History Podcasts

The founding of the American Colonies - History

The founding of the American Colonies - History

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Religion and the Founding of the American Republic America as a Religious Refuge: The Seventeenth Century, Part 1

Many of the British North American colonies that eventually formed the United States of America were settled in the seventeenth century by men and women, who, in the face of European persecution, refused to compromise passionately held religious convictions and fled Europe. The New England colonies, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were conceived and established "as plantations of religion." Some settlers who arrived in these areas came for secular motives--"to catch fish" as one New Englander put it--but the great majority left Europe to worship God in the way they believed to be correct. They enthusiastically supported the efforts of their leaders to create "a city on a hill" or a "holy experiment," whose success would prove that God's plan for his churches could be successfully realized in the American wilderness. Even colonies like Virginia, which were planned as commercial ventures, were led by entrepreneurs who considered themselves "militant Protestants" and who worked diligently to promote the prosperity of the church.

The Founding of the American Colonies

The original 13 colonies of America were founded on the eastern coast of what is now the United States between the years of 1607 and 1733. Originally, the colonies belonged to the English, the Dutch, and the Swedish. By the time of the American Revolution, the colonies were all under British control. The 13 colonies were divided into three regions, the New England colonies, which included Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the middle colonies, which included Delaware and Pennsylvania, and the Southern colonies, which included Maryland and Georgia. Each region was founded for a different reason and attracted a different group of people.

The Pilgrims first arrived at what would become the Massachusetts colony in 1620. They named the spot they landed at Plymouth, after the port they left behind in England. In 1628, a group of puritans arrived in the area with a charter from the Council of New England. By 1691, the three separate groups living in the colony united and became the royal colony of Massachusetts.

    - Detailed history of Massachusetts from its beginnings as a colony to the 21st century. - Timeline of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. - Article discussing the religious reasons the colonists came to America.

Colonists began to settle in Rhode Island in 1620, but an official colony was not formed until 1636, when puritan Roger Williams was banned from Salem, MA for his thoughts. Compared to Massachusetts, Rhode Island became a colony for people who wanted to practice religion freely. The colony received a royal charter in 1663. The charter for RI later formed the basis for the Constitution of the US.

    - History of the colony from 1636. - Biography and information on Roger Williams, founder of the RI colony. - A collection of interesting facts and history about Rhode Island.


The colony of Connecticut was originally established by the Dutch in the early 1630s. Thomas Hooker, a puritan minister, arrived in the colony in 1636 and delivered a powerful sermon. Hooker is responsible for founding Hartford, CT. Eventually, the English drove the Dutch out and gained control of CT. The colony received a charter from England in 1662.

    - Early history of CT, from its time before it was a British colony. - Biography of Thomas Hooker, the founder of the colony. - Digital book on the early history of Connecticut.

English colonists first began to settle in New Hampshire in 1623, when it was still a part of Massachusetts. In 1638, John Wheelwright founded Exeter, a settlement, and created the Exeter compact, which was similar to the Mayflower compact created by the pilgrims in MA. New Hampshire officially became a royal colony in 1679. A group of Scots-Irish created a settlement in the colony in 1719.

    - Engaging, short history of the colony and state. - Article on the colonial era of NH. - Information on the four colonies of New England.

The colony of New York was also originally inhabited by the Dutch. It was originally known as New Amsterdam. In 1664, Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch leader, surrendered to the English. The colony was then renamed New York, after the Duke of York.

    - History of the Dutch colonies in America. - A history of the state of NY before 1900. - A timeline for New York City, starting in 1524.

Delaware, the 2 nd smallest state, and the first state to ratify the constitution, has a rocky history. It was first settled by the Dutch in 1631, but that settlement failed. The Swedes then successfully settled the colony in 1638. In 1655, the Dutch took over, then the English in 1664. Control of the colony when back and forth between the Dutch and the English for years, until it became independent in 1701.

    - A brief history of Delaware, from the first explorations in the early 1600s to statehood. - Information and video about the Delaware History Trail, which takes visitors to 36 different sites.

Like New York, New Jersey was originally colonized by the Dutch and part of the New Netherlands colony. It began to be controlled by the English in 1664 after the Dutch surrendered. The colony was originally divided into East Jersey and West Jersey, but these two halves were united in 1702. As a colony, New Jersey was bigger than it is as a state.

The colony of Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, a Quaker, in 1681. Penn was given a charter to found the colony by King Charles II. One factor that distinguished PA from the other colonies was religious freedom. The colony attracted settlers from a number of different beliefs and countries, including Germany.

    - A biography of William Penn. - History of PA before the colonists. - Article describing Penn's vision and plan for PA.

Virginia was the home of the first surviving English colony, Jamestown, founded in 1606. Life in Jamestown was very rough and dangerous and many did not survive. In 1676, the settlement was attacked and almost ruined during Bacon's Rebellion. The colony itself is named for Queen Elizabeth, the virgin queen.

    - The story and reasoning behind the rebellion. - Short biographies of important Virginians. - Describes the founding of the first permanent English settlement.

The colony of Maryland was started in 1633 by Lord Baltimore. It was named for Queen Henrietta Maria. A southern colony on the coast, Maryland was a port colony, known for shipbuilding. It was also known for agriculture.

The banks of North Carolina were the site of the first colonizing attempts by the English. The settlement of Roanoke Island began in the 1500s. Roanoke failed and all the settlers mysteriously disappeared. In 1653, the British tried again, and colonists from Virginia began to move to NC.

South Carolina was first settled by the Spanish in 1526 and was known as San Miguel de Guadalupe. In 1663, King Charles II of Britain gave the colony to his supporters through a charter. The city of Charleston, named after the king, was founded in 1700 by another group of English colonists. South Carolina was a colony valued for its agriculture.

    - History of South Carolina from the time of British rule. - Facts about the four southern colonies, NC, SC, VA, and GA.


The colony of Georgia was started by General James Edward Oglethorpe in 1732. Georgia is named for King George II. Oglethorpe is different from other colony founders because he survived the revolution and was able to see the colonies achieve statehood. Georgia became the fourth state in 1788.

The Southern Colonies

The first "official" American colony was formed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. In 1587, a group of 115 English settlers arrived in Virginia. They arrived safely on Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. By the middle of the year, the group realized they needed more supplies, and so they sent John White, governor of the colony, back to England. White arrived in the midst of a war between Spain and England, and his return was delayed.

When he finally made it back to Roanoke, there was no trace of the colony, his wife, his daughter, or his granddaughter. Instead, all he found was the word "Croatoan" carved into a post, which was the name of a small group of Indigenous people in the area. No one knew what had happened to the colony until 2015, when archaeologists discovered clues such as British-style pottery among Croatoan remains. This suggests that the people of the Roanoke colony may have become part of the Croatoan community.

By 1752, the colonies included North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. The Southern Colonies focused most of their efforts on cash crops including tobacco and cotton. In order to make their plantations profitable, they used the unpaid labor and skills of enslaved Africans.


1651–1748: Early seeds

As early as 1651, the English government had sought to regulate trade in the American colonies, and Parliament passed the Navigation Acts on October 9 to pursue a mercantilist policy intended to ensure that trade enriched Great Britain but prohibited trade with any other nations. [5] [6] The Acts prohibited British producers from growing tobacco and also encouraged shipbuilding, particularly in the New England colonies. Some argue that the economic impact was minimal on the colonists, [7] [8] but the political friction which the acts triggered was more serious, as the merchants most directly affected were also the most politically active. [9]

King Philip's War ended in 1678, which the New England colonies fought without any military assistance from England, and this contributed to the development of a unique identity separate from that of the British people. [10] But King Charles II determined to bring the New England colonies under a more centralized administration in the 1680s to regulate trade to more effectively benefit the homeland. [11] The New England colonists fiercely opposed his efforts, and the Crown nullified their colonial charters in response. [12] Charles' successor James II finalized these efforts in 1686, establishing the consolidated Dominion of New England. Dominion rule triggered bitter resentment throughout New England the enforcement of the unpopular Navigation Acts and the curtailing of local democracy angered the colonists. [13] New Englanders were encouraged, however, by a change of government in England which saw James II effectively abdicate, and a populist uprising in New England overthrew Dominion rule on April 18, 1689. [14] [15] Colonial governments reasserted their control after the revolt, and successive Crown governments made no more attempts to restore the Dominion. [16] [17]

Subsequent English governments continued in their efforts to tax certain goods, passing acts regulating the trade of wool, [18] hats, [19] and molasses. [20] The Molasses Act of 1733 was particularly egregious to the colonists, as a significant part of colonial trade relied on molasses. The taxes severely damaged the New England economy and resulted in a surge of smuggling, bribery, and intimidation of customs officials. [21] Colonial wars fought in America were also a source of considerable tension. The British captured the fortress of Louisbourg during King George's War but then ceded it back to France in 1748. New England colonists resented their losses of lives, as well as the effort and expenditure involved in subduing the fortress, only to have it returned to their erstwhile enemy. [22]

Some writers begin their histories of the American Revolution with the British coalition victory in the Seven Years' War in 1763, viewing the French and Indian War as though it were the American theater of the Seven Years' War. Lawrence Henry Gipson writes:

It may be said as truly that the American Revolution was an aftermath of the Anglo-French conflict in the New World carried on between 1754 and 1763. [23]

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 redrew boundaries of the lands west of Quebec and west of a line running along the crest of the Allegheny Mountains, making them indigenous territory and barred to colonial settlement for two years. The colonists protested, and the boundary line was adjusted in a series of treaties with indigenous tribes. In 1768, the Iroquois agreed to the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, and the Cherokee agreed to the Treaty of Hard Labour followed in 1770 by the Treaty of Lochaber. The treaties opened most of Kentucky and West Virginia to colonial settlement. The new map was drawn up at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768 which moved the line much farther to the west, from the green line to the red line on the map at right. [24]

1764–1766: Taxes imposed and withdrawn

In 1764 Parliament passed the Sugar Act, decreasing the existing customs duties on sugar and molasses but providing stricter measures of enforcement and collection. That same year, Prime Minister George Grenville proposed direct taxes on the colonies to raise revenue, but he delayed action to see whether the colonies would propose some way to raise the revenue themselves. [25]

Grenville had asserted in 1762 that the whole revenue of the custom houses in America amounted to one or two thousand pounds a year, and that the English exchequer was paying between seven and eight thousand pounds a year to collect . [26] Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations that Parliament "has never hitherto demanded of [the American colonies] anything which even approached to a just proportion to what was paid by their fellow subjects at home." [26]

Parliament finally passed the Stamp Act in March 1765, which imposed direct taxes on the colonies for the first time. All official documents, newspapers, almanacs, and pamphlets were required to have the stamps—even decks of playing cards. The colonists did not object that the taxes were high they were actually low. [27] They objected to their lack of representation in the Parliament, which gave them no voice concerning legislation that affected them. However, at the conclusion of the recent war the Crown had to deal with approximately 1,500 politically well-connected British Army officers. The decision was made to keep them on active duty with full pay, but they - and their command - had to be stationed somewhere. Stationing a standing army in Great Britain during peacetime was politically unacceptable, so the next determination was made to station them in America and have the Americans pay them. The soldiers had no military mission they were not there to defend the colonies because there was no existing current threat to the colonies. [28] Benjamin Franklin testified in Parliament in 1766 that Americans already contributed heavily to the defense of the Empire. He argued that local governments had raised, outfitted, and paid 25,000 soldiers to fight France—as many as Britain itself sent—and spent many millions from American treasuries doing so in the French and Indian War alone. [29] [30]

The Sons of Liberty formed shortly after the Act in 1765, and they used public demonstrations, boycotts, and threats of violence to ensure that the British tax laws were unenforceable. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty burned the records of the vice admiralty court and looted the home of chief justice Thomas Hutchinson. Several legislatures called for united action, and nine colonies sent delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in New York City in October. Moderates led by John Dickinson drew up a "Declaration of Rights and Grievances" stating that taxes passed without representation violated their rights as Englishmen, and colonists emphasized their determination by boycotting imports of British merchandise. [31]

The Parliament at Westminster saw itself as the supreme lawmaking authority throughout all British possessions and thus entitled to levy any tax without colonial approval or even consultation. [32] They argued that the colonies were legally British corporations subordinate to the British parliament, and they pointed to numerous instances where Parliament had made laws in the past that were binding on the colonies. [33] Parliament insisted that the colonies effectively enjoyed a "virtual representation" as most British people did, as only a small minority of the British population elected representatives to Parliament, [34] but Americans such as James Otis maintained that they were not "virtually represented" at all. [35]

The Rockingham government came to power in July 1765, and Parliament debated whether to repeal the stamp tax or to send an army to enforce it. Benjamin Franklin made the case for repeal, explaining that the colonies had spent heavily in manpower, money, and blood defending the empire in a series of wars against the French and indigenous people, and that further taxes to pay for those wars were unjust and might bring about a rebellion. Parliament agreed and repealed the tax on February 21, 1766, but they insisted in the Declaratory Act of March 1766 that they retained full power to make laws for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever". [36] The repeal nonetheless caused widespread celebrations in the colonies.

1767–1773: Townshend Acts and the Tea Act

In 1767, the Parliament passed the Townshend Acts which placed duties on a number of staple goods, including paper, glass, and tea, and established a Board of Customs in Boston to more rigorously execute trade regulations. The new taxes were enacted on the belief that Americans only objected to internal taxes and not to external taxes such as custom duties. However, in his widely read pamphlet, Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, John Dickinson argued against the constitutionality of the acts because their purpose was to raise revenue and not to regulate trade. [37] Colonists responded to the taxes by organizing new boycotts of British goods. These boycotts were less effective, however, as the goods taxed by the Townshend Acts were widely used.

In February 1768, the Assembly of Massachusetts Bay issued a circular letter to the other colonies urging them to coordinate resistance. The governor dissolved the assembly when it refused to rescind the letter. Meanwhile, a riot broke out in Boston in June 1768 over the seizure of the sloop Liberty, owned by John Hancock, for alleged smuggling. Customs officials were forced to flee, prompting the British to deploy troops to Boston. A Boston town meeting declared that no obedience was due to parliamentary laws and called for the convening of a convention. A convention assembled but only issued a mild protest before dissolving itself. In January 1769, Parliament responded to the unrest by reactivating the Treason Act 1543 which called for subjects outside the realm to face trials for treason in England. The governor of Massachusetts was instructed to collect evidence of said treason, and the threat caused widespread outrage, though it was not carried out.

