Crane Brinton's Theory Of Revolution

In his book, Anatomy of Revolution, Brinton compares revolution to a fever. In this respect, a revolution is not a positive phenomena, it is something to be avoided and cured, when and if, it occurs. This is due to the fact that "nobody wants to have a fever" (Brinton, 18). However, fever, and Revolution, "in itself is a good thing....for the organism that survives it. ...The revolution destroys wicked people and harmful and useless institutions" (18). Brinton breaks down the revolution into three entities: the symptoms, the fever itself, which is the manipulation of revolution, and the break of the fever, when things more or less return to normal. Symptoms can take several different forms: economic problems, inefficiency of the government, the rise of the self-proclaimed revolutionaries, and the overthrow of the old regime, followed by the breakup of the revolutionaries' coalition. In the early stages of the revolution itself, Brinton sees the moderates seize power, but then the extremists take that power away from them. Then the fever breaks, Thermidor occurs and the revolution is over. In Brinton's view there is nothing much that can be done about revolutionaries, the fever has to burn out on its own. In his book, Crane Brinton uses the American Revolution as one of his examples. One assumes that he vies the American Revolution as a real Revolution, though the author states that it does not fit perfectly his conceptual schemes (24). Brinton sees the American Revolution as a territorial-nationalist one, in which the aim of the revolutionaries was not to overturn the existing "social and economic system, but rather to set the English North American colonies up as an independent nation-state" (22).

The symptoms part of Brinton's Revolution theory shall be discussed first. There were economic problems, since America refused to pay taxes to England. The taxation without representation' slogan of the 1700s was enough to excite Americans to action (29). There was "no class ground down with poverty" (31) but the "economic stresses and strains" (31) contributed to a feeling that prevailing conditions limited and hardened the colonists' economic activity (33). Thus, Brinton sees the economic symptoms of the American Revolution being the economic grievances "of some of the chief enterprising groups that [saw] their opportunities for getting on in this world [as] unduly limited by political arrangements" (34).
The second symptom was the inefficiency of the British government. Revolution occurred because the "practical constraints of the British political scene in 1766, 1770, and 1775 always rendered impossible any policy that would match the colonial demands" (Thomas, 334). America emerged from its Revolution "with more efficient and more centralized government" (Brinton, 240).
The third symptom was the rise of revolutionaries, mostly the army and those who supported the Revolutionary War. "It was the merchants who first organized opposition to the Crown" (99). American society of the late 1700s was rural not urban (100), and the strength of the revolutionary "movement lay with the plain people... - country artisans, small farmers, and frontiersmen" (100). However, Brinton also agrees Alexander Graydon that the " opposition to the claims of Britain originated with the better sort: it was truly aristocratical in its commencement'" (100). The patriots knew they wanted to separate from Britain. The overthrow of the old regime is an interesting phenomena, because the British government continued to exist, and is sill active today. However, that regime was overthrown in the American colonies, and a completely new government, a republic, was set up. The last symptom does not fit the American example very well. The revolutionary coalition did not break up. George Washington, who led the American Army in the Revolutionary War, became the first President. This leads to Brinton's stages of Revolution, the first of which is the seizure of power by the moderates, and the soon after taking of that power by the extremists. Brinton sees no victory of extremists over moderates in America (24).
The third part of Brinton's theory is the break up of the fever, the occurrence of Thermidor, and the end of the Revolution. Brinton believes America "never quite went through a reign of terror" (24), but that the "relaxation of the war discipline and war tension and a grand renewal for wealth and pleasure" (235) led to a real Thermidor. "There was even a moral let down" (235) in America, which lamented the spirit of speculation which war and its attendant disturbances had generated, the restlessness of the young, disrespect for tradition and authority, increase in crime, the frivolity and extravagance of society. All this sounds very like the original Thermidor (236) to Brinton.

Only parts of Brinton's theory fit the American example. Enough of them match his definition and his stages of this phenomena that one must agree that the American Revolution was a true Revolution. However, other scholars may not agree.