The American Revolution: A History in Documents

By Steven C. Bullock | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
The Living
Revolution
The Revolution Remembered

In 1776, after the first reading of the
Declaration of Independence in New
York City, Patriots pulled down the
statue of King George III from its
pedestal on Bowling Green, melting it
down to make bullets. In the 1790s,
many people called for a statute of
Washington to take its place. This
1798 print shows one such proposal. In
the background is an image of Bowling
Green with the empty pedestal in the left
foreground. Unlike the British king,
who had been portrayed as a Roman
dressed in a toga and mounted on a
horse, the American President appears
in modern military dress and holds a
written document inscribed [Friends
and Fellow Citizens.]

Speaking on the Fourth of July, 1833, the Massachusetts lawyer and politician, Robert Rantoul, Jr., declared the American Revolution [the dividing point in the history of mankind.] [It is,] he noted, [the moment of the political regeneration of the world … the end from which the new order of things is to be reckoned.] The very nature of government had changed: [Before [the Revolution] came the governments of force; after it, come, and shall come in long succession, the governments of opinion. They who wielded the sword had hitherto directed the fate of nations: the Fourth of July, seventeen hundred and seventy-six, announced the principle of self-government, and hereafter nations shall follow no guidance but the mastery of mind.]

As Rantoul suggests, the American Revolution was revolutionary, an observation that people in both America and elsewhere have been making for more than two hundred years after the Revolution. But, despite Rantoul's deep admiration of the Revolution and the ideals it spurred, he possessed an ambiguous relationship with it. He strongly supported religious liberty and broader education, ideals that were closely identified with the Revolutionary generation, even when they were controversial. But he was also an enthusiastic supporter of the Democratic party, even though Revolutionary-era leaders had strongly condemned political parties as threats to the commitment to the common good they believed was necessary for the republic's survival. Rantoul also attacked the death penalty and supported labor unions— issues that had hardly been raised in the years before the Constitution.

The complexity of Rantoul's relationship to the Revolution and its ideals is not unusual. Memories and celebrations are always shaped by

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