, Research Paper
The Colonies by 1763, on the Verge of RevolutionChanges in religion, politics, and social structures illustrate the Americanization of the transplanted Europeans. The colonies were evolving into something very different from their mother country. They were becoming more diverse, tolerant, and independent. These characteristics helped bring about the American Revolution and also aided America in governing themselves in the future. Different people and groups founded the colonies of British North America, at different times, and for different reasons. There was no “master plan” to create a large, organized political entity called British North America; it just evolved that way. This diversity was not just political, although there were several types of colonies; it was also religious, ethnic, and cultural. To be sure, the diversity of colonial life may look like various kinds of vanilla to a citizen of the United States, circa 2000, but it was considerable and remarkable in the view of any European visitor to the American colonies.In a similar economic revolution, the colonies outgrew their mercantile relationship with the mother country and developed an expanding capitalist system on their own. What exactly is capitalism? An economic system characterized by freedom of the market with increasing concentration of private and corporate ownership of production and distribution means, proportionate to increasing accumulation and reinvestment of profits. This developed in the colonies obviously through the southern plantations and through the industrial north. Farming was a major capitalistic institute.Building on English foundations of political liberty, the colonists extended the concepts of liberty and self-government far beyond those envisioned in the mother country. The colonies were the first “new” societies in thousands of years of European history. The colonists who came to the Americas knew that they were taking part in the founding of new societies, the success of which was not foreordained by any stretch of the imagination. They remembered the Roanoke experiment (1584) in present-day North Carolina, and several other, less famous failed colonial ventures. They knew about the appalling loss of life in the first years of the Jamestown colony (1607) and the Plymouth colony (1620). This element of variance is captured in the very word “colonial.” The idea of being “colonial” is inextricably bound up with the political and constitutional status of the colonies as appendages of England.By 1763, although some colonies still maintained established churches, other colonies had accomplished a virtual revolution for religious toleration and separation of church and state. It is still a matter of vigorous historical and jurisprudential dispute what an “established church” was in the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods. History, in this as in so many other cases, mingles uncomfortably with constitutional law because those who seek to interpret the religion clauses of the First Amendment often have recourse to the history of religion, and of religion’s relationship with government, during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods. For this reason, this issue requires somewhat extended treatment here. Although the old conventional wisdom has it that the religious dissenters came to the colonies to seek religious liberty, the newer conventional wisdom notes, correctly, that the dissenters sought that liberty for themselves and were at times notably harsh on those who wanted religious liberty for views differing from those of the majority religious group. At the same time, some colonies (Rhode Island, New York, and Pennsylvania) practiced religious toleration, under which the majority chose to stay its hand rather than slapping down dissident minorities. Religious toleration was thus a very different thing from religious liberty, which recognizes the right to hold different opinions on religious questions.
In contrast to the well-defined and hereditary classes of England, the colonies developed a fluid class structure, which enabled the industrious individual to rise on the social ladder. The British North American colonies coexisted uneasily with a remarkable range of neighbors. First, of course, there were the several Indian nations, whom the colonists sometimes esteemed as friends, sometimes valued as trading partners, and sometimes feared as savage enemies. Second, there were the rival colonies founded by other European nations — the Spanish to the south and west, the French in Canada and the Ohio Valley, the Dutch and Swedes in the mid-Atlantic coastal region. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the colonies of British North America periodically lived in fear of their conquest or annihilation by the French and their Indian allies, and throughout this period the colonists and their British governors and military protectors labored to establish defensive alliances with friendly or neutral Indian nations. A vital point about this subject is that the colonial wars — usually misnamed the “Indian wars” — were almost always adjunct to conflicts between the European powers in Europe. These “Indian wars” were actually the colonial front of “mini-world-wars” fought regularly for a century, and ending (finally) with the Treaty of Paris in 1763 (distinct from the Treaty of Paris of 17 83 that ended the Revolutionary War).Between the settlement at Jamestown in 1607 and the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the most important change that occurred in the colonies was the extension of British ideals far beyond the practice in England itself.