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Talking 'Bout A Revolution


The majority of people didn't live like George Washington!
Can we really call the American Revolution a "revolution"? According to my dictionary, revolution means "a change in political organization or in a government or constitution." It also means "a complete change."


Let's look at what changed after the United States claimed independence from England. Was land given to the landless? Were all people allowed to participate in the new government? Was slavery ended? Was education given to all? Were taxes ended?


For most of the people who didn't own land, things stayed more or less the same after 1783. The so-called "revolution" didn't change the rules of the game - only those in charge. Now, instead of answering to the British, the people had to obey American landowners. That's because, according to almost all state laws, the only people who could vote were male landowners. They elected other male landowners to the government.

If this doesn't sound very democratic, that's because it isn't. Some historians have argued that the Founding Fathers weren't big fans of what we think of as democracy and tried as much as possible to keep power away from "the people."

Dee Curlee told me about the slaves and servants at Mount Vernon
In many ways, the new republic of the United States, through the Constitution, was more democratic than most other countries. It did give voting rights to…well, to white male landowners.
This lady could look pretty, but couldn't vote
But it didn't change the balance of power. Men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had a lot to protect. They owned thousands of acres of land, had many rich friends, and made a lot of money from both. Through luck, partnerships and intelligence, they became two of the best known and celebrated American personalities of their time.

Consider this: both men inherited large amounts of land, as well as slaves, from their relatives. Then, they married wealthy widows who had even more land and property. They both ran for - and were elected to - the Virginia State government. (Remember, only landowners could hold office and only landowners could vote). From there, they went on to represent their state at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and became part of the fought the war against England and shaped the new country.

The house at Monticello was surrounded by 5,000 acres of land
They were big readers and writers - Washington owned over 800 books and wrote nearly 40,000 letters, while Jefferson had a 6,700-book library and wrote 20,000 letters! They stood out from the crowd of moneyed elite for their military accomplishments (in Washington's case) and writing skills (in Jefferson's).

I risked being reprimanded for taking this photo in Monticello's private 'Dome Room'
Kevin thinks that GW and TJ didn't risk anything in fighting the English. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain from a war that was fought by the poor, the enslaved and the working classes. Once the war ended and a new government was being formed, no one from those parts was asked to join in the Constitutional Convention. Their opinion didn't count, and neither did their interests.

 Jefferson wouldn't have wanted to lose all this land ... and neither would I!
Regardless, the Constitution was written and gives all people of the US the same rights. It may have been used to keep "the people" away from power originally, but it has also been the foundation for change and inclusion. The Constitution lives on and so does the Revolution.


Please email me at: daphne@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Rebecca - A duel over pride ends in disaster
Teddy - Who's the Constitution really for?