Contrast patterns of settlement and expansion in the Chesapeake with those in New England.
Analyze the reasons for and explain the outcomes of rebellion in the colonies of Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York in the period of 1660 to 1700.
Describe and explain the differences between the institution of slavery in England’s Atlantic seaboard colonies and the Caribbean.
Identify the region called the “middle grounds,” and describe how conditions there differed from conditions in the Atlantic seaboard colonies.
Analyze the influence of England’s Glorious Revolution on the North American colonies.
Chapter Overview During the seventeenth century, two colonial systems existed in North America and in the Caribbean. Island and southwestern borderland provinces governed by Spain continued to flourish and provide an interesting counterpoint to colonies established by the British. Before 1660, most British provinces began as private ventures (with charters from the king), but the motives that brought them into being were as varied as the sociopolitical systems they developed. After 1660, proprietary colonies became the norm, and charters indicated a closer tie between the “owners” of the colony and the king, who granted them. As a result of this colonization effort, by the 1680s England had an unbroken string of provinces stretching from Canada to the Savannah River and holdings in the West Indies. As the colonies matured, their inhabitants began to exhibit a concern for control of local affairs and an independence of interests that eventually came to trouble the British Empire. It was a time when colonists began to sense that they were both English and American, a dual personality that was to lead to trouble and confusion on both sides of the Atlantic. The problem was that at the time, the American colonists were developing their own attitudes and institutions. England, fully aware of the potential of its colonies, began to tighten its control of its possessions.
The origins and objectives of England’s first settlements in the New World
How and why English colonies—mainland and Caribbean—differed from one another in purpose and administration
The problems that arose as colonies matured and expanded, and how colonists attempted to solve them
How the Spanish colonial system functioned and thrived, and its impact on the British colonies
Between 1660 and 1700, the American colonies were shaken by a series of “revolts,” of which Bacon’s Rebellion was only one. Compare and contrast the protests that took place in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia, paying special attention to the internal divisions that helped spark the outbursts.
The Creation of the Atlantic World
North American colonies existed in a network of commerce and cultural and social exchange with places all along the Atlantic rim, but especially with Europe. Europe and America were constantly affecting each others’ social and cultural development. For example, while mercantilist policy fostered the development of plantation economies throughout the American South, the commodities produced by those colonial economies, especially sugar and tobacco, revolutionized European habits of consumption. Political development is important in this context as well. For example, the disruption of the English Civil War prevented the English state from imposing on the colonies the kind of centralized control that existed in Spain’s American empire; similarly, the need of the Stuart monarchs to reward loyal supporters led to the creation of proprietary regimes in Maryland and the Carolinas—another deviation from direct royal control over the colonies.
The Empire in Transition
Describe the influence of the Seven Years’ War on British attitudes and policies toward the North American colonies.
Identify the Native American groups who fought in the French and Indian War, and describe the effect of the war’s outcome on these groups and on groups that did not participate in the war.
Describe the change in British attitudes that occurred between the Seven Years’ War and the start of the American Revolution.
Identify the philosophical underpinnings of the colonial revolt against Britain.
Explain the importance of the slogan “no taxation without representation” as a rallying cry for the colonists.
Despite a number of disagreements, by 1763 Anglo-American ties seemed stronger than ever. The colonies had prospered under British rule, had developed local institutions through which they seemed to govern themselves, and with the defeat of France, appeared ready to expand into the heart of the continent. No sooner was the war ended, however, than the British began to alter the pre-1763 system in an effort to make it more efficient and more responsive to control from London. The means chosen to do soenforced regulations to end the illegal trade that had flourished under salutary neglect, plus taxation to pay for the colonial administrationwere seen by the colonists as threats to the way of life they had come to accept as rightfully theirs. Rising in protest, the colonies faced a British government determined to assert its authority, and with neither side willing to give in, the cycle of action and reaction continued. Finally, spurred by a propaganda campaign that characterized the mother country as a tyrant determined to bring America to its knees, the colonies acted. The Coercive (Intolerable) Acts proved the final straw, and in September 1774, twelve of the thirteen British colonies met in a Continental Congress in hopes that a united front would cause London to reconsider and that conflict would be avoided. But it did not work; in the spring, fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord. Although independence was not yet declared, the American Revolution had begun.
