|Revolution has traditionally been associated
with social upheaval and change. Some historians
have claimed this was true for the American
Revolution, while others insist that the
American Revolution merely reaffirmed the
social hierarchy already present in the American
Assess the validity of the claim that the American Revolution brought about a change in the social hierarchy of America using these documents and your own knowledge of United States history to support your position.
|Abigail Adams corresponded with her husband
throughout his long career and their many
separations. In 1776 John Adams was a delegate
to the Continental Congress at Philadelphia
when this series of letters were exchanged.
The Adams couple enjoyed a close, intimate
lifetime relationship. Abigail was not joking
when she spoke of a change of status for
women, she was a free thinking individual,
but John was less open to the changes she
proposed as evidenced in his later letter
to John Sullivan on the topic of voting.
Abigail Adams to John Adams, Braintree, 31 March 1776
I long to hear that you have declared an
independancy -- and by the way in the new
Code of Laws which I suppose I will be necessary
for you to make I desire you would Remember
the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable
to them than your ancestors. Do not put such
unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.
Remember all Men would be tyrants if they
could. If particular care and attention is
not paid to the ladies we are determined
to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold
ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have
no voice, or Representation....
John Adams to Abigail Adams, Philadelphia, 14 April 1776
...As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our Struggle has loosened the bands of Government everywhere. That Children and Apprentices were disobedient -- that schools and Colledges were grown turbulent - that Indians slighted their Guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters. But your Letter was the first Intimation that another Tribe more numerous and powerful than all the rest were grown discontented. -- This is rather too course a Compliment but you are so saucy, I wont blot it out.
Depend upon it, We know better than to repeal
our Masculine systems. Altho they are in
full Force, you know they are little more
than Theory. We dare not exert our Power
to its full Latitude. We are obliged to go
fair, and softly, and in Practice you know
We are the subject. We have only the Name
of Masters, and rather than give up this,
which would compleatly subject Us to the
Despotism of the Peticoat. I hope General
Washington and all our brave Heroes would
John Adams to John Sullivan, Philadelphia, 26 May 1776
It is certain in Theory, that the only moral Foundation of Government is the Consent of the People. But to what an Extent Shall We carry this Principle? Shall We Say, that every Individual of the Community, old and young, male and female, as well as rich and poor, must consent, expressly to every Act of Legislation? No, you will Say. this is impossible. How then does the Right arise in the Majority to govern the Minority, against their Will? Whence arises the Right of the Men to govern Women, without their Consent? Whence the Right of the old to bind the Young, without theirs?
But let us first Suppose, that the whole Community of every Age, Rank, Sex, and Condition, has a Right to vote. This Community, is assembled -- a Motion is made and carried by a Majority of one Voice. The Minority will not agree to this. Whence arises the Right of the Majority to govern, and the Obligation of the Minority to obey? from Necessity, you will Say, because their can be no other Rule, But why exclude Women/ You will Say, because their Delicacy renders them unfit.... And Children Have not Judgment or Will of their own. True. But will not these Reasons apply to others?
...I believe... that Wisdom and Policy would dictate in these Times, to be very cautious of Making Alterations [to voting requirements]. Our people have never been very rigid in Scrutinizing into the Qualifications of Voters, and I presume they will not now begin to be so. But I do not advise them to make any alteration in the Laws, at present, respecting the qualifications of voters.....
Depend upon it, sir, it is dangerous to open
So fruitfull a Source of Controversy and
Altercation, as would be opened by attempting
to alter the Qualifications of Voters. There
will be no End of it. New Claims will arise.
Women will demand a Vote. Lads from 12 to
21 will think their Rights not enough attended
to, and every man, who has not a Farthing,
will demand an equal Voice with any other
in all Acts of State. It tends to confound
and destroy all Distinctions, and prostrate
all Ranks, to one common Levell. I am &c.
|New Jersey Women and Blacks Can Vote, 1776
In 1776 in response to the call from the Continental Congress for all thirteen colonies to adopt state constitutions, New Jersey wrote its own fundamental document more liberally than any other of the colonies. New Jersey extended the right to vote to women and free blacks and this was not accident - it was affirmed in another law three years later concerning the election of members of the Legislative Council., the General Assembly, sheriffs and coroners in which the legislators wrote: "... every voter shall openly, and in full view deliver his or her ballot..." Women and blacks voted until 1807 when serious allegations of vote fraud by some women voters resulted in a new law redrawing that right.
