The Conservative Revolution
It seems to be the case that the American Revolution was a conservative revolution, or at least more conservative than revolutions in places such as France and Russia. There was no social class upheaval, no “terror” like the one in France, and no dramatic redistribution of wealth and land. In fact, the Revolution was a rather expected and natural event of human history. Part of this has to do with the enlightened age. Enlightened people were thinking of themselves as individuals who could use reason to solve problems.
They also saw themselves as people with inalienable rights of life, liberty and property. In fact, by 1760, a good amount of colonials already had a liberal mindset that resulted in a revolution that was going to happen anyway. The revolution was more of a result of a new way of thinking, rather than a radical movement in and of itself.
Carl Degler brings up a point about the change in social class in his essay.
He concludes that no new social class came to power after the American Revolution. The men who led the rebellion were mostly members of the ruling class. They were wealthy, esteemed individuals, many of whom held legislative posts. Out of the men who signed the declaration of independence “69 percent of them held office under the colonial regimes”.1 After the revolution, this leadership did not change, “Eighty-nine percent of those who filled an office before the Revolution also occupied an office under one of the new state governments.”2 This is very different from the radical revolutions in France and Russia where there was a dramatic shift in social class. Instead, there was great continuity in the social and political realm of America after the revolution, a truly conservative outcome.
While the war brought bloodshed and violence to America, there was nothing like the radical “terror” in France to be seen. Loyalists were simply shipped back to England; they were not executed by a guillotine. The revolutionary leaders were intellectuals who do not fit the stereotypical image of radical revolutionaries. They were not angry, passionate, vengeful men like Lenin and Mao; they were powdered wig wearing conservatives.
Aside from the lack of a radical environment in America during the revolution, there was also the lack of dramatic land and wealth distribution. Most of the land that was left by loyalists “went to speculators or men already possessing substantial acreage”.3 Furthermore, it was a long and slow process for the land to eventually get into the hands of the “yeoman”. Finally, the entire motivation for the Confiscation Acts was to generate revenues for the state, not to redistribute land for the good of democratic society. Once again, this is a stable and continuous outcome of the revolution, and not something you see in revolutions such as the one in Russia and China.
Degler does bring up a good point about a radical change after the Revolution, the separation of church and state. However, Degler points out that this was an unintended outcome of the Revolution. He defines it as a “social side-effect”4 and that along with the stimulus to equality show that the social consequences of the American Revolution were weak, especially compared with other revolutions. Instead, enlightenment thinking was the radical part of America’s development. The whole idea of men being able to use reason to solve problems changed colonial thinking forever. There is little doubt that enlightenment thinking allowed the founding fathers to reason to the idea to rebel and create a democratic society. Additionally, there is the idea of liberalism.
Liberalism was not an idea that came as a result of the revolution; it was a catalyst for the revolution. The idea made famous by Locke, which states we have inalienable rights of life, liberty and property, was well known by the colonists; it was in their English Bill of Rights and Constitution. It was a just a matter of time when the colonists would feel as though their life, liberty and property was being threatened and would take action to protect it. Then, the leaders would use enlightenment thinking and the result is a revolution. In 1775, all the pieces fell into place and the time was right for a revolution, but it could have happened 10 years or 20 years later. This was a Revolution that was bound to happen; it was not unexpected or radical.
When you look at the Revolution in this context, it is easy to see that this was a rather conservative movement. The outcomes of the Revolution are largely stable and continuous. However, there is the outcome of the monarchy being overthrown, and a democratic society being shaped. But, this is something that would happen anyway because of the change in colonial thought, not because of the Revolution movement. When you compare the American Revolution with other prominent revolutions, you notice that while innovative and unique, the Revolution was a conservative movement.
Cite this The Conservative Revolution
The Conservative Revolution. (2016, May 23). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-conservative-revolution/