History; Evolution or Revolution
Why would one author choose to portray a historical event as revolutionary while another chooses to view the same event as evolutionary? The answer to this question is simple, perspective. Einstein’s theory of time and space, Relativity, proposed that distance and time are not absolute. History also depends on relativity, it is not absolute. History is more than a chronological account of past events of a period or in the life or development of a people, an institution, or a place. Historians use knowledge to analyze past events. Because no two historians have exactly the same knowledge base the context in which they write must be taken into perspective. Here we will explore how the same events may be both revolutionary and evolutionary at the same time.
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Just as all historians have different knowledge bases, in a like manner so do all people. For this reason, it is important to define the context in which this essay views revolution and evolution. Revolution is a sudden, radical, or complete fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualize a paradigm. Evolution is a change in a certain direction of a process, continuous change from simple to more complex, with the outcome resulting in a better state; or a process of gradual social, political, and economic advance.
A half of a century of time taken out of man’s liner timeline of history is minuscule. Therefore many things that happen in such a relatively short span of time could be defined as revolutionary. Take the American Revolution as an example if you use the year 1775 and the Battles of Lexington and Concord as a starting point and the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1782 as an ending point it is easy to see how this could be defined as a revolution. When analyzed in greater detail it is also easy to see how this episode in American history can be defined as an evolutionary process. The American Revolution did not just suddenly start for arbitrary reasons in 1775.
Moreover, a series of events led up to the start of the war. Some claim the first event leading to the Revolutionary War was the first settlers fleeing Europe and tyrannical control. Others point to proceedings such as The Sugar Act of 1764. The actions that led to the American Revolution are up for academic debate but the fact that the war did not just start isn’t. Hence it is fair to say that the American Revolution was an evolutionary progression. Thus it is also fair to say that the years between 1600 and 1800 saw both American Revolution and American evolution.
Another case in point for this hypothesis is manumission in the United States. The Civil War has also been called the second American Revolution. In strict terms, the War Between the States began with South Carolina seceding from the Union in 1860. The Civil War for all intents and purposes ended with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendering to Gen. William T. Sherman near Durham, North Carolina in 1865. This American war when perceived in linear time can understandably be characterized as revolutionary. The cause of the war however is far from revolutionary. Slavery in America was definitely an evolutionary process. Slavery had been an American institution since the beginnings of colonial development. Over time northern states abolished slavery on their own accord.
Congress passed the first Fugitive Slave Act in1793 but many northern states refused to enforce this law. In 1857 the Dred Scott Decision by The Supreme Court inflamed northern abolitionists. The final blow to many southern states was the election of what they alleged to be a President sympathetic to eradicating slavery. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War freedom from servitude was far from over. It was 1869 before Congress adopted the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. This Amendment formally granted all men the right to vote, regardless of their race, colour, or previous servitude. This is but one instance that is tied to the Civil War, reconstruction and others amplify the evolutionary process.
The last illustration we will look at is the United States Constitution. On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States proposed to the state legislatures 12 amendments to the Constitution that met arguments most frequently advanced against it. The first two proposed amendments, which concerned the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified. Articles 3 to 12, however, were ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures. These amendments were ratified December 15, 1791, and constitute the first 10 amendments of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
Once again looking at the timeline, two years can be rationalized as sudden and for the time period, the document was radical. However, if any document can be described as evolutionary it would be the Bill of Rights. As previously mentioned the Bill of Rights stemmed from the need to amend the United States Constitution. Since the original amendments in 1791, the Constitution has been amended seventeen more times. The twenty-seventh amendment itself was originally proposed on Sept. 25, 1789, but not ratified until May 7, 1992.
With just a short look at history and isolating a few models, it is easy to see the same events can be described as both revolutionary and evolutionary.
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