... We, the representatives of the Colony of New Jersey, having been elected by all the Counties, in the freest manner, and in congress assembled, have, after mature deliberations, agreed upon a set of charter rights and the form of a Constitution, in the manner following, viz...
That all inhabitants of this Colony, of full age, who are worth fifty pounds proclamation money, clear estate in the same, and have resided within the County in which they claim a vote for twelve months immediately preceding the election, shall be entitled to vote for Representatives in Council and Assembly, and also for all other public officers, that shall be elected by the people of the County at large.... New Jersey State Constitution of 1776
Whereas doubts have been raised, the great diversities in practice obtained throughout the state in regard to the admission of aliens, females, and persons of color, or negroes to vote in elections...
Be it enacted, by the council and general assembly of this state, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That from and after the passage of this act, no person shall vote in any state or county election... unless such person be a free, white, male citizens of this state..."
Election Laws of 1807
|An American Woman Declares Her Loyalties,
Writing to a British officer fighting against Washingtons army, this Philadelphia woman seemed to feel no need to hide her leanings toward the rebel cause and her personal efforts in support of the Revolution. Multiply this single effort by hundreds of thousands across the thirteen colonies and it is easy to see the important part played by women in the Revolution.
I have retrenched every superfluous expense
in my table and family.... Tea I have not
drunk since last Christmas, nor bought a
new cap or gown since your defeat at Lexington,
and what I never did before, have learnt
to knit, and am now making stockings of American
wool for my servants, and this way do I throw
in my mite to the public good. I know this,
that as free I can die but once, but as a
slave I shall not be worthy of life... All
ranks of men among us are in arms. Nothing
is heard now in our streets but the trumpet
and drum, and the universal cry is "Americans,
|Abigail Adams Describes Rebellious Ladies
of Massachusetts, 1777
Colonial women played a significant role in the American Revolution. Organizing themselves into the Daughters of Liberty, they were just as radical as their male counterparts. The women were responsible for boycotting British household goods and making good that embargo by buying only American made goods, sewing their own clothing and that of their men and children, weaving American wool and cotton into homespun textiles, and a myriad of ways to support the Revolution. In this case, Abigail Adams proudly wrote to her husband of the manner in which the women of Massachusetts [probably Braintree, her home] dealt with an opportunistic merchant who used the war to justify inflationary prices for his wares.
One eminent, wealthy, stingy merchant (who is a bachelor) had a hogshead [wooden barrel of 60-140 gallons in volume] of coffee in his store, which he refused to see the committee under six shillings per pound. A number of female, some say a hundred, some say more. assembled with a cart and trunks, marched down to the warehouse, and demanded the keys, which he refused to deliver. Upon which one of them seized him by his neck and tossed him into the cart. Upon his finding no quarter, he delivered the keys when they tipped up the cart and discharged him; then opened the warehouse, hoisted out the coffee themselves, put it into the trunks and drove off.... A large concourse of men stood amazed, silent spectators of the whole transaction.... Abigail Adams to John Adams, 1777.
|A Young Lady Goes Radical, 1793
Priscilla Masons outspoken address before the patrons of her academy was an unusual, but not an unheard of display. Mason demanded that rights of men be extended to women, while suggesting that women should earn those rights by seeking a proper education. In what ways have womens attitudes begun to change between 1775 and 1793?
