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The Republican Ideology and the American Revolution


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
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 democracy.
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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