The British colonies of North America took their beginnings in the early part of the sixteen hundreds. At that time Virginia and New England became the first regions to be settled by the English. It was the birth of America as a whole, but it also was the beginnings of two distinct ways of life. The colonies were founded on Independence, but from the start there were two completely different ideas of what that Independence was and what it would mean over time. This paper will examine the two conceptions of Independence to the Virginian and to the New Englander.
Using primary documents of the time it will explain how each idea changed over time from settlement to the American Revolution. It will show how the two distinct societies divided so much since settlement came together under a common American theme. It will finally explain why the theme of independence played such a great role in the development of Colonial America and how is a central idea of their culture. The settlements of Virginia started as an economic venture to reap the land of its resources for the mother nation.
It started very slowly due to the lack of preparedness of the colonists and investors. It took sometime before the colony took off. Its first years were filled with death and famine. George Percy worte, “The fourth day of September, there died Thomas Jacob, sergeant. The fifth day, there died Benjamin Beast. Our men were destroyed with cruel diseases, [such] as swellings, fluxes, burning fevers, and by wars, and some departed suddenly, but for the most part they died of mere famine. There were never Englishmen left in a foreign country in such misery as we were in this new-discovered Virginia.
The colonists believed that by coming to the new land they would have a chance for an independent wealthy life. They came on the belief that riches would “fall into their laps. ” The Virginia model of Independence grew out of this original plan of settlement. Economic status became very important after the colony found its savior in Tobacco. The crop was the answer to everyone’s prayers. The high tobacco prices in England brought prosperity to the colonists. The Virginia way was started and thrived on this cash crop. The second biggest influence to the Virginia idea of independence was introduced in 1620.
The slave trade brought the much needed labor to the colony to harvest the great money maker of tobacco and other crops now being produced on large plantations. The rich lived a life based on status and socializing. They owned land and had slaves to work their property. That was the attainable sought after lifestyle of Virginia colonists. The poor farmers hoped to one day reach that kind of lifestyle. It would become the Southern way. William Byrd wrote in his secret diary, “[January] 17. 1712 ] I rose about 7 o’clock and read a chapter in Hebrew and some Greek in Lucian.
I said my prayers and ate boiled milk for breakfast. I danced my dance. When I got up I thought to ride to Falling Creek but the weather threatened snow and the wind northeast, which discouraged me from my journey. About 12 o’clock I went to see John and Tom plant the peach orchard where I stayed till dinner was ready…. I stayed there a little time and then went to take a walk about the plantation to examine what the rest had done and was contented with the overseer’s management…. I said my prayers and had good health, good thoughts, and good humor, thank God Almighty.
This passage is a perfect example of what a Virginian would want in independence. To live a life of status, spend a day not doing work, but reading, socializing, and briefly looking over his business affairs. It was what Virginians believed in. To be independent in Virginia was to be an aristocratic land and slave owner. This view would last up to and through the American Revolution. It was a completely different story in New England compared to that of Virginia. The New England colonies took their beginnings when a group of separatist Puritans settled the Plymouth plantation in 1620.
They were fleeing religious persecution from England and were looking to build a society based on religion and community. William Bradford illustrated the ideals that they would base their society on, “…using amongst yourselves civil government, and are not furnished with any persons of special eminency above the rest…let your wisdom and godliness appear. ” John Winthrop later wrote, Thirdly, that every man might have need of other, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection.
From hence it appears plainly that no man is made more honorable than another or more wealthy, etc. , out of nay particular and singular respect to himself, but for the glory of his Creator and the common good of the creature, man…All men being thus (by divine providence) ranked into two sorts, rich and poor; under the first are comprehended all such as are able to live comfortably by their own means duly improved; and all others are poor according to the former distribution.
There are two rules whereby we are to walk one towards another: justice and mercy…as sometimes there may be an occasion of showing mercy to a rich man in some sudden danger of distress, and also doing of mere justice to poor man in regard of some particular contrast, etc. There is likewise a double law by which we are regulated in our conversation one towards another in both the former respects; the law of nature and the law of grace, or the moral law or the law of the Gospel,” In this passage he shows the moral connections that everyone has to one another through religion and community.
He shows that the New Englander is connected to his neighbor and his bible. He and Bradford show the ideals that were the base for the Puritan society that would be carved in New England. The New Englander sought prosperity and Independence in a different way from their Virginian counterparts. The New Englander was restrained by religious idealism; committed to community before personal “excess”. The New Englander had prosperity in his work ethic and his land. He worked and got back what he needed to be independent.
The New Englander saw independence as living a comfortable Godly life from his own land, not taking excess, and not being dependent on other’s goods or services to survive. As time progressed the New England idea of independence had changed somewhat. After a few generations, the religious theme that was so central gave way to the freeholder/yeomen concept. Religion was still very important to their lifestyle, and would be revived in the first Great Awakening of the 1730’s, but time was changing and with it was the central ideal of New England Independence.