How it was that colonists who, for the most part, had enjoyed benefits unattainable by their European counterparts rose in rebellion against the nation that was responsible for their circumstances
How changes in the colonies as well as in England contributed to damaging the imperial relationship beyond repair
Lecture Strategies Improbability of the American Revolution
A useful theme of this chapter is the improbability of the American Revolution. Seen from the perspective of 1754, the prospect of a majority of Americans engaging in concerted action of any kind appeared a dim possibility. The sources of that political improbability were primarily social: the increasing diversity of Americans owing to the divisions of race, religion, ethnicity, and geography. Lectures should emphasize that close correspondence between social and political development. If the American Revolution, viewed from the vantage point of 1754, was an historical accident, the failure of the Albany Plan of Union was not.
Religion and Reason
The First Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s was an event of considerable importance in shaping the outlook of ordinary Americans, and one that will both intrigue and puzzle many students. The Great Awakening attracted many converts among young people, influencing the attitudes and behavior of the men and women who would be the adult leaders of their communities at the time of the American Revolution. That lecture should explore both the possible sources of religious fervor and its consequences, focusing especially on attitudes toward political authority and social order among the new converts. The role of evangelical religion in intensifying sectional differences deserves emphasis as well. A fine source on the revival is Patricia Bonomi’s Under the Cope of Heaven. At the same time, it is important to make students aware of the Enlightenment ideas permeating the educated white male elite, emphasizing rational thought and scientific observation. Obviously these ideas would play an enormous role in the American Revolution.
The topic of crowd actions and the evolution of resistance tactics and extralegal organizations might also merit a lecture. Information about the character and perception of crowds in early modern society will help to establish continuities between the popular uprisings of earlier eras and the political riots of the pre-revolutionary decade. A lecture on this subject will also help students to sort out the various extralegal organizations, to understand their social basis and the dynamics of popular politicization, and to appreciate the ways in which the resistance became institutionalized over time and expanded its influence to inland regions. In addition, students can develop a clearer understanding of the way in which extralegal resistance structures came to function as “shadow governments” as the imperial crisis worsened and royal authority started to come apart. A good source on this subject is Pauline Maier’s From Resistance to Revolution.
Liberty across the Ocean
The Maier book also performs the important service of placing the American resistance within a broader context by discussing the kinship that colonial radicals felt with the “friends of liberty” on the other side of the Atlantic. As early as the 1760s, American leaders became increasingly interested in other movements for political reform, insurrections against oppressive regimes, and wars of liberation occurring elsewhere in the Western world. Just as many radicals in the 1960s admired figures like Che Guevara, Americans lionized the English radical John Wilkes, Irish opponents of English colonialism, and the Corsican patriot Pascal Paoli. As Americans started to see their opposition to Britain as part of a worldwide struggle for liberty, the resistance took on greater legitimacy and significance. Students are probably aware of the influence of the American Revolution on the French Revolution, but it is less well known that agitation against oppressive rule in Europe influenced some Americans in the decade before independence.
There are some excellent primary sources that work well alongside this chapter. There are original sources from which excerpts can be drawn that illustrate colonial social evolution effectively. Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography offers vivid portraits of both English and American society in the middle of the eighteenth century; The Secret Diary of William Byrd affords an intimate record of the life of a Virginia planter and political leader; and Richard Hooker, ed., The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the American Revolution contains an entertaining if idiosyncratic view of the southern frontier, that of Charles Woodmason, an Anglican itinerant.
The “Point of No Return”
Another significant contested issue in the historiography of this era devolves upon identifying the “point of no return” in the imperial crisis: When did the American Revolution become, in some sense, inevitable? It could be argued that the die was cast in 1763 when the removal of the French from the borders of British America obviated the need for the protective umbrella of the empire. Or it could be argued that the outcome was certain in 1765, when the Stamp Act and Grenville’s other measures forced Americans to recognize that Britain did not regard them as political equals and that colonial interests and political ideals diverged substantially from those of the parent country. Or it could be argued that the decisive moment came with the institutionalization of the resistance in response to the Townshend duties. Or that the Coercive Acts, an unmistakable signal that the British would not back down from a confrontation, marked the beginning of the end. Or that the first shedding of blood at Lexington and Concord, followed by Paine’s scathing attack on George III, fatally undermined emotional ties to Britain. All of these possibilities could be aired in class discussion so that students can assess for themselves the seriousness of the resistance at any given stage in the imperial crisis and consider what, if anything, Britain might have done to restore harmony.
