The political ideas that emerged from American revolution

If we go through the various aspects of political ideas that emerged from American Revolution the following can be treated as main. Locke’s social contract and constitutionalism had a resounding impact upon the Americans and their fight for independence.

The following observation has been made by a person who had thorough knowledge about American Revolution (henceforth only A. R.). He writes – “Jefferson copied Locke and Locke quoted Hooker. In political theory and in political practice the American Revolution drew its inspiration from the parlia­mentary struggle of the seventeenth century”. But the influence of Locke was not confined to the Declaration of Independence; it was felt in the ideas and often the phrasing of State Declarations and Constitutions.

He was quoted in the Federal Convention of 1787. Indeed there was a natural harmony between Locke’s ideas and those of the nineteenth century United States. The mere fact was that the freedom fighters and constitution makers—all-drew their inspiration from the political ideas of Locke. In fact, John Locke was the invisible architect of the American constitution.

Maxey in his Political Philosophy observes that when the settlers covenanted among themselves, as in the Mayflower Compact and the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, there was no doubting the contractual character of the mutuality of obligation between subjects and rulers.

The British king exercised his monarchical power over the Americans through his various agencies and they were forced to accept the monarchical sovereignty. But the argument of the Americans was that the king could not exercise his sovereign power in this way that unilaterally.

Both the exercise and the acceptance of the sovereign power depend upon the willingness of the Americans because it is a type of mutual covenant between the subjects and the ruler. Unilateral exercise of power was strongly resented by American.

There is another aspect of political ideas that came out of A. R. Maxey says :

“Political authority was both ascending and descending phenomenon. By compact it ascended from the governed through the consent of will, by delegation from the sovereign it also descended from the above.”

The American colonists viewed the power of the British king in this perspective. They never thought that the power of the king is absolute.

The exercise of the power by the king depends upon the terms and conditions of the contract. The law of the body politic is the final authority and hence it is binding on all.

Maxey again writes:

“the colonists came to think of sovereignty as vested, not in a certain person or body of persons, but in the fundamental law of the body politic”.

This view of the colonists is the basis of the constitutionalism. That is, both the ruler and the ruled are under the same law of the body politic.

We can remember that Locke was the father of constitutionalism. A very important aspect of his social contract is, men, coming from the state of nature, formulated certain basic laws and it was categori­cally stated that both the government and the governed would abide by the laws. This is also called the sovereignty of the constitution which practically constitutes the central idea of American constitutional system. Even today we have accepted it.

The concept of civil society can also be regarded as the product of A. R. Following Locke the colonists said the they had already formed a civil society which was far better than the state of nature. In that state of nature there was neither liberty nor security to life and property. For the attainment of these basic needs they have formed civil society.

But the activities of the British government had thrown them to utter despair. Again, the British government had no right to scuttle the very idea of civil society. Again, through civil society they want to achieve democracy.

Through the formation of civil society and establishment of constitutionalism the Americans were determined to achieve the fruits of democracy. But the autocratic manner and functioning of British government was about to frustrate the noble objectives of colonists.

Locke also stated that the obligation to authority is not unconditional, but conditional—which implies that so long the government or authority discharges its functions according to the constitution, the citizens must show their obligation to the authority. The leaders of the American Revolution once again emphasized it.

Their clear view was that the British monarchy or its representatives had no right to take decision and to implement it without the consent of the inhabitants of colonies. Particularly the British Parliament has no right to neglect the views of colonies. In his Commonwealth of Oceana (1656) Harrington categorically stated that obligation can never be unconditional.

There are also other important ideas that came out of the A. R. and these subsequently formed the basis of their constitution. The revolutionaries of America learnt some very important lessons from their long struggle against the foreign power. One such lesson is that there is nothing like absolute truth. Everything passes through trial and error.

What is right and what is wrong will be decided by the people in a democratic method. No outside power can impose anything upon the people. Barack Obama in his The Audacity of Hope has said that people’s voice is the final authority and this has been incorporated in the Constitution.

He further says that the constitution is based on the concept of “deliberative democracy” whose main constituents are separation of powers, checks and balances, federalist princi­ples and Bill of Rights.

Maxey has drawn our attention to another aspect of A. R.; “Democracy gained a place in the colonial political thought not through the preference of colonists for democratic principles in theory but through their actual experience in community life. …No political or ecclestastical hierarchy was allowed to mediate between the individual and his God”. The freedom fighters were largely influenced by the democratic thought and ethos. In fact, democracy was their guiding force. In his above-noted book Barack Obama has drawn our attention to this aspect.

Another aspect of American democracy is federalism or the federal structure of the United States. The colonies enjoyed freedom before the formation of the United States and even after the formation they will continue the freedom. Nothing will be imposed upon the colonies. We know that the revolutionaries were against any type of application of force and after freedom/independence that has been kept intact. Today we say that American federal system is ideal and this ideality is enshrined in the constitution.

Locke said that in the state of nature people were not quite happy though it was not nasty and brutish. They (people of state of nature) were passing through certain inconveniences such as there was no impartial authority to decide right and wrong to protect the natural rights.

The great fathers of the constitution have made an elaborate arrangement for the protection of the basic human rights through the institution of an impartial judiciary. Locke thought that the government of the civil society would perform the job; the architects of the constitution authorized the highest court to do the job.

Being influenced by Locke and Montesquieu the framers introduced the separation of powers into the constitution. Hence we hold the view that the basic principles of political thought were derived from Locke and Montesquieu as well as apathy to British imperialism.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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