MIA: Writers Archive: Mary Beard
History of the United States. Charles Beard, Mary Beard, 1921
It is one of the well-known facts of history that a people loosely united by domestic ties of a political and economic nature, even a people torn by domestic strife, may be welded into a solid and compact body by an attack from a foreign power. The imperative call to common defense, the habit of sharing common burdens, the fusing force of common service – these things, induced by the necessity of resisting outside interference, act as an amalgam drawing together all elements, except, perhaps, the most discordant. The presence of the enemy allays the most virulent of quarrels, temporarily at least. “Politics,” runs an old saying, “stops at the water’s edge."
This ancient political principle, so well understood in diplomatic circles, applied nearly as well to the original thirteen American colonies as to the countries of Europe. The necessity for common defense, if not equally great, was certainly always pressing. Though it has long been the practice to speak of the early settlements as founded in “a wilderness,” this was not actually the case. From the earliest days of Jamestown on through the years, the American people were confronted by dangers from without. All about their tiny settlements were Indians, growing more and more hostile as the frontier advanced and as sharp conflicts over land aroused angry passions. To the south and west was the power of Spain, humiliated, it is true, by the disaster to the Armada, but still presenting an imposing front to the British empire. To the north and west were the French, ambitious, energetic, imperial in temper, and prepared to contest on land and water the advance of British dominion in America.
Indian Affairs. – It is difficult to make general statements about the relations of the colonists to the Indians. The problem was presented in different shape in different sections of America. It was not handled according to any coherent or uniform plan by the British government, which alone could speak for all the provinces at the same time. Neither did the proprietors and the governors who succeeded one another, in an irregular train, have the consistent policy or the matured experience necessary for dealing wisely with Indian matters. As the difficulties arose mainly on the frontiers, where the restless and pushing pioneers were making their way with gun and ax, nearly everything that happened was the result of chance rather than of calculation. A personal quarrel between traders and an Indian, a jug of whisky, a keg of gunpowder, the exchange of guns for furs, personal treachery, or a flash of bad temper often set in motion destructive forces of the most terrible character.
On one side of the ledger may be set innumerable generous records – of Squanto and Samoset teaching the Pilgrims the ways of the wilds; of Roger Williams buying his lands from the friendly natives; or of William Penn treating with them on his arrival in America. On the other side of the ledger must be recorded many a cruel and bloody conflict as the frontier rolled westward with deadly precision. The Pequots on the Connecticut border, sensing their doom, fell upon the tiny settlements with awful fury in 1637 only to meet with equally terrible punishment. A generation later, King Philip, son of Massasoit, the friend of the Pilgrims, called his tribesmen to a war of extermination which brought the strength of all New England to the field and ended in his own destruction. In New York, the relations with the Indians, especially with the Algonquins and the Mohawks, were marked by periodic and desperate wars. Virginia and her Southern neighbors suffered as did New England. In 1622 Opecacano, a brother of Powhatan, the friend of the Jamestown settlers, launched a general massacre; and in 1644 he attempted a war of extermination. In 1675 the whole frontier was ablaze. Nathaniel Bacon vainly attempted to stir the colonial governor to put up an adequate defense and, failing in that plea, himself headed a revolt and a successful expedition against the Indians. As the Virginia outposts advanced into the Kentucky country, the strife with the natives was transferred to that “dark and bloody ground"; while to the southeast, a desperate struggle with the Tuscaroras called forth the combined forces of the two Carolinas and Virginia.
From such horrors New Jersey and Delaware were saved on account of their geographical location. Pennsylvania, consistently following a policy of conciliation, was likewise spared until her western vanguard came into full conflict with the allied French and Indians. Georgia, by clever negotiations and treaties of alliance, managed to keep on fair terms with her belligerent Cherokees and Creeks. But neither diplomacy nor generosity could stay the inevitable conflict as the frontier advanced, especially after the French soldiers enlisted the Indians in their imperial enterprises. It was then that desultory fighting became general warfare.