Our high and mighty Lords (thanks to their
arbitrary constitutions have denied us the
means of knowledge, and then reproached us
for the want of it. Being the stronger party,
they early seized the scepter and the sword;
with these they gave laws to society; they
denied women the advantage of a liberal education;
forbid them to exercise their talents on
those great occasions, which would serve
to improve them.... Happily, a more liberal
way of things begins to prevail. The sources
of knowledge are gradually opening to our
sex.... But supposing now that we posses'd
all the talents of the orator, in the highest
perfection; where shall we find a theatre
for the display of them? Man; despotic man,
first made us incapable of the duty, and
then forbid us the exercise. Let us by suitable
education, qualify ourselves for those high
departments--they will open before us.
|Slaves Address the State Legislature of Massachusetts,
This is another, later petition from Massachusetts slaves demanding their freedom on the same authority as the colonies were demanding independence. This petition is aimed at the state legislature rather than the royal governor. The petition mentions that frequent requests had earlier been made without result, but this time the petitioners remark that the Massachusetts legislature could not in good conscience or consistency demand of Britain what it refused its own black residents.
Notice the arguments based upon natural rights
- arguments that Jefferson had used in the
Declaration of Independence. Although their
petition would not be immediately answered,
after the Revolution, Massachusetts would
eventually abolish slavery within its state
To the Honorable Council & House of Representatives for the State of Massachusetts-Bay in General Court assembled January 13th 1777.
The Petition of a great number of Negroes who are detained in a state of Slavery in the Bowels of a free & Christian Country Humbly Shewing:
That your Petitioners apprehend that they have, in common with all other Men, a natural & unalienable right to that freedom, which the great Parent of the Universe hath bestowed equally on all Mankind, & which they have never forfeited by any compact or agreement whatever--But they were unjustly dragged, by the cruel hand of Power, from their dearest friends, & some of them even torn from the embraces of their tender Parents, from a populous, pleasant and plentiful Country--& in Violation of the Laws of Nature & of Nation & in defiance of all the tender feelings of humanity, brought hither to be sold like Beasts of Burden, & like them condemned to slavery for Life--Among a People professing the mild Religion of Jesus--A People not insensible of the sweets of rational freedom--Nor without spirit to resent the unjust endeavours of others to reduce them to a State of Bondage & Subjection.
Your Honors need not to be informed that a Life of Slavery, like that of your petitioners, deprived of every social privilege, of every thing requisite to render Life even tolerable, is far worse than Non-Existence--In imitation of the laudable example of the good People of these States, your Petitioners have long & patiently waited the event of Petition after Petition by them presented to the legislative Body of this State, & can not but with grief reflect that their success has been but too similar.
They can not but express their astonishment, that it has never been considered, that every principle from which America has acted in the course of her unhappy difficulties with Great-Britain, pleads stronger than a thousand arguments in favor of your Petitioners.
They therefore humbly beseech your Honors, to give this Petition its due weight & consideration, & cause an Act of the Legislature to be passed, whereby they may be restored to the enjoyment of that freedom which is the natural right of all Men--& their Children (who were born in this Land of Liberty) may not be held as Slaves after they arrive at the age of twenty one years.
So may the Inhabitants of this State (no longer chargeable with the inconsistency of acting, themselves, the part which they condemn & oppose in others) be prospered in their present glorious struggles for Liberty; & have those blessings secured to them by Heaven, of which benevolent minds can not wish to deprive their fellow Men.
And your Petitioners, as in Duty Bound shall ever pray.
|Seven Black Men of Massachusetts Demand the
In 1780 seven free black men of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, petitioned the state legislature to grant them the right to vote using the same argument of taxation that the colonists had used to justify rebellion against the King of Great Britain, that American Revolution then ongoing.
...we apprehend ourselves to be Aggreeved,
in that while we are not allowed the Privilage
of freemen of the State having no vote or
Influence in the Election of those that Tax
us yet many of our Colour (as it well known)
have cheerfully Entered the field of Battle
in defense of the Common Cause and that (as
we conceive) against a similar Exertion of
Power (in Regard to taxation) too well known
to need a recital in this place....
|Benjamin Banneker Challenges Jefferson, 1791
A self-taught mathematician and astronomer and free-born black man of Maryland, Banneker sent Jefferson an almanac he had composed as a demonstration of the abilities and skills of one of the black race and challenged Jefferson and other white Americans "...to wean yourselves from those narrow prejudices which you have imbibed." Jefferson was so impressed with Bannekers skills that he would recommend him to the French Academy of Sciences and arrange a position for Banneker as surveyor for the District of Columbia.
