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Prior to the outright onset of the American Revolution, many theories and ideals surrounding political philosophy began to emerge, focused on presenting new ideas of republicanism in government, as well as ushering in a newfound wave of nationalism. Pioneered strongly by philosophical leaders such as John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, the ideas that these individuals espoused became the spark for the American Revolution, and ultimately evolved into the cornerstones of American political ideology and systems. With these ideals becoming a rally cry for the need to be independent of royal authority, colonists began to stand up for their own rights against the oppressive rule, demanding that they were granted equality in representation and were not used for the advantage of Great Britain. In order to inherently understand how ideas of republicanism and nationalism impacted the mentalities and establishments of the pre- and post- Revolutionary War landscape, it is necessary to analyze each of the aforementioned thought leaders in terms of the specific components they promoted, and how this ultimately played into the development of many organizational and institutional aspects of the newly independent colonies.
When analyzing the inherent ideas of American republicanism and nationalism in the pre-Revolutionary era, it was evident that the constant pressure and oppression of the British rule led to the strong adoption and implementation of the ideals. Amongst one of the foremost influencers of these ideals was that of philosopher John Locke, who initially proposed the ideas of establishing a representative republic in a population that was independent. In a nutshell, the ideas of Locke revolve around that of, “democracy, limited government, republicanism, self-determination, the rule of law, equal opportunity, and free expression.” (Tierney, 2011) As these values became widely implemented and adopted by the colonial society, it became clear to the Americans that they were not being provided with any of these basic liberal ideals. Rather, it was evident that Great Britain was depriving the colonists of many of their inherent freedoms, especially in regards to the equal opportunity, self-determination, and rule of law. This was seen in the array of acts and decrees that the British crown attempted to levy against the colonists to maximize financial benefits, and be able to dig themselves out of the indebted and struggling position they were in. One example of these implemented actions was seen in the Stamp and Townshend Acts prior to the revolution, which impacted the core of the colonial society. Perhaps between the two, the most infamous became the latter, which focused on reaping benefits from imported goods and commodities into North America. In doing so, “in 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend duties, a new set of external taxes collected on goods before they entered colonial markets, and inaugurated stricter enforcement policies. Americans reasserted their opposition to all taxation without representation.” (Ch. 6) This, along with the Stamp Act which increased the prices of domestic goods in the colonies, set the groundworks for the nationalist ideals that began to emerge. With Locke’s ideas becoming a cornerstone of the beliefs and rallying cries of the Americans, these restrictive and oppressive measures taken by the British crown further fueled the American opposition in demanding their equality, no matter what the cost may have been.
Another means by which senses of nationalism began to run rampant throughout the American colonies can be seen in the dissemination of ideas through documents and news relays. Whether through newspaper publications, pamphlets that were published about governmental aspects, and an array of other means, the colonists started to become educated in regards to their rights and freedoms that should be ascribed. One of the most influential individuals in promoting this fervor was that of Thomas Paine. A citizen of Great Britain, and later embarking to the American colonies, Paine became a major foundation in the promotion of independence and equality, as well as a critic of the British crown in the means by which they were governing the colonies. In doing so, “whereas colonial resentments were originally directed primarily against the king’s ministers and Parliament, Paine lays the responsibility firmly at the king’s door. And he appeals to a sense among Americans that they have all the resources, and every claim, to rule themselves without the interference and control of a body half-way around the world. Subverting paternalist metaphors for Britain’s colonial claims, Paine creates an image of a nation come of age, ready for freedom from its leading strings, having every justification for separation from its unnatural parent, and seeking to stand on its own as a commercial republic, trading in its own right.” (Stanford.edu) In this regard, Paine became one of the initial sparks behind the organization and promotion of the opposition to the British royalty, as he put direct blame on the king himself, and further aimed to show the American public that the time had come in order to stand up for their own rights. His most widely read and circulated pamphlets, entitled Rights of Man, became a cornerstone for developing the ideals throughout the American colonies that they had the ability and power to be able to stand up to the oppressors that were across the Atlantic. These beliefs stemmed directly from many republican and nationalist thought processes, as there was an increasing influence placed on establishing a government that would be representative of their interests, as opposed to catering to a regime that had none of their interests in mind. Thomas Paine believed that, although the American colonists felt that the way forward in establishing a government would be arduous and difficult, that with the right organizational structures and plan of action, it is far more attainable than originally perceived. He believed that one aspect that was necessary to be implemented was that of the Continental Congress, which would provide a framework and extent of documentation that would directly relate to how the country would be governed. In bringing forth the most qualified and representatively popular individuals in the nation, it would ensure that the components of the documents that would be laid out in the Continental Congress would exude the best interests of those who lived in the colonies, as opposed to catering to the British crown.
As concepts of republicanism and many of Locke’s ideals started to be echoed throughout the countryside, influencing the imminent rebellion to come, internal leaders took to the organizational components to ensure that these values remained intact as the nation progressed. Perhaps one of the most evident ways that this was seen, included that of Thomas Jefferson’s drafts and revisions of the Declaration of Independence, as he aimed to implement the ideas of republicanism, equal opportunity, and other similar components into the frameworks on which the country would operate in the post-revolutionary era. The Declaration of Independence, thus, was not only significant in guiding the country in the right direction, but also in shedding light on the liberal and democratic ideals that would be adopted. Just one example of how republicanism played such an immense role in the drafting of the document is seen in the statement that, “governments are instituted among men…If the government is destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to abolish and institute a new government to effect their safety and happiness.” (Powerpoint, Faragher Ch. 6 F16, Slide 74) Echoing the words of Locke’s beliefs surrounding the need for people to have control and dictate the actions of their government, the Declaration of Independence implemented factors that would protect against a potentially corrupt regime, and one that would empower the people to begin taking matters into their own hands. Things such as the checks and balances, separation of powers, division of each colony into its own specific state wherein each of these regions would have representation in the form of government officials, were all poised to create a political landscape that ensured the masses were represented in the actions and legislations that were drafted by the government, and that the best interests of those living in these states were the priorities that would initially guide the political process. As a result, it becomes apparent that the ideas of republicanism and nationalism were not only influential in the discourse of drafting the American political system, but became a vital component in the social institutions that would soon be developed.
Overall, when looking into the influence of nationalism and American republicanism that erupted from an array of thought leaders in the pre-Revolutionary landscape of the American colonies, it becomes evident that the beliefs and values that were espoused during this time, alongside the ability to communicate in a far more effective means, allowed for the rise of the American opposition that would then lead to revolution. As the British crown continued to oppress the colonists through various economic legislations that were crippling the internal population in these colonies, it became clear that it was time for the American people to stand up against their oppressors. Through the ideas of individuals such as John Locke, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson, these beliefs were able to come to fruition, as they provided the fuel and framework required to implement a plan of action, and how to move forward once the uprising and revolution had completed, and independence had been acquired.
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