The American Revolution has commonly been associated with a radical ideology of kicking off the reigns of an oppressive king in favor of a brand new system. However, I will discuss why the Revolution was not a radical movement, but rather a conservative movement. The Revolution was very radical politically speaking. The American colonies dared to defy and revolt against the worlds most powerful empire, and the colonies won. From a social point of view the Revolution could be considered conservative. I will argue that the Revolution was actually a conservative movement of the colonists wanting to go back to the way things use to be.
To understand why I would consider the Revolution to be a conservative movement I must first take a look at the period of Salutary Neglect from 1714-1760. Salutary Neglect was the period where the American colonists were largely left to their own governance. Britain was not heavily involved with the colonies and allowed them to govern themselves largely. The Act of Settlement of 1701 prohibited Catholics from inheriting the British Throne. King George I ascended to the throne in 1714 after the death of his second cousin Queen Anne. There were numerous other relatives closer to Anne, yet because of the Act of Settlement George I became the king as he was the closest Protestant. King George I was rather uninterested in the American colonies and left them to their own devices primarily. His successor George II was uninterested as well and left Britain primarily in the hands of Parliment. When King George III took over in 1760 the period of Salutary Neglect was over.
King George III was not a passive leader as his two successors had been. After the French and Indian War ended in 1763, Britain needed to replenish its’ funds. King George III decided to then tax the colonies and formally end the period of Salutary Neglect. King George III was very concerned with money at this time; so he created the Proclamation Line of 1763 which prohibited colonists from settling west of the Appalachians. This saved money by not requiring soldiers and forts to protect this land from American Indian attacks. A series of acts such as the Tea Act of 1763, Sugar Act of 1764, Currency Act of 1764, Quartering Act of 1774, Stamp Act of 1765, and Townshend Act of 1765 made the colonists long to return to the period of Salutary Neglect.
The colonists resented Britain being heavily involved in their affairs. The colonists were very hesitant and reluctant to declare independence from Britain however. There were attempts made at reconciling with Britain such as “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” and “Olive Branch Petition.” However, in 1776 the colonists had finally had enough of Britain’s involvement with their affairs and lack of representation.
The colonists were conservative in the sense that they wanted to return to the period of Salutary Neglect. The colonists simply wanted the ability to govern themselves like they had just years prior. The Revolution marked a period of returning to the way things once were.
The Colonists returned to the level of government during Salutary Neglect.This did not last long however. The Constitution I would argue was actually a counter-revolutionary movement. The Constitution brought the governments level of power to higher than the Salutary Neglect yet lower than King George III. On the above graph I would place the Constitution above the Revolution and Salutary Neglect, yet I would place it towards the lower end of the spectrum as the colonists had a fear and aversion to big government. I would argue that the Revolution was a conservative movement, and the Constitution was counter-revolutionary. For these reasons, I would consider the Revolution and Declaration of Independence a conservative revolution.