Opportunity and Oppression During the Revolutoin

June 24, 2010
By brier BRONZE, Bellevue, Washington
brier BRONZE, Bellevue, Washington
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

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"Out of the ashes, I rise with my red hair, and eat men like air." -Sylvia Plath

Opportunity and Oppression during the Revolution


The period between 1760 and 1780 was a time where the world saw the colonies emerge as an independent nation. The colonial rebellion began as a protest on the part of the gentry, but military victory required that thousands of ordinary men and women dedicate themselves to the ideals of republicanism. As relations with Britain deteriorated, particularly after 1765, the traditional leaders of colonial society invited the ordinary folk to join the protest-as rioters, as petitioners, and finally, as soldiers. The biggest groups affected by the changes taking place in the America’s relationship with government were the women of colonial society and African Americans. With popular protest on the rise, women were plunging themselves into political rally’s and revolts that proved they could hold their ground and contribute to the popular petitions. In the north, African Americans were being granted freedom through abolitionists. Their yearnings for equality were shaped by the changes in American society during the Revolutionary era. The desire for individual opportunity and access to education propelled women and African Americans during this era to lobby for their personal freedoms during a time of national liberation.

African Americans, most born in the colonies but many in Africa, were involved in the American Revolution and suffered the effects of it. Early black historians focused on the few thousand blacks who fought with white Americans to gain their independence. Crispus Attucks, Salem Poor, and James Forten were typical of those who made blood sacrifices for “the glorious cause.” Many slaves, along with some free blacks, fought with the British as with the American patriots. While white Americans discouraged or forbade black enlistment in state militias and the Continental Army, the British promised to grant perpetual freedom to any slave or indentured servant who fled his or her master to join the British forces. The ensuing notion that freedom may become reality if black servants were to join the British ranks propelled many slaves to run from their masters and fight against the Americans.
After the Revolution, free blacks in northern cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and New York were developing educational institutions and requested equality for access to education. One document highlights the cries for education echoed by the thousands of free blacks living in the north. The “Petition for Access to Education” in 1787 is a petition from the Massachusetts legislation protesting the exclusion of blacks from public education. They argued that their children lived in the same land as white people’s children, where there is provision made for them as well as others and yet they can’t enjoy them “for no other reason can be given than they are black” (85). After abolitionists in the North began lobbying for freedom of African Americans, blacks were becoming acquainted with the same civil rights as whites were permitted.
The revolutionary war changed views on how ordinary people viewed the traditional family. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, fathers claimed dominance over their household, demanding obedience of their wives and children. At the time of the American Revolution, however, the notion that fathers were the tyrannical kings of their quarters was replaced with the idea of a loving union between husband and wife. This transformation between the way men and women viewed relations of power within the family was revolutionary and often seen in popular novels of this period, most notably ones authored by the colonial writer Samuel Richardson. The changing intellectual environment for American women began making new demands on republican institutions. Women were already involved in politics during the Revolutionary War. Belonging to the Daughters of Liberty, a radical group who petitioned the British Parliament, or aiding the wounded men on the Revolutionary War’s battlegrounds were just a couple of the ways women were able to involve themselves in political regime, if only a little bit. Sarah Osborne, for example, was a woman who dressed herself as a man in order to volunteer to fight in the war. Boldly, she fought for her country in men’s clothes while masking a female disposition. Popular feminism grew more and more as the Revolution progressed and women wanted a firmer grasp on individual rights. In order to emphasize the change in women’s intellectual rights, Abigail Adams, one of the most articulate women of this generation, instructed her husband, John Adams, as he set off for the opening of the Continental Congress to “Remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” Molly Wallace was another woman who highlighted the progressive change in women’s intellectual rights. She delivered a valedictory oration speech at the Young Ladies Academy in Philadelphia in 1792. The academy provided curriculum similar to that offered to educational institutions for boys. Women’s new attitudes towards education and government are highlighted as Wallace pronounces that women should “harangue at the head of an Army, in the Senate, or before a popular assembly…” (87). Her speech is a beckoning for education that would liberate women from the chains that confined them to their husbands and their homes. The radical developments during this period profoundly shaped women’s new status in American society.

The American Revolution was a political upheaval in which the thirteen colonies of America united to form one nation. This was due, for the most part, to the grievances between British Parliament and America. The inequality and unfairness the British treated Americans with their profane taxation caused popular protest and revolt among colonists. However, as the colonies were able to unite and assert their dominance and power over the British, the oppressed groups within the new nation of America were starting to come forward with a list of their own grievances. Free black slaves and women were two of the groups who beckoned to be heard amidst the chaos. Free African American slaves were requesting equal opportunity in the realm of education which would henceforth give black children as good of chance at attaining a job as white children would in the future. Women were yearning for equality of the sexes within the household, political realm, and in educational institutions too. Judith Murray reveals the finer nuances of this idea in her essay, “On the Equality of the Sexes.” The commonality between African Americans and Women and their reactions to the changes in government between the 1760’s and late 1780’s was both groups desire for advancement in education. Sir Frances Bacon once said, “Knowledge is power,” so perhaps women and African Americans during this era were yearning for opportunity to advance their education in order to empower themselves during a time of national reform. The new political developments of this time were dictated by upper class white men, and perhaps the minorities, African Americans and women, rallied so hard for education in order to empower themselves and speak out knowledgeably for their civil rights.

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