On March 5, 1770, a large crowd gathered around a group of British soldiers on a Boston street. The crowd grew threatening, throwing snowballs, rocks, and debris at them. One soldier was clubbed and fell. [38] There was no order to fire, but the soldiers fired into the crowd anyway. They hit 11 people three civilians died at the scene of the shooting, and two died after the incident. The event quickly came to be called the Boston Massacre. The soldiers were tried and acquitted (defended by John Adams), but the widespread descriptions soon began to turn colonial sentiment against the British. This began a downward spiral in the relationship between Britain and the Province of Massachusetts. [38]

A new ministry under Lord North came to power in 1770, and Parliament withdrew all taxes except the tax on tea, giving up its efforts to raise revenue while maintaining the right to tax. This temporarily resolved the crisis, and the boycott of British goods largely ceased, with only the more radical patriots such as Samuel Adams continuing to agitate. [ citation needed ]

In June 1772, American patriots, including John Brown, burned a British warship that had been vigorously enforcing unpopular trade regulations in what became known as the Gaspee Affair. The affair was investigated for possible treason, but no action was taken.

In 1772, it became known that the Crown intended to pay fixed salaries to the governors and judges in Massachusetts, which had been paid by local authorities. This would reduce the influence of colonial representatives over their government. Samuel Adams in Boston set about creating new Committees of Correspondence, which linked Patriots in all 13 colonies and eventually provided the framework for a rebel government. Virginia, the largest colony, set up its Committee of Correspondence in early 1773, on which Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson served. [39]

A total of about 7,000 to 8,000 Patriots served on "Committees of Correspondence" at the colonial and local levels, comprising most of the leadership in their communities. Loyalists were excluded. The committees became the leaders of the American resistance to British actions, and later largely determined the war effort at the state and local level. When the First Continental Congress decided to boycott British products, the colonial and local Committees took charge, examining merchant records and publishing the names of merchants who attempted to defy the boycott by importing British goods. [40]

In 1773, private letters were published in which Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson claimed that the colonists could not enjoy all English liberties, and Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver called for the direct payment of colonial officials. The letters' contents were used as evidence of a systematic plot against American rights, and discredited Hutchinson in the eyes of the people the Assembly petitioned for his recall. Benjamin Franklin, postmaster general for the colonies, acknowledged that he leaked the letters, which led to him being berated by British officials and fired from his job.

Meanwhile, Parliament passed the Tea Act to lower the price of taxed tea exported to the colonies to help the British East India Company undersell smuggled Dutch tea. Special consignees were appointed to sell the tea to bypass colonial merchants. The act was opposed by those who resisted the taxes and also by smugglers who stood to lose business. [ citation needed ] In most instances, the consignees were forced to resign and the tea was turned back, but Massachusetts governor Hutchinson refused to allow Boston merchants to give in to pressure. A town meeting in Boston determined that the tea would not be landed, and ignored a demand from the governor to disperse. On December 16, 1773, a group of men, led by Samuel Adams and dressed to evoke the appearance of indigenous people, boarded the ships of the East India Company and dumped £10,000 worth of tea from their holds (approximately £636,000 in 2008) into Boston Harbor. Decades later, this event became known as the Boston Tea Party and remains a significant part of American patriotic lore. [41]

1774–1775: Intolerable Acts and the Quebec Act

The British government responded by passing several Acts which came to be known as the Intolerable Acts, which further darkened colonial opinion towards the British. They consisted of four laws enacted by the British parliament. [42] The first was the Massachusetts Government Act which altered the Massachusetts charter and restricted town meetings. The second act was the Administration of Justice Act which ordered that all British soldiers to be tried were to be arraigned in Britain, not in the colonies. The third Act was the Boston Port Act, which closed the port of Boston until the British had been compensated for the tea lost in the Boston Tea Party. The fourth Act was the Quartering Act of 1774, which allowed royal governors to house British troops in the homes of citizens without requiring permission of the owner. [43]

In response, Massachusetts patriots issued the Suffolk Resolves and formed an alternative shadow government known as the "Provincial Congress" which began training militia outside British-occupied Boston. [44] In September 1774, the First Continental Congress convened, consisting of representatives from each colony, to serve as a vehicle for deliberation and collective action. During secret debates, conservative Joseph Galloway proposed the creation of a colonial Parliament that would be able to approve or disapprove of acts of the British Parliament, but his idea was not accepted. The Congress instead endorsed the proposal of John Adams that Americans would obey Parliament voluntarily but would resist all taxes in disguise. Congress called for a boycott beginning on 1 December 1774 of all British goods it was enforced by new committees authorized by the Congress. [45]

Massachusetts was declared in a state of rebellion in February 1775 and the British garrison received orders to disarm the rebels and arrest their leaders, leading to the Battles of Lexington and Concord on 19 April 1775. The Patriots laid siege to Boston, expelled royal officials from all the colonies, and took control through the establishment of Provincial Congresses. The Battle of Bunker Hill followed on June 17, 1775. It was a British victory—but at a great cost: about 1,000 British casualties from a garrison of about 6,000, as compared to 500 American casualties from a much larger force. [46] [47] The Second Continental Congress was divided on the best course of action, but eventually produced the Olive Branch Petition, in which they attempted to come to an accord with King George. The king, however, issued a Proclamation of Rebellion which declared that the states were "in rebellion" and the members of Congress were traitors.

The war that arose was in some ways a classic insurgency. [ clarification needed ] As Benjamin Franklin wrote to Joseph Priestley in October 1775:

"Britain, at the expense of three millions, has killed 150 Yankees this campaign, which is £20,000 a head . During the same time, 60,000 children have been born in America. From these data his mathematical head will easily calculate the time and expense necessary to kill us all.". [48]

In the winter of 1775, the Americans invaded northern Canada under generals Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery, expecting to rally sympathetic colonists there. The attack was a failure many Americans who weren't killed were either captured or died of smallpox.

In March 1776, the Continental Army forced the British to evacuate Boston, with George Washington as the commander of the new army. The revolutionaries now fully controlled all thirteen colonies and were ready to declare independence. There still were many Loyalists, but they were no longer in control anywhere by July 1776, and all of the Royal officials had fled. [49]

Following the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775, the Patriots had control of Massachusetts outside the Boston city limits, and the Loyalists suddenly found themselves on the defensive with no protection from the British army. In all 13 colonies, Patriots had overthrown their existing governments, closing courts and driving away British officials. They held elected conventions and "legislatures" that existed outside any legal framework new constitutions were drawn up in each state to supersede royal charters. They proclaimed that they were states, not colonies. [50]

On January 5, 1776, New Hampshire ratified the first state constitution. In May 1776, Congress voted to suppress all forms of crown authority, to be replaced by locally created authority. Virginia, South Carolina, and New Jersey created their constitutions before July 4. Rhode Island and Connecticut simply took their existing royal charters and deleted all references to the crown. [51] The new states were all committed to republicanism, with no inherited offices. They decided what form of government to create, and also how to select those who would craft the constitutions and how the resulting document would be ratified. On 26 May 1776, John Adams wrote James Sullivan from Philadelphia warning against extending the franchise too far:

Depend upon it, sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation, as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters. There will be no end of it. New claims will arise. Women will demand a vote. Lads from twelve to twenty one will think their rights not enough attended to, and every man, who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks, to one common level[.] [52] [53]

The resulting constitutions in states such as Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New York, and Massachusetts [54] featured:

  • Property qualifications for voting and even more substantial requirements for elected positions (though New York and Maryland lowered property qualifications) [50] , with the upper house as a check on the lower
  • Strong governors with veto power over the legislature and substantial appointment authority
  • Few or no restraints on individuals holding multiple positions in government
  • The continuation of state-established religion

In Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New Hampshire, the resulting constitutions embodied:

  • universal manhood suffrage, or minimal property requirements for voting or holding office (New Jersey enfranchised some property-owning widows, a step that it retracted 25 years later)
  • strong, unicameral legislatures
  • relatively weak governors without veto powers, and with little appointing authority
  • prohibition against individuals holding multiple government posts

The radical provisions of Pennsylvania's constitution lasted only 14 years. In 1790, conservatives gained power in the state legislature, called a new constitutional convention, and rewrote the constitution. The new constitution substantially reduced universal male suffrage, gave the governor veto power and patronage appointment authority, and added an upper house with substantial wealth qualifications to the unicameral legislature. Thomas Paine called it a constitution unworthy of America. [3]

In April 1776, the North Carolina Provincial Congress issued the Halifax Resolves explicitly authorizing its delegates to vote for independence. [55] By June, nine Provincial Congresses were ready for independence one by one, the last four fell into line: Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New York. Richard Henry Lee was instructed by the Virginia legislature to propose independence, and he did so on June 7, 1776. On June 11, a committee was created to draft a document explaining the justifications for separation from Britain. After securing enough votes for passage, independence was voted for on July 2.

The Declaration of Independence was drafted largely by Thomas Jefferson and presented by the committee it was unanimously adopted by the entire Congress on July 4, [56] and each colony became independent and autonomous. The next step was to form a union to facilitate international relations and alliances. [57] [58]

The Second Continental Congress approved the "Articles of Confederation" for ratification by the states on November 15, 1777 the Congress immediately began operating under the Articles' terms, providing a structure of shared sovereignty during prosecution of the war and facilitating international relations and alliances with France and Spain. The articles were ratified on March 1, 1781. At that point, the Continental Congress was dissolved and a new government of the United States in Congress Assembled took its place on the following day, with Samuel Huntington as presiding officer. [59] [60]

British return: 1776–1777

According to British historian Jeremy Black, the British had significant advantages, including a highly trained army, the world's largest navy, and an efficient system of public finance that could easily fund the war. However, they seriously misunderstood the depth of support for the American Patriot position and ignored the advice of General Gage, misinterpreting the situation as merely a large-scale riot. The British government believed that they could overawe the Americans by sending a large military and naval force, forcing them to be loyal again:

Convinced that the Revolution was the work of a full few miscreants who had rallied an armed rabble to their cause, they expected that the revolutionaries would be intimidated . Then the vast majority of Americans, who were loyal but cowed by the terroristic tactics . would rise up, kick out the rebels, and restore loyal government in each colony. [61]

Washington forced the British out of Boston in the spring of 1776, and neither the British nor the Loyalists controlled any significant areas. The British, however, were massing forces at their naval base at Halifax, Nova Scotia. They returned in force in July 1776, landing in New York and defeating Washington's Continental Army in August at the Battle of Brooklyn. Following that victory, they requested a meeting with representatives from Congress to negotiate an end to hostilities. [62] [63]

A delegation including John Adams and Benjamin Franklin met British admiral Richard Howe on Staten Island in New York Harbor on September 11 in what became known as the Staten Island Peace Conference. Howe demanded that the Americans retract the Declaration of Independence, which they refused to do, and negotiations ended. The British then seized New York City and nearly captured Washington's army. They made the city and its strategic harbor their main political and military base of operations, holding it until November 1783. The city became the destination for Loyalist refugees and a focal point of Washington's intelligence network. [62] [63]

The British also took New Jersey, pushing the Continental Army into Pennsylvania. Washington crossed the Delaware River back into New Jersey in a surprise attack in late December 1776 and defeated the Hessian and British armies at Trenton and Princeton, thereby regaining control of most of New Jersey. The victories gave an important boost to Patriots at a time when morale was flagging, and they have become iconic events of the war.

In 1777, the British sent Burgoyne's invasion force from Canada south to New York to seal off New England. Their aim was to isolate New England, which the British perceived as the primary source of agitation. Rather than move north to support Burgoyne, the British army in New York City went to Philadelphia in a major case of mis-coordination, capturing it from Washington. The invasion army under Burgoyne was much too slow and became trapped in northern New York state. It surrendered after the Battles of Saratoga in October 1777. From early October 1777 until November 15, a siege distracted British troops at Fort Mifflin, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and allowed Washington time to preserve the Continental Army by safely leading his troops to harsh winter quarters at Valley Forge.


On August 23, 1775, George III declared Americans to be traitors to the Crown if they took up arms against royal authority. There were thousands of British and Hessian soldiers in American hands following their surrender at the Battles of Saratoga in October 1777. Lord Germain took a hard line, but the British generals on American soil never held treason trials and treated captured American soldiers as prisoners of war. [64] The dilemma was that tens of thousands of Loyalists were under American control and American retaliation would have been easy. The British built much of their strategy around using these Loyalists. [65] The British maltreated the prisoners whom they held, resulting in more deaths to American prisoners of war than from combat operations. [65] At the end of the war, both sides released their surviving prisoners. [66]

American alliances after 1778

The capture of a British army at Saratoga encouraged the French to formally enter the war in support of Congress, and Benjamin Franklin negotiated a permanent military alliance in early 1778 France thus became the first foreign nation to officially recognize the Declaration of Independence. On February 6, 1778, the United States and France signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance. [67] William Pitt spoke out in Parliament urging Britain to make peace in America and to unite with America against France, while British politicians who had sympathized with colonial grievances now turned against the Americans for allying with Britain's rival and enemy. [68]

The Spanish and the Dutch became allies of the French in 1779 and 1780 respectively, forcing the British to fight a global war without major allies and requiring it to slip through a combined blockade of the Atlantic. Britain began to view the American war for independence as merely one front in a wider war, [69] and the British chose to withdraw troops from America to reinforce the British colonies in the Caribbean, which were under threat of Spanish or French invasion. British commander Sir Henry Clinton evacuated Philadelphia and returned to New York City. General Washington intercepted him in the Battle of Monmouth Court House, the last major battle fought in the north. After an inconclusive engagement, the British retreated to New York City. The northern war subsequently became a stalemate, as the focus of attention shifted to the smaller southern theater. [70]

The British move South, 1778–1783

The British strategy in America now concentrated on a campaign in the southern states. With fewer regular troops at their disposal, the British commanders saw the "southern strategy" as a more viable plan, as they perceived the south as strongly Loyalist with a large population of recent immigrants and large numbers of slaves who might be tempted to run away from their masters to join the British. [71]

Beginning in late December 1778, they captured Savannah and controlled the Georgia coastline. In 1780, they launched a fresh invasion and took Charleston, as well. A significant victory at the Battle of Camden meant that royal forces soon controlled most of Georgia and South Carolina. The British set up a network of forts inland, hoping that the Loyalists would rally to the flag. [72] Not enough Loyalists turned out, however, and the British had to fight their way north into North Carolina and Virginia with a severely weakened army. Behind them, much of the territory that they had already captured dissolved into a chaotic guerrilla war, fought predominantly between bands of Loyalists and American militia, which negated many of the gains that the British had previously made. [72]

