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American Revolution

Many people pointed out the difference between modern political conservatism and the act of conserving the way a society works. In the case of the American Revolution, it was the latter.

The colonists had already set up a way of life there that was suddenly being threatened by the british; they fought against this tightening of control. The revolution itself was fought in order to conserve their political and social views—views which happened to be revolutionarily liberal at the time. This is where the confusion arises. They didn’t overthrow society itself and start from scratch, they fought to let their present society grow.

That is why it’s called conservative. It has nothing to do with modern colloquial usage of the word “conservative.”22 Answers

Isidore Fitzroy

Isidore Fitzroy, Doctor of Jurisprudence, Man of LettersAnswered Jan 20 2018 · Author has 2.2k answers and 589.5k answer views

Some context is required here, especially with regard to the term “conservative.” Conservative has multiple meanings, but in this particular context we’re not talking about political conservatism, at least not in its narrowest senser In the context of a revolution, a “conservative” revolution would be contrasted against a “radical” revolution. A radical revolution is one which, as the name suggests, seeks to fundamentally uproot the old society and institute a new one in its place. This would be a revolution like the French or Russian Revolutions, which eradicated the monarchy in each respective nation and established a liberal democratic republic in the former and a soviet socialist republic in the latter. The French Revolution led to a complete alteration of the nature of the French state, a destruction of many social institutions, a complete change in the laws and of the government, and even a new calendar (it didn’t catch on for a couple of reasons.) Similar with the Russian Revolution. This is what’s most people think of when they hear the word “revolution.”

On the other hand is a “conservative” revolution: there is a great social upheaval, often accompanied by armed conflict, but the resulting society is not very different from the old society. The American Revolution is called a “conservative” revolution because, unlike most revolutions of its kind, it wasn’t an attempt to make fundamental changes to the society it occurred in. Most of the laws and social institutions remained virtually unchanged. The only major change was the sovereignty of the British Crown, but it wasn’t considered abolished so much as it was considered to be transfered to the United States Government, and modified according to the terms of the Constitution (which itself was strongly influenced by English legal theory). The Common Law (that is to say, the law made by judges) was inherited wholecloth by the American judiciary, though it did eventually evolve as American judges modified it over the next few decades. All-in-all the transfer of power from the British Crown to the American public was designed (with admittedly debatable success) to disturb law and institutional order as little as possible. A comparable revolution to this one would be the Glorious Revolution in the mid-1600s in Great Britain; the English Monarchy remained in tact, but the man on the throne was replaced (and a new Bill of Rights was drafted).