How were the causes of the American Revolutionary War ideological?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The causes of the American Revolution were ideological insofar as the rebellion was caused by a desire for democracy and government by the consent of the governed.  These were not the only causes of the rebellion, but they were the ideological ones.

One of the goals of the American colonists was to have their own legislative body that would have had the power to govern the American colonies.  They wanted all the laws that applied to them (particularly taxes) to be passed by people they had elected.  In other words, they wanted government to be only by the consent of the governed.  This idea, which comes in part from the political philosopher John Locke, is expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

jedamitchell's profile pic

jedamitchell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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One unique way of the looking at the ideological origins of the American Revolution is to look, not at the writers of the Enlightenment, as most are prone to do, but, instead, look at the English Civil War. For this persepctive, I am really just drawing from Bernard Bailyns work on the subject. I really find his explanantion, at least for the moment, the most satisfying. He posited that the typical American reaction against the British used Ancient and Enlightenment poltical ideologies in a superficial way--if even they referenced thema t all. The real language the Americans used in the production of pamphlets was references to the struggle of the British Parliament against King Charles I, and the Puritan-led victory of the Roundheads against the Kings Cavalier supporters.

Americans in defiance against the British saw themselves as recast against British tyranny. This time they were the Roundheads; this time King George III was the Stuart King who had corrupted Parliament. They saw a vast conspiracy at work that threatened their liberty. They asked for remediation of their greievances by Parliament. yet they saw that body as corrupted too--even have going so far to root as to poison Britains own mixed-use constitution. Eventually, Americans realized that they needed to seperate themselves from a decrepit British system, lest it destroy their liberties. Acts by Parliament only supported their perceptions that revolutionary change had to take place.

It was a long simmering coalescence of ideas, but American political ideology for revolution can be summed up by three ideas: self-sovereignty, a written constitution, and equal representation. Americans thought power could be shared in a national body; they sought--and wrote--written consitutions with seperations of powers; they thought the members of legislative bodies should be voted for (at least the lower houses--and by propertied gentlemen) The formation of the U.S. was the culimination of those ideological origins of the American Revolution.