary factor in the organization.

Another change in society during the American Revolution was in passing down land ownership. The two common methods of passing down land ownership were entail, which was legal in all of the colonies except South Carolina and primogeniture.

Entail allowed the deceased to notate who got the land, usually, this was the eldest son so that the family wealth and power remained intact.

Primogeniture allowed the ownership to pass on to the eldest son with or without a will. Assaults on these two methods were successful because they were British methods of ownership.

In the South, both methods were envied and despised. In 1786, entail became illegal and in 1792, primogeniture followed suit. Now all children of the deceased could inherit property, including women. Americans made great strides but the economic order was not touched.

One problem the Americans had to deal with was what to do with the loyalists and their lands. The states confiscated the lands, divided them up and sold them. For example, New York divided the Tory Delancy's land into 250 sections and sold to 250 families.

Americans were land hungry because when you owned land, you were wealthy and you had political and economic status within your community. There was one problem in buying land, inflation. The paper money printed by congress was worthless.

Veterans received free land as bounties for enlistment. The land grants were located west of the Appalachians; most veterans sold these grants to speculators, who in turn sold them to the public who had to buy land. There was a small area in the northwest reserved for Connecticut citizens who lost their lands during the British occupation during the war.

The final change in American life, though not finally solved until the end of the Civil War, was slavery. The United States government regulated the slave trade but did not abolish the institution. Slavery is the black mark of American history. Americans were fighting for freedom and liberty but these ideals did not fit with the slave holding of the South.

The attack on slavery came from the North. In 1775, Philadelphia created the first anti-slavery society. In 1780, Pennsylvania emancipated its slaves. In the North, slavery had become uneconomical, but in the South, it was a matter of economic survival, a way of life. In the South, slavery was the economic system. Tied to the economics of slavery was the fact that the slaves were the labor force. It was also a system of controlling blacks because, in southern social thought, blacks were inferior to the white man.

Jefferson a slaveholder himself wanted to limit the spread of slavery. He tried successfully to eliminate slavery in the Northwest, North of the Ohio. The South, however, was not willing to end slavery because, without the slave labor, the South would face economic decimation as proved correct during the Civil War. As a compromise, the Congress passed the Federal Slave Trade law in order to get the constitution passed. The invention of the cotton gin caused the spread of slavery into the West to Texas.