The American Revolution as a Product of the Enlightenment


West and World History

23 October 2003

Enlightenment is as synonymous to the word liberalism as Mercantilism is to the word Mercenary when one considers the American Revolution. Many of the wars and debates fought in the late eighteenth century actually proved to be more towards taxation from British colonies, rather than the revolution. Citizens of the newly independent America were concerned more solely with the advancement of political stability rather than economics.

Independence supporters including John Hancock and George Washington, may have been wealthy, but joined together with farmers and common people to form the largest group of universal support. The American Constitution and the Bill of Rights are in fact still recognized today as the classical routes of liberalism. Clearly, “comfortable liberals” joined with everyday people in what was truly revolutionary thought. The fact that this was not just the war of Independence is revealed by the evidence that the members of the American Revolution (British Colonies) wanted unquestioned right to elect their officials even though 95% of adult males could already vote in some places. This was unlike that of England and Europe. A parallel example would be that there is no all powerful church in North America where personal freedom of religion was allowed. Mercantilism by its very definition is all about the economic control of colonies for the benefit of the parent nation, Britain. The British because of they were all about money and control, were not concerned with popular support or volunteers of the populous. The fact that the British Government used German mercenaries undoubtedly set out to many longstanding loyalists the realization that the colonies were merely an income source for Britain. Many former British supporters changed their minds because of German Mercenaries.

For many historians, there has been a huge debate that the fighting from 1775-89 was not a real revolution but a war for independence from taxation and British control. Obviously any culture as existed in the American colonies understood typical British Rule allowance for voting, taxation, and trade. The high cost of the many British wars and huge British national debt related to global exploits lead them to the Parliamentary “Stamp Act”. Although to the British it was all about money, North Americans paid less tax than Europeans and only a fraction of the British in 1765 (2 shillings per person, versus 26 shillings per person in England). The issue for the Americans was that “taxation without representation in Tyranny”[1]. The absolute power of the British Parliament was not seriously questioned in their empire other than by Americans. The British failed to recognize that their least taxed colony was seeking political independence. The political thoughts of Thomas Paine, and his work called Common Sense, in 1775, exampled public opinion of independence related to political thought not money.

Citizens of the New America clearly were more concerned about political equality than economic equality. Economic inequalities were actually acknowledged in part by the very people who gained support for the constitution. Reality was primarily legal and political, not economic or social[2]. The Declaration of Independence as written by Thomas Jefferson and accepted by the second Continental Congress July 4, 1776, is often referred to as the world’s greatest editorial. If one looks around the world today, and the history of all nations, there is no wonder that many believe it forms the “rights of all humanity”[3]. Virtually all North Americans would recognize fraises such as, “all men are created equal,” and the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness are unquestioned as per the Declaration of Independence. This American document has caused ripples of power around the world for over 200 years. If today were to be contrasted to the late eighteenth century, many elements of the American Constitution first posted by their congress in 1789 still form the basis of admiration around the world.

The right to trial by jury, assembly, and the freedom from unreasonable search plus freedom of speech, religion, and the press today are regarded internationally as the basic ideals for the underpinning of any modern government or society.

Works Cited

Mark up by Shemitz, Jon. “The Constitution of the United States of America”.

Sturgis, Amy H. “The Rise, Decline and Reemergence