Early Relations with the French. – During the first decades of French exploration and settlement in the St. Lawrence country, the English colonies, engrossed with their own problems, gave little or no thought to their distant neighbors. Quebec, founded in 1608, and Montreal, in 1642, were too far away, too small in population, and too slight in strength to be much of a menace to Boston, Hartford, or New York. It was the statesmen in France and England, rather than the colonists in America, who first grasped the significance of the slowly converging empires in North America. It was the ambition of Louis XIV of France, rather than the labors of Jesuit missionaries and French rangers, that sounded the first note of colonial alarm.
Evidence of this lies in the fact that three conflicts between the English and the French occurred before their advancing frontiers met on the Pennsylvania border. King William’s War (1689-1697), Queen Anne’s War (1701-1713), and King George’s War (1744-1748) owed their origins and their endings mainly to the intrigues and rivalries of European powers, although they all involved the American colonies in struggles with the French and their savage allies.
The Clash in the Ohio Valley. – The second of these wars had hardly closed, however, before the English colonists themselves began to be seriously alarmed about the rapidly expanding French dominion in the West. Marquette and Joliet, who opened the Lake region, and La Salle, who in 1682 had gone down the Mississippi to the Gulf, had been followed by the builders of forts. In 1718, the French founded New Orleans, thus taking possession of the gateway to the Mississippi as well as the St. Lawrence. A few years later they built Fort Niagara; in 1731 they occupied Crown Point; in 1749 they formally announced their dominion over all the territory drained by the Ohio River. Having asserted this lofty claim, they set out to make it good by constructing in the years 1752-1754 Fort Le Bœuf near Lake Erie, Fort Venango on the upper waters of the Allegheny, and Fort Duquesne at the junction of the streams forming the Ohio. Though they were warned by George Washington, in the name of the governor of Virginia, to keep out of territory “so notoriously known to be property of the crown of Great Britain,” the French showed no signs of relinquishing their pretensions.
The Final Phase – the French and Indian War. – Thus it happened that the shot which opened the Seven Years’ War, known in America as the French and Indian War, was fired in the wilds of Pennsylvania. There began the conflict that spread to Europe and even Asia and finally involved England and Prussia, on the one side, and France, Austria, Spain, and minor powers on the other. On American soil, the defeat of Braddock in 1755 and Wolfe’s exploit in capturing Quebec four years later were the dramatic features. On the continent of Europe, England subsidized Prussian arms to hold France at bay. In India, on the banks of the Ganges, as on the banks of the St. Lawrence, British arms were triumphant. Well could the historian write: “Conquests equaling in rapidity and far surpassing in magnitude those of Cortes and Pizarro had been achieved in the East.” Well could the merchants of London declare that under the administration of William Pitt, the imperial genius of this world-wide conflict, commerce had been “united with and made to flourish by war."
From the point of view of the British empire, the results of the war were momentous. By the peace of 1763, Canada and the territory east of the Mississippi, except New Orleans, passed under the British flag. The remainder of the Louisiana territory was transferred to Spain and French imperial ambitions on the American continent were laid to rest. In exchange for Havana, which the British had seized during the war, Spain ceded to King George the colony of Florida. Not without warrant did Macaulay write in after years that Pitt “was the first Englishman of his time; and he had made England the first country in the world."
The various wars with the French and the Indians, trivial in detail as they seem to-day, had a profound influence on colonial life and on the destiny of America. Circumstances beyond the control of popular assemblies, jealous of their individual powers, compelled among them, grudging and stingy no doubt, but still . The American people, more eager to be busy in their fields or at their trades, were simply forced to raise and support armies, to learn the arts of warfare, and to practice, if in a small theater, the science of statecraft. These forces, all cumulative, drove the colonists, so tenaciously provincial in their habits, in the direction of nationalism.
The New England Confederation. – It was in their efforts to deal with the problems presented by the Indian and French menace that the Americans took the first steps toward union. Though there were many common ties among the settlers of New England, it required a deadly fear of the Indians to produce in 1643 the New England Confederation, composed of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven. The colonies so united were bound together in “a firm and perpetual league of friendship and amity for offense and defense, mutual service and succor, upon all just occasions.” They made provision for distributing the burdens of wars among the members and provided for a congress of commissioners from each colony to determine upon common policies. For some twenty years the Confederation was active and it continued to hold meetings until after the extinction of the Indian peril on the immediate border.
