The Revolutionary War

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How were the changes to American society brought on by the American Revolution limited?

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While the American Revolution had very radical effects for white, land-owning men in the colonies, the effects of the revolution were limited in that they did not extend to women, slaves and freed African-Americans, Native Americans, and others. For example, while white men enjoyed the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," as Thomas Jefferson explained inalienable rights in the "Declaration of Independence," other groups did not have these rights.

After the American Revolution, white men (mostly men of property) had the right to vote, but women, African-Americans, and Native Americans did not. African-American men did not get the right to vote until the 15th Amendment in 1870. Slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of deciding how to apportion representatives in the new government, and Native Americans were not counted at all. Women were recognized in the New Republic as playing important roles as mothers (their role was referred to as "Republican Motherhood"), and, at first, some educational institutions were started to educate girls. However, over time, many of these institutions declined, and women were not given the right to vote until the 19th Amendment in 1920. While white men had more freedom following the revolution than arguably anyone else on earth, other groups in the new United States did not. 

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The social changes of the American Revolution were limited mostly because it was a political revolution, not a social one. The patriots who waged the War for Independence were not so much concerned with shaking up the social landscape of the continent than they were in transferring control away from Great Britain.

Keep in mind that most of the Founding Fathers were already wealthy and influential men. They wanted more political control, but they were not willing to surrender their social standing by making the new country that much more inclusive. For instance, while more people got the right to vote and choose their representatives in government, the vote was still initially limited to land-owning white men.

Many were afraid of what they called the rabble gaining too much sway in their experiment in democracy. The so-called "tyranny of the mob" was a grave concern for many of the drafters of the Constitution. This is why you see many aspects of the original Constitution that were meant to safeguard social and political affairs from the uneducated masses, such as the appointment of senators by state legislators (done away with by the 17h Amendment) and the electoral College.

In the end, those who were poor and disenfranchised before the American Revolution were still poor afterward and the rich remained rich. Native Americans and blacks were still mostly barred from civic engagement. Women were still kept outside of political affairs. Some societal changes, such as the end of primogeniture, changed the social fabric of the new nation. However, the changes overall were quite limited.

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