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Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

Ideological Origins of the American Revolution Terms

African Colonization

A movement of blacks and whites (but mostly whites during its eighteenth and nineteenth century phases) that promoted the movement of free blacks back to Africa, usually to spread Christianity. It was a very controversial movement that met with harsh criticism from many free blacks and some white abolitionists, who justifiably saw it as an attempt at removing the free black population from white people's midst. This movement reemerged in the 1920s with a new black nationalist guise, under the leadership of Marcus Garvey, but that is another (longer) story for another day...


The act of freeing a slave from bondage, usually through legislation. Emancipation can be (and has been, in the United States, among other places) used to force masters to free their slaves.

Freemasonry, Masonic Lodges, Masonic, Masons, Freemasons, Freemason, Mason

An organization that claims ancient origins but probably originated around the twelfth century in England. It was a secret religious society that guarded the tenets of the mason's craft, but through the centuries it developed into an international fraternity that focused on moral and religious improvement. In the eighteenth century, lodges that had spread to Roman Catholic countries started assuming roles antagonistic to Catholicism and then to organized religion in general. Masonic allegory emphasized an alternative message that did not focus on the Bible or Jesus. When the Founding Fathers refer to "the Grand Architect," they are pulling terminology from the Freemasons, not the Bible.


The act of freeing a slave from bondage, usually through a slaveowner's will upon his death, but regardless, it connotes a voluntary emancipation on the part of the master.

Emancipation, a freeing


The doctrine that God has preordained all things, including the fate of each human soul (whether or not it will be granted eternal salvation).

Sectarian, Sectarianism

Pertaining to one or more religious sects, or groups, and adhering to the dogma of that particular group.

Tarring And Feathering, Tar And Feather, Tarred And Feathered

A practice dating back to the Crusades that began to occur around New England seaports in the 1760s. It was a pretty self-explanatory tactic, often employed by patriots against British loyalists: they covered the person in tar (readily available around shipyards) and feathers (found in any handy pillow). Clearly the result was humiliating for the victim, who probably resembled a bizarre sort of chicken, but it was also incredibly painful. The tar needed to be burning hot to apply it to a victim's skin.

A popular but unofficial punishment, both painful and humiliating, often inflicted by mobs and dating back to the Crusades. Hot tar was readily available in the colonial ports because it was used to seal the hull of ships. These same ports—especially in New England —were centers of colonial commerce, the places most hard-hit by Parliamentary taxation policies, and thus the same places where patriot mobs started angrily protesting British taxation policy in the 1760s and '70s, especially in Boston. The feathers could come from pillows or nearby chickens, which colonists commonly kept for their eggs and meat. Tar was commonly derived from coal and was extremely viscous; today we know that it is also toxic and carcinogenic because of its high benzene content. It also had to be at least 140 degrees in order to melt, so when a person was stripped naked and covered in it, he or she would almost certainly sustain at least first-degree burns, even if the tar cooled quickly. That's not to mention the sort of pain induced by pouring such material on the genitals, as often happened because the victims were usually stripped wholly or partially naked before being coated with tar and then doused with feathers. Low-ranking employees of the Customs Service were some of the most likely targets of this treatment, especially in Massachusetts during the 1760s and '70s. But British troops also tarred and feathered at least one man during the same period. There are no known cases of death by tarring and feathering during this period.


Having or consisting of a single legislative chamber. A bicameral legislature, such as the United States Congress, has two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Unsurprisingly, this derives from the Latin uni, meaning "one," and the Latin bi, meaning "two."

Mercantilism, Mercantilist System, Mercantilist

The economic system of the Western European trading empires throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Under this system, the state controlled and regulated economic practices in the mother country and in all colonies in order to ensure a trade advantage for the central government (that is, they wanted to sell more than they bought). That way, the government could build up its currency reserves in order to pay for the frequent wars of empire that occurred throughout the period. Beginning in the late seventeenth century, the King of England appointed privy councilors (members of the body that advises the King, sort of like his "cabinet") as the Lords of Trade, who were to enforce the mercantile system and maximize potential profits in the English colonies for the benefit of the mother country. Mercantilist theory undergirded the parliamentary treaties that guaranteed certain companies (like the East India Company) a monopoly on certain goods (like tea); they exploited colonial commerce for the benefit of the colonizers.

Synthetic Truth, Synthetic Truths

Metaphysical philosophers claimed that you could know certain "synthetic truths" simply by deductive reasoning, without any examination or reference to personal experience. Classical empiricist philosopher David Hume disagreed with these philosophers; he thought that synthetic truths can only be known through one's personal experience.

Analytic Truth, Analytic Truths

According to classical empiricist philosopher David Hume, these are the only truths that one could know without any examination or reference to personal experience. They are only found in the categories of mathematics or logic.

Loyalists, Loyalist

Colonists who opposed the American Revolution and remained loyal to the British government.

The Franchise, Right To Vote

The ability to vote, which a government grants to its citizens, provided that they satisfy an established set of preconditions. American colonists did not possess the franchise with respect to parliamentary representatives, hence the rallying cry of "no taxation without representation."


Compensation (monetary or otherwise) that the responsible party pays to the victim for damage or loss. A restoration of rightful property to its owner. In September 1783, the British and the Americans signed the Treaty of Paris, ending the Revolutionary War. England recognized the United States as a free and independent country, and the U.S. Congress agreed to recommend the restitution of property to rightful owners, even if they were Loyalists. Yet this provision of the treaty was rarely enforced.

compensation for loss or injury caused

Indentured Servants, Indentureds, Indenture

Poor people from Europe who came to America for new opportunities at economic and social advancement. They did not have the money to pay for their passage across the Atlantic Ocean, so they signed labor contracts that committed them to work for another person for a certain amount of time—usually five to seven years—until their debt was paid in full. They could be bought and sold like slaves, and they needed the permission of their owner before they could marry. By law, female indentured servants who became pregnant had their terms lengthened to ensure the same amount of uninterrupted labor. Unlike slaves, however, indentured servants had a definite release date from bondage, and as Englishmen (and women), they could claim the protection of English law. Their children were also born free. Almost two-thirds of English settlers in North America during the seventeenth century were indentured servants.

Republicanism, Republican, Republicans

A political philosophy derived from the societies of ancient Greece and Rome, where all citizens voluntarily subordinated their private interests to the common good. These participatory republics predicated their stability and authority on the virtue of the citizenry as a whole and their resistance to corruption or tyranny. For eighteenth-century republicans, a person with "virtue" owned property, possessed an intrinsic sense of morality, and was willing to subordinate his own interests for the interests of the community; the public good. These were the only sorts of people whom Founding Father Benjamin Franklin thought capable of freedom. Republican government was, by design, antithetical to monarchies or aristocracies in which a rigid hierarchy predetermined the social structure and a small number of powerful people ruled over the masses with little to no oversight. Yet both Greece and Rome utilized slave labor and denied women any direct voice in government; these paradoxes (human equality amidst gender discrimination, liberty coexisting with bondage) would also carry over into the United States. Republicanism, the ideology of the American revolutionaries, was not the same as democracy. In a sense, it is a kind of mediated democracy.

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