Surrender at Yorktown (1781)

The British army under Cornwallis marched to Yorktown, Virginia, where they expected to be rescued by a British fleet. [73] The fleet did arrive, but so did a larger French fleet. The French were victorious in the Battle of the Chesapeake, and the British fleet returned to New York for reinforcements, leaving Cornwallis trapped. In October 1781, the British surrendered their second invading army of the war under a siege by the combined French and Continental armies commanded by Washington. [74]

The end of the war

Historians continue to debate whether the odds were long or short for American victory. John E. Ferling says that the odds were so long that the American victory was "almost a miracle". [75] On the other hand, Joseph Ellis says that the odds favored the Americans, and asks whether there ever was any realistic chance for the British to win. He argues that this opportunity came only once, in the summer of 1776, and the British failed that test. Admiral Howe and his brother General Howe "missed several opportunities to destroy the Continental Army . Chance, luck, and even the vagaries of the weather played crucial roles." Ellis's point is that the strategic and tactical decisions of the Howes were fatally flawed because they underestimated the challenges posed by the Patriots. Ellis concludes that, once the Howe brothers failed, the opportunity "would never come again" for a British victory. [76]

Support for the conflict had never been strong in Britain, where many sympathized with the Americans, but now it reached a new low. [77] King George wanted to fight on, but his supporters lost control of Parliament and they launched no further offensives in America. [70] [78] War erupted between America and Britain three decades later with the War of 1812, which firmly established the permanence of the United States and its complete autonomy. [79]

Washington did not know whether the British might reopen hostilities after Yorktown. They still had 26,000 troops occupying New York City, Charleston, and Savannah, together with a powerful fleet. The French army and navy departed, so the Americans were on their own in 1782–83. [80] The treasury was empty, and the unpaid soldiers were growing restive, almost to the point of mutiny or possible coup d'état. Washington dispelled the unrest among officers of the Newburgh Conspiracy in 1783, and Congress subsequently created the promise of a five years bonus for all officers. [81]

During negotiations in Paris, the American delegation discovered that France supported American independence but no territorial gains, hoping to confine the new nation to the area east of the Appalachian Mountains. The Americans opened direct secret negotiations with London, cutting out the French. British Prime Minister Lord Shelburne was in charge of the British negotiations, and he saw a chance to make the United States a valuable economic partner. [82] The US obtained all the land east of the Mississippi River, including southern Canada, but Spain took control of Florida from the British. It gained fishing rights off Canadian coasts, and agreed to allow British merchants and Loyalists to recover their property. Prime Minister Shelburne foresaw highly profitable two-way trade between Britain and the rapidly growing United States, which did come to pass. The blockade was lifted and all British interference had been driven out, and American merchants were free to trade with any nation anywhere in the world. [83]

The British largely abandoned their indigenous allies, who were not a party to this treaty and did not recognize it until they were defeated militarily by the United States. However, the British did sell them munitions and maintain forts in American territory until the Jay Treaty of 1795. [84]

Losing the war and the Thirteen Colonies was a shock to Britain. The war revealed the limitations of Britain's fiscal-military state when they discovered that they suddenly faced powerful enemies with no allies, and they were dependent on extended and vulnerable transatlantic lines of communication. The defeat heightened dissension and escalated political antagonism to the King's ministers. Inside Parliament, the primary concern changed from fears of an over-mighty monarch to the issues of representation, parliamentary reform, and government retrenchment. Reformers sought to destroy what they saw as widespread institutional corruption, [85] [86] and the result was a crisis from 1776 to 1783. The peace in 1783 left France financially prostrate, while the British economy boomed thanks to the return of American business. The crisis ended after 1784 thanks to the King's shrewdness in outwitting Charles James Fox (the leader of the Fox-North Coalition), and renewed confidence in the system engendered by the leadership of Prime Minister William Pitt. Some historians suggest that loss of the American colonies enabled Britain to deal with the French Revolution with more unity and better organization than would otherwise have been the case. [85] [86] Britain turned towards Asia, the Pacific, and later Africa with subsequent exploration leading to the rise of the Second British Empire. [87]

Britain's war against the Americans, the French, and the Spanish cost about £100 million, and the Treasury borrowed 40-percent of the money that it needed. [88] Heavy spending brought France to the verge of bankruptcy and revolution, while the British had relatively little difficulty financing their war, keeping their suppliers and soldiers paid, and hiring tens of thousands of German soldiers. [89] Britain had a sophisticated financial system based on the wealth of thousands of landowners who supported the government, together with banks and financiers in London. The British tax system collected about 12 percent of the GDP in taxes during the 1770s. [89]

In sharp contrast, Congress and the American states had no end of difficulty financing the war. [90] In 1775, there was at most 12 million dollars in gold in the colonies, not nearly enough to cover current transactions, let alone finance a major war. The British made the situation much worse by imposing a tight blockade on every American port, which cut off almost all imports and exports. One partial solution was to rely on volunteer support from militiamen and donations from patriotic citizens. [91] [92] Another was to delay actual payments, pay soldiers and suppliers in depreciated currency, and promise that it would be made good after the war. Indeed, the soldiers and officers were given land grants in 1783 to cover the wages that they had earned but had not been paid during the war. The national government did not have a strong leader in financial matters until 1781, when Robert Morris was named Superintendent of Finance of the United States. [91] Morris used a French loan in 1782 to set up the private Bank of North America to finance the war. He reduced the civil list, saved money by using competitive bidding for contracts, tightened accounting procedures, and demanded the national government's full share of money and supplies from the individual states. [91]

Congress used four main methods to cover the cost of the war, which cost about 66 million dollars in specie (gold and silver). [93] Congress made issues of paper money in 1775–1780 and in 1780–1781. The first issue amounted to 242 million dollars. This paper money would supposedly be redeemed for state taxes, but the holders were eventually paid off in 1791 at the rate of one cent on the dollar. By 1780, the paper money was "not worth a Continental", as people said. [94] The skyrocketing inflation was a hardship on the few people who had fixed incomes, but 90 percent of the people were farmers and were not directly affected by it. Debtors benefited by paying off their debts with depreciated paper. The greatest burden was borne by the soldiers of the Continental Army whose wages were usually paid late and declined in value every month, weakening their morale and adding to the hardships of their families. [95]

Beginning in 1777, Congress repeatedly asked the states to provide money, but the states had no system of taxation and were of little help. By 1780, Congress was making requisitions for specific supplies of corn, beef, pork, and other necessities, an inefficient system which barely kept the army alive. [96] [97] Starting in 1776, the Congress sought to raise money by loans from wealthy individuals, promising to redeem the bonds after the war. The bonds were redeemed in 1791 at face value, but the scheme raised little money because Americans had little specie, and many of the rich merchants were supporters of the Crown. The French secretly supplied the Americans with money, gunpowder, and munitions to weaken Great Britain the subsidies continued when France entered the war in 1778, and the French government and Paris bankers lent large sums [ quantify ] to the American war effort. The Americans struggled to pay off the loans they ceased making interest payments to France in 1785 and defaulted on installments due in 1787. In 1790, however, they resumed regular payments on their debts to the French, [98] and settled their accounts with the French government in 1795 by selling the debt to James Swan, an American banker. [99]

Creating a "more perfect union" and guaranteeing rights

The war ended in 1783 and was followed by a period of prosperity. The national government was still operating under the Articles of Confederation and settled the issue of the western territories, which the states ceded to Congress. American settlers moved rapidly into those areas, with Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee becoming states in the 1790s. [100]

However, the national government had no money either to pay the war debts owed to European nations and the private banks, or to pay Americans who had been given millions of dollars of promissory notes for supplies during the war. Nationalists led by Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and other veterans feared that the new nation was too fragile to withstand an international war, or even internal revolts such as the Shays' Rebellion of 1786 in Massachusetts. They convinced Congress to call the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 and named their party the Federalist party. [101] The Convention adopted a new Constitution which provided for a much stronger federal government, including an effective executive in a check-and-balance system with the judiciary and legislature. [102] The Constitution was ratified in 1788, after a fierce debate in the states over the proposed new government. The new government under President George Washington took office in New York in March 1789. [103] James Madison spearheaded Congressional amendments to the Constitution as assurances to those cautious about federal power, guaranteeing many of the inalienable rights that formed a foundation for the revolution, and Rhode Island was the final state to ratify the Constitution in 1791.

National debt

The national debt fell into three categories after the American Revolution. The first was the $12 million owed to foreigners, mostly money borrowed from France. There was general agreement to pay the foreign debts at full value. The national government owed $40 million and state governments owed $25 million to Americans who had sold food, horses, and supplies to the Patriot forces. There were also other debts which consisted of promissory notes issued during the war to soldiers, merchants, and farmers who accepted these payments on the premise that the new Constitution would create a government that would pay these debts eventually.

The war expenses of the individual states added up to $114 million, compared to $37 million by the central government. [104] In 1790, Congress combined the remaining state debts with the foreign and domestic debts into one national debt totaling $80 million at the recommendation of first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Everyone received face value for wartime certificates, so that the national honor would be sustained and the national credit established. [105]

The population of the Thirteen States was not homogeneous in political views and attitudes. Loyalties and allegiances varied widely within regions and communities and even within families, and sometimes shifted during the Revolution.

Ideology behind the Revolution

The American Enlightenment was a critical precursor of the American Revolution. Chief among the ideas of the American Enlightenment were the concepts of natural law, natural rights, consent of the governed, individualism, property rights, self-ownership, self-determination, liberalism, republicanism, and defense against corruption. A growing number of American colonists embraced these views and fostered an intellectual environment which led to a new sense of political and social identity. [106]


John Locke's (1632–1704) ideas on liberty influenced the political thinking behind the revolution, especially through his indirect influence on English writers such as John Trenchard, Thomas Gordon, and Benjamin Hoadly, whose political ideas had a strong influence on the American Patriots. [108] Locke is often referred to as "the philosopher of the American Revolution" due to his work in the Social Contract and Natural Rights theories that underpinned the Revolution's political ideology. [109] Locke's Two Treatises of Government published in 1689 was especially influential. He argued that all humans were created equally free, and governments therefore needed the "consent of the governed". [110] In late eighteenth-century America, belief was still widespread in "equality by creation" and "rights by creation". [111]

The theory of the "social contract" influenced the belief among many of the Founders that the right of the people to overthrow their leaders was one of the "natural rights" of man, should those leaders betray the historic rights of Englishmen. [112] [113] The Americans heavily relied on Montesquieu's analysis of the wisdom of the "balanced" British Constitution (mixed government) in writing the state and national constitutions.


The most basic features of republicanism anywhere are a representational government in which citizens elect leaders from among themselves for a predefined term, as opposed to a permanent ruling class or aristocracy, and laws are passed by these leaders for the benefit of the entire republic. In addition, unlike a direct or "pure" democracy in which the majority vote rules, a republic codifies in a charter or constitution a certain set of basic civil rights that is guaranteed to every citizen and cannot be overridden by majority rule.

The American interpretation of "republicanism" was inspired by the Whig party in Great Britain which openly criticized the corruption within the British government. [114] Americans were increasingly embracing republican values, seeing Britain as corrupt and hostile to American interests. [115] The colonists associated political corruption with luxury and inherited aristocracy, which they condemned. [116]

The Founding Fathers were strong advocates of republican values, particularly Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, George Washington, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton, [117] which required men to put civic duty ahead of their personal desires. Men had a civic duty to be prepared and willing to fight for the rights and liberties of their countrymen. John Adams wrote to Mercy Otis Warren in 1776, agreeing with some classical Greek and Roman thinkers: "Public Virtue cannot exist without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics." He continued:

There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power, and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty. And this public Passion must be Superior to all private Passions. Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasures, Passions, and Interests, nay their private Friendships and dearest connections, when they Stand in Competition with the Rights of society. [118]

"Republican motherhood" became the ideal for American women, exemplified by Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren the first duty of the republican woman was to instill republican values in her children and to avoid luxury and ostentation. [119]

Thomas Paine published his pamphlet Common Sense in January 1776, after the Revolution had started. It was widely distributed and often read aloud in taverns, contributing significantly to spreading the ideas of republicanism and liberalism together, bolstering enthusiasm for separation from Great Britain and encouraging recruitment for the Continental Army. [120] Paine offered a solution for Americans alarmed by the threat of tyranny. [120]

Protestant Dissenters and the Great Awakening

Protestant churches that had separated from the Church of England (called "dissenters") were the "school of democracy", in the words of historian Patricia Bonomi. [121] Before the Revolution, the Southern Colonies and three of the New England Colonies had officially established churches: Congregational in Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, and Anglican in Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations had no officially established churches. [122] Church membership statistics from the period are unreliable and scarce, [123] but what little data exists indicates that Anglicans were not in the majority, not even in the colonies where the Church of England was the established church, and they probably did not comprise even 30 percent of the population (with the possible exception of Virginia). [122]

President John Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) wrote widely circulated sermons linking the American Revolution to the teachings of the Bible. Throughout the colonies, dissenting Protestant ministers (Congregational, Baptist, and Presbyterian) preached Revolutionary themes in their sermons, while most Church of England clergymen preached loyalty to the king, the titular head of the English state church. [124] Religious motivation for fighting tyranny transcended socioeconomic lines to encompass rich and poor, men and women, frontiersmen and townsmen, farmers and merchants. [121] The Declaration of Independence also referred to the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" as justification for the Americans' separation from the British monarchy. Most eighteenth-century Americans believed that the entire universe ("nature") was God's creation [125] and he was "Nature's God". Everything was part of the "universal order of things" which began with God and was directed by his providence. [126] Accordingly, the signers of the Declaration professed their "firm reliance on the Protection of divine Providence", and they appealed to "the Supreme Judge for the rectitude of our intentions". [127] George Washington was firmly convinced that he was an instrument of providence, to the benefit of the American people and of all humanity. [128]

Historian Bernard Bailyn argues that the evangelicalism of the era challenged traditional notions of natural hierarchy by preaching that the Bible teaches that all men are equal, so that the true value of a man lies in his moral behavior, not in his class. [129] Kidd argues that religious disestablishment, belief in God as the source of human rights, and shared convictions about sin, virtue, and divine providence worked together to unite rationalists and evangelicals and thus encouraged a large proportion of Americans to fight for independence from the Empire. Bailyn, on the other hand, denies that religion played such a critical role. [130] Alan Heimert argues that New Light anti-authoritarianism was essential to furthering democracy in colonial American society, and set the stage for a confrontation with British monarchical and aristocratic rule. [131]

Class and psychology of the factions

John Adams concluded in 1818:

