A Myriad of American Ills

Image of Washington at Valley Forge
George Washington at Valley Forge.

The American Revolution was a consequence of more than just The Stamp Act of 1765 or the frustration that Americans felt with the British imperial system. But in fact, the “American Revolution was actually many revolutions at once.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 75.

The Revolution was actually “a complicated culmination of many diverse personal grievances and social strains, ranging from land pressures in Connecticut to increasing indebtedness in Virginia.” Id. citing Forrest McDonald, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790 (Boston, 1965), 108-09; see also Emory G. Evans, “Planter Indebtedness and the Coming of the Revolution in Virginia,” Wm. and Mary Qtly., 3d Ser., 19 (1962), 511-33.

As John Adams explained in 1776, the colonies “differed in Religion, Laws, Customs and Manners, yet in the great Essentials of Society and Government, they are all alike.” Adams to Abigail Adams, July 10, 1776, Butterfield, ed., Family Correspondence, II, 43.

However, the “awkwardly imposed imperial system” brought all of those diverse individuals together, turning “highly unstable local situations into a continental explosion.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 75. This happened as more and more Americans believed “that the whole royal juggernaut was designed to crush them personally.” Id. at 82 citing Adams, entry, Dec. 18, 1765, Butterfield, ed., Diary of Adams, I, 265. Britain had officially become “a scapegoat for a myriad of American ills.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 82.

Perhaps these observations of the early Americans show best how to foster an environment that leads to revolution. Where there is an overseeing system that is capable of extraordinary influence over everyone’s lives, making a scapegoat of that system becomes much easier.

But also, once resentment begins to build momentum in a society, stopping that momentum becomes very difficult. Unrelated hardships can become attributed to the system under attack for different reasons. That was perhaps one of the most dangerous aspects of the British actions leading up to the American Revolution.

On another note, the American Revolution showed the unifying power of oppression. Americans of all stripes came together, regardless of their background, to overthrow a system and reinvent their government to better suit their needs.

Modern Americans would do well to remember this fact. The power of collective action can change even the most stubborn, integrated fabrics of society. That was true in 1776, and it is true today.

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