Perspectives on the American Revolution

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The American Revolution was an influential movement that created mass change politically and socially. Howard Zinn’s argument is that those who were colonial elitists used the war for their own personal gain, while George Wood focuses on how there were no occurring problems within social classes. Both are compelling arguments that provide convincing, valid points but Howard Zinn’s article is much more effective about conveying the issues during the American Revolution.

He starts his argument by stating that conflicts between the rich and the poor constantly reappear. One of the biggest problems during the fight for independence was social control. The Continental Congress was dominated by rich white men, who were linked together by business and family connections. Robert Morris’s plan was to gain the support of officers by voting half-pay for those who stuck to the end of the war. This ignored the needs of soldiers who were not getting paid and dying of sickness, all while watching others get rich. The members of the continental congress were concerned with class conflict, especially the rebellion uprisings against those in power. In order to avoid that, those at risk put the blame of poverty on England as the reason why the poor were still poor.

The class hatred was expressed by one man who said,”It was better for the people to lay down their arms and pay the duties and taxes laid upon them by the King and Parliament then to be brought into slavery and to be commanded and ordered about as they were.”[Zinn, 84] Maryland authorities began heavily taxing land and slaves. This was a sacrifice by the upper class to stay in power and it continued to benefit them immensely. Indians, blacks and mulattoes tried to get involved in the war because they believed it would help them achieve their freedom but were all turned away. This created a problem for the revolutionary army because the poor whites who owned no slaves urged them to side with the British who promised them their freedom. The policies being advanced by Congress did not offer many benefits or changes for the wealthy.

This made it difficult to get support for the war because those who were enlisted were motivated by the opportunity to change their living standards through rank and earnings. To mobilize soldiers, tenants were promised land. A landowner of Dutchess County wrote,”A promise to make tenants freeholders would instantly bring you at least six thousand able farmers into the field.” [Zinn, 84] The farmers who had enlisted into the revolution were only paid $6.66 a month, while a colonel received $75 a month.

In October 1779, a militia group went to the house of James Wilson, a wealthy lawyer and Revolutionary official, who had opposed price controls. Colonists were tired of the inflation of prices, in one month, prices had risen by forty-five percent. By taking action against those in power, it would give the militia a chance to be heard. Others from lower classes; for example, southern lower classes, refused to be mobilized for the revolution. They saw themselves under the rule of a political elite. The position of blacks, the exclusion of Indians from the new society and the establishment of supremacy all were problems that were occurring even during the start of the revolution.

The fear of slave revolts began to grow, George Washington had turned down the requests of blacks, seeking freedom, to fight in the Revolutionary army. Slaves benefited the elitists because they were able to make large profits off of slaves, so when Lord Dunmore, a British commander in Virginia, promised slaves their freedom, slaves would attempt to runaway and were encouraged by poor whites. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence” was used to convince citizens to join the patriot cause.

Unfortunately, the Declaration of Independence was mainly geared towards rich, white males who owned property. Zinn shows us how wealth was a way of establishing power since only property owning, white males were allowed rights, as well as the ability to participate in governmental affairs. Gordon Wood perceives the revolution completely different compared to Howard Zinn. Unlike Zinn, Wood says that social classes based on occupation and wealth did not set themselves against one another. Christopher Gadsen says,”The poorest of them must find himself, in a very comfortable situation, especially when he compares his condition, with that of the poor of other nations.”[Wood, 170] He believed that white society in South Carolina was equal,”the distinctions between the farmer and rich planter, the mechanic and the rich merchant, being abundantly more here, in imagination, than reality.” George Wood believed that equality did not mean that everyone was the same, but that people were closer in wealth and property to those above them and felt free from aristocratic ruling and control. George Wood talks about a struggling farmer by the name of Moses Cooper. He was able to rise from virtual insignificance, eventually turning into the richest man in his town. He was eventually able to hire slaves and workers to do all labor.

Because of his wealth and position he feared what Britain’s mercantile restrictions would do to his business. According to George Wood, overtime, social changes began to be expressed in politics. Higher officials and other conservatives made efforts to lessen popular participation in politics and to control the “democratic” part of the colonists. Howard Zinn states that those in power had no intent of benefiting those of a lower class. Those who would often try to involve themselves in politics were those who had authority which completely condescends Wood’s ideology of people who were involved in government. The interests by the revolution were based more on devotion to the patriot cause than wealth.

In a new form of a republic those who were involved believed that,”even the reigns of state may be held by the poorest men, if possessed of abilities equal to the important station.”[Wood, 180] Wood points out that poverty and economic depression were not present in colonial America after the Revolution, whereas Zinn believed that after the Revolution there was still no presence of a strong central government, and a strong economic collapse.

The American Revolution was an extreme turning point for our nation. Not only did more people gain the right to vote, but more citizens began to play important roles in governing and society became much more equal. The Revolution also established the ending of mercantilism, which opened new markets and new trade relationships. George Wood believes that this was overall a radical revolution that has lead to greater change.

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Perspectives on the American Revolution. (2022, Feb 08). Retrieved June 16, 2024 , from

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