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American Republican Ideology


The republican ideology is a facet of the social fabric of the 
colonial citizens of America that may, arguably, have had the greatest 
affect on the struggle for independence and the formation of a 
constitutional form of government in the United States. The birth of 
the republican ideology, while impossible to place an exact date on, 
or even month, can be traced back more than a decade before the 
Revolutionary War. It can also be argued that this social machine 
began to function as a result of circumstances which led many colonist 
to choose to come to America. The uniformity of this ideology, 
however, would change and modify itself as circumstances warranted in 
the period between 1760 and 1800.

 It is first necessary to understand the exact reasons why the 
ancestors of the American revolutionaries chose to live in America, as 
opposed to staying in England, where a healthy and prosperous life was 
a much greater possibility. America was, in the eyes of its first 
English settlers, an open book with no writing on the pages. It was 
the foundation of a building that had not yet been built. Many felt 
that it was up to them to shape the way this new land would function, 
as opposed to the way Parliament or the King felt it should. The 
memories of these early pioneering settlers were a common theme for 
American revolutionaries before the Revolutionary War. These early 
settlers were the creators of the foundation to the building the 
revolutionaries would finish.

 Another common theme which drove the revolutionary ideology 
was the knowledge not only of the monumental significance of the job 
to be undertaken, but also the impact a free democracy on a scale as 
large as America would have on future generations of Americans who, 
certainly, would not take their freedom for granted. The ideology held 
by most American revolutionaries was one in which they knew their 
sacrifices would be acknowledged and appreciated by future generations 
of Americans. There was also the knowledge that America would serve as 
an example to God and the rest of the world of what the advantages of 
a free society could be.

 Religion also played an important role in the establishment of 
this ideology. God, in the eyes of the earliest revolutionaries, was
on the side of liberty. There was religious justification for actions 
undertaken by both England and America. The English stated that 
rebellion was a sin, while the Americans stated that the corruption of 
England, as well as its intolerance of liberty to the point of 
warfare, was also a sin. War, from the religious perspective of the 
revolutionary in America before the outbreak of war with England, was 
seen as a necessary evil. God could permit war as a means of escaping 
tyranny, such as that which England was symbolic of. God was, in the 
eyes of the pre Revolutionary War revolutionaries, without question on 
the side of liberty and personal freedom.

 The suffering of Americans under the tyrannical hand of 
English government was much the same as the suffering undertaken by
Jesus at the cross. He suffered for all the sinful people of the 
world. He died for our sins. The revolutionaries felt much the same
way about any suffering that may be incurred throughout the war. They 
felt that it would be looked back upon as a sacrifice that they made 
for the success of future generations of Americans. On an even larger 
scale, it would also be looked upon as a sacrifice for liberty and 
freedom in all countries around the world who suffered under the 
sinful hand of oppression. 

 The revolutionaries also had their own ideas about 
independence as well. To them independence was a necessity. It was
absolutely key to any further advancement towards their ultimate goal 
of freedom to enjoy personal liberties. How exactly independence was 
physically achieved was not as important as the fact that it had 
already, and would always be, achieved in the minds of Americans. 
Their thoughts and actions were already that of an independent people 
regardless of whether or not England still had legal domain over them. 
Independence was a essential aspect of self-preservation which, 
according to the revolutionaries, was their objective. Their motive 
was not an act of active rebellion against authority as much as it was 
one of self-preservation.

 As the Revolutionary War continued to wage on longer than had 
been expected by many revolutionaries, it became clear that some 
sacrifices, or modifications of this ideology would have to be made. 
One of the first clear examples of this can be seen with the formation 
of the Continental Army. An army went directly against the 
revolutionary ideology in that it necessitated a sacrifice of personal 
freedom and liberty. While the decision of one to join this army was 
well within the boundaries that were deemed acceptable by 
revolutionaries of the time, the rules and sacrifices one would have 
to make to serve in this institution would go against the ideals set 
by revolutionaries. An army was seen by the revolutionaries as a 
machine of possible corruption, in that it held power significant 
enough to wield itself against the principles of liberty and 

 As the war raged on, however, it became clear that some type 
of army would be necessary. It was an evil necessary to achieve the 
ends envisioned by the revolutionaries. What resulted was an army 
that, in many respects, was different from any other army of the time. 
The Continental Army became a mixture of traditional military 
discipline and republican ideology. The call to fight using an army 
existed, but at the same time the suspicions of an army lingered. The 
Continental Army would need a special form of discipline, as well as a 
unique individual to lead it.