I suppose it is a truth too well attested
to you, to need a proof here, that we are
a race of beings, who have long labored under
the abuse and censure of the world; that
we have long been looked upon with an eye
of contempt; and that we have long been considered
rather as brutish than human, and scarcely
capable of mental endowments.... I apprehend
you will embrace every opportunity to eradicate
that train of absurd and false ideas and
opinions, which so generally prevails with
respect to us; and that your sentiments are
concurrent with mine, which are, that one
universal Father hath given being to us all;
and that he hath not only made us all of
one flesh, but that he hath also, without
partiality, afforded us all the same sensations
and endowed us all with the same faculties....
|Jefferson Responds to a Free Black, 1791
Benjamin Banneker was a free-born black of Maryland, a self-taught mathematician and astronomer, who wrote almanac as a sideline. Jefferson was so impressed with Bannekers skills that he arranged an appointment for him as surveyor for the District of Columbia.
I thank you sincerely for your letter of
the 19th instance and for the Almanac it
contained. No body wishes more than I do
to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature
has given our black brethren, talents equal
to those of the other colors of men, and
that the appearance of a want of them is
owing merely to the degraded condition of
their existence, both in Africa & America.
I can add with truth, that no body wishes
more ardently to see a good system commenced
for raising the condition both of their body
& mind to what it ought to be, as fast
as the imbecility of their present existence,
and other circumstances which cannot be neglected,
will admit. I have taken the liberty of sending
your Almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary
of the Academy of Science at Paris, and a
member of the Philanthropic society, because
I considered it as a document to which your
whole colour had a right for their justification
against the doubts which have been entertained
of them. I am with great esteem, Sir Your
most obedt. humble servt.
|Freed Slaves Petition for their Rights
In 1797 four freed blacks petitioned the United States House of Representatives seeking federal protection for themselves and others. The House refused to accept their petition and referred their issue to the discretion of the individual states.
To the President, Senate, and House of Representatives
The Petition and Representation of the under-named Freemen, respectfully showeth: --
That, being of African descent, late inhabitants and natives of North Carolina, to you only, under God, can we apply with any hope of effect, for redress of our grievances, having compelled to leave the State wherein we had a right of residence, as freemen liberated under the hand and seal of humane and conscientious masters, the validity of which act of justice, in retoring us to our native right of freedom, was confirmed by judgment of the Superior Court of North Carolina, wherein it was brought to trial; yet, not long after this decision, a law of that State was enacted, under which men of cruel disposition, and void of just principle, received countenance and authority in violently seizing, imprisoning, and selling into slavery, such as had been so emancipated; whereby we were reduced to the necessity of separating from some of our nearest and most tender connexions, and of seeking refuge in such parts of the Union where more regard is paid to the public declaration in favor of liberty and the common right of man, several hundreds, under our circumstances, having in consequence of the said law, been hunted day and night, like beasts of the forest, by armed men with dogs, and made a prey of as free and awful plunder....
We beseech your impartial attention to our hard condition, not only with respect to our personal sufferings, as freemen, but as a class of that people who, distinguished by color, are therefore with a degrading partiality, considered by many, even of those in eminent stations, as unentitled to that public justice and protection which is the great object of Government....
If... we cannot claim the privilege of representation in your councils, yet we trust we may address you as fellow-men, who, under God, the sovereign Ruler of the Universe, are intrusted with the distribution of justice, for the terror of evil-doers, the encouragement and protection of the innocent... May we not be allowed to consider this stretch of power [slavery] , morally and politically, a Governmental defect, if not a direct violation of the declared funadmental principles of the Constitution; and finally, is not some remedy for an evil of such magnitude highly worthy of the deep inquiry and unfeigned zeal of the supreme Legislative body of a free and enlightened people? Submitting our cause to God, and humbly craving your best aid and influence, as you may be favored by that wisdom which is from above, wherewith that you may be eminently dignified and rendered conspicuously, in the view of nations, a blessing to the people you represent, is the sincere prayer of your petitioners.
- Jacob Nicholson,
- Jupiter Nicholson, his mark,
- Job Albert, his mark,
- Thomas Pritchet, his mark"
Philadelphia, January 23, 1797.