Virginia, no less than Massachusetts, was aware of the importance of intercolonial cooperation. In the middle of the seventeenth century, the Old Dominion began treaties of commerce and amity with New York and the colonies of New England. In 1684 delegates from Virginia met at Albany with the agents of New York and Massachusetts to discuss problems of mutual defense. A few years later the Old Dominion cooperated loyally with the Carolinas in defending their borders against Indian forays.
The Albany Plan of Union. – An attempt at a general colonial union was made in 1754. On the suggestion of the Lords of Trade in England, a conference was held at Albany to consider Indian relations, to devise measures of defense against the French, and to enter into “articles of union and confederation for the general defense of his Majesty’s subjects and interests in North America as well in time of peace as of war.” New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were represented. After a long discussion, a plan of union, drafted mainly, it seems, by Benjamin Franklin, was adopted and sent to the colonies and the crown for approval. The colonies, jealous of their individual rights, refused to accept the scheme and the king disapproved it for the reason, Franklin said, that it had “too much weight in the democratic part of the constitution.” Though the Albany union failed, the document is still worthy of study because it forecast many of the perplexing problems that were not solved until thirty-three years afterward, when another convention of which also Franklin was a member drafted the Constitution of the United States.
The Military Education of the Colonists. – The same wars that showed the provincials the meaning of union likewise instructed them in the art of defending their institutions. Particularly was this true of the last French and Indian conflict, which stretched all the way from Maine to the Carolinas and made heavy calls upon them all for troops. The answer, it is admitted, was far from satisfactory to the British government and the conduct of the militiamen was far from professional; but thousands of Americans got a taste, a strong taste, of actual fighting in the field. Men like George Washington and Daniel Morgan learned lessons that were not forgotten in after years. They saw what American militiamen could do under favorable circumstances and they watched British regulars operating on American soil. “This whole transaction,” shrewdly remarked Franklin of Braddock’s campaign, “gave us Americans the first suspicion that our exalted ideas of the prowess of British regular troops had not been well founded.” It was no mere accident that the Virginia colonel who drew his sword under the elm at Cambridge and took command of the army of the Revolution was the brave officer who had “spurned the whistle of bullets” at the memorable battle in western Pennsylvania.
Financial Burdens and Commercial Disorder. – While the provincials were learning lessons in warfare they were also paying the bills. All the conflicts were costly in treasure as in blood. King Philip’s war left New England weak and almost bankrupt. The French and Indian struggle was especially expensive. The twenty-five thousand men put in the field by the colonies were sustained only by huge outlays of money. Paper currency streamed from the press and debts were accumulated. Commerce was driven from its usual channels and prices were enhanced. When the end came, both England and America were staggering under heavy liabilities, and to make matters worse there was a fall of prices accompanied by a commercial depression which extended over a period of ten years. It was in the midst of this crisis that measures of taxation had to be devised to pay the cost of the war, precipitating the quarrel which led to American independence.
The Expulsion of French Power from North America. – The effects of the defeat administered to France, as time proved, were difficult to estimate. Some British statesmen regarded it as a happy circumstance that the colonists, already restive under their administration, had no foreign power at hand to aid them in case they struck for independence. American leaders, on the other hand, now that the soldiers of King Louis were driven from the continent, thought that they had no other country to fear if they cast off British sovereignty. At all events, France, though defeated, was not out of the sphere of American influence; for, as events proved, it was the fortunate French alliance negotiated by Franklin that assured the triumph of American arms in the War of the Revolution.
It was neither the Indian wars nor the French wars that finally brought forth American nationality. That was the product of the long strife with the mother country which culminated in union for the war of independence. The forces that created this nation did not operate in the colonies alone. The character of the English sovereigns, the course of events in English domestic politics, and English measures of control over the colonies – executive, legislative, and judicial – must all be taken into account.
