The Revolutionary War

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What was the Revolutionary War's impact on African Americans, women, and Native Americans?

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The American Revolution marked the end of British rule of the 13 colonies. With the British on their way out, American society would certainly undergo changes as old ways of thinking and doing things were challenged. The effects of the Revolution were different for women, African Americans, and Native Americans....

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Women and African Americans experienced some limited gains from the Revolution, while the Revolution did not have a positive effect on Native Americans.

After the Revolution, Americans began to consider issues such as liberty and equality which characterized the revolutionary spirit. It was during this time that American women first started to propose the ideas of greater rights and equality. Abigail Adams is remembered for writing a request to her husband, John Adams, reminding him to "remember the ladies" as he worked to create the new American government. Women, however, would not participate in the creation or operation of the new government.

In 1790, an essay entitled "On the Equality of the Sexes," from Judith Sargent Murray, was published. In her essay, Murray argued that women were intellectual equals of men, and that differences between the intelligence of men and women were based on prejudice and discrimination which limited women. Murray's essay, was generally met by disapproval from a society that was not ready for such radical changes.

Although women would not gain the right to vote for over a century, women would make some other gains in the years after the Revolution. For example, women had proved during the war to be capable of more than their traditional role of looking after the household. The role of women expanded to include looking after farms, managing businesses, and more. The result was that women would have a slightly expanded role and a growth in influence following the war.

As the new government was formed, it became clear that for a democracy to be successful, citizens needed to be raised with good moral and democratic values. This task was given to women in what was known as "Republican Motherhood." Women had an increased role in the education and raising of their sons. This led to some increases in educational opportunity for women.

Although women did not get political equality, or involvement in the new government of the United States, their status did change. These early changes and challenges to the status quo would lead to the women's rights movement decades later, which would eventually achieve greater equality for women.

The Revolution and ideas of the Revolution also had an impact on African Americans. While some African Americans gained freedom by signing up to fight in the war, others took the opportunity to escape while their masters were away. Following the Revolution, the ideals of freedom and equality once again came into consideration regarding slavery. It was around this time that anti-slavery societies began to develop, and many northern states, who were not economically dependent on slavery, began to abolish slavery. In some southern states, there was also a movement towards freeing slaves. This came more as a result of the fact that tobacco was becoming less profitable than as a result of Revolutionary ideals, but nonetheless it contributed to the growth of the free African American population. Despite the banning of slavery in northern states, and the development of anti-slavery societies, slavery would persist in the South until the Civil War brought it to an end. Also, it is important to note that although slavery was banned in many northern states, this did not mean total equality. African Americans did not always have the same rights as white Americans, and racism certainly was still prevalent.

The impact of the Revolution on Native Americans, at least in the decades following the war, is almost entirely negative. Most native groups allied themselves with the British during the Revolutionary War out of the belief that a free America would not be beneficial for them. After the war, Native Americans were entirely left out of treaty negotiations between Britain and the newly independent United States. This led to much of their land being given away by the British to the United States. As we know, this would not end well for Native Americans, as they would be forced off their land in order to make room for expansion of the United States. For example, decades later one of the greatest atrocities committed by the United States would occur with the removal of tribes in the Southeastern United States through the Trail of Tears. Although Native Americans would eventually gain some autonomy through reservations, the effects of the Revolution proved devastating to them and the societies they had developed.

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The Revolutionary War, for the most part, did not improve the lot of women, African Americans, or Native Americans. While about 9,000 African Americans (both free and enslaved) fought in the Patriot army, hoping to win their freedom, they were sorely disappointed after the war. The Constitution did not grant them the right to vote, and the slave trade was only disallowed for 20 years following the ratification of the Constitution. In addition, the Constitution enforced the fugitive slave law, requiring escaped slaves to be returned to their owners. 

Despite Abigail Adams's famous plea in a letter to her husband, John Adams, to "remember the ladies" in the laws he was helping to draft in 1776, women did not get the right to vote until 1920, far after the Revolution. In the early Republic, the idea of "republican motherhood," that women had an important role in raising the children that would lead the new nation, took hold and led to the creation of some women's schools. However, the Revolution did little to help women. 

Native Americans were generally hurt by the Revolution, as the British had been preventing American settlement past the Proclamation Line of 1763 that ran along the Appalachians to protect Native American lands. After the Revolution, however, white settlers began streaming across this line, displacing Native Americans. In addition, Native Americans were not allowed the right to vote and were not counted for purposes of representation; instead, they were considered the citizens of separate nations in the Constitution. 

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