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Towards An American Republic: The Colonial Period


Towards An American Republic: The Colonial Period

Towards An American Republic: The Colonial Period



Keene, C. & O’Donnell (2012). Visions of America: A History of the United States (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.


Chapter 3: Growth, Slavery, and Conflict: Colonial America, 1710—1763.


Explain how and why slavery developed in the American colonies. Why couldn’t colonists use indentured servants as they had in the past? How would you describe the differences between slaves and indentured servants? Towards An American Republic: The Colonial Period

Be sure to use 2 scholarly resources (Citations) and a reference from textbook readings in your answer. Use proper APA format for references and citations to receive full credit.

Week 1 Lesson:

Toward an American Republic: The Colonial Period


The history of the Colonial Period is generally told from the point of view of the politicians and generals who fought for liberty against British tyranny, but there was another revolution besides the political one, and that occurred in the way people regarded church and state. This “evolution” in thinking was a result of the Enlightenment’s new view of reason. A third dimension to colonial history was the influence of religion among the colonists, in particular the influence of Puritanism on American history. These forces of reason and religion would have a powerful impact on American history.

The American Enlightenment:

The American Enlightenment had its roots in the European Enlightenment. One of the chief political theorists was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). A titled Frenchman, Rousseau wrote one of the most influential books in political philosophy, The Social Contract, published in 1762. He agreed with Locke that human beings were free and equal in nature. On the other hand, the state, which was founded on a social contract, gave its citizens basic civil rights (freedom, equality, and property) and a moral purpose – precisely the things they lacked in nature. Morality arose as a function of the “general will” of the people. If each citizen voted on the laws in accord with the general will, then the laws would embody what was best for the whole society. Rousseau’s ideal state had to be relatively small so that all citizens could know each other (he based this on his actual experience in Geneva, Switzerland). Nevertheless, despite these limitations, Rousseau’s ideas had an incalculable influence on thinkers and politicians who had larger states in mind.

Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755), a French nobleman and provincial judge, believed that rule by an enlightened aristocracy would ensure justice and peace. He expressed his most political ideas in The Spirit of the Laws (1748), a work that compares systems of government in an effort to establish basic principles. One enduring idea in his writings is that of separation of powers to prevent despotic rule. Montesquieu admired Locke and England’s parliamentary system and argued that the powers of government must be clearly defined and limited. American philosophers like Madison and Jefferson would adapt these principles in the 1780s when they framed the Constitution.

By the mid-1700s, Britain was a formidable global power. Key reasons for this included its location, support of commerce, and huge gains in territory around the world. The thirteen prosperous colonies in North America were part of this empire. The colonists shared many of the same values as their English counterparts but began to see their destiny separate from Britain. In some cases, Britain neglected to enforce laws dealing with colonial trade and manufacturing. Tension grew when the new king, George III, began to assert his royal power and Parliament passed laws to increase colonial taxes. The colonists began to protest what they saw as taxation without representation. A series of violent clashes with British soldiers intensified the colonists’ anger. Finally, representatives from each colony, including George Washington of Virginia, met in the Continental Congress to decide what to do. In April 1775, colonists fought British soldiers at Lexington and Concord and the American Revolution began.

John Locke (1632-1704)

Philosopher, Englishman. He argued that all people have natural rights that come from God and not monarchs. Locke’s essay, the Second Treatise of Government (1689), is considered the most important single document in the literature of constitutional democracy. Locke is often called the “father of the U.S. Constitution.”

Puritanism and the American Experience

The Puritans who arrived at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1620 were convinced that America was a “new” England and “the conviction remained that this was God’s country with a mission to perform.” These pilgrims believed that the local church (or congregation) had sole authority over the local parish community and saw the Church of England as idolatrous. William Bradford led these independent-minded Englishmen from Holland to Plymouth and spelled out his vision of this new land: “May not and ought not the children of these fathers right say: Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; that they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversity.” John Winthrop later reminded New Englanders that they were to be “a city set upon a hill,” to demonstrate to the world what would happen when people were brought into a covenant with God. The Puritans were convinced that this was God’s “new Israel.” This sense of expectancy and a belief in the divine mission of America would persist throughout American history.

The Great Awakening of the eighteenth century profoundly changed the landscape of American religion. The Great Awakening was a series of religious revivals and conversions that spread rapidly from New England to the Carolinas during the 1730s. Jonathan Edwards was the great theologian of the awakening, and it was Edwards who mapped out his vision of God working in America. But others went out and invented new techniques of conversion. George Whitefield was one of the most famous. Whitefield crossed the colonies from north to south, holding dramatic revivals which brought in hundreds of conversions. What was new was the technique – melodramatic, terrifying, and wonderful all at the same time. Contemporaries said that Whitefield could make an audience weep simply by saying the word “Mesopotamia.” The Great Awakening made American religion a matter of choice. Religion had become a free enterprise in America. It also set the stage for the denominational concept of religion in America. Creeds were not as important as deeds. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, put it best when he wrote: “But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?” This kind of “active” Protestantism would affect all religious groups throughout American history. It led to the establishment of a wide variety of voluntary societies and set the stage for cooperation on the most important issue of the early nineteenth century, the abolition of slavery.

The Puritan commonwealth in New England could not sustain itself as new generations adapted to the American frontier. The Puritans “lost” because they did not convert everyone to their beliefs. They did not succeed in setting up a new Christian commonwealth where only the elect would hold public office. But Puritanism “won” in the sense that it introduced to America an active form of Protestantism, a sense that one should work hard to build up the local community. It also bred into Americans a deep sense of the importance of what they were doing in this life. Additionally, it led to a tradition of learning and education that has persisted throughout American history. The Puritans established Harvard as the first institution of higher learning in the United States in 1636. All of these factors contributed to America’s sense of mission in this world. Towards An American Republic: The Colonial Period

Colonial Timeline

The following timeline traces the gradual settlement of North America from 1492 to the outbreak of revolution in 1775. Please note the significant events that began in 1607, with the first English settlement in America. The events that would follow – and the colonists’ relationship with the English king and Parliament – would ultimately lead to war. While some events, like the Boston Tea Party, are well known, others are less known but significant in that they led to the growing dissatisfaction between the colonists and England. This would lead to the outbreak of war in 1775.

Colonial Period Timeline

Roll over each date below for its events. Use the slider at the bottom to adjust the date range.

1492 1519-1522 1607 1620 1649 1975-1976 1976-1977 1733-1745 1754-1763 1763 1765 1773 1774 1775.

American Experience: The Founding Fathers

If you would like to learn more about the Founding Fathers, visit the following site that contains brief biographies on each of the Founding Fathers:

https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/founding-fathers (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

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