The Last of the Stuarts. – The struggles between Charles I (1625-49) and the parliamentary party and the turmoil of the Puritan régime (1649-60) so engrossed the attention of Englishmen at home that they had little time to think of colonial policies or to interfere with colonial affairs. The restoration of the monarchy in 1660, accompanied by internal peace and the increasing power of the mercantile classes in the House of Commons, changed all that. In the reign of Charles II (1660-85), himself an easy-going person, the policy of regulating trade by act of Parliament was developed into a closely knit system and powerful agencies to supervise the colonies were created. At the same time a system of stricter control over the dominions was ushered in by the annulment of the old charter of Massachusetts which conferred so much self-government on the Puritans.
Charles’ successor, James II, a man of sterner stuff and jealous of his authority in the colonies as well as at home, continued the policy thus inaugurated and enlarged upon it. If he could have kept his throne, he would have bent the Americans under a harsh rule or brought on in his dominions a revolution like that which he precipitated at home in 1688. He determined to unite the Northern colonies and introduce a more efficient administration based on the pattern of the royal provinces. He made a martinet, Sir Edmund Andros, governor of all New England, New York, and New Jersey. The charter of Massachusetts, annulled in the last days of his brother’s reign, he continued to ignore, and that of Connecticut would have been seized if it had not been spirited away and hidden, according to tradition, in a hollow oak.
For several months, Andros gave the Northern colonies a taste of ill-tempered despotism. He wrung quit rents from land owners not accustomed to feudal dues; he abrogated titles to land where, in his opinion, they were unlawful; he forced the Episcopal service upon the Old South Church in Boston; and he denied the writ of habeas corpus to a preacher who denounced taxation without representation. In the middle of his arbitrary course, however, his hand was stayed. The news came that King James had been dethroned by his angry subjects, and the people of Boston, kindling a fire on Beacon Hill, summoned the countryside to dispose of Andros. The response was prompt and hearty. The hated governor was arrested, imprisoned, and sent back across the sea under guard.
The overthrow of James, followed by the accession of William and Mary and by assured parliamentary supremacy, had an immediate effect in the colonies. The new order was greeted with thanksgiving. Massachusetts was given another charter which, though not so liberal as the first, restored the spirit if not the entire letter of self-government. In the other colonies where Andros had been operating, the old course of affairs was resumed.
The Indifference of the First Two Georges. – On the death in 1714 of Queen Anne, the successor of King William, the throne passed to a Hanoverian prince who, though grateful for English honors and revenues, was more interested in Hanover than in England. George I and George II, whose combined reigns extended from 1714 to 1760, never even learned to speak the English language, at least without an accent. The necessity of taking thought about colonial affairs bored both of them so that the stoutest defender of popular privileges in Boston or Charleston had no ground to complain of the exercise of personal prerogatives by the king. Moreover, during a large part of this period, the direction of affairs was in the hands of an astute leader, Sir Robert Walpole, who betrayed his somewhat cynical view of politics by adopting as his motto: “Let sleeping dogs lie.” He revealed his appreciation of popular sentiment by exclaiming: “I will not be the minister to enforce taxes at the expense of blood.” Such kings and such ministers were not likely to arouse the slumbering resistance of the thirteen colonies across the sea.
Control of the Crown over the Colonies. – While no English ruler from James II to George III ventured to interfere with colonial matters personally, constant control over the colonies was exercised by royal officers acting under the authority of the crown. Systematic supervision began in 1660, when there was created by royal order a committee of the king’s council to meet on Mondays and Thursdays of each week to consider petitions, memorials, and addresses respecting the plantations. In 1696 a regular board was established, known as the “Lords of Trade and Plantations,” which continued, until the American Revolution, to scrutinize closely colonial business. The chief duties of the board were to examine acts of colonial legislatures, to recommend measures to those assemblies for adoption, and to hear memorials and petitions from the colonies relative to their affairs.
