Discussion of the American Revolution began at the beginning. Contemporaries identified two interactive, though not interlocked, major elements by boasting of the attainment of independence and the founding of a new republic; as Enos Hitchcock insisted in 1788, “A revolution can never be considered as complete till government is firmly established — and without this independency would be a curse instead of a blessing. — These jointly were the great object of the American Revolution.” A third component of the Revolutionary experience was a network of social changes that affected many aspects of American life. Some processes — demographic growth, economic expansion, and western settlement, all of which contributed materially to the context of Revolutionary change — were essentially secular and developmental in effect. Others, such as the emancipation of blacks and women, had barely begun during the Revolutionary era; a few, for example, the disestablishment of religion, were largely complete by the end of the century. Among these many social processes was one that interacted with both other components of the Revolution, was central in function, and had both immediate and long-term effects. Elites were forced to share their power.
By 1800 a critical change had taken place in the fabric of American society. The Revolution had transformed ideological expectations, behaviour patterns and social relationships as well as institutions, and had drastically altered the basis on which social and political authority could be exercised in a manner that transcended the departure of British officials and Loyalist exiles.