The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people . This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution. [132]

In the mid-20th century, historian Leonard Woods Labaree identified eight characteristics of the Loyalists that made them essentially conservative, opposite to the characteristics of the Patriots. [133] Loyalists tended to feel that resistance to the Crown was morally wrong, while the Patriots thought that morality was on their side. [134] [135] Loyalists were alienated when the Patriots resorted to violence, such as burning houses and tarring and feathering. Loyalists wanted to take a centrist position and resisted the Patriots' demand to declare their opposition to the Crown. Many Loyalists had maintained strong and long-standing relations with Britain, especially merchants in port cities such as New York and Boston. [134] [135] Many Loyalists felt that independence was bound to come eventually, but they were fearful that revolution might lead to anarchy, tyranny, or mob rule. In contrast, the prevailing attitude among Patriots was a desire to seize the initiative. [134] [135] Labaree also wrote that Loyalists were pessimists who lacked the confidence in the future displayed by the Patriots. [133]

Historians in the early 20th century such as J. Franklin Jameson examined the class composition of the Patriot cause, looking for evidence of a class war inside the revolution. [136] More recent historians have largely abandoned that interpretation, emphasizing instead the high level of ideological unity. [137] Both Loyalists and Patriots were a "mixed lot", [138] [139] but ideological demands always came first. The Patriots viewed independence as a means to gain freedom from British oppression and taxation and to reassert their basic rights. Most yeomen farmers, craftsmen, and small merchants joined the Patriot cause to demand more political equality. They were especially successful in Pennsylvania but less so in New England, where John Adams attacked Thomas Paine's Common Sense for the "absurd democratical notions" that it proposed. [138] [139]

King George III

The war became a personal issue for the king, fueled by his growing belief that British leniency would be taken as weakness by the Americans. He also sincerely believed that he was defending Britain's constitution against usurpers, rather than opposing patriots fighting for their natural rights. [140]


Those who fought for independence were called "Patriots", "Whigs", "Congress-men", or "Americans" during and after the war. They included a full range of social and economic classes but were unanimous regarding the need to defend the rights of Americans and uphold the principles of republicanism in rejecting monarchy and aristocracy, while emphasizing civic virtue by citizens. Newspapers were strongholds of patriotism (although there were a few Loyalist papers) and printed many pamphlets, announcements, patriotic letters, and pronouncements. [141]

According to historian Robert Calhoon, 40– to 45-percent of the white population in the Thirteen Colonies supported the Patriots' cause, 15– to 20-percent supported the Loyalists, and the remainder were neutral or kept a low profile. [142] Mark Lender analyzes why ordinary people became insurgents against the British, even if they were unfamiliar with the ideological reasons behind the war. He concludes that such people held a sense of rights which the British were violating, rights that stressed local autonomy, fair dealing, and government by consent. They were highly sensitive to the issue of tyranny, which they saw manifested in the British response to the Boston Tea Party. The arrival in Boston of the British Army heightened their sense of violated rights, leading to rage and demands for revenge. They had faith that God was on their side. [143] The signers of the Declaration of Independence were mostly well-educated, of British stock, and of the Protestant faith. [144] [145]


The consensus of scholars is that about 15– to 20-percent of the white population remained loyal to the British Crown. [146] Those who actively supported the king were known at the time as "Loyalists", "Tories", or "King's men". The Loyalists never controlled territory unless the British Army occupied it. They were typically older, less willing to break with old loyalties, and often connected to the Church of England they included many established merchants with strong business connections throughout the Empire, as well as royal officials such as Thomas Hutchinson of Boston. [147] There were 500 to 1,000 Black Loyalists, enslaved African-Americans who escaped to British lines and supported Britain's cause via several means. Many of them succumbed to various diseases, but the survivors were evacuated by the British to their remaining colonies in North America. [ citation needed ]

The revolution could divide families, such as William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin and royal governor of the Province of New Jersey who remained loyal to the Crown throughout the war. He and his father never spoke again. [148] Recent immigrants who had not been fully Americanized were also inclined to support the King, such as Flora MacDonald, a Scottish settler in the backcountry. [149]

After the war, the most of the approximately 500,000 Loyalists remained in America and resumed normal lives. Some became prominent American leaders, such as Samuel Seabury. Approximately 46,000 Loyalists relocated to Canada others moved to Britain (7,000), Florida, or the West Indies (9,000). The exiles represented approximately two percent of the total population of the colonies. [150] Nearly all black loyalists left for Nova Scotia, Florida, or England, where they could remain free. [151] Loyalists who left the South in 1783 took thousands of their slaves with them as they fled to the British West Indies. [150]


A minority of uncertain size tried to stay neutral in the war. Most kept a low profile, but the Quakers were the most important group to speak out for neutrality, especially in Pennsylvania. The Quakers continued to do business with the British even after the war began, and they were accused of supporting British rule, "contrivers and authors of seditious publications" critical of the revolutionary cause. [152] Most Quakers remained neutral, although a sizeable number nevertheless participated to some degree.

Role of women

Women contributed to the American Revolution in many ways and were involved on both sides. Formal politics did not include women, but ordinary domestic behaviors became charged with political significance as Patriot women confronted a war which permeated all aspects of political, civil, and domestic life. They participated by boycotting British goods, spying on the British, following armies as they marched, washing, cooking, and mending for soldiers, delivering secret messages, and even fighting disguised as men in a few cases, such as Deborah Samson. Mercy Otis Warren held meetings in her house and cleverly attacked Loyalists with her creative plays and histories. [153] Many women also acted as nurses and helpers, tending to the soldiers' wounds and buying and selling goods for them. Some of these camp followers even participated in combat, such as Madam John Turchin who led her husband's regiment into battle. [154] Above all, women continued the agricultural work at home to feed their families and the armies. They maintained their families during their husbands' absences and sometimes after their deaths. [155]

American women were integral to the success of the boycott of British goods, [156] as the boycotted items were largely household articles such as tea and cloth. Women had to return to knitting goods and to spinning and weaving their own cloth—skills that had fallen into disuse. In 1769, the women of Boston produced 40,000 skeins of yarn, and 180 women in Middletown, Massachusetts wove 20,522 yards (18,765 m) of cloth. [155] Many women gathered food, money, clothes, and other supplies during the war to help the soldiers. [157] A woman's loyalty to her husband could become an open political act, especially for women in America committed to men who remained loyal to the King. Legal divorce, usually rare, was granted to Patriot women whose husbands supported the King. [158] [159]

France and Spain

In early 1776, France set up a major program of aid to the Americans, and the Spanish secretly added funds. Each country spent one million "livres tournaises" to buy munitions. A dummy corporation run by Pierre Beaumarchais concealed their activities. American Patriots obtained some munitions through the Dutch Republic, as well as French and Spanish ports in the West Indies. [160] Heavy expenditures and a weak taxation system pushed France toward bankruptcy. [161]

In 1777, Charles François Adrien le Paulmier, Chevalier d’Annemours, acting as a secret agent for France, made sure General George Washington was privy to his mission. He followed Congress around for the next two years, reporting what he observed back to France. [162]

Spain did not officially recognize the U.S. but it separately declared war on Britain on June 21, 1779. Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, general of the Spanish forces in New Spain, also served as governor of Louisiana. He led an expedition of colonial troops to capture Florida from the British and to keep open a vital conduit for supplies. [163]


Ethnic Germans served on both sides of the American Revolutionary War. Many, notably rented auxiliary troops [165] from German states such as the Landgraviate of Hessen-Kassel, supported the Loyalist cause and served as allies of the Kingdom of Great Britain, as George III was also the Elector of Hanover.

American Patriots tended to represent such troops as mercenaries in propaganda against the British Crown. Even American historians followed suit, in spite of Colonial-era jurists drawing a distinction between auxiliaries and mercenaries, with auxiliaries serving their prince when sent to the aid of another prince, and mercenaries serving a foreign prince as individuals. [165] By this distinction the troops which served in the American Revolution were auxiliaries.

Other German individuals came to assist the American rebels, most notably Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who served as a general in the Continental Army and is credited with professionalizing that force, but most who served were already colonists.

Native Americans

Most indigenous people rejected pleas that they remain neutral and instead supported the British Crown. The great majority of the 200,000 indigenous people east of the Mississippi distrusted the colonists and supported the British cause, hoping to forestall continued colonial expansion into their territories. [166] Those tribes closely involved in trade tended to side with the Patriots, although political factors were important, as well.

Most indigenous people did not participate directly in the war, except for warriors and bands associated with four of the Iroquois tribes in New York and Pennsylvania which allied with the British, and the Oneida and Tuscarora tribes among the Iroquois of central and western New York who supported the American cause. [167] The British did have other allies, especially in the upper Midwest. They provided indigenous people with funding and weapons to attack Continental Army outposts. Some indigenous people tried to remain neutral, seeing little value in joining what they perceived to be a "white man's war", and fearing reprisals from whichever side they opposed. The British provided arms to indigenous people who were led by Loyalists in war parties to raid frontier settlements from the Carolinas to New York. These war parties managed to kill many settlers on the frontier, especially in Pennsylvania and New York's Mohawk Valley. [168]

In 1776, Cherokee war parties attacked American Colonists all along the southern frontier of the uplands throughout the Washington District, North Carolina (now Tennessee) and the Kentucky wilderness area. [169] They would launch raids with roughly 200 warriors, as seen in the Cherokee–American wars they could not mobilize enough forces to invade Colonial areas without the help of allies, most often the Creek. The Chickamauga Cherokee under Dragging Canoe allied themselves closely with the British, and fought on for an additional decade after the Treaty of Paris was signed. Joseph Brant of the powerful Mohawk tribe in New York was the most prominent indigenous leader against the Patriot forces. [164] In 1778 and 1780, he led 300 Iroquois warriors and 100 white Loyalists in multiple attacks on small frontier settlements in New York and Pennsylvania, killing many settlers and destroying villages, crops, and stores. [170] The Seneca, Onondaga, and Cayuga of the Iroquois Confederacy also allied with the British against the Americans. [171]

In 1779, the Americans forced the hostile indigenous people out of upstate New York when Washington sent an army under John Sullivan which destroyed 40 evacuated Iroquois villages in central and western New York. The Battle of Newtown proved decisive, as the Patriots had an advantage of three-to-one, and it ended significant resistance there was little combat otherwise. Sullivan systematically burned the empty villages and destroyed about 160,000 bushels of corn that composed the winter food supply. Facing starvation and homeless for the winter, the Iroquois fled to Canada. The British resettled them in Ontario, providing land grants as compensation for some of their losses. [172]

At the peace conference following the war, the British ceded lands which they did not really control, and which they did not consult with their indigenous allies during the treaty. They transferred control to the United States of all the land east of the Mississippi and north of Florida. Calloway concludes:

Burned villages and crops, murdered chiefs, divided councils and civil wars, migrations, towns and forts choked with refugees, economic disruption, breaking of ancient traditions, losses in battle and to disease and hunger, betrayal to their enemies, all made the American Revolution one of the darkest periods in American Indian history. [173]

The British did not give up their forts until 1796 in the eastern Midwest, stretching from Ohio to Wisconsin they kept alive the dream of forming an allied indigenous nation there, which they referred to a "Indian barrier state". That goal was one of the causes of the War of 1812. [174] [175]

Black Americans

Free blacks in the North and South fought on both sides of the Revolution, but the majority fought for the Patriots. Gary Nash reports that there were about 9,000 black Patriots, counting the Continental Army and Navy, state militia units, privateers, wagoneers in the Army, servants to officers, and spies. [176] Ray Raphael notes that thousands did join the Loyalist cause, but "a far larger number, free as well as slave, tried to further their interests by siding with the patriots." [177] Crispus Attucks was one of the five people killed in the Boston Massacre in 1770 and is considered the first American casualty for the cause of independence.

Many black slaves sided with the Loyalists. Tens of thousands in the South used the turmoil of war to escape, and the southern plantation economies of South Carolina and Georgia were disrupted in particular. During the Revolution, the British commanders attempted to weaken the Patriots by issuing proclamations of freedom to their slaves. [179] Historian David Brion Davis explains the difficulties with a policy of wholesale arming of the slaves:

But England greatly feared the effects of any such move on its own West Indies, where Americans had already aroused alarm over a possible threat to incite slave insurrections. The British elites also understood that an all-out attack on one form of property could easily lead to an assault on all boundaries of privilege and social order, as envisioned by radical religious sects in Britain's seventeenth-century civil wars. [180]

Davis underscores the British dilemma: "Britain, when confronted by the rebellious American colonists, hoped to exploit their fear of slave revolts while also reassuring the large number of slave-holding Loyalists and wealthy Caribbean planters and merchants that their slave property would be secure". [181] The Americans, however, accused the British of encouraging slave revolts, with the issue becoming one of the 27 colonial grievances. [182]

The existence of slavery in the American colonies had attracted criticism from both sides of the Atlantic as many could not reconcile the existence of the institution with the eglitarian ideals espoused by leaders of the Revolution. British writer Samuel Johnson wrote that "how is it we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of the Negroes?" in a text opposing the greivances of the colonists. [183] Referring to this contradiction, English abolitionist Thomas Day wrote in a 1776 letter that

"if there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves". [184]

African-American writer Lemuel Haynes expressed similar viewpoints in his essay Liberty Further Extended where he wrote that "Liberty is Equally as pre[c]ious to a Black man, as it is to a white one". [185] Thomas Jefferson unsuccessfully attempted to include a section in the Declaration of Independence which asserted that King George III had "forced" the slave trade onto the colonies. [186] Despite the turmoil of the period, African-Americans contributed to the foundation of an American national identity during the Revolution. Phyllis Wheatley, an African-American poet, popularized the image of Columbia to represent America. She came to public attention when her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral appeared in 1773, and received praise from George Washington. [187]

The effects of the war were more dramatic in the South. In Virginia, royal governor Lord Dunmore recruited black men into the British forces with the promise of freedom, protection for their families, and land grants. Tens of thousands of slaves escaped to British lines throughout the South, causing dramatic losses to slaveholders and disrupting cultivation and harvesting of crops. For instance, South Carolina was estimated to have lost about 25,000 slaves to flight, migration, or death—amounting to a third of its slave population. From 1770 to 1790, the black proportion of the population (mostly slaves) in South Carolina dropped from 60.5 percent to 43.8 percent, and from 45.2 percent to 36.1 percent in Georgia. [188]