The methods employed by this board were varied. All laws passed by American legislatures came before it for review as a matter of routine. If it found an act unsatisfactory, it recommended to the king the exercise of his veto power, known as the royal disallowance. Any person who believed his personal or property rights injured by a colonial law could be heard by the board in person or by attorney; in such cases it was the practice to hear at the same time the agent of the colony so involved. The royal veto power over colonial legislation was not, therefore, a formal affair, but was constantly employed on the suggestion of a highly efficient agency of the crown. All this was in addition to the powers exercised by the governors in the royal provinces.
Judicial Control. – Supplementing this administrative control over the colonies was a constant supervision by the English courts of law. The king, by virtue of his inherent authority, claimed and exercised high appellate powers over all judicial tribunals in the empire. The right of appeal from local courts, expressly set forth in some charters, was, on the eve of the Revolution, maintained in every colony. Any subject in England or America, who, in the regular legal course, was aggrieved by any act of a colonial legislature or any decision of a colonial court, had the right, subject to certain regulations, to carry his case to the king in council, forcing his opponent to follow him across the sea. In the exercise of appellate power, the king in council acting as a court could, and frequently did, declare acts of colonial legislatures duly enacted and approved, null and void, on the ground that they were contrary to English law.
Imperial Control in Operation. – Day after day, week after week, year after year, the machinery for political and judicial control over colonial affairs was in operation. At one time the British governors in the colonies were ordered not to approve any colonial law imposing a duty on European goods imported in English vessels. Again, when North Carolina laid a tax on peddlers, the council objected to it as “restrictive upon the trade and dispersion of English manufactures throughout the continent.” At other times, Indian trade was regulated in the interests of the whole empire or grants of lands by a colonial legislature were set aside. Virginia was forbidden to close her ports to North Carolina lest there should be retaliation.
In short, foreign and intercolonial trade were subjected to a control higher than that of the colony, foreshadowing a day when the Constitution of the United States was to commit to Congress the power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce and commerce with the Indians. A superior judicial power, towering above that of the colonies, as the Supreme Court at Washington now towers above the states, kept the colonial legislatures within the metes and bounds of established law. In the thousands of appeals, memorials, petitions, and complaints, and the rulings and decisions upon them, were written the real history of British imperial control over the American colonies.
So great was the business before the Lords of Trade that the colonies had to keep skilled agents in London to protect their interests. As common grievances against the operation of this machinery of control arose, there appeared in each colony a considerable body of men, with the merchants in the lead, who chafed at the restraints imposed on their enterprise. Only a powerful blow was needed to weld these bodies into a common mass nourishing the spirit of colonial nationalism. When to the repeated minor irritations were added general and sweeping measures of Parliament applying to every colony, the rebound came in the Revolution.
Parliamentary Control over Colonial Affairs. – As soon as Parliament gained in power at the expense of the king, it reached out to bring the American colonies under its sway as well. Between the execution of Charles I and the accession of George III, there was enacted an immense body of legislation regulating the shipping, trade, and manufactures of America. All of it, based on the “mercantile” theory then prevalent in all countries of Europe, was designed to control the overseas plantations in such a way as to foster the commercial and business interests of the mother country, where merchants and men of finance had got the upper hand. According to this theory, the colonies of the British empire should be confined to agriculture and the production of raw materials, and forced to buy their manufactured goods of England.
The Navigation Acts. – In the first rank among these measures of British colonial policy must be placed the navigation laws framed for the purpose of building up the British merchant marine and navy – arms so essential in defending the colonies against the Spanish, Dutch, and French. The beginning of this type of legislation was made in 1651 and it was worked out into a system early in the reign of Charles II (1660-85).
The Navigation Acts, in effect, gave a monopoly of colonial commerce to British ships. No trade could be carried on between Great Britain and her dominions save in vessels built and manned by British subjects. No European goods could be brought to America save in the ships of the country that produced them or in English ships. These laws, which were almost fatal to Dutch shipping in America, fell with severity upon the colonists, compelling them to pay higher freight rates. The adverse effect, however, was short-lived, for the measures stimulated shipbuilding in the colonies, where the abundance of raw materials gave the master builders of America an advantage over those of the mother country. Thus the colonists in the end profited from the restrictive policy written into the Navigation Acts.
