How might things have been worse if the American Revolution had not happened?

Burton Weltman

There are many ways in which things might have been worse for Americans in the past and in the present if the Revolution had not occurred.  Our federal Constitution for example, which is one of the wonders of world history, is a consequence of the Revolution, even if it was not the sort of government that was originally intended by the Founding Fathers when they made the Revolution.  The following are just a few examples of things that might have been different and different for the worse if there had been no Revolution.  You are probably able to come up with other and maybe better examples. 

1. If the Revolution had not occurred, might democracy have developed more slowly in America?  Political democracy might have developed more slowly without the Revolution.  The democratic right of all white men to vote developed some thirty to fifty years later in England and in the other English-speaking British colonies than in the United States.  The earlier development of democracy for men in the United States was a direct outcome of the struggle for democratic rights that began during the Revolution.  It was part of the revolution within the Revolution.  That is, while the revolutionaries as a whole were fighting for American independence from England, there were democratic American revolutionaries struggling against aristocratic American revolutionaries for the right to vote and control the new government.

At the time of the Revolution, suffrage was limited to white men with substantial property and/or income.  These property and income requirements were gradually abolished in the various states during and after the Revolution so that by the 1820’s, there was universal suffrage for white men.  These rights did not emerge in England and her other English-speaking colonies until the mid to late nineteenth century.

2. If the Revolution had not occurred, might religious freedom have developed more slowly and less surely in America?  Freedom of religion developed more slowly in England and in her other English-speaking colonies than it did in the United States.  Religious tests for political office and other public purposes were abandoned almost immediately in America after the Revolution, and Massachusetts in the 1830’s was the last holdout state to abandon a state-sponsored church.  The British gradually abandoned religious tests and restrictions during the course of the nineteenth century but the Anglican Church remains the official Church of England to the present day.  The Anglican Church ceased to be the official church of Canada in 1832, Australia in 1836 and New Zealand in 1840.

3. If the Revolution had not occurred, might women’s rights have developed more slowly in America?  Women’s rights developed somewhat more slowly in England but somewhat more quickly in the other English-speaking colonies than in the United States.  As such, it may be a tossup whether women might have fared better or worse in the United States if there was no Revolution and America had remained for longer as a colony  In New Zealand, women gained the right to vote in national elections in 1893.  In Australia, it was 1902.  In Canada, it was 1921 just as it was in the United States.  In England, it was 1928.

In general, women’s rights in these countries developed more quickly in less settled territories in which sexist customs were not so well-established and in which women had opportunities to break new ground, both literally and figuratively.  In the United States, women’s rights developed particularly quickly in the western territories and states as they were settled by European-Americans.  This might not have happened in the same way if there was no Revolution.

What do you think?


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