British forces gave transportation to 10,000 slaves when they evacuated Savannah and Charleston, carrying through on their promise. [189] They evacuated and resettled more than 3,000 Black Loyalists from New York to Nova Scotia, Upper Canada, and Lower Canada. Others sailed with the British to England or were resettled as freedmen in the West Indies of the Caribbean. But slaves carried to the Caribbean under control of Loyalist masters generally remained slaves until British abolition of slavery in its colonies in 1833-38. More than 1,200 of the Black Loyalists of Nova Scotia later resettled in the British colony of Sierra Leone, where they became leaders of the Krio ethnic group of Freetown and the later national government. Many of their descendants still live in Sierra Leone, as well as other African countries. [190]

Loyalist expatriation

Tens of thousands of Loyalists left the United States following the war, and Maya Jasanoff estimates as many as 70,000. [191] Some migrated to Britain, but the great majority received land and subsidies for resettlement in British colonies in North America, especially Quebec (concentrating in the Eastern Townships), Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. [192] Britain created the colonies of Upper Canada (Ontario) and New Brunswick expressly for their benefit, and the Crown awarded land to Loyalists as compensation for losses in the United States. Nevertheless, approximately eighty-five percent of the Loyalists stayed in the United States as American citizens, and some of the exiles later returned to the U.S. [193] Patrick Henry spoke of the issue of allowing Loyalists to return as such: "Shall we, who have laid the proud British lion at our feet, be frightened of its whelps?" His actions helped secure return of the Loyalists to American soil. [194]


Interpretations vary concerning the effect of the Revolution. Historians such as Bernard Bailyn, Gordon Wood, and Edmund Morgan view it as a unique and radical event which produced deep changes and had a profound effect on world affairs, such as an increasing belief in the principles of the Enlightenment. These were demonstrated by a leadership and government that espoused protection of natural rights, and a system of laws chosen by the people. [195] John Murrin, by contrast, argues that the definition of "the people" at that time was mostly restricted to free men who passed a property qualification. [196] [197] This view argues that any significant gain of the revolution was irrelevant in the short term to women, black Americans and slaves, poor white men, youth, and native Americans. [198] [199]

The American Revolution was integral to the changes occurring in American society, politics and culture . These changes were radical, and they were extensive . The Revolution not only radically changed the personal and social relationships of people, including the position of women, but also destroyed aristocracy as it'd been understood in the Western world for at least two millennia. [200]

Edmund Morgan has argued that, in terms of long-term impact on American society and values:

The Revolution did revolutionize social relations. It did displace the deference, the patronage, the social divisions that had determined the way people viewed one another for centuries and still view one another in much of the world. It did give to ordinary people a pride and power, not to say an arrogance, that have continued to shock visitors from less favored lands. It may have left standing a host of inequalities that have troubled us ever since. But it generated the egalitarian view of human society that makes them troubling and makes our world so different from the one in which the revolutionists had grown up. [201]

Inspiring all colonies and the American Revolution's worldwide impact

The first shot of the American Revolution on Lexington Green in the Battle of Lexington and Concord is referred to as the “shot heard ‘round the world.” The American Revolution not only established the United States, but also ended an age (an age of monarchy) and began a new age (an age of freedom). It inspired revolutions around the world. The United States has the world’s oldest written constitution, and the constitutions of other free countries often bear a striking resemblance to the US Constitution – often word-for-word in places. As a result of the growing wave started by the Revolution, today, people in 144 countries (representing 2/3 of the world’s population) live in full or partial freedom. [202] [203] [204] [205] [206] [207] [208] [209]

After the Revolution, genuinely democratic politics became possible in the former American colonies. [210] The rights of the people were incorporated into state constitutions. Concepts of liberty, individual rights, equality among men and hostility toward corruption became incorporated as core values of liberal republicanism. The greatest challenge to the old order in Europe was the challenge to inherited political power and the democratic idea that government rests on the consent of the governed. The example of the first successful revolution against a European empire, and the first successful establishment of a republican form of democratically elected government, provided a model for many other colonial peoples who realized that they too could break away and become self-governing nations with directly elected representative government. [211]

The Dutch Republic, also at war with Britain, was the next country to sign a treaty with the United States, on October 8, 1782. [67] On April 3, 1783, Ambassador Extraordinary Gustaf Philip Creutz, representing King Gustav III of Sweden, and Benjamin Franklin, signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the U.S. [67]

The American Revolution was the first wave of the Atlantic Revolutions: the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and the Latin American wars of independence. Aftershocks reached Ireland in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and in the Netherlands. [212] [213] [209]

The Revolution had a strong, immediate influence in Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, and France. Many British and Irish Whigs spoke glowingly in favor of the American cause. In Ireland, the Protestants who controlled Ireland demanded self-rule. Under the leadership of Henry Grattan, the so-called "Patriots" forced the reversal of mercantilist prohibitions against trade with other British colonies. The King and his cabinet in London could not risk another rebellion on the American model, and made a series of concessions to the Patriot faction in Dublin. Armed Protestant volunteer units were set up to protect against an invasion from France. As in America, so too in Ireland the King no longer had a monopoly of lethal force. [214] [209] [215]

The Revolution, along with the Dutch Revolt (end of the 16th century) and the 17th century English Civil War, was among the examples of overthrowing an old regime for many Europeans who later were active during the era of the French Revolution, such as the Marquis de Lafayette. The American Declaration of Independence influenced the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789. [216] [217] The spirit of the Declaration of Independence led to laws ending slavery in all the Northern states and the Northwest Territory, with New Jersey the last in 1804. States such as New Jersey and New York adopted gradual emancipation, which kept some people as slaves for more than two decades longer. [218] [209] [219]

Status of African Americans

During the revolution, the contradiction between the Patriots' professed ideals of liberty and the institution of slavery generated increased scrutiny of the latter. [220] : 235 [221] : 105–106 [222] : 186 As early as 1764, the Boston Patriot leader James Otis, Jr. declared that all men, "white or black", were "by the law of nature" born free. [220] : 237 Anti-slavery calls became more common in the early 1770s. In 1773, Benjamin Rush, the future signer of the Declaration of Independence, called on "advocates for American liberty" to oppose slavery, writing, "The plant of liberty is of so tender a nature that it cannot thrive long in the neighborhood of slavery.". [220] : 239 The contradiction between calls for liberty and the continued existence of slavery also opened up the Patriots to charges of hypocrisy. In 1775, the English Tory writer Samuel Johnson asked, "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" [223]

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, a number of colonies, including Massachusetts and Virginia, attempted to restrict the slave trade, but were prevented from doing so by royally appointed governors. [220] : 245 In 1774, as part of a broader non-importation movement aimed at Britain, the Continental Congress called on all the colonies to ban the importation of slaves, and the colonies passed acts doing so. [220] : 245 In 1775, the Quakers founded first antislavery society in the Western world, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. [220] : 245 [222] : 186

In the first two decades after the American Revolution, state legislatures and individuals took actions to free slaves, in part based on revolutionary ideals. Northern states passed new constitutions that contained language about equal rights or specifically abolished slavery some states, such as New York and New Jersey, where slavery was more widespread, passed laws by the end of the 18th century to abolish slavery by a gradual method. By 1804, all the northern states had passed laws outlawing slavery, either immediately or over time. In New York, the last slaves were freed in 1827. Indentured servitude (temporary slavery), which had been widespread in the colonies (Half the population of Philadelphia had once been bonded servants) dropped dramatically, and disappeared by 1800.

No southern state abolished slavery, but for a period individual owners could free their slaves by personal decision, often providing for manumission in wills but sometimes filing deeds or court papers to free individuals. Numerous slaveholders who freed their slaves cited revolutionary ideals in their documents others freed slaves as a reward for service. Records also suggest that some slaveholders were freeing their own mixed-race children, born into slavery to slave mothers. The number of free blacks as a proportion of the black population in the upper South increased from less than 1 percent to nearly 10 percent between 1790 and 1810 as a result of these actions. [225] [226] [227] [228] [229] [230] [231] [232] [233] [234] Nevertheless, the slavery continued in the South, transforming slavery into a "peculiar institution", and setting the stage for future sectional conflict between North and South over the issue. [222] : 186–187

Thousands of free Blacks in the northern states fought in the state militias and Continental Army. In the south, both sides offered freedom to slaves who would perform military service. Roughly 20,000 slaves fought in the American Revolution. [235] [236] [237] [238] [239]

Status of American women

The democratic ideals of the Revolution inspired changes in the roles of women. [240]

The concept of republican motherhood was inspired by this period and reflects the importance of revolutionary republicanism as the dominant American ideology. [ citation needed ] It assumed that a successful republic rested upon the virtue of its citizens. Women were considered to have the essential role of instilling their children with values conducive to a healthy republic. During this period, the wife's relationship with her husband also became more liberal, as love and affection instead of obedience and subservience began to characterize the ideal marital relationship. [ original research? ] In addition, many women contributed to the war effort through fundraising and running family businesses without their husbands. [ citation needed ]

The traditional constraints gave way to more liberal conditions for women. Patriarchy faded as an ideal [ dubious – discuss ] young people had more freedom to choose their spouses and more often used birth control to regulate the size of their families. [ original research? ] Society emphasized the role of mothers in child rearing, especially the patriotic goal of raising republican children rather than those locked into aristocratic value systems. [ original research? ] There was more permissiveness in child-rearing. [ clarification needed ] Patriot women married to Loyalists who left the state could get a divorce and obtain control of the ex-husband's property. [241]

Whatever gains they had made, however, women still found themselves subordinated, legally and socially, to their husbands, disfranchised and usually with only the role of mother open to them. But, some women earned livelihoods as midwives and in other roles in the community not originally recognized as significant by men.

Abigail Adams expressed to her husband, the president, the desire of women to have a place in the new republic:

"I desire you would remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands." [242]

The Revolution sparked a discussion on the rights of woman and an environment favorable to women's participation in politics. Briefly the possibilities for women's rights were highly favorable, but a backlash led to a greater rigidity that excluded women from politics. [243]

For more than thirty years, however, the 1776 New Jersey State Constitution gave the vote to "all inhabitants" who had a certain level of wealth, including unmarried women and blacks (not married women because they could not own property separately from their husbands), until in 1807, when that state legislature passed a bill interpreting the constitution to mean universal white male suffrage, excluding paupers. [244]


The American Revolution has a central place in the American memory [245] as the story of the nation's founding. It is covered in the schools, memorialized by a national holiday, and commemorated in innumerable monuments. George Washington's estate at Mount Vernon was one of the first national pilgrimages for tourists and attracted 10,000 visitors a year by the 1850s. [246]

The Revolution became a matter of contention in the 1850s in the debates leading to the American Civil War (1861–1865), as spokesmen of both the Northern United States and the Southern United States claimed that their region was the true custodian of the legacy of 1776. [247] The United States Bicentennial in 1976 came a year after the American withdrawal from the Vietnam War, and speakers stressed the themes of renewal and rebirth based on a restoration of traditional values. [248]

Today, more than 100 battlefields and historic sites of the American Revolution are protected and maintained by the government. The National Park Service alone owns and maintains more than 50 battlefield parks and many other sites such as Independence Hall that are related to the Revolution, as well as the residences, workplaces and meeting places of many Founders and other important figures. [249] The private American Battlefield Trust uses government grants and other funds to preserve almost 700 acres of battlefield land in six states, and the ambitious private recreation/restoration/preservation/interpretation of over 300 acres of pre-1790 Colonial Williamsburg was created in the first half of the 20th century for public visitation. [250] [251]

Iroquois and the Founding Fathers

Did any Native American group influence the men who drafted the United States governing documents?


In 1744, Canasatego, leader of the Onondaga nation and spokesman for the Iroquois Confederation, advised the British colonists:

". . . We heartily recommend Union and a Good Agreement between you our Brethren. Our wise Forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations this has made us formidable, this has given us great weight and Authority with our Neighboring Nations. We are a Powerfull confederacy, and by your observing the same Methods our wise Forefathers have taken, you will acquire fresh Strength and Power."

Canasatego’s admonition and other evidence has led some scholars to believe that Native American, particularly Iroquois, governments served as models for the new nation’s government. Others refute that theory and argue that the framers of the United States Constitution and other documents did not need the example of Indian governments because they could refer to numerous English and Continental European political theories for their ideas.

The Iroquois Confederation is the oldest association of its kind in North America. Although some scholars believe that the Five Nations (Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Mohawk, and Seneca) formed their Iroquois League in the 12th century, the most popular theory holds that the confederation was created around 1450, before Columbus’ “discovery” of America. These five nations bore common linguistic and cultural characteristics, and they formed the alliance to protect themselves from invasion and to deliberate on common causes. In the 18th century, the Tuscarora joined the league to increase the membership to six nations.

Those who support the theory that the First Peoples influenced the drafting of the founding documents point to the words of founders such as Benjamin Franklin, who in 1751 wrote to his printer colleague James Parker that “It would be a strange thing if Six Nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a scheme for such an union, and be able to execute it in such a manner as that it has subsisted ages and appears indissoluble and yet that a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies.” Native American Studies Professor Bruce Johansen and American Studies Professor Donald Grinde, among others, argue that American colonists, in Johansen’s words, “drew freely on the image of the American Indian as an exemplar of the spirit of liberty they so cherished.” These scholars argue that the framers of American governments understood and admired Native American government structures, and they borrowed certain indigenous concepts for their own governments.

Other scholars are not convinced. Anthropologist Elisabeth Tooker, for example, argued that European political theory and precedent furnished the models for American Founders, while evidence for Indian influence was very thin. Although the concept of the Iroquoian Confederation may have been similar to the United States’ first efforts to unite alliance, the Iroquois constructed their government under very different principles. The member nations of the Iroquois League all lived under matrilineal societies, in which they inherited status and possessions through the mother’s line. Headmen were not elected, but rather clan mothers chose them. Representation was not based on equality or on population. Instead, the number of Council members per nation was based on the traditional hierarchy of nations within the confederation. Moreover, the League of Six Nations did not have a centralized authority like that of the federal system the Euro-Americans eventually adopted. These arguments are, however, intriguing. Curious to know more? Read the debate between Elisabeth Tooker and Bruce Johansen, and the articles in the William and Mary Quarterly Forum (1996) cited below.

For more information

Grinde, Donald A. and Bruce E. Johansen. Exemplar of Liberty: Native American and the Evolution of Democracy. Los Angeles: American Indian Studies Center, University of California, 1991.

Richter, Daniel K. The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Age of European Colonization. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1992.

See an exchange between Johansen and Elisabeth Tooker in Ethnohistory:
Tooker, Elisabeth. “The United States Constitution and the Iroquois League” Ethnohistory, 35 (1988): 305-336.