The Acts against Manufactures. – The second group of laws was deliberately aimed to prevent colonial industries from competing too sharply with those of England. Among the earliest of these measures may be counted the Woolen Act of 1699, forbidding the exportation of woolen goods from the colonies and even the woolen trade between towns and colonies. When Parliament learned, as the result of an inquiry, that New England and New York were making thousands of hats a year and sending large numbers annually to the Southern colonies and to Ireland, Spain, and Portugal, it enacted in 1732 a law declaring that “no hats or felts, dyed or undyed, finished or unfinished” should be “put upon any vessel or laden upon any horse or cart with intent to export to any place whatever.” The effect of this measure upon the hat industry was almost ruinous. A few years later a similar blow was given to the iron industry. By an act of 1750, pig and bar iron from the colonies were given free entry to England to encourage the production of the raw material; but at the same time the law provided that “no mill or other engine for slitting or rolling of iron, no plating forge to work with a tilt hammer, and no furnace for making steel” should be built in the colonies. As for those already built, they were declared public nuisances and ordered closed. Thus three important economic interests of the colonists, the woolen, hat, and iron industries, were laid under the ban.
The Trade Laws. – The third group of restrictive measures passed by the British Parliament related to the sale of colonial produce. An act of 1663 required the colonies to export certain articles to Great Britain or to her dominions alone; while sugar, tobacco, and ginger consigned to the continent of Europe had to pass through a British port paying custom duties and through a British merchant’s hands paying the usual commission. At first tobacco was the only one of the “enumerated articles” which seriously concerned the American colonies, the rest coming mainly from the British West Indies. In the course of time, however, other commodities were added to the list of enumerated articles, until by 1764 it embraced rice, naval stores, copper, furs, hides, iron, lumber, and pearl ashes. This was not all. The colonies were compelled to bring their European purchases back through English ports, paying duties to the government and commissions to merchants again.
The Molasses Act. – Not content with laws enacted in the interest of English merchants and manufacturers, Parliament sought to protect the British West Indies against competition from their French and Dutch neighbors. New England merchants had long carried on a lucrative trade with the French islands in the West Indies and Dutch Guiana, where sugar and molasses could be obtained in large quantities at low prices. Acting on the protests of English planters in the Barbadoes and Jamaica, Parliament, in 1733, passed the famous Molasses Act imposing duties on sugar and molasses imported into the colonies from foreign countries – rates which would have destroyed the American trade with the French and Dutch if the law had been enforced. The duties, however, were not collected. The molasses and sugar trade with the foreigners went on merrily, smuggling taking the place of lawful traffic.
Effect of the Laws in America. – As compared with the strict monopoly of her colonial trade which Spain consistently sought to maintain, the policy of England was both moderate and liberal. Furthermore, the restrictive laws were supplemented by many measures intended to be favorable to colonial prosperity. The Navigation Acts, for example, redounded to the advantage of American shipbuilders and the producers of hemp, tar, lumber, and ship stores in general. Favors in British ports were granted to colonial producers as against foreign competitors and in some instances bounties were paid by England to encourage colonial enterprise. Taken all in all, there is much justification in the argument advanced by some modern scholars to the effect that the colonists gained more than they lost by British trade and industrial legislation. Certainly after the establishment of independence, when free from these old restrictions, the Americans found themselves handicapped by being treated as foreigners rather than favored traders and the recipients of bounties in English markets.
Be that as it may, it appears that the colonists felt little irritation against the mother country on account of the trade and navigation laws enacted previous to the close of the French and Indian war. Relatively few were engaged in the hat and iron industries as compared with those in farming and planting, so that England’s policy of restricting America to agriculture did not conflict with the interests of the majority of the inhabitants. The woolen industry was largely in the hands of women and carried on in connection with their domestic duties, so that it was not the sole support of any considerable number of people.
As a matter of fact, moreover, the restrictive laws, especially those relating to trade, were not rigidly enforced. Cargoes of tobacco were boldly sent to continental ports without even so much as a bow to the English government, to which duties should have been paid. Sugar and molasses from the French and Dutch colonies were shipped into New England in spite of the law. Royal officers sometimes protested against smuggling and sometimes connived at it; but at no time did they succeed in stopping it. Taken all in all, very little was heard of “the galling restraints of trade” until after the French war, when the British government suddenly entered upon a new course.