 George Washington became the man for this job. Having past 
military experience in the French and Indian War, as well as political 
experience in the Virginia House of Burgesses, he was to make an ideal 
general for the task at hand. Throughout his military duties in the 
Revolutionary War, he was always under the command of Congress. This 
insured that there would be no way for him or his army to grow beyond 
the smallest size necessary. Washington was faced with many 
difficulties, however, in his term of military service during the 
Revolution. He had to respect the personal liberties his soldiers 
possessed as Americans, as well as keep some form of effective 
discipline, and constantly plead with Congress for essential equipment 
for his army. His handling of all of these problems is what kept the 
Continental Army cohesive and effective throughout the war.

 Another military figure in the Revolutionary War who serves to 
show the unique nature of the Continental Army was the Prussian 
general Baron von Steuben. It is he who formed a uniform system of 
discipline that catered to the soldiers revolutionary beliefs, while 
at the same time making an effectively disciplined military machine. 
The separation of the officers from the common soldiers, which in 
traditional military discipline was deemed absolutely necessary, was 
discarded in the Continental Army. Officers were to eat, train, and 
drill their soldiers personally. Von Steuben knew that this would be a 
more effective means to discipline an army whose members fought not 
for an officer, or for fear of an officer, but for a much larger
cause which did not even necessitate their participation in an army 
anyway. The result of Von SteubenÕs methods was the development of a 
sense of professionalism in the Continental Army which, coupled with 
the ideologies of the men, was sufficient motivation to fight until 
the end.

 One of the most significant challenges to the original 
republican ideology didnÕt come from the formation of an army, but 
came after the war in the political arena which was, at the time, 
under construction. Faction in the system of government, which can
be seen as an enemy of liberty and personal freedom and as potentially 
destructive to the original republican ideology, developed in the 
newly formed government after the war.

 The faction developed, in some respects, along social lines. 
Many merchants and businessmen had different ideas about how the 
government should be run, than did rural agrarian farmers which made 
up a large percentage of the voting population. It is these rural 
farmers and small scale merchants who tended to cling to the original 
republican ideology more than urban merchants and businessmen. What 
was developing was a party system consisting of two parties that had 
much the same objectives, but differed greatly on the means necessary 
to reach these objectives. What made this situation so volatile, was 
the fact that a party system, according to the original interpretation 
of republican ideology, was a breeding ground for corruption. The 
reasons for this assumption can be clearly seen in the English 
Parliament, which consisted of three parties.

 The way in which the American people responded to this can be 
seen in several different ways. Although parties were looked upon as a 
bad thing according to the original version of the republic ideology, 
as it became clear that they were here to stay, many Americans were 
forced to modify their opinions. One man whose personal struggle with 
this issue is well documented is James Madison. Madison, at first, 
supported a multiplicity of parties over a system of only two parties. 
The reasons for this clearly coincide with the ideals of the Americans 
at the time. There should be many parties for Americans to choose from
because each person has the right to believe whomever he or she wants. 
For this reason, there should be many parties in which people could 
freely choose to follow.

 As time and circumstances progressed however, Madison opinion 
on the subject changed drastically. Madison came to believe that 
parties, while a possible enemy of a free government, are inevitable 
and unavoidable. He then realized that the best response to the 
problem would be to control the affects. He also realized that a 
multiplicity of parties would not be conducive to stability in a 
government which, in the case of the United States at the time, was a 
necessity. The specific advantage to having only two parties, as seen 
by Madison, was that given equal power and representation, they could 
keep each other in check. This would make it nearly impossible for any 
one party to take too much control of the government.

 It can clearly be seen that the ideology in which the American 
people subscribed to prior to the Revolutionary War did go through 
several challenges and modifications by 1800. Although parties did not 
arise until after the Revolutionary War, there were still 
modifications and challenges much earlier, as can be seen in the 
Continental Army. What is also unique is, despite the numerous 
challenges and slight modifications, the ideology was able to persist 
through these traumatic years and shape a nation and a government in 
ways that history had not before seen done with such ease. This is a 
true testament to the fortitude and durability of the republican 
ideology and America as a whole. 



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