Johansen, Bruce E., “American Societies and the Evolution of Democracy in America, 1600-1800.” Ethnohistory, 37 (1990): 279-290.

Tooker, Elisabeth, “Rejoinder to Johansen,” Ethnohistory, 37 (1990): 291-297.

See also the exchanges located in:
Forum: “The Iroquois Influence Thesis—Con and Pro,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., 53 (1996): 587-636.


Canasatego’s speech to the British colonists at the Treaty of Lancaster negotiations, in Indian Treaties Printed by Benjamin Franklin, 1736-1762. ed. by Julian P. Boyd. Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1938.

Benjamin Franklin to James Parker, March 20, 1751, Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 3, Jan. 2, 1745-June 30, 1750. ed. by Leonard Labaree et al. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.

The founding of the American Colonies - History

Divining America is made possible by grants from the Lilly Endowment and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Deism and the Founding of the United States

Darren Staloff
Professor of History at the City College of New York and
the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
©National Humanities Center

In recent decades, the role of deism in the American founding has become highly charged. Evangelical and/or &ldquotraditional&rdquo Protestants have claimed that Christianity was central to the early history of the United States and that the nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. They point to the use of prayer in Congress, national days of prayer and thanksgiving and the invocation of God as the source of our &ldquounalienable rights&rdquo in the Declaration of Independence. Secularists respond that large fractions of the principal founding fathers were not Christians at all but deists and the American founding was established on secular foundations. Their principal evidence is the strict separation of church and state they find embedded in the first amendment. They further cite the utter absence of biblical references in our principal founding documents and note that the God of the Declaration of Independence is not described in a scriptural idiom as &ldquoGod the Father&rdquo but instead in deistic terms as a &ldquoCreator&rdquo and &ldquosupreme judge of the world.&rdquo Although both sides have some evidence, neither is persuasive. Ultimately, the role of deism in the American founding is just too complex to force into such simplistic formulas.

Deism or &ldquothe religion of nature&rdquo was a form of rational theology that emerged among &ldquofreethinking&rdquo Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries. Deists insisted that religious truth should be subject to the authority of human reason rather than divine revelation. Consequently, they denied that the Bible was the revealed word of God and rejected scripture as a source of religious doctrine. As devotees of natural religion, they rejected all the supernatural elements of Christianity. Miracles, prophecies, and divine portents were all proscribed as residues of superstition, as was the providential view of human history . The doctrines of original sin, the account of creation found in Genesis, and the divinity and resurrection of Christ were similarly castigated as irrational beliefs unworthy of an enlightened age. For Deists God was a benevolent, if distant, creator whose revelation was nature and human reason. Applying reason to nature taught most deists that God organized the world to promote human happiness and our greatest religious duty was to further that end by the practice of morality.

Edward Herbert,
1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury,
by Isaac OliverThe origins of English deism lay in the first half of the 17th century. Lord Edward Herbert of Cherbury, a prominent English statesman and thinker, laid out the basic deist creed in a series of works beginning with De Veritate (On Truth, as it is Distinguished from Revelation, the Probable, the Possible, and the False) in 1624. Herbert was reacting to the ongoing religious strife and bloodletting that had wracked Europe since the onset of the Reformation in the previous century and would shortly spark a revolution and civil war in England itself resulting in the trial and execution of King Charles I. Deism, Herbert hoped, would quell this strife by offering a rational and universal creed. Like his contemporary Thomas Hobbes, Herbert established the existence of God from the so-called cosmological argument that, since everything has a cause, God must be acknowledged as the first cause of the universe itself. Given the existence of God, it is our duty to worship him, repent our failings, strive to be virtuous, and expect punishment and reward in the afterlife. Because this creed was based on reason which was shared by all men (unlike revelation), Herbert hoped it would be acceptable to everyone regardless of their religious background. Indeed, he considered deism the essential core religious belief of all men throughout history, including Jews, Muslims, and even Pagans.

Despite Herbert&rsquos efforts, deism had very little impact in England for most of the 17th century. But in the years from 1690 to 1740, the very height of the Enlightenment in England, deism became a major source of controversy and discussion in English religious and speculative culture. Figures like Charles Blount, Anthony Collins, John Toland, Henry St. John (Lord Bolingbroke), William Wollaston, Matthew Tindal, Thomas Woolston, and Thomas Chubb championed the cause of deism. In so doing, they sparked theological disputes that spread across the channel and the Atlantic.

These Enlightened deists capitalized on two critical developments in the late 17th century to bolster the case for the religion of nature. The first was a transformation in the understanding of nature itself. The path breaking work of physicists like Galileo, Kepler, and, especially, Newton resulted in a vision of the world that was remarkably orderly and precise in its adherence to universal mathematical laws. The Newtonian universe was often compared to a clock because of the regularity of its mechanical operations. Deists seized on this image to formulate the argument from design, namely that the clockwork order of the universe implied an intelligent designer, i.e. God the cosmic clockmaker. The other critical development was the articulation of John Locke&rsquos empiricist theory of knowledge. Having denied the existence of innate ideas, Locke insisted that the only judge of truth was sense experience aided by reason. Although Locke himself believed that the Christian revelation and the accounts of miracles contained therein passed this standard, his close friend and disciple Anthony Collins did not. The Bible was a merely human text and its doctrines must be judged by reason. Since miracles and prophecies are by their nature violations of the laws of nature, laws whose regularity and universality were confirmed by Newtonian mechanics, they cannot be credited. Providential intervention in human history similarly interfered with the clocklike workings of the universe and impiously implied the shoddy workmanship of the original design. Unlike the God of Scripture, the deist God was remarkably distant after designing his clock, he simply wound it up and let it run. At the same time, his benevolence was evidenced by the astounding precision and beauty of his workmanship. Indeed, part of the attraction of deism lay in its foisting a sort of cosmic optimism. A rational and benevolent deity would only design what Voltaire lampooned as &ldquothe best of all possible worlds,&rdquo and all earthly injustice and suffering was either merely apparent or would be rectified in the hereafter. True deist piety was moral behavior in keeping with the Golden Rule of benevolence.

Christianity as Old as the
Creation: Or, The Gospel,
a Republication of the
Religion of Nature,
by Matthew Tindal Most English deists downplayed the tensions between their rational theology and that of traditional Christianity. Anthony Collins clamed that &ldquofreethinking&rdquo in religion was not only a natural right but also a biblically enjoined duty. Matthew Tindal, the author of Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730)&mdashthe &ldquoBible of Deism&rdquo&mdashargued that the religion of nature was recapitulated in Christianity, and the purpose of the Christian revelation was to free men from superstition. Tindal insisted that he was a Christian deist, as did Thomas Chubb who revered Christ as a divine moral teacher but held that reason, not faith, was the final arbiter of religious belief. How seriously to take these claims has been a matter of intense and prolonged debate. Deism was proscribed by law after all the Toleration Act of 1689 had specifically excluded all forms of anti- trinitarianism as well as Catholicism. Even in an age of increasing toleration, flaunting one&rsquos heterodoxy could be a dangerous affair, driving many authors into esotericism if not outright deception. When Thomas Woolston attacked the scriptural accounts of miracles and the doctrine of the resurrection, he was fined one hundred pounds sterling and sentenced to one year in prison. Certainly, some deists adopted a materialistic determinism that smacked of atheism. Others, like Collins, Bolingbroke, and Chubb, questioned the immortality of the soul. Even more challenging was the propensity to ascribe the supernatural elements of the Christian religion to &ldquopriestcraft,&rdquo the cunning deceptions of clergymen who gulled their ignorant flocks by throwing the pixie dust of &ldquomystery&rdquo in their eyes. The Dudleian lecture, endowed by Paul Dudley in 1750, is the oldest endowed lecture at Harvard University. Dudley specified that the lecture should be given once a year, and that the topics of the lectures should rotate among four themes: natural religion, revealed religion, the Romish church, and the validity of the ordination of ministers. The first lecture was given in 1755, and it continues to the present day. On the other hand, the rational theology of the deists had been an intrinsic part of Christian thought since Thomas Aquinas, and the argument from design was trumpeted from Anglophone Protestant pulpits of most denominations on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, Harvard instituted a regular series of lectures on natural religion in 1755. Even anti-clericalism had a fine pedigree among dissenting English Protestants since the Reformation. And it is not inconceivable that many deists might have seen themselves as the culmination of the Reformation process, practicing the priesthood of all believers by subjecting all authority, even that of scripture, to the faculty of reason that God had given humanity.

Like their English counterparts, most colonial deists downplayed their distance from their orthodox neighbors. Confined to a small number of educated and generally wealthy elites, colonial deism was a largely private affair that sought to fly below the radar. Benjamin Franklin had been much taken with deist doctrines in his youth and had even published a treatise [A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain] in England on determinism with strong atheistic overtones. But Franklin quickly repented of his action and tried to suppress the distribution of his publication, considering it one of the greatest errors of his youth. Henceforth he kept his religious convictions to himself and his clubbical &ldquopot companions&rdquo or drinking friends, and tried to present as orthodox a public appearance as possible. Like his handful of fellow colonial deists, Franklin kept a low theological profile. As a result, deism had very little impact in early America up through the American Revolution.

In the years after independence, however, that began to change. In 1784 Ethan Allen, the hero of Fort Ticonderoga and revolutionary leader of the Green Mountain Boys, published Reason: The Only Oracle of Man. Allen had drafted much of the work some twenty years earlier with Thomas Young, a fellow New England patriot and freethinker. Allen rejected revelation (scriptural or otherwise), prophecies, miracles, and divine providence as well as such specifically Christian doctrines as the trinity, original sin, and the need for atonement. A tedious and long-winded author, Allen&rsquos lengthy tome had little impact other than raising the ire of the New England clergy and the specter of homegrown freethinking. The same could not be said of Thomas Paine&rsquos Age of Reason (1794). The legendary author of Common Sense brought the same militancy and rhetorical flair to the struggle for deism that he had for independence. Paine lambasted the superstitions of Christianity and vilified the priestcraft that supported it. More than simply irrational, Christianity was the last great obstacle to the coming secular chiliad , the Age of Reason. Only when it was vanquished could human happiness and perfectibility be achieved. Paine&rsquos impact was due as much to the punchy power of his prose as the extreme radicalism of his views, as evidenced by this denunciation of the Old Testament:

Militant deism had arrived in early America with a bang.

The Temple of Reason,
by Elihu Palmer The flame that Paine sparked was fanned by his good friend Elihu Palmer. A former Baptist minister, Palmer traveled along the Atlantic seaboard lecturing audiences large and small about the truths of natural religion as well as the absurdities of revealed Christianity and the clerical priestcraft that supported them. A skilled biblical casuist , Palmer exposed the irrationality of Christianity and its debased moral principles in Principles of Nature (1801). A radical feminist and abolitionist, Palmer found the scriptures filled with an ethical code of intolerance and vengeful cruelty in sharp contrast to the benevolent humanitarianism of his own rational creed. Palmer spread the word in two deist newspapers he edited, The Temple of Reason (1800&ndash1801) and The Prospect (1803&ndash1805). By the time he died in 1806, Palmer had founded deist societies in several cities including New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.

Organized deism did not survive Palmer&rsquos demise, as much of the nation was swept up in an evangelical revival. In fact, the militant deism of Paine and Palmer never really threatened mainstream Protestantism in the early Republic. But that was not the way many orthodox divines saw it. In the years after Paine and Palmer began spreading their message, many ministers (particularly in New England) angrily denounced the growing menace of godless deism, French-inspired Atheism, and revolutionary and conspiratorial &ldquoilluminatism.&rdquo These charges took on an increasingly shrill and partisan edge, so much so that they became a campaign issue in the Presidential election of 1800 which several clergymen depicted as a choice between the Federalist patriot John Adams and the Francophile anti-Christian Thomas Jefferson.

After explaining the nature of deism, you are in a wonderful position to enrich your students understanding of the role of religion in the founding of the United States. The first thing to do is to show the inadequacy of the polemical formulas stated at the outset of this essay. Begin with the secularist case for a deist founding. First note that of those men who signed the Declaration of Independence, sat in the Confederation Congress, or participated in the Constitutional Convention for whom we have reliable information, the vast bulk were fairly traditional in the religious lives. The presumed deists comprise a fairly small group, although most are prominent &ldquoA list&rdquo founders like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, George Mason, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin. At least two of these names can be struck off the list immediately. Freemasonry

The teachings and practices of the secret fraternal order of Free and Accepted Masons, the largest worldwide secret society. Spread by the advance of the British Empire, Freemasonry remains most popular in the British Isles and in other countries originally within the empire.

Freemasonry evolved from the guilds of stonemasons and cathedral builders of the Middle Ages. With the decline of cathedral building, some lodges of operative (working) masons began to accept honorary members to bolster their declining membership. From a few of these lodges developed modern symbolic or speculative Freemasonry, which particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, adopted the rites and trappings of ancient religious orders and of chivalric brotherhoods. In 1717 the first Grand Lodge, an association of lodges, was founded in England.

Freemasonry has, almost from its inception, encountered considerable opposition from organized religion, especially from the Roman Catholic Church, and from various states.

Though often mistaken for such, Freemasonry is not a Christian institution. Freemasonry contains many of the elements of a religion its teachings enjoin morality, charity, and obedience to the law of the land. For admission the applicant is required to be an adult male believing in the existence of a Supreme Being and in the immortality of the soul. In practice, some lodges have been charged with prejudice against Jews, Catholics, and nonwhites. Generally, Freemasonry in Latin countries has attracted freethinkers and anticlericals, whereas in the Anglo-Saxon countries, the membership is drawn largely from among white Protestants.

&ldquoFreemasonry&rdquo Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
22 Feb. 2008. Hamilton had been fairly devout as a youth, and while there is little evidence of much religiosity during the height of his career, in his final years he returned to a heartfelt and sincere Christian piety. John Adams was far from orthodox in his beliefs but he was no deist he was a universalist Unitarian whose views were remarkably similar to those of Charles Chauncy, the minister of Boston&rsquos First Church. The next category is those whose deism is ascribed on slender evidence. George Washington&rsquos deism is inferred from his failure to mention Jesus in his writings, his freemasonry , and his apparent refusal to take communion during most of his life. That Washington was not a fundamentalist goes without saying, but there is simply no evidence that he was anything other than what was known at the time as a &ldquoliberal&rdquo Christian. A regular attendee of religious services and a vestryman in his parish, Washington peppered many of his addresses and speeches with biblical references and appeals to divine providence as well a messages extolling the role of religion in public life. And the evidence of Mason and Madison is even weaker than that for Washington. The only really plausible cases are Franklin and Jefferson. There is no doubt that both were taken with deist doctrines in their youth and that they informed their mature religious convictions. Yet neither entirely embraced the religion of nature, especially in its militant form. Franklin never accepted the divinity of Christ, but he did specifically argue for a providential view of history. As for Jefferson, there is some evidence that by the late 1790&rsquos he had abandoned his deism for he materialist Unitarianism of Joseph Priestly. This is not to suggest that there were no deists in the founding. Thomas Paine assuredly fits the bill, as do Ethan Allen, Phillip Freneau, and possibly Stephen Hopkins. But these comprise a small fraction of the B-list, not the cream of the crop.

