What new meaning did Americans give to republicanism and how did they live up to the republican ideal during the American War for independence?
The fundamental idea of a republic is a state that is without a monarch. To Americans, however, the republic ideal was everything and everyone for the public good. The ideal republic assumed that its members had important responsibilities and had to sacrifice all for the common good.
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Initially, the Americans tried to live up to the ideal of the American republic. At the governmental level committees were formed and resolutions made that would promote the public good. For example, the members of the Committee of Safety found themselves looking towards the public interest when they suppressed dissent or controlled prices. However, the people themselves were unable to be completely selfless.
Militiamen who died at Lexington, Concord, Saratoga, and Camden were praised, but the Continental officers who asked for lifetime pensions were not fitting the idea of giving freely to the republic. Continental troops caught in the winters of 1779 and 1780 were unable to withstand the conditions and mutinied. While Washington had the ringleaders executed; Congress had to resort to paying the troops and providing clothing. These soldiers certainly did not fit the ideal for the republic of one sacrificing themselves totally without concern for self.
In addition, the civilians likewise found it increasingly difficult to follow the republican ideal. When the British troops cut off the European manufactured goods and other products to the republic, the farmers and artisans in this country raised prices due to the scarcity of imported products. Unemployed shipwrights, masons, coopers, bakers, had to leave occupied Boston, New York, and Philadelphia found it difficult to think of the common good when there was no food on their table.
For instance, the Massachusetts Legislature passed the “Act to prevent Monopoly and Oppression.” The purpose of the act was to keep prices from soaring for wholesale and retail items. As the war progressed the government found it increasingly difficult to purchase goods. Instead, it resorted to requisitioning goods directly from the people.
Patriot women contributed to the war effort and in their own way fit the republican ideal for sacrificing themselves for the war effort and assuming the burden of farm production. Some supervised slaves and hired labourers which helped them gain a feel for the decision making process.
During the war, inflation was rampant. Farmers and artisans who had received Continental notes to pay for supplies and soldiers saw currency depreciate very quickly. Although the individual loss was small, the collective “currency taxes” paid the large cost of the war. This personal sacrifice, willing or not, of hundreds of thousands of American citizens, was indeed for the republic.
The republican ideal was only partially achieved during the war. The people were headstrong in wanting a republic until they came to the full realization of the responsibilities and sacrifices it required.
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