Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

established there. Massachusetts, the principal New England colony, was settled by Englishmen who were not content to re-establish in America the institutions that existed in England. These Puritans-so called because they wished to “purify” the English Church from "popish practices”- came to America primarily to establish a society which should be at once State and Church-a “due form of government, as well civil as ecclesiastical”; an ideal or Bible commonwealth which should be pleasing in the sight of God and conformable to His law. In Massachusetts, and this was true of New England as a whole, the unit of settlement was thus the town and the parish, two things intimately related; and this type of settlement was suited not only to the ideal purposes of the settlers, but also to the economic conditions which made Massachusetts a small farming country given up largely to the raising of grain and live stock. Every New England colony, therefore, was at first a collection of little agricultural villages or townships, where the people built their houses around the church, which was the center of community life, and where they distributed their land and managed their affairs in little democratic assemblies of freeholders known as the town meeting.!

Between the New England and the Southern colonies lay the Middle colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. They were in origin the least English of the Colonies. New York was originally settled by the Dutch, from whom it was conquered by England in 1664. Pennsylvania, although founded by the Englishman, William Penn, was from the beginning a refuge for the oppressed of continental Europe as well as for the English Quakers who followed Penn to the New World. More composite in their population, the Middle colonies united in some measure the characteristics of the New England and the Southern colonies; in respect to their origin, the religious motive was more prominent than in the South, but less so than in New England; the small farm was the characteristic economic feature, but the large estate was common in New York; the unit of local government was neither the town, as in New England, nor the county, as in the South, but a combination of town and county.

By the middle of the eighteenth century the population of the Colonies had reached a million and a half, and their increase in wealth was even more marked. The early eighteenth century was a golden age in agriculture and commerce, and in this prosperity the Colonies shared. In nearly every colony there came to be a small group of landowning and commer

a

a

cial families of considerable wealth, closely interrelated by marriage, and forming a little colonial aristocracy which largely controlled the government and legislation of the colony. Rather sharply separated from this aristocracy of “best families” was the class of the “humble folk”—the small farmers, the artisans and mechanics in the towns, and the servant and slave population—who had but little political or social influence. In every colony there was an assembly of representatives chosen for the most part by the property-owners, and largely dominated by the coterie of wealthy families. Aside from the legislative assemblies, which passed laws mainly in the interest of the classes that controlled them, there was in each colony a governor, and in most colonies an executive council which was also usually an upper legislative chamber; but the governors in every colony, except Connecticut and Rhode Island, and in most cases the executive council also, were appointed by the British government and were supposed to represent the interests of the British Empire just as the assemblies were supposed to represent the interests of their particular colonies.

The interests of the British Empire chiefly centered in the trade laws, those regulations which required the Colonies to export certain staple products, such as sugar, tobacco, indigo,

and naval supplies, to Great Britain or to a British colony, and which likewise required the Colonies to import most of the manufactured commodities which they needed from Great Britain. The trade laws were not, for the most part, very serious burdens, for the British

, merchant could not profit by the ruin of the colonial trader, and in the long run regulations prejudicial to either were not very rigidly enforced. The burden of the trade laws fell chiefly upon the poor in England and in the Colonies, since the mercantile system was designed not so much for the advantage of England at the expense of the Colonies, but rather for the special advantage of the upper classes in both countries, the merchants and landowners in England and the Colonies alike.

Under these circumstances, the ruling classes -andowners, merchants, and moneyed men

in the Colonies as well as in England, were greatly interested in the defense and the extension of the Empire. In pursuit of this object England fought a number of wars in Europe during the eighteenth century, mainly against France; and, inasmuch as the English colonies in America were in close contact with the French settlements to the north and west, every war between England and France in Europe was necessarily a war between the English and French colonies in America. What

[ocr errors]

is known in American history as King William's War was but the American counterpart of the war of the League of Augsburg (168597); Queen Anne's War was the counterpart of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13); King George's War was the counterpart of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48); and the French and Indian War was the counterpart of the Seven Years' War (1756-63). In America all of these wars were in fact “French and Indian” wars; in all of them the colonists were expected to defend themselves against the French and against their numerous Indian allies, on land, while the British government furnished them protection on the sea. Every colonial war was a considerable expense to the Colonies; but it was maintained that the defense and extension of the Empire was an advantage to the Colonies no less than to Great Britain.

Of all the colonial wars of the eighteenth century, the most important was the last one, the French and Indian War (1754-63), which was the American counterpart of the Seven Years' War in Europe. In fact, the war broke out in America before it did in Europe, and the immediate cause of the war was the dispute between the French and English in respect to their relative rights to the

« AnteriorContinuar »