Having dispatched the secularists, turn your fire on the case for a Christian founding. First, note that while the aforementioned founders were not deists, they were far from traditional in their beliefs. Washington may not have mentioned Jesus because he doubted the divinity of Christ, a doubt that was assuredly shared by Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and possibly Mason and Madison as well. &ldquoReal whigs held that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, denounced standing armies,&hellip argued that &lsquofreedom of speech is the great bulwark [safeguard] of liberty.&rsquo feared religious establishments,&hellip were preoccupied with limiting government and protecting a sphere of privacy from undue governmental intervention.&rdquo

Citizens and Citoyens: Republicans and Liberals in America and France, by Mark Hulliung. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2002. page 11. These were, after all, men of the Enlightenment who, in the words of historian Gordon Wood, &ldquowere not all that enthusiastic about religion, certainly not about religious enthusiasm.&rdquo And even if their views were somewhat atypical, they certainly did not hamper them from gaining the respect and public support of their more orthodox countrymen. Moreover, it is important to point out that a country founded by and for Christians does not a Christian founding make. The &ldquoreal whig&rdquo ideology that inspired the colonial protest movement of the 1760s drew on classical and early modern rather than Christian sources there is very little scriptural &ldquoDuring the early modern period, the context of human affairs was changing dramatically. Within the globalization of life, three major changes were of special significance.

1. The development of new-style empires and large state systems that came to dominate global political and military affairs.

2. The internal transformation of the major societies, but especially the transformation of society in western Europe.

3. The emergence of networks of interaction that were global in their scope.

These developments reoriented the global balance of societal power. In 1500 there were four predominant traditions of civilization in the Eastern Hemisphere in a position of relative parity, but by 1800, one of these societies, the West, was in a position to assume political and military control over the whole world.&rdquo

The Encyclopedia of World History:
Ancient, Medieval, and Modern,
6th ed.
, edited by Peter N. Stearns.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
February 2008. authority for the maxim &ldquono taxation without representation.&rdquo Similarly, the doctrines of mixed and balanced government, the separation of powers, and all the other principles of prudential politics association with the Federal Constitution were drawn from the writings of European philosophers rather than biblical prophets or exegetes.

Once your students have seen the inadequacy of both current formulas, push them to rethink the relation of politics and religion in the early Republic. You might suggest that the natural religious language of the Declaration served as a neutral expression acceptable to all denominations rather than a deist creed precisely because a tradition of natural theology was shared by most Christians at the time. Deist phrases may thus have been a sort of theological lingua franca , and their use by the founders was ecumenical rather than anti-Christian. Such ecumenical striving sheds fresh light on the first amendment and the secular order it established. This secularism forbade the federal government from establishing a national church or interfering with church affairs in the states. However, it did not create a policy of official indifference, much less hostility toward organized religion. Congress hired chaplains, government buildings were used for divine services, and federal policies supported religion in general (ecumenically) as does our tax code to this day. The founding generation always assumed that religion would play a vital part in the political and moral life of the nation. Its ecumenical secularity insured that no particular faith would be excluded from that life, including disbelief itself.

Unfortunately, many recent books on deism and the Founding of the United States are polemical in intent. There are two notable exceptions however. David L. Holmes, The Faith of the Founding Fathers (2006) makes a scholarly argument for the importance of deism in the founding, albeit by examining a handful of Virginians. Alf J. Mapp, Jr., The Faiths of Our Fathers: What America&rsquos Fathers Really Believed (2003) takes a more balanced view but is based on little primary research and tends to be conjectural in its conclusions. Little work has been done on deism in early America itself besides Kerry S. Walters, Rational Infidels: The American Deists (1992) which remains the best book on the subject. There are, however, hosts of good and popular books on individuals &ldquodeist&rdquo founders. Two excellent examples are Edwin S. Gaustad&rsquos Sworn on the Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson (1996) and Edmund S. Morgan&rsquos Benjamin Franklin (2002). A good general introduction to the role of religion in the early republic is James H. Hutson, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic (1998).

Darren Staloff is a Professor of History at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has published many papers and reviews on early American history and is the author of The Making of an American Thinking Class: Intellectuals and Intelligentsia in Puritan Massachusetts (1998) and The Politics of Enlightenment: Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams and the Founding of the American Republic (2005).

Address comments or questions to Professor Staloff through TeacherServe &ldquoComments and Questions.&rdquo

13 Colonies

Let’s begin with a list of the 13 Colonies in the order they were established. Each link will send you to a short history further down the page.

Brief History of the 13 Colonies

Although the British controlled the 13 colonies on the east coast, the French took control of Canada, which is why it is not part of America today. The British tried to fight for that land, but were defeated and the French held control.

The Spanish claimed Mexico and some of the western parts of North America including Southern California and part of the Caribbean, but the British were the chief rulers of the continent.


Jamestown was the first of the 13 colonies after the failure to establish a colony on Roanoke Island. It was founded by The London Company in 1607. Jamestown was mainly founded for the purpose of making money. It was a port and trading center. Jamestown was a place for people to come and make their fortune. Another reason, much less pressing than the financial aspect, was to minister to and convert the natives to Christianity.

In 1624, a larger area was named Virginia. This area encompassed Jamestown. By this time, other colonies had already been named and established.


Massachusetts was the second of the 13 colonies, it was formed in 1620.

This was the colony first formed by the pilgrims. This group was also know as the Separatists or Puritans. They came over to escape British rule. This group decided that everything should be decided by the people. They wanted their government to be a democracy. They believed the people had the right to say what happened to them and who ruled over them.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire was the third of the 13 colonies, founded in 1623. From the beginning, New Hampshire was planned to be a colony.

The land was given to John Mason, and he decided to make a colony with it. He live in Hampshire county in England, which is why the colony was named New Hampshire. He invested a lot of money in this land, making cities and towns. Sadly he never saw it, due to his death in 1635.


Maryland was the fourth of the 13 colonies. It was founded in 1632-1634.

Maryland was founded to create a place for Roman Catholics who were still struggling against religious tyranny in England. It was founded because Lord Baltimore saw an opportunity for profit.


Connecticut was the fifth of the 13 colonies. It was not actually considered a colony until 1636, but colonists began forming towns and cities in 1635.

Connecticut was mostly made up of people looking for freedom from government, people looking to earn their fortune, and people just coming to the “New World.” There were also a lot of religious people, as there were in all the colonies at that time. This was another place where people were looking to start over.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island was the sixth of the 13 colonies. It formed in 1636.

When Roger Williams wanted to make changes in religion in Massachusetts, the government did not take it very well. They banished him to England, but instead he went to live with the Native Americans. They formed a group and called it Providence.

Later, three other people were banished due to religious reasons, these three also left and formed small groups. These four groups requested British permission to become a colony. The king consented, thus creating Rhode Island.


Delaware was seventh of the 13 colonies. It was founded in 1638.

Delaware was originally a part of New Sweden, which also included Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania. Later the king of England gained control over the portion east of the Delaware river and named it Delaware.

North Carolina

North Carolina was the eighth of the 13 colonies, sharing that place with South Carolina. It was founded in 1653.

In 1653 some Virginians grew tired of religious laws, and moved just south of the border to start their own group. Soon after, the king granted the land as a gift to some noblemen. They sent people over to colonize the area and some of them joined with the group that was already there. This was then called Carolina. Later, in 1663, because of strife within the colony, the noblmen sold the land back to the corwn. It eventually separated into two separate colonies and became called North and South Carolina.

South Carolina

South Carolina was formed at the same time as North Carolina. See description above.

New York

New York was the tenth of the 13 colonies. It was founded in 1664.

When the Duke of York recieved New Netherland as a gift, it was renamed New York in his honor. He broke off two pieces of the land allotted to him and gave them to two of his friends. These were the foundation for New Jersey.

New Jersey

New Jersey was the eleventh of the 13 colonies. It was founded in 1664.

When two friends of the Duke of York received land from him, they decided to colonize it. They wanted as many people to come and live there as possible, so they began to make promises about all the different things you could gain from the New World, such as fortune and freedom.

Soon, there were many people living there. Not long after, Jersey was sold, in two parts, to Quakers. They were called East and West Jersey. In 1704, with the king’s blessing, they reunited and were called New Jersey.


Pennsylvania was the the twelfth of the 13 colonies. It was founded in 1682.

In 1682, William Penn, recieved land from his grandfather, who had recently passed away. Penn, a Quaker, wanted freedom of religion and protection from persecution for himself and others who might want the same thing. He had not been able to find this, so he started his own colony. He called it Pennsylvania.


Georgia was the last of the 13 colonies. It was founded in 1732, long after the others.

James Oglethorpe asked the king for a land charter and was granted an unpopulated portion of land from the Carolina charter called Georgia after King George. Oglethorpe had two motives for making this colony. One was for people to start anew after serving time in jail, the other, to serve as a military base to defend against the Spanish.

The founding of the American Colonies - History

On his way to Washington to take the oath of office as President of the United States of America, itself seemed destined for dissolution, Abraham Lincoln pointedly stopped in Philadelphia to visit Independence Hall. Standing before that historic landmark on February 21, 1861, Lincoln emphasized to his audience that he had come "to listen to those breathings rising within the consecrated walls where the Constitution of the United States, and I will add, the Declaration of Independence was originally framed." Lincoln continued:

I have never asked anything that does not breathe from those walls. All my political warfare has been in favor of the teachings coming forth from that sacred hall. May my right hand forget its cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if ever I prove false to those teachings. 1

America's Covenantal Vocation

Lincoln's paraphrase of the fifth and sixth verses of Psalm 137 is one of many manifestations of his view of the American experience as being parallel to that of biblical Israel. If Americans were not the chosen people, they were at least, in his eyes, "an almost chosen people." Every cadence and content of Lincoln's remarks at Independence Hall and on similar occasions suggest that he shared the sense of an American vocation similar to that described by Governor John Winthrop, the foremost of the American Puritan founders. 2 In his Modell of Christian Charity delivered aboard the Arabella on the Atlantic Ocean in 1630, Winthrop summarized the enterprise upon which the first Puritan emigrants from England had embarked in the New World: "We are entered into Covenant with him for this work, we have taken out a Commission. "

In January 1965, Winthrop's statement found an echo in President Lyndon B. Johnson's inaugural address:

They came here -- the exile and the stranger, brave but frightened -- to find a place where a man could be his own man. They made a covenant with this land. Conceived in justice, written in liberty, bound in union, it was meant one day to inspire the hopes of all mankind and it binds us still. If we keep its terms, we shall flourish.

The American covenant called on us to help show the way for the liberation of man. And that is today our goal. Thus, if as a nation there is much outside our control, as a people no stranger is outside our hope. 3

Almost 3,000 years after the Covenant at Sinai, the Pilgrims, who saw themselves as new Israelites embarked on a venture into their own "hideous and desolate wilderness," introduced into North America a major stream of thought derived from the biblical idea of covenant. 4 While often more latent than manifest since the days of the Puritans, and partially submerged within other streams and eddies of American thought and culture -- especially secular constitutionalism -- covenant ideas not only formed a significant part of the foundation of the United States, but have continued to influence American life.

Thus, from their earliest beginnings, the people and polities comprising the United States have bound themselves together through covenants to erect their New World order, deliberately following biblical precedents. The covenant concluded on the Mayflower on November 11, 1620, remains the first hallowed document of the American constitutional tradition:

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-writen, the loyall subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, Franc, and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc., haveing undertaken, for the glorie of God, and advancemente of the Christian faith, and honour of our king and countrie, a voyage to plant the first colonie in the Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly and mutualy in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid and by vertue hearof to enacte, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete and convenient for the generall good of the colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witnes wherof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap Codd the 11. of November, in the year of the raigne of our soveraigne lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom. 1620.

A classic covenant, it explicitly created a community and the basis for its subsequent constitutional development. With more pride than accuracy, John Quincy Adams once referred to that Mayflower Compact as "perhaps the only instance in human history of that positive, original social compact which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government." 5 In fact, there were many such covenants at the time of the settlement of British North America. His point is an important one, however. The Mayflower Compact occurred at least thirty years before the speculative philosophers imagined it. By the time that Hobbes and Locke formulated their compactual theories, there were already many compactual civil societies in the New World.

For the patriots of Samuel Adams' "solemn league and covenant" against British oppression for the framers of the constitutional compact of 1787 for Jefferson who referred to the young republic in his first inaugural address as a "chosen country" for Lincoln who often characterized the American union as "a regular marriage" for Johnson and for millions of ordinary Americans, the concept of covenant has been reflected in real experiences from Jamestown to the present whereby individuals and families have come together to establish governing arrangements by compact.

The Puritans: Covenant Comes to the New World

The first political principles systematically enunciated in America were extensions and adaptations of the Puritans' federal theology which saw all society as an outgrowth of the basic biblical covenants between God and His people. 6 Winthrop referred to the good commonwealth as one committed to "federal liberty," or the freedom to freely harken to the law of the covenant. The Puritans sought to place all relationships among people on a covenantal basis. Their congregations were covenant-formed partnerships of "saints" which came into existence only when potential members covenanted among each other, and survived only so long as the covenantal act remained valid (potentially but not necessarily forever).