In the period between the landing of the English at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, and the close of the French and Indian war in 1763 – a period of a century and a half – a new nation was being prepared on this continent to take its place among the powers of the earth. It was an epoch of migration. Western Europe contributed emigrants of many races and nationalities. The English led the way. Next to them in numerical importance were the Scotch-Irish and the Germans. Into the melting pot were also cast Dutch, Swedes, French, Jews, Welsh, and Irish. Thousands of negroes were brought from Africa to till Southern fields or labor as domestic servants in the North.
Why did they come? The reasons are various. Some of them, the Pilgrims and Puritans of New England, the French Huguenots, Scotch-Irish and Irish, and the Catholics of Maryland, fled from intolerant governments that denied them the right to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences. Thousands came to escape the bondage of poverty in the Old World and to find free homes in America. Thousands, like the negroes from Africa, were dragged here against their will. The lure of adventure appealed to the restless and the lure of profits to the enterprising merchants.
How did they come? In some cases religious brotherhoods banded together and borrowed or furnished the funds necessary to pay the way. In other cases great trading companies were organized to found colonies. Again it was the wealthy proprietor, like Lord Baltimore or William Penn, who undertook to plant settlements. Many immigrants were able to pay their own way across the sea. Others bound themselves out for a term of years in exchange for the cost of the passage. Negroes were brought on account of the profits derived from their sale as slaves.
Whatever the motive for their coming, however, they managed to get across the sea. The immigrants set to work with a will. They cut down forests, built houses, and laid out fields. They founded churches, schools, and colleges. They set up forges and workshops. They spun and wove. They fashioned ships and sailed the seas. They bartered and traded. Here and there on favorable harbors they established centers of commerce – Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston. As soon as a firm foothold was secured on the shore line they pressed westward until, by the close of the colonial period, they were already on the crest of the Alleghanies.
Though they were widely scattered along a thousand miles of seacoast, the colonists were united in spirit by many common ties. The major portion of them were Protestants. The language, the law, and the literature of England furnished the basis of national unity. Most of the colonists were engaged in the same hard task; that of conquering a wilderness. To ties of kinship and language were added ties created by necessity. They had to unite in defense; first, against the Indians and later against the French. They were all subjects of the same sovereign – the king of England. The English Parliament made laws for them and the English government supervised their local affairs, their trade, and their manufactures. Common forces assailed them. Common grievances vexed them. Common hopes inspired them.
Many of the things which tended to unite them likewise tended to throw them into opposition to the British Crown and Parliament. Most of them were freeholders; that is, farmers who owned their own land and tilled it with their own hands. A free soil nourished the spirit of freedom. The majority of them were Dissenters, critics, not friends, of the Church of England, that stanch defender of the British monarchy. Each colony in time developed its own legislature elected by the voters; it grew accustomed to making laws and laying taxes for itself. Here was a people learning self-reliance and self-government. The attempts to strengthen the Church of England in America and the transformation of colonies into royal provinces only fanned the spirit of independence which they were designed to quench.
Nevertheless, the Americans owed much of their prosperity to the assistance of the government that irritated them. It was the protection of the British navy that prevented Holland, Spain, and France from wiping out their settlements. Though their manufacture and trade were controlled in the interests of the mother country, they also enjoyed great advantages in her markets. Free trade existed nowhere upon the earth; but the broad empire of Britain was open to American ships and merchandise. It could be said, with good reason, that the disadvantages which the colonists suffered through British regulation of their industry and trade were more than offset by the privileges they enjoyed. Still that is somewhat beside the point, for mere economic advantage is not necessarily the determining factor in the fate of peoples. A thousand circumstances had helped to develop on this continent a nation, to inspire it with a passion for independence, and to prepare it for a destiny greater than that of a prosperous dominion of the British empire. The economists, who tried to prove by logic unassailable that America would be richer under the British flag, could not change the spirit of Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, or George Washington.
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