Here he beholds fair cities, substantial villages, extensive fields, an immense country filled with decent houses, good roads, orchards, meadows, and bridges, where an hundred years ago all was wild, woody, and uncultivated! What a train of pleasing ideas this fair spectacle must suggest; it is a prospect which must inspire a good citizen with the most heartfelt pleasure…We are all tillers of the Earth…We are a people of cultivators, scattered over an immense territory…There on a Sunday, he sees a congregation of respectable farmers and their wives, all clad in neat homespun, well mounted, or riding in their own humble wagons.
There is not among them an esquire, saving the unlettered magistrate. There he sees a person as simple as his flock, a farmer who does not riot on the labor of others. ” This passage written by Crevecoeur shows the kind of people who were living in New England. A man who cleared and cultivated land himself, a church going family wearing homespun cloths, and all the congregation being alike in common status. In New England this was independence. To not be rich and not be poor, but in the middle.
The concepts of independence in Virginia and New England were two bipolar ideas. The Virginia model was based on the individual, capitalism, aristocracy, and liberal thinking. The New England Model was based on the community, subsistence, middle class, and traditional thinking. The two could not be any farther from opposite from the beginning and throughout colonial times, yet they were able to unite together in the American Revolution. One of the ideas that helped bring the two differing sides together was the idea of an American.
They are a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans and Swedes. From this promiscuous breed, that race now called Americans have arisen…In this great American asylum, the poor of Europe have by some means met together, and in consequence of various causes; to what purpose should they ask one another what countrymen they are? Alas, two thirds of them had no country. Can a wretch who wanders about, who works and starves, whose life is a continual scene of sore affliction or pinching penury, can that man call England or any other kingdom his country?
A country that had no bread for him, whose fields procured him no harvest, who met nothing but the frowns of the rich, the severity of laws, with jails and punishments; who owned not a single foot of the extensive surface of this planet? No! Urged by a variety of motives, here they came…they receive ample rewards for their labors; these accumulated rewards procure them lands; those lands confer on them the title of freemen, and to that title ever benefit is affixed which men can possible require. ”
Overtime the citizens of the colonies were unrecognizable as British subjects. They were of many different backgrounds in this new melting pot of a land. They were of a different class as their British counterparts. A wealthy landholder on both sides of the ocean meant two different ideas. These colonists started thinking of themselves differently, now as Americans. They saw themselves as Americans on the idea of Independence. America gave them the Independence they so coveted in both Virginia and New England.
They came here the poor of Europe and are now have a land to call their home. They have become Americans. The other concepts that had helped unite the two ideas together were liberty, and compromise. After a long period of neglect from the metropole, Britain began to take an active role in ruling the colonies. This was difficult having the two bodies so far from each other. The Albany plan of Union, in 1754 says the side of the colonies.
It is proposed that humble application be made an for an act of Parliament of Great Britain, by virtue of America, including all the said colonies, within and under which government each colony may retain its present constitution…a president-general, to be appointed and supported by the crown; and a Grand Council, to be chosen by the representatives of the people of the several Colonies,” The colonies wanted control of themselves under British rule, but it was never granted. Britain wanted and enforced Parlimentary Supreamacy over its colonies and would not grant representation to the colonies.
American colonists believed they were entitled to the “Natural rights of life, liberty, and property. ” This was a major issue with the passage of many taxes and tariffs on the colonies. The Sugar Act, Quartering Acts, Revenue Acts, Tea Act, Coercive Acts, and the most important the Stamp Act of 1765. Were all threats to the very ideals that colonists based their independence on. Sam Adams wrote, “I wish for a permanent union with the mother country, but only in terms of liberty and truth. No advantage that can accrue to America from such a union, can compensate for the loss of liberty.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense stirred emotions all over the nation. “The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind. ” He later says, “A government of our own is our natural right…” They are saying that independence as all Americans see it is being threatened by the crown and their own sovereign government is the only libertarian act that can save the idea of independence. Finally what was so key to the union after the revolution was compromise. As Americans they were all together, but they still differed in greatly in society.
The two sides needed to compromise on many issues such as slavery, representation, authority, and state’s rights to check the distrust they had with each other. The new Constitution was dotted with compromise. Article 1 sec 2, “Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons. ”
This is just one of the many compromises the North and the South put into the Constitution to settle their differences. The whole concept was gloriously independent in idea, and it was. Yet the inherent differences that the two sides had would always be at odds. Though under one nation as Americans, the two factions whose differences began even before their lands were settled would clash time and time again. At the base of every argument and position for both sides was the question of their independence. It would one-day split the nation apart, but the causes would be seen to run much deeper than the actual disputes.
It would always play out the ideas that each region was founded on. Gaining independence that they so coveted as people of America. America is based on Independence; it was founded on it in 1776, as well as, in 1620. Every American is on the mission of living an independent life. It is not a question of what an independent life is, but more of whose independent model one bases his own ideas on. Independence will always be synonymous with American. Every idea or concept since this lands habitation by Europeans has been based on an Independent concept of some sort.
Today we feel the effect of our originators’ views. In the fairly short historical life of America, It has expanded its ideas of independence to a much larger realm of equality and liberty. Every generation of American has had an ideal of what independence is because they are living in the land that was founded on it. Today the remnants of the Virginia and New England models of independence can still be found, however its offspring of American culture is the dominant lasting ideal of independence in America.