Back To CourseHistory 103: US History I
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Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.
Even though there was an ocean between them, European politics shaped the development of American culture, ignited some feelings of unity across the colonies and set the stage for self-government.
First, let's go back to the beginning. All of the 13 colonies had been established under different circumstances, and each of their governments had been chosen by the founders. Soon after Massachusetts was founded, civil war broke out in England, so there was very little oversight of the earliest colonies. Then, in 1660, the monarchy was restored and the new king wasted no time in attempting to put all of the existing colonies under his control, starting with the attempted enforcement of the Navigation Acts.
Back in 1651, Parliament had passed the first of a series of laws that restricted colonial manufacturing and trade. The goal was to discourage economic competition. However, many of the new laws had gone unenforced. Massachusetts, especially, ignored many of the provisions of the Navigation Acts. Besides the fact that the restrictions would have hurt New England's economy, the founders of Massachusetts weren't the type of people to simply accept regulations and circumstances they didn't like. In many ways, it was a battle of wills. The recently-crowned King Charles II needed to prove he was in control, and in 1684, he revoked the Massachusetts charter, making the colony subject to direct royal authority.
But then King Charles II died and his brother, James II, took the throne. Dissatisfied with the way Massachusetts flaunted his authority and concerned about French and Indian threats, King James II created the Dominion of New England. In 1686, the Dominion consolidated Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, New Hampshire and several independent settlements into one large colony. It was to be ruled by a president with an appointed council and no elected representatives.
The colonists were in an uproar. The first president was a Massachusetts native, but upon taking office, he complained that the Puritan leaders became even more resistant to royal authority. Many of the councilors he appointed refused to serve, as did military officers. Soon after, the president was replaced by the extremely unpopular Edmund Andros from England.
Andros set about making everyone in New England angry. First, he demanded that Puritan churches hold services for the Church of England; they refused him. Then, he unified the tax system across all of the colonies. This raised taxes for residents of some colonies. Even though the new taxes were actually lower for Massachusetts, many towns refused to even appoint assessors. In return, Andros restricted town meetings. He attempted to certify all land titles in order to charge rent, but New Englanders were characteristically uncooperative.
In 1687, Rhode Island grudgingly agreed to join the Dominion, but Connecticut was more resistant and continued to operate its colonial legislature. When Andros himself visited the colony to resolve the matter of handing over the colony's charter, the document mysteriously disappeared. Legend holds that it was hidden in a hollow oak tree - the Charter Oak.
In 1688, New York and New Jersey were added to the Dominion of New England, but due to their distance from the seat of power in Boston, the Dominion had less effect on those colonies other than helping to align New York's political sympathies with those of New England. Andros's attempts to negotiate peace following Indian conflict infuriated the residents of present-day Maine and alienated many of the local tribes.
In England, King James II and his officials weren't too popular either - especially because the king was Catholic. Many people were waiting until the day he died and his Protestant daughter, Mary, would take the throne and bring back the Church of England. So, when the king's wife had a son in 1688, citizens feared a catholic dynasty would be created. What followed is now called England's Glorious Revolution. Influential members of the government invited Mary and her Dutch husband to rule England under the condition that they sign a Bill of Rights. They agreed. Facing a Dutch army, King James II fled the country. William and Mary assumed the throne of England jointly and signed the English Bill of Rights, transferring a great deal of power from the monarch to Parliament.
News of the Glorious Revolution reached Boston a few months later. Local leaders arrested Andros (and his supporters) and shipped him back home to England. As the news spread, former colonial leaders deposed royal governors and assumed control of their governments. The Dominion collapsed, and its failure convinced many English authorities that salutary neglect of the colonies might be the best policy.
In the subsequent decades, the colonial assemblies developed into more sophisticated legislatures that took the new English Bill of Rights seriously. By law, representative governments (in this case, the colonial assemblies) were the only legal means through which British citizens could be taxed, and that right could not be suspended without Parliament's consent. When imperial policy conflicted with local interests, the colonial legislatures could simply vote down the taxes that were needed to fund whatever policy the royal governors were trying to enforce.
Meanwhile, England's monarchy focused its efforts on wars with other empires, and several of these conflicts spilled into the New World. American colonists fought on England's behalf four times between 1689 and 1763. However, each war increased resentment in the colonies for two reasons: the lack of respect paid to the American soldiers and the lack of regard paid to the colonies as a whole when it came time to sign treaties. More than once, territory they had fought for and won was returned to France.
Central Europe was also plagued by war throughout the colonial era, fueling a migration from Germany in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Many of these settlers were religious pacifists, seeking a respite from centuries of conflict. Mennonites, Moravians and Amish families accepted Pennsylvania's offer to settle there. Some sought political asylum after being on the wrong side of a conflict. Others simply needed someplace to go after their homes and farms had been destroyed. Some responded to the carnival-style recruitment fairs for indentured servants, promising free farmland, religious tolerance and a fairy-tale life in America.
In 1707, the kingdoms of Scotland and England were combined into the United Kingdom of Great Britain with a single monarch and parliament. This action spurred large-scale immigration from Scotland. Many of the earliest Scots came for religious, economic and agricultural reasons. Then in 1745, a rebellion against British authority failed. The Clan system was overthrown, and rebels were arrested and executed, resulting in another surge of immigration to America - especially to the colonial frontiers. Scottish immigrants tended to be poor but literate, and they influenced American culture due to their sheer numbers. Perhaps most importantly, they brought their Presbyterian religion, providing an alternative to colonists who had turned their backs on the established churches of the English, Dutch, Catholics and Puritans.
Let's review! The American colonies had a lot of independence from the beginning, thanks to a Civil War that kept the English government distracted. When the monarchy was restored, King Charles II tried to crack down on the Navigation Acts by making Massachusetts a royal colony. On his death, his brother, King James II, consolidated all of New England, plus New York and New Jersey, into one colony, called the Dominion of New England. But its leader, Edmund Andros, managed to alienate just about everyone under his authority.
Following England's Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Dominion collapsed, and the colonial assemblies resumed power, bolstered by the English Bill of Rights. Subsequent monarchs continued salutary neglect of the colonies, though many Americans voluntarily took up arms for England in its wars against competing empires. These conflicts drove immigration from Germany, and the newly United Kingdom of Great Britain prompted large-scale immigration from Scotland.
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Back To CourseHistory 103: US History I
13 chapters | 115 lessons | 5 flashcard sets