The American Revolution is a topic that has been dissected, analyzed, and retold by every generation of Americans. The political theory of the American Revolution is conventionally believed to be centered on the revolutionaries’ genius.
Carl Becker, in his writing Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas, put forth a separate idea: that the Declaration of Independence was calculated “to convince a candid world that the colonies had a moral and legal right to separate from Great Britain.” Gordon Wood, The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States, 30 quoting Carl L. Becker, The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1922) 133, 203, 207.
Becker wrote that the passion of the people was not what led to the indictment of the King of England. Rather, the Revolution was actually “contrived, conjured up, to justify a rebellion whose sources lay elsewhere,” said Becker. Gordon Wood, The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States, 30.
One of Becker’s contemporaries, Arthur M. Schlesinger, a Progressive historian, wrote that the “stigmatizing of British policy as tyranny, oppression and slavery had little or no objective reality, at least prior to the Intolerable Acts, but ceaseless repetition of the charge kept emotions at fever pitch.” Id. at 31 quoting Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Prelude to Independence: The Newspaper War on Britain, 1764-1776 (New York: Knopf, 1958), 34.
Later in the 20th Century, Bernard Bailyn made a different analysis. The American Revolution to Bailyn was not a disruption of society, as compared to other revolutions it was anything but disruptive. Gordon Wood, The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States, 35. The Revolution was instead “the realization of American society,” best captured in Americans creating a new sense of values, self-perception, and institutions best suited to Americans. Id.
These interpretations of the American Revolution best show the room for students of history to revise events based on unsubstantiated theories or beliefs. But also, both Becker’s and Bailyn’s theories regarding the American Revolution reflect the ammunition that the Founding Fathers left for subsequent generations to advance their agendas.
In sum, the analysis of the American Revolution, and the resulting political theory, has enriched American society. Whether one believes that the American Revolution was merely a concoction meant to advance just some Americans’ interests or whether one believes that the Revolution was actually a much less dramatic event than history portrays, the endless study of the event has significant value.
As Americans, we are able to reflect on who we are, how we became who we know today, what was intended for us, and ultimately, what our future may become. In that way, the introspection we Americans engage in about our country is analogous to the introspection we engage in as individuals.
Some might say that introspection is the surest way to not only survive but to thrive as well.