The Constitution and the New Republic
Describe the impact of the Constitution of 1787 on resolution of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.
Describe the role that The Federalist Papers played in the debate on the ratification of the Constitution.
List the main tenets of Alexander Hamilton’s financial program.
Identify the diplomatic crises the United States faced during it first decade, and the government’s response to these crises.
Describe the “Revolution of 1800” and evaluate just how it constituted a “revolution.”
The period between 1785 and 1800 was one of the most politically productive in American history. During these fifteen years, the nation, guided by some of the most talented men in its history, reorganized itself under a new framework of government and then struggled to definefor itself as well as for othersjust what had been created. It was a period marked by the rise of a party that called itself Federalist, although the philosophy it espoused was, as its opponents were quick to point out, more “nationalist” in emphasis. Arguing that in order to prosper, the United States had best follow the economic and political example of Great Britain, these Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, injected foreign policy into domestic differences and set the stage for one of the earliest and most serious assaults by the government on individual civil liberties. Seeing their less-elitist, pro-agriculture Republican opponents as supporters of the enemy in an undeclared war with France, the Federalists set out to suppress dissent and those who promoted it. The Federalist assault on liberties brought a swift response and so heightened tensions that many feared that the nation could not survive. It was against this background that a shift of power occurred. By end of the decade, the Federalists, who had been the moving force for so many years, were clearly losing ground to the Republicans. This meant that if wounds were to be healed and divisions mended, it would have to be done by the man many believed to be the personification of all that separated the two groupsThomas Jefferson.
How differing views of what the nation should become led to the rise of America’s first political parties
The way in which the new United States was able to establish itself as a nation in the eyes of foreign powers and of its own people
The rise and fall of the Federalist Party
Lecture Strategies The Confederation and Women
The Confederation period warrants a separate lecture on women because of important changes in their lives ushered in by the Revolution. Although women did not gain political rights—and even lost ground in the realm of property rights during the early national period—they did win both greater rights to divorce and expanded educational opportunities, the latter resulting in a steady rise in female literacy. Equally important, the revolutionary generation of women for the first time openly advanced claims to a political role by contending that they shared with men the capacity for civic virtue and patriotic action. From those claims, thinkers like Mercy Otis Warren elaborated the notion of “republican motherhood” that asserted the crucial political influence of women within their households. All of these developments are an important prologue to the later development of feminist thought and agitation for women’s rights. An excellent source is Linda Kerber’s Women of the Republic.
The Early State Constitutions
The early state constitutions should also receive fuller coverage, and here the best information can be found in the relevant chapters of Gordon Wood’s The Creation of the American Republic. A lecture on the state constitutions and the significance with which they were endowed by the revolutionaries will assist students in seeing the connection between social realities and political behavior in the Confederation period. Because of their social experience as colonials, most Americans did not think “nationally” in 1776. The localism of their outlook and interests, reinforced by the belief that large republics inevitably collapsed into despotism or anarchy, concentrated political attention on state constitutions. It should be emphasized that the founders started thinking through federalism only during the postwar period, not during the Revolution itself.
The Formation of the Constitution
The formation of the Constitution offers a number of lecture topics. A lively description of debates and delegates is available in Clinton Rossiter’s 1787: The Grand Convention and Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier, Decision in Philadelphia, while Forrest McDonald’s most recent book, Novus Ordo Seculorum, provides an excellent discussion of the intellectual origins of the Constitution. Some of the most recent scholarship on specific topics relating to the framing of the Constitution—slavery, religion, the ratification debates, and Antifederalism—appears in Richard Beeman, Stephen Botein, and Edward Carter, eds., Beyond Confederation. In lectures as well as in discussion, the novelty of the Constitution and its departures from the republicanism of 1776 might be emphasized, as well as the ways in which debates at the Constitutional Convention prefigured political controversies that would survive and intensify into the nineteenth century.