Petition of Four Free Blacks to the United States House of Representatives, 1797, Annals of the Congress of the United States, 4th Congress, 2nd Session (1796-1797), pp. 2015-18.
|Story of the Boston Tea Party, December 16,
This modern account of the Boston Tea Party and an original document of the remembrances of a participant in that event appears in one of the standard college textbooks used today in many colleges and universities.
One the evening of December 16, 1773, a gathering
of perhaps 8,000 men, much of the towns
contingent of able-bodies males, assembled
at the Old South Church. They were
to hold a town meeting, to ask that
tea not be landed. Their request was
granted, and at the end of the meeting
Adams rose from his seat and said "This
meeting can do nothing to save the
As if by prearranged signal, as soon
meeting adjourned, a band of men disguised
as Mohawk Indians rushed down Milk
to Griffins Wharf. Three companies
of these instant Indians rowed out
anchored tea ships, boarded them, split
the tea chests, and dumped their massive
contents into the waters of the harbor.
mission accomplished, the men quickly
George Hewes, One of the Indians participating in the Boston Tea Party, December 16, 1773 had this first hand report of the Tea Party:
[I brought}... a small hatchet, which I and
my associates demoninated "the tomahawk,"
with which, and a club, after having painted
my face and hands with coal dust in the shop
of a blacksmith, I repaired to Griffins
wharf, where the three ships lay that contained
the tea.... [T]here appeared to be an understanding
that each individual should volunteer his
services, keep his own secret, and risk the
consequences for himself. No disorder took
place during that transaction, and it was
observed at the time that the stillest night
ensued that Boston had enjoyed for many months.
|Thomas Hutchinson Recounts the Mob Reaction
to the Stamp Act in Boston, 1765
This is an account of Bostons reaction to the Stamp Act by Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson, himself a victim of mob anger over the Stamp Act.
"The distributor of stamps for the colony of Connecticut arrived in Boston from London; and, having been agent for that colony, and in other respects of a very reputable character, received from many gentlemen of the town such civilities as were due to him. When he set out for Connecticut, Mr. Oliver, the distributor for Massachusetts Bay, accompanied him out of town. This occasioned murmuring among the people, and an inflammatory piece in the next Boston Gazette. A few days after, early in the morning, a stuffed image was hung upon a tree, called the great tree of the south part of Boston [subsequently called Liberty Tree]. Labels affixed denoted it to be designed for the distributor of stamps....
Before night, the image was taken down, and carried through the townhouse, in the chamber whereof the governor and council were sitting. Forty or fifty tradesmen, decently dressed, preceded; and some thousands of the mob followed down King street to Oliver's dock, near which Mr. Oliver had lately erected a building, which, it was conjectured, he designed for a stamp office. This was laid flat to the ground in a few minutes. From thence the mob proceeded for Fort Hill, but Mr. Oliver's house being in the way, they endeavoured to force themselves into it, and being opposed, broke the windows, beat down the doors, entered, and destroyed part of his furniture, and continued in riot until midnight, before they separated....
Several of the council gave it as their opinion, Mr. Oliver being present, that the people, not only of the town of Boston, but of the country in general, would never submit to the execution of the stamp act, let the consequence of an opposition to it be what it would. It was also reported, that the people of Connecticut had threatened to hang their distributor on the first tree after he entered the colony; and that, to avoid it, he had turned aside to Rhode-Island.
Despairing of protection, and finding his family in terror and great distress, Mr. Oliver came to a sudden resolution to resign his office before another night....
The next evening, the mob surrounded the house of the lieutenant-governor and chief justice [Hutchinson]. He was at Mr. Oliver's house when it was assaulted, and had excited the sheriff, and the colonel of the regiment, to attempt to suppress the mob. A report was soon spread, that he was a favourer of the stamp act, and had encouraged it by letters to the ministry. Upon notice of the approach of the people, he caused the doors and windows to be barred; and remained in the house....
