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The European explorers who followed Christopher Columbus to North America in the sixteenth century had no notion of founding a new nation. Neither did the first European settlers who peopled the thirteen English colonies on the eastern shores of the continent in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.THE AMERICAN PAGEANT PDF

These original colonists may have fled poverty or religious persecution in the Old World, but they continued to view themselves as Europeans, and as subjects of the English king. They regarded America as but the western rim of a transatlantic European world.


Yet life in the New World made the colonists different from their European cousins, and eventually, during the American Revo- lution, the Americans came to embrace a vision of their country as an independent nation.

How did this epochal transformation come about? How did the colonists overcome the conflicts that divided them, unite against Britain, and declare themselves at great cost to be an “American” people? They had much in common to begin with. Most were English- speaking.

Most came determined to create an agricultural society modeled on English customs. Conditions in the New World deepened their common bonds. Most learned to live lives unfettered by the tyrannies of royal authority, official religion, and social hierarchies that they had left behind.

They grew to cherish ideals that became synonymous with American life—reverence for individual liberty, self-government, religious tolerance, and economic opportunity. They also commonly displayed a willingness to subjugate outsiders—first Indians, who were nearly annihilated through war and disease, and then Africans, who were brought in chains to serve as slave labor, especially on the tobacco, rice, and indigo plantations of the southern colonies.

But if the settlement experience gave people a common stock of values, both good and bad, it also divided them. The thirteen colonies were quite different from one another. Puritans carved tight pious, and relatively democratic communities of small family farms out of rocky-soiled New England.(THE AMERICAN PAGEANT PDF)

Theirs was a homogeneous world in comparison to most of the southern colonies, where large land holders, mostly Anglicans, built plantations along the coast from which they lorded over a labor force of black slaves and looked down upon the poor white farmers who settled the backcountry. Different still were the middle colonies stretching from  New York to Delaware.

There diversity reigned. Well- to-do merchants put their stamp on New York City, as Quakers did on Philadelphia, while out in the countryside sprawling estates were interspersed with modest homesteads. Within individual colonies, conflicts festered over economic interests, ethnic rivalries, and religious practices. (THE AMERICAN PAGEANT PDF)

All those clashes made it difficult for colonists to imagine that they were a single people with a common destiny, much less that they ought to break free from Britain. The American colonists in fact had little reason to complain about Britain. Each of the thir- teen colonies enjoyed a good deal of selfrule.

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Many colonists profited from trade within the British Empire. But by the 1760s, this stable arrangement began to crumble, a victim of the imperial rivalry between France and Britain. Their struggle for supremacy in  North America began in the late seventeenth century and finally dragged in the colonists during the French and Indian War from 1756 to 1763.

That war in one sense strengthened ties wit Britain, since colonial militias fought triumphantly alongside the British army against their mutual French and Indian enemies.  But by driving the French from the North American continent, the British made themselves less indis pensable to the American colonies.(THE AMERICAN PAGEANT PDF)

More important still, after 1763 a financially overstretched British government made the fateful choice of imposing taxes on colonies that had been accustomed to answering mainly to their own colonial assemblies. By the 1770s issues of taxation, self-rule, and trade restrictions brought the crisis of imperial authority to a head.

Although as late as 1775 most people in the colonies clung to the hope of some kind of accommodation short of outright independence, royal intransigence soon thrust the colonists into a war of independence that neither antagonist could have anticipated just a few years before.

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