The Hamilton and Jefferson Rivalry
A lecture on the growing conflict between Hamilton and Jefferson brings the advantage of combining issues of ideology and substance with personality. Hamilton’s character, his political thought, and his vision of how America should develop are all interesting topics, since he really stood apart from the rest of the founding generation in his political philosophy. John Miller’s biography is an older treatment; Jacob Cooke’s is more recent (both are titled Alexander Hamilton). One of the most striking things about Hamilton’s program is that it split the nationalist leaders of the 1780s, so that Hamilton’s previously close ally, James Madison, quickly assumed leadership of the opposition. One way to explain this development is to examine the specific parts of Hamilton’s program, which groups his policies aided, which groups they hurt, and why. Another interesting question is the role of personalities, particularly the rivalry between Hamilton and Jefferson, in the rise of political parties. You might discuss why Jefferson was a more reluctant party leader than was Madison.
Impact of Foreign Affairs
Also critical to the formation of parties in this society were foreign affairs, particularly the impact of the French Revolution on American politics and diplomacy. Since students may well be a bit hazy on the events of the Revolution, it might be useful to retell the story in outline, in lecture (at least the movement from moderate reform to the Terror, perhaps narrated from the point of view of the news traveling across the Atlantic, bit by bit, each new revelation more violent and surprising than the last). One way to approach this question is to examine why the French Revolution, which Americans initially hailed, became so controversial, and the opposing views that members of each party took toward it. The Revolution thus became a kind of litmus test—a useful indicator of party sentiments. As events across the Atlantic became increasingly entangled with domestic politics, matters came to a head in the bitter struggle over Jay’s Treaty. Attention might be given to why Jay’s Treaty, in which even Washington was disappointed, was so controversial, and how the struggle over its ratification precipitated the formation of party organizations. Unlike earlier debates, divisions in Congress on virtually every important issue now followed party lines.
The Dilemma of the Federalists
The 1796 election heralded the emergence (but not the acceptance) of the two-party system. During the next four years, John Adams confronted serious problems abroad and increasing turmoil and dissent at home. A discussion of Adams’s presidency could conclude with an examination of the causes for the Federalist Party’s defeat in 1800, the significance of Jefferson’s triumph, and the Federalist legacy. The comment of Noah Webster that the Federalists failed to pay sufficient heed to the power of public opinion in a republic could be developed more fully. In addition, the defection of the South and urban workers from the Federalist coalition can be analyzed in terms of the party’s economic program and social policies. You may wish to conclude by highlighting the irony of the Federalist accomplishments. Although the Washington and Adams administrations had set the Republic on a stable course, the Federalists were convinced doom awaited. In the short run, they could not see that the peaceful passing of power from one party to another, without the overthrow of the framework of government, was a crucial test that had been passed.
Teaching Suggestions A Revolt against “Patriarchy” and “Aristocracy”?
It is important to convey to students that most revolutionary political leaders understood equality in terms of a dismantling of the ancien régime and eradicating artificial hereditary legal privilege. Most were strangers to the modern notion of enhancing equality by raising the bottom of society, offering opportunity to previously disadvantaged groups. Students should be encouraged to explore why most members of the revolutionary generation conceived of equality conservatively, particularly since there were so few vestiges of the ancien régime in America. Discussions might also address why the understanding of what constitutes artificial privilege has widened over time, or what understanding of equality is embodied in the proposed Equal Rights Amendment or affirmative-action programs. The work of Mary Wollstonecraft should also provoke lively discussion.
Antifederalists at the Constitutional Convention
There are any number of approaches to discussing the Constitutional Convention, but one promising tack can be pursued by focusing on the Antifederalist opposition. What would be the response today if a similar convention were convened for revising the present Constitution, and if that body departed from its stated purpose as radically as the delegates did in 1787? Were the Antifederalists truer than the framers to the republican principles of the Revolution, with their concern to limit executive power, to preserve the sovereignty of the states, and to protect individual rights from encroachment by the government? Both Cecilia Kenyon and Herbert J. Storing have published excellent collections of Antifederalist writings, from which selections can easily be adapted for collateral readings. Ratification bears consideration as well. Why, in so short a time after the Revolution, were Americans willing to approve a centralized government with strong executive powers? Answering that question will help to impress upon students the extent of uncertainty and disruption during the Confederation period.