Certain depositions had been taken, many months before these transactions, by order of the governor, concerning the illicit trade carrying on; and one of them, made by the judge of the admiralty, at the special desire of the governor, had been sworn to before the lieutenant-governor, as chief justice. They had been shewn, at one of the offices in England, to a person who arrived in Boston just at this time, and he had acquainted several merchants, whose names were in some of the depositions as smugglers, with the contents. This brought, though without reason, the resentment of the merchants against the persons who, by their office, were obliged to administer the oaths, as well as against the officers of the customs and admiralty, who had made the depositions; and the leaders of the mob contrived a riot, which, after some small efforts against such officers, was to spend its principal force upon the lieutenant-governor. And, in the evening of the 26th of August, such a mob was collected in King street, drawn there by a bonfire, and well supplied with strong drink. After some annoyance to the house of the registrar of the admiralty, and somewhat greater to that of the comptroller of the customs, whose cellars they plundered of the wine and spirits in them, they came, with intoxicated rage, upon the house of the lieutenant-governor. The doors were immediately split to pieces with broad axes, and a way made there, and at the windows, for the entry of the mob; which poured in, and filled, in an instant, every room in the house.
The lieutenant-governor had very short notice of the approach of the mob. He directed his children, and the rest of his family, to leave the house immediately, determining to keep possession himself. His eldest daughter, after going a little way from the house, returned, and refused to quit it, unless her father would do the like.
This caused him to depart from his resolutions, a few minutes before the mob entered. They continued their possession until day-light; destroyed, carried away, or cast into the street, every thing that was in the house; demolished every part of it, except the walls, as far as lay in their power; and had begun to break away the brickwork.
The damage was estimated at about twenty-five hundred pounds sterling, without any regard to a great collection of publick as well as private papers, in the possession and custody of the lieutenant-governor.
The town was, the whole night, under the awe of this mob; many of the magistrates, with the field officers of the militia, standing by as spectators; and no body daring to oppose, or contradict."
|Why an Old Soldier Fought
Many years after the bloodshed at Lexington, Mellen Chamberlain, a prominent Massachusetts lawyer-politican-historian-librarian, published the following account of an interview with a veteran participant, Levi Preston. Why did Preston fight? What did his reasons have to do with traditional historical accounts?
When the action at Lexington, on the morning of the 19th [of April], was known at Danvers, the minute men there, under the lead of Captain Gideon Foster, made that memorable march--or run, rather--of sixteen miles in four hours, and struck Percy's flying column at West Cambridge. Brave but incautious in flanking the Redcoats, they were flanked themselves and badly pinched, leaving seven dead, two wounded, and one missing. Among those who escaped was Levi Preston, afterwards known as Captain Levi Preston.
When I was about twenty-one and Captain Preston about ninety-one, I interviewed him as to what he did and thought sixty-seven years before, on April 19, 1775. And now, fifty-two years later, I make my report--a little belated perhaps, but not too late, I trust, for the morning papers!
With an assurance passing even that of the modern interviewer--if that were possible--I began: Captain Preston, why did you go to the Concord fight, the 19th of April, 1775?
The old man, bowed beneath the weight of years, raised himself upright, and turning to me said: Why did I go?
Yes, I replied; my histories tell me that you men of the Revolution took up arms against 'intolerable oppressions.' What were they?
Oppressions? I didn't feel them.
What, were you not oppressed by the Stamp Act?
I never saw one of those stamps, and always understood that Governor Bernard [of Massachusetts] put them all in Castle William [Boston]. I am certain I never paid a penny for one of them.
Well, what then about the tea-tax?
Tea-tax! I never drank a drop of the stuff; the boys threw it all overboard.
Then I suppose you had been reading Harrington or Sidney and Locke about the eternal principles of liberty.
Never heard of 'em. We read only the Bible, the Catechism, Watts' Psalms and Hymns, and the Almanack.
Well, then, what was the matter? and what did you mean in going to the fight?
Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn't mean we should."
|Charleston, South Carolina, Sons of Liberty,
This membership list of the Charleston, South Carolina Sons of Liberty can be quite revealing as to the social and economic background of the people who opposed the King and later supported revolution against his authority.
1. Christopher Gadsden, merchant.
Charleston, S.C., Sons of Liberty, Membership
List, 1766, Robert W. Gibbes, ed., Documentary History