American Revolution: Social and Economic Impact

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Lesson Transcript
Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

Expert Contributor
Grace Pisano

Grace has a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in teaching. She previously taught high school in several states around the country.

Learn about the impact of the Revolutionary War throughout the world, especially on various segments of American society. We'll look at political, social, and economic impacts.

Political Effects of the Revolution

The 1783 Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War, and the world would never be the same. The contagion of liberty spread, inspiring people to revolt against their leadership in France, Haiti, Ireland, Poland, the Netherlands, and throughout the Spanish empire. New colonies and nations emerged, and many of them formed democratic governments. But the greatest effects were felt within the 13 former colonies of the new United States of America. Politically, the Marquis de Layafette summed it up this way: 'Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.'

For two decades, Americans had been focused on their rights, Enlightenment ideals and the proper role of government. Now that the war was over, they had to create this perfect government in which talent and hard work were supposed to be more important than hereditary privilege. They succeeded.

One of the most dramatic effects of the Revolution was to include more men in the formal political process. Yeoman farmers and urban artisans made up a majority of elected officials in northern states and significant minorities elsewhere. In many ways, those two groups of people have come to represent the ideal citizen even today: honest, hard-working, independent, talented laborers. John Crockett was a poor frontier farmer whose participation with the Overmountain Men helped him become a magistrate in the newly created Tennessee Territory. His son, the famed Davy Crockett, was elected to Congress.

Map of the former colonies comprising the new United States
Map of British Colonies

Effects of the Revolution on Political Minorities

While it may seem that white men got everything they wanted, the impact of the American Revolution was a different story for women, African Americans and Native Americans. An enlightened government would succeed only if the men in charge were well educated. This elevated the role of mothers in a family, who were the primary teachers for most American children. The concept was called republican motherhood, and it became an ideal for middle and upper class white families. To properly instruct her sons in classical subjects, as well as the bible and republican virtues, a woman needed proper schooling herself, and so there were expanded educational opportunities for girls.

The publishing market responded by releasing novels written by, for and about women. The war had helped to equalize the genders, as women had run farms and homes and businesses in their husbands' absence. They had served as spies and nurses, and at least two women disguised themselves and joined the fight. Yet women gained no legal rights.

How do you suppose Abigail Adams felt? Her husband John had consulted her on many issues. When she heard that Congress was thinking about declaring independence, she asked him to pay attention to women's rights. John Adams scoffed at her idea, suggesting that women would quickly subject men to the so-called 'despotism of the petticoat.'

Similarly, many African Americans had fully believed the new government would defend their rights as well. Unfortunately, it would be 80 years before the Civil War and the Constitution prohibited slavery outright, but the seeds of change had been planted. Rhode Island initiated a policy of gradual emancipation beginning in 1784, and many northern states followed suit. Even in the South, declining profits from tobacco resulted in large-scale emancipation. Planters like George Washington began to grow less labor-intensive crops, such as wheat.

If the institution provided no economic benefit, many people began to suspect that slavery would simply fizzle out. As much as 10% of the enslaved population had been emancipated by the armies during the war, and free blacks kindled the abolitionist movement that had started during the war. Many whites - especially Quakers - were sympathetic to their cause.

Other institutions emerged to serve the social needs of thousands of free African Americans. The most notable and lasting of these was, perhaps, the black church movement. After purchasing his own freedom, Richard Allen became a Methodist minister. But he was only allowed to have services for black parishioners. They had to be very early in the morning, and they weren't even allowed to meet in the same sanctuary as the whites. He left the church and formed the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1816, he and other ministers consolidated several black congregations into the African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination (or, simply, the AME) which is still active today.

To imagine the Native Americans' situation after the war, picture this: You and a friend are driving out in the middle of nowhere, and he gets stuck in a muddy ditch. The two of you work together and get the car out, but when the job is done, he just takes off and leaves you there stranded on the side of the road. That's how the Native Americans felt.

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Additional Activities

RAFT Activity

For this activity, students will have a choice in creating a RAFT activity related to the social and economic impacts of the American Revolution. In a RAFT activity, students are given a specific Role, Audience, Format and Topic and create an appropriate product. RAFT activities are a great way to give students choice and allow them to create a product linked with something they are passionate about. Students will select from one of the three rows below.

Role Audience Format Topic
Concerned Citizen General Public Letter to the Editor What the most pressing need in his/her community is and what should be done about it
Congressman Other Congressmen Speech Advocating for the passage of legislation that will help with one post-war social or economic issue
African-American or Woman Self Journal Entry How life has changed since the Revolutionary War and hopes for the future of the country

After selecting their row, students will complete the appropriate assignment. Remind students that they are writing from a different perspective than their own. Although the options are all different, each asks students to reflect on a social and economic change that happened because of the war.

Once all students have completed the assignment, allow several to share with their peers, if they are comfortable.

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