Was the American Revolution solely a struggle for independence from Britain, or did it also involve efforts to make American society more democratic? I am writing a paper for my English class and I need an opinion. I believe that they were really just looking for independence and the democratic part just came later—it wasn't even planned.

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The American Revolution was not about democracy so much as it was about restoring self-rule for the colonies. The colonies had enjoyed a large measure of self-rule during the era of salutary neglect. The Founding Fathers were in the upper class, and they were afraid for the nation's future if everyone had an equal say in government. Many states had property requirements to hold office or even to vote. Thomas Jefferson believed that farmers were the best members of a Republic since, by owning land, they had the greatest stake in governmental taxation policies. The Founding Fathers did not want to give everyone a voice in government because they viewed the common man as lacking "virtue," a term at this time that meant public-mindedness.

One of the fears of Loyalists was that the new government would become too democratic and anarchy would reign. This fear led to them either avoiding the Patriot cause or openly helping the British. While the Founders had this concern as well, they pressed ahead with their revolution, not foreseeing a future where women, minorities, and the poor could vote.

Some of the Founders were viewed as more egalitarian than others. Jefferson believed that people should exercise their governmental rights through the states, as the states would be more responsive to the people's needs. Thomas Paine believed that the common man should have more of a voice but he was viewed as a radical even in patriot circles.

The Founders initially wanted freedom from Parliament's rule. If Parliament would have continued the policy of salutary neglect, American history would have probably turned out much differently. The urge for democracy only came later with increased immigration and expansion to the West.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on November 21, 2019
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I would say that the American Revolution was a struggle for political independence from Great Britain and that democracy was an afterthought. For example, in Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, he argues that the wealthy colonists wanted liberation from Britain primarily for economical reasons. Once the British troops had won the French and Indian War, Zinn contends, the American elite had no more need for the English. The Americans wanted to capture all of the profits from the resources of the American continent for themselves, which meant severing ties.

While the story of George Washington turning down the offer to be king may not be true, the persistence of the legend speaks to the precarious start democracy and republicanism had in the United States. Once having achieved independence, the new leaders had to invent a government from the ground up, and their first attempt, under the Articles of Confederation, had to be abandoned as unworkable. The newly independent nation was making it up as it went, and we are extremely fortunate to have had a wise group in charge—as the group itself understood. The form of government could have gone any way: democracy was in no way preordained or a foundational reason for revolution. The colonists wanted liberty from Britain: that is not the same thing as democracy. And we might note that the initial democracy adopted denied the vote to a large portion of the population, such as women.

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I believe the push for American independence was less about creating a democracy and more about escaping a tyrannical monarchy. It is important to remember the political climate in Great Britain at this time. The Hanoverians were distant cousins with a shaky claim to the British crown and were widely unpopular with the people. "Mad King" George was disliked not only in the colonies but also in Great Britain itself.

With that being said, colonists were especially disgruntled, and with good reason. Many had traveled to the New World to find religious and economic freedom but were still subject to a heavily Anglican, heavily tyrannical king. To make matters worse, they were not properly represented in Parliament and had to rely on others to speak for them. At least in Great Britain, disgruntled subjects could make their voices heard. So, while the push for independence certainly involved an element of wanting a democratic union, the Revolution ultimately arose from colonists only wanting to be colonists if they received the same rights as British subjects living in Great Britain.

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While I do agree that many Americans were fighting for independence more than for democracy, I think that it is a bit of an overstatement to say that democracy was only an afterthought.

When answering this question, it makes sense to remember that the American colonists were not one united and homogeneous mass.  Different people had different motivations and different goals.  There were some people who really did believe very strongly in democracy.  Others really just wanted to be independent and to be the new rulers or an independent country.

It is clear from what happened after the Revolution that many of those fighting did not really care much about democracy.  This can be seen, for example, in the way in which the country pulled back from democracy when it wrote the Constitution.  The Constitution was meant to reduce the level of democracy in the new country.

On the other hand, there were clearly those who believed strongly in democracy.  Thomas Paine was one such person.  His pro-democracy writings were instrumental in getting many people to support the Revolution.  Thomas Jefferson was also a democrat.  The Declaration of Independence, which he wrote, is a strong statement of the need for democracy.

Because there were people like Jefferson and Paine who were active in the Revolution, I think saying the Americans only wanted independence is an overstatement. 

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