The English colonies on the eastern coast of American can be divided into three groups, the North, the Middle Colonies and the South. They all have very different attitudes but they all came here to America to escape from the oppression back in Europe and to develop a new, democratic country. To establish democracy, they all have to face the same enemy, the British.
Modern democracy involves the right to vote, check and balance, and an elected representative. The main reasons for development of modern democracy in America were religion, wealth, political freedom, pragmatism and secularism.
Religion and political freedom are strongly related to each other because Christianity provided an essential moral foundation for liberal democratic government. The Pilgrims who reached New England in 1620 escaped from religious persecution by the English church and government and the corruptions of Holland. Soon they decided to set up their own government base on Christian ideas, particular the idea of equality. It was one of the early steps towards modern democracy in America. The Pilgrims drew up an important agreement called the Mayflower Compact. The agreement stated that the government would make “just laws and equal” with the consent of the colonists.
In practice this meant that adult male Pilgrims met from time to time to elect a governor and a small group to assist him. The Puritans also hated the hierarchy system in the English church. But comparing to the Pilgrims, the Puritans were more ambitious. They thought it was destiny and God’s will that brought them to America. Religion and the idea of “city upon the hill” caused them to form a democratic government. “City upon a hill” was proposed by John Winthrop. He meant that the new colony would be an example for the rest of the world of how God meant men and women to live. The Puritans should build their city well and it would become a model which England might follow.
Wealth also hindered the movement of democracy. First of all, the colonists in the south went to American hoping to find wealth and success which they found by growing tobacco and slave trade. Once they got wealth, they wanted to protect their property and to gain further profit. The only way to do this is to have a government system where it will concern about people’s self interest. As a result, a democratic government is developed where most issues were approved or discussed by the people before it was passed.
Pragmatism means human taking practical actions to problems. America is a new, strange land to the colonists. The colonists had to be very flexible to cope with the wilderness. Secularism means the exclusion of religious and supernatural beliefs. These two ideas combined to develop another characteristic of modern democracy that is religious freedom. It was first suggested by William Penn, a Quaker. They believed all men are equal no matter what race or what religion they believed in. The Quakers thought religion does not dictate political decisions, though the moral views originating in Christianity remain. Rather then concentrating on the religious aspect, they concentrate on improving their lives in this new country. The Shakers held a similar idea with the Quakers. They believed in “Hands to work, heart to God.” This developed the idea of you can believe in any religion or none at all, with little legal or social sanction, that is the freedom of religion.
The main cause of the American War of Independence is how the British treated Americans after the Seven Years War. The Seven Years War (1756-1763) had the French on one side and Prussia backed by British gold on the other. The Seven Years War was mainly the result of trading rights. The British colonials (Americans) were pinned up against the Atlantic seaboard, with only the Hudson Bay Company in the north challenging the French trading. The colonists were running out of land. British found the need to expand. But doing so, they would enter the Ohio Valley, controlled by France. In the end, France was defeated. Although Britain won the war, they found themselves in an unfavourable situation. The war was longer than the British had expected and was expensive. Even worse, the colonists were moving west. In order to maintain their new land in America British must send troops to protect it, this was another huge spending. Since Britain had defended the thirteen colonies, they thought that the colonists should pay for the troops by various taxes.
Starting from 1763, Britain tried to apply its own policy onto the American colonists. The American colonists were unpleased because the reason why there were here in America was to escape from English rule but now the British government was making decisions, disregarding the assemblies that they established earlier. A few events highlighted the colonists’ resentments and anger toward Britain. In 1764, the Revenue Act was introduced. It stated that colonists have to pay duty for molasses which is used to make rum. It was the first time that the colonists felt the unjust of British rule. The next year, British introduced another tax through Stamp Act. This Act made colonists to buy stamps for newspaper and many other essential items. They even have to buy license for playing cards and dice. The colonists became outrageous, they believed only their assemblies can tax on them, not the London Parliament which is few thousands miles away and they had not much power in it.
The anger towards British rule was intense by Britain demolishing all duties in the Townshend Act apart from tea. The colonists regarded this as a bribe to make them end the boycott with British government so that the British can tax them. As a result, a first actual rebellion was broke out and it was known as the Boston Tea Party. Few colonists disguised themselves as Indians and threw cargos of tea into the harbour. This rebellion alerted the British. The British decided to make a harsher plan towards America. The Intolerable Acts were made in 1774 to gain total control over American colonists. The British block ports and only allow American assemblies to meet once a year. This is the ultimate reason for making the American wanted to go to war with Britain. The Acts caused the colonists to stop all trade with Britain and raise their own troops.
Americans felt that Britain was taking their democracy away by simply ruling them in British way. Under British rule, Americans did not have the right to vote or to elect government. They did not have religion freedom and must follow the English church. They could not have their own trade. The colonists’ feelings could be expressed through the Philosophes’ arguments. As the famous philosophe, Voltaire said, “I disagree with everything you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it!”, he believed that the Church stood in the way of truth by telling people what to believe instead of allowing them to think for themselves. The American extended this idea even further and thought that Britain was in the way of their democracy and that the welfare of the colony and the Empire were not always synonymous. The philosophes also emphasised on human rights and this related to how the American thought when a government does not consent the governed, it should be change.
The colonists fled from the oppression back in Europe and wanted to start a new life. Their religion, ambition and attidtues finally led them to the road to modern democracy. But Britain disregarded their rights and democracy and this is the immediate cause of the American War of Independence.
Courtney from Study Moose
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