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The colonists had a few goals in waging the Revolutionary War. The most prominent goal was for the people, wanting to create a system of government on their own terms, to be free from Britain’s stifling rule. Although the idea of freedom and independence was popular, the colonists made sure that there were still some restrictions that kept certain groups like women and African Americans suppressed. Finally, the colonists purposefully enacted systems of government which were the direct opposite of the British model in order to fix their strongest grievances.
The primary goal of the Revolutionary War was to win independence from Britain and to gain freedom. As the new political system emerged, the idea of independence was often highlighted, whether it was independence from the British government or personal freedom. The idea of intrinsic rights was very popular due to the Enlightenment. For example, the Constitution of Pennsylvania, written in 1776 by some of the founding fathers, began by saying that “all men are born equally free and independent” (Doc 6). The document’s purpose of creating a system of government for the state was quickly realized by the people, and although the document was only aimed towards white, landowning men, it was considered a success. The first outline of a federal government did not come until the Articles of Confederation were created in 1777, so before that point, the states had to create their own individual governments. Because of their newfound freedom, many people were afraid that a federal government would be too similar to the structure in England. A freelance writer in 1776 maintained that although the British government was somewhat republican thanks to the House of Commons, “England [was] nearly as monarchical as that of France or Spain” (Doc 1). Since the colonies did not have representation in the House of Commons, the republican portion of the government was stripped from them. In addition, the British still taxed the colonists even steeper prices than they did their own citizens. The colonists were not inherently unhappy about being taxed, but they demanded “no taxation without representation.” The desire for representation prompted the colonists to ensure that they had a say in their government as the plans for the nation were drafted. When Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he took the people’s will into consideration (Doc 2). He declared the colonies to be free and independent states, giving them the right to wage war, create commerce, and forge alliances. He made it clear that the new United States’ government would give the states the rights they wanted, assuaging the fears of the people.
Although the newly-proposed systems of government promised representation, they were somewhat misleading. In most cases, the idea of representation in government only really applied to white men. The difference, however, between the United States’ rules and the British ones was that people were given the opportunity to make a change. One prominent group in the United States, African Americans and slaves, were still heavily restricted. However, the African Americans used the nation’s history with Britain to their advantage. A slave named Cato was freed because his owner didn’t comply with slave registration laws (Doc 5). In attempt to get the jury to uphold the law that gave him his freedom, he appealed to their remembrance of the past. As his purpose was to win over the jury and to be freed, his reminder of the injustices that many Americans suffered under the British crown made them much more inclined to agree with him. Although Cato was a slave, he still had the right to a fair trial, which was a new development spurred by the injustices of the British system. Additionally, Abigail Adams urged John Adams to remember women in his work, saying that women “will not hold [themselves] bound by any laws in which [they] have no voice, or representation” (Doc 4). As a female and an advocate of the Republican Motherhood, Abigail Adams understood the necessity for women’s rights in a way that most men did not. Although the early government was based on freedom, women had to fight for their rights constantly. Unfortunately, not everyone had the same ability to fight. A painting called The Tory’s Day of Judgment portrays a loyalist being hung by other colonists (Doc 3). The purpose of the Revolutionary-era painting was to rally the rebels to escape the British rule. It portrayed an individual who remained loyal to Britain being punished. This showed that although the war was being fought for freedom, it was also an escape from Britain, and any individual who challenged that idea was a liability.
Abigail Adams’s plea was an early example of feminist movements that have existed throughout time. Another example was the women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century. Women pushed to be able to have the right to vote, a right that was already given to most men. People like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were some of the greatest advocates of their time. Just like the Republican Motherhood worked for education, the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman’s Party took radical action to win the right to vote for women. Some of the biggest historical changes have required a radical break from past ideals, and neither the Revolution or the suffrage movement were exceptions.
Finally, the colonists created laws which directly opposed British ones in order to address their strongest grievances. For example, in the Constitution of Pennsylvania, the author states that no man can be forced to worship any certain religion (Doc 6). One of the key issues of the British government was that every citizen, regardless of personal belief, was forced to be an active member of the Anglican Church. If they did not attend mass, for example, they would be forced to pay a large fine. Many people hated the church, and their primary motivation for moving to America was to be free to practice any religion. New lawmakers made sure to clarify that the people could follow any religion, directly opposing the British government. Also, the Declaration of Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, written in 1780, stated that no one should be able to receive a title that gives them particular privileges in a hereditary way, saying that the mere idea off such a system was absurd (Doc 7). This idea resulted from the hereditary monarchy, the British system where even an incompetent fool could rule if they were born into a title. The Americans, wishing to change the government that ruled them, thus created a system where the title of President had to be earned through merit and public opinion, and any qualified person could get the job.
The primary goal of the Revolutionary War was to win freedom from British rule. This resulted in a new government that, with some restrictions, largely stressed personal freedom and independence. The new lawmakers made sure to include specific clauses addressing unpopular British policies such as religion and hereditary power. The American’s motivations for rebellion were largely a result of their motives for separating from Britain.
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