Similarly, civil government among the Puritans was instituted by civil covenant among the residents (or potential residents) of virtually every town in most of the New England provinces. 7 The Mayflower Compact (originally known as the Plymouth Combination) was the first of these covenantal acts. Subsequently, the same mode of town formation was extended to virtually every settlement created in New England and to many created in the other colonies as well. Connecticut and Rhode Island, for example, were formed by their towns covenanting (together). John Clarke and his Narragansett associates expressed the basic idea in their Plantation Agreement:

It is agreed by this Present Assembly thus Incorporate, and by this Present Act declared, that the Forme of Government Established in Providence Plantations is Democraticall that is to say, a Government held by ye Free and Voluntarie Consent of all, or the greater Parte of the Free Inhabitants. 8

As Henry Steele Commager has observed: "All through the colonial era Americans went from compact to compact -- the Fundamental Laws of Connecticut of 1639, the 'Solemn Compact' at Portsmouth of 1638, and its successor the Charter of the Providence Plantations of 1647, the Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges of 1701 (not quite so clear a case, to be sure), and thereafter a score of compacts and agreements on one frontier after another." 9 As Richard Niebuhr observed some years ago: "one of the great common patterns that guided men in the period when American democracy was formed. was the pattern of the covenant or of federal society." 10

As Winthrop and his colleagues such as Thomas Hooker, the Mathers and other Puritan divines reveal in their works, the Puritans who settled in New England combined a fundamental conservatism with an unhesitating radicalism in a way that was to become as paradigmatic for Americans as other aspects of their approach to life. That combination was no doubt directly related to their covenantal ideology which saw humans bound to God through predestination, yet through that binding free to live according to the constitution He provided for their salvation. To implement that constitution required a revolt against the existing society, but the goals of that revolt were to restore prelapsinarian harmony to the world. The Puritans came to the New World to build a new society, but never lost sight of human weakness in trying to do so.

The synthesis did not always hold together. Those who leaned more to the radical side such as Roger Williams and Ann Dickinson almost immediately broke away. Williams established his own covenantal commonwealth of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations that was as firmly grounded in covenant in matters civil and political in order to guarantee openness in matters religious, something that the Puritans believed was impossible for the attainment of salvation.

Others allowed the conservative dimensions of Puritanism to overwhelm them hence the Salem witch trials in which the continued Puritan emphasis on the deviltry in human souls got out of hand. But for the most part the synthesis held, spinning off different versions. Thomas Hooker, for example, moved his flock from Massachusetts to what became Connecticut to develop a more egalitarian Puritan commonwealth, but one no less faithful to combining conservative and radical dimensions. Here his supporters wrote the first full American constitution, The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which adopted the Mosaic law as the basis of Connecticut law, by reference.

Puritan federalism expressed itself socially through the concept of "federal liberty" which John Winthrop articulated in his Address to the General Court in 1645. For Winthrop and the other Puritans, federal liberty stood in contradistinction to natural liberty:

There is a two-fold liberty, natural (I mean as our nature is now corrupt) and civil or federal. The first is common to man with beasts and other creatures. By this, man, as he stands in relation to man simply, hath liberty to do what he lists it is a liberty to evil as well as to good. This liberty is incompatible and inconsistent with authority and cannot endure the least restraint of the most just authority. The exercise and maintaining of this liberty makes men grow more evil and in time to be worse than brute beasts: omnes sumus licentia deteriores . This is that great enemy of truth and peace, that wild beast, which all of the ordinances of God are bent against, to restrain and subdue it. The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal it may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions between men themselves. This liberty is the proper end and object of authority and cannot subsist without it and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just and honest. This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard (not only of your goods, but) of your lives if need be. 11

In truth, others who came to America were attracted by the openness of a wild land and sought natural liberty. The tension between federal and natural liberty has been a continuing one in American society. Federal liberty -- the liberty to live up to covenants consented to -- is challenged again and again by those who see liberty as doing what one pleases except when it directly interferes with the liberty of the next person.

Politically, the culmination of Puritan federalism was in the New England Confederation which in the end was destroyed by the British as a threat to the empire. Organized originally by the four New England colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Connecticut for defensive purposes, it followed the style of ancient and medieval confederacies of communities in which the real locus of power and commitment remained in the constituting units, but it soon showed signs of going beyond a mere military alliance.

Although the New England Puritans remained the most eloquent articulators of the covenant idea, they were not the only ones to bring it to America. The Scotch-Irish of the mountains and piedmont from Pennsylvania to Georgia the Dutch of New York the Presbyterians and to a lesser extent, the Quakers and German Sectarians of Pennsylvania and the Middle States and the Huguenots of South Carolina were all nurtured in churches constructed on the covenant principle. The first ministers in Virginia -- usually cited as the antithesis of New England -- were also Puritans. 12 Indeed, the tradition became so widespread that by 1776 over half of the new nation's church congregations were based on covenant principles.

Initially, the basic covenants of town and congregation united individuals and families. Parallel to those covenants there developed the network of voluntary associations -- commercial, social, church, and civic -- which represent the non-governmental aspects of a society founded on the principles of free contract. From the first, networks of communities were united as colonies, then states. Ultimately, the network of states was linked in a federal union, always paralleled by a similar network of associations.

Covenants and Other Bonds

The American federal system is very much an outgrowth of both the theological and philosophic streams of thought that converged about covenant by the late seventeenth century. If covenant ideas were first brought to the New World by the Pilgrims and Puritans who settled New England, another set of covenant-related ideas entered America through the teachings of the new political science, especially those of Locke and Montesquieu. That is why federalism in the United States is more than a political device for dividing and sharing power among the state and federal governments but, rather, the form of the American polity in the eighteenth century sense of the term, that is to say, the principle that informs every aspect of the polity. 13

As the form of the American polity, federalism has its roots not only in the political dimension of American society, but in the economic, social, and religious dimensions as well. As we have seen, the political and religious dimensions are closely linked. Significantly, the economic roots of American federalism also have a compactual base. They can be traced back to the early trading companies that sponsored British and Dutch settlement in North America and to the system of governance encountered by those settlers on the voyage over. 14

The trading companies, each with its royal monopolies, were organized on a shareholding basis, so that both ownership and control was spread among the shareholders. In some cases, the shareholders remained in Europe and tried to hold the actual settlers within their grasp on the basis of their control of the company. Invariably, this failed for political reasons. In a few cases, the settlers or some significant portion of them were themselves shareholders and, as such, combined political and economic control. In either case, the pattern of shareholding led to a corporate structure that was at least quasi-federal in character.

In the very earliest days the line between the political and economic aspects of the charters establishing the colonies was not at all clear. As the companies lost their monopolies, charters turned more in the direction of political constitutions, pure and simple, thereby reinforcing the theopolitical covenantal dimension where it was present or providing a complementary, compactual alternative where it was not.

Even the voyage across the ocean contributed to the covenantal experience of the colonists. The governance of ships had a contractual character that at least involved federal principles to the extent that every member of a ship's crew was in some respects a partner in the voyage. By signing the ship's articles, a crew member was entitled to an appropriate share of the profits of the voyage while at the same time formally submitting himself to the governance of the captain and the ship's officers. Since every ship that ventured forth on the ocean was, in effect, leaving civil society for a state of nature, every voyage had to be based upon a prior compact among all participants that would determine the political arrangements that would prevail for that voyage and the distribution of the economic benefits that would result. Two centuries later, this system resurfaced in slightly different form in the organization of the wagon trains that crossed the plains, which also left civil society for a land voyage through the state of nature, so that their members also had to compact with one another to provide for their internal governance during the long trek westward.

These religious, political, and economic elements combined to socialize Americans into a kind of federalistic individualism. That is to say, not the anarchic individualism of Latin countries, but an individualism that recognized the subtle bonds of partnership linking individuals even as they preserved their respective integrities. William James was later to write about the federal character of these subtle bonds in his prescription for a pluralistic universe. 15 Indeed, American pluralism is based upon the tacit recognition of those bonds. Even though in the twentieth century the term pluralism has replaced all others in describing them, their federal character remains of utmost importance. At its best, American society becomes a web of individual and communal partnerships in which people link with one another to accomplish common purposes or to create a common environment without falling into collectivism or allowing individualism to degenerate into anarchy. These links usually manifest themselves in the web of associations which we associate with modern society but which are particularly characteristic of covenanted societies such as that of the United States. 16

In a covenanted society the state itself is hardly more than an association writ large and endowed with exceptional powers but still an association with limited means and ends. Were Americans to adopt a common salutation for some farfetched reason, like "comrade" in the Soviet Union or "citizen" in the days of the French Revolution, in all likelihood the American salutation would be "pardner," the greeting of the archetypical American folk figure, the cowboy who embodies this combination of individualism and involvement in organized society and who expresses the character of that involvement through the term "pardner."

The Revolution and the Declaration of Independence

The Revolutionary era required a new round of covenanting as the colonies reconstituted themselves as independent civil societies. Invariably they followed the customary patterns albeit in the new secularized forms of declarations of rights of constitutions. Thus, according to the Virginia Bill of Rights (1776):

All men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot by any compact deprive or divest their posterity, namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

The Vermont Declaration of Independence of 1777 holds that:

We. the inhabitants [of the New Hampshire Grants] are at present without law or government, and may be truly said to be in a state of nature consequently, a right remains to the people of said Grants to form a government best suited to secure their property, well being and happiness.

All followed the dictum from Leviticus inscribed on the Liberty Bell, rung for the reading of the Declaration of Independence, "Proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof," as they understood it.

These Revolutionary era documents reflect the influence of the "new political science" which had become prominent by this time. They also reflect the increasing secularization of covenant which had begun to occur after 1690 along with the Puritan declension in Europe and America. By 1776, the word covenant had been largely, though not entirely, superseded in political affairs by the words compact and constitution . It was during this period, for example, that the Plymouth Combination became known as the Mayflower Compact. 17

As the original Christian and communitarian solidarity associated with the idea of covenant (i.e., both kinship and consent) became more elusive in the face of growing populations, new generations, and rising manufacturing, the old Puritan communities tended to become more legalistic and contractual, often along the kinds of "oppressive" lines which many contemporary Americans associate with "Puritanism." Where, for instance, a handshake might have sealed a business relationship in 1630, a written contract with "fine print" enforceable by secular courts was more likely to seal a relationship in 1730. Consequently, in a movement paralleled in the "new political science," there tended to be a greater division of secular and religious affairs, with the formal language of covenant being more confined to private sector congregationalism and a secularized language of constitutionalism being more prominent in public sector affairs. In short, the emphasis shifted from communitarianism toward individualism -- a movement capped by the disestablishment of churches in all but the most religiously covenantal states during the immediate revolutionary era. The shift was not complete, of course, and tensions between these conceptions of civil society have persisted throughout American history.

Some of these tensions are also reflected in the Declaration of Independence, the founding covenant of the American people which preceeded the Constitution of 1787. The Constitution was designed to translate the relationships called for in the Declaration into workable institutions. Whatever Jefferson's and Congress' indebtedness to Locke, which is a subject of much debate' the concept and intention of the Declaration is more covenantal than compactual in the American context. As Jefferson remarked nearly fifty years later:

Neither aiming at originality of principles or sentiments nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American Mind. 18

There is little resemblance between the Declaration and the Hobbesian compact. While many of the fundamental principles and basic ideas of Hobbes with regard to human nature and natural right are present, the Declaration is prudential but not pessimistic about the possibilities of human self-government, hence it does not accept the idea of absolute king of leviathan state required by the Hobbesian compact. At the same time, the Declaration is more comprehensive than the Lockean compact and even drops the word "property," which is so essential to Locke's system, in favor of "the pursuit of happiness." Since the Declaration is the statement of a people that has already emerged from the state of nature, it does not use that starting point. In that sense, it is presented as a revision of an earlier compact and appeals to the Laws of Nature and of nature's god. 19

The Declaration shares many of the characteristics of the classic biblical covenant at Sinai. 20 Central to this similarity is that the Declaration established the Americans as an organized people bound by a shared moral vision as well as common interests. The sense of an American identity, which had been emerging during the previous generation, was formalized and declared to the world much like the Sinai covenant had formally created the people of Israel whose sense of shared identity and common destiny had emerged earlier but was concretized during the Exodus. Thus, the opening paragraph of the Declaration asserts that Americans are no longer transplanted Englishmen, but a separate people entitled, like all peoples, to political independence. There is, then a separation of one people from another and a flight from tyranny. The Americans, moreover, are held to be a single people made up of individuals bound in partnership in a common enterprise.

Also like the classic Sinai covenant, the Declaration is not a constitution. It does not establish a particular form of government. That is left open to subsequent constitutional action on the part of the people created by the Declaration.

Instead, the Declaration sets forth the fundamental principles that define the character of the American people, their basic purposes, and the nature of good government for such a people. Perhaps this is why Abraham Lincoln appealed so often to the Declaration during the Civil War. The Constitution had already been torn asunder by a bloody war between the states which threatened to destroy the American people as well. While constitutional matters could be dealt with in due time, there is the more fundamental promise of peoplehood contained in the Declaration of Independence. This promise has the character of being perpetual and irrevocable. As Lincoln said in several of his addresses, there can be no divorce. The American people cannot separate and go away from each other.

While the Declaration does not have the force of law in the American system, it is part of the higher law background of the United States Constitution and serves as the standard against which particular constitutions are to be judged by Americans. As such, like a classic biblical covenant, the Declaration invokes God as both a witness and guarantor. This sets it apart from a simple compact. Niebuhr's description of this dimension as understood by early Americans seems to capture the essential thrust of the Declaration.

Covenant meant that political society was neither purely natural nor merely contractual, based on common interest. Covenant was the binding together in one body politic of persons who assumed through unlimited promise responsibility to and for each other and for the common laws, under God. It was government of the people, for the people and by the people but always under God, and it was not natural birth into natural society that made one a complete member of the people but always the moral act of taking upon oneself, through promise, the responsibilities of a citizenship that bound itself in the very act of exercising its freedom. For in the covenant conception the essence of freedom does not lie in the liberty of choice among goods, but in the ability to commit oneself for the future to a cause and in the terrible liberty of being able to become a breaker of the promise, a traitor to the cause. 21

The Declaration also follows the classical covenant formulary to a great degree. First, there is a statement of who is doing the covenanting, namely, "the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled," July 4, 1776. Second, there is a prologue and historical section detailing the prior relationships of England and the American colonies. These establish the setting for the Declaration and give reasons for its creation. Third, there is a set of stipulations and obligations containing the basic agreements of the American people. These begin as a statement of self-evident truths. Fourth, there is a provision for its public proclamation to mankind, and copies were to be sent to Parliament and distributed throughout the newly independent states. While, of course, there are no provisions for depositing the Declaration in a temple, it was eventually enshrined and elevated to a hallowed position. During the nineteenth century, moreover, the Declaration was given annual public readings on the Fourth of July in many communities, events which had echoes of covenant renewal ceremonies which often are a feature of covenantal communities. Fifth, there is an invocation of a divine witness, namely, "the Supreme Judge of the world" and "Divine Providence." Sixth, there are indirect statements of blessings and curses. The blessings for performance are national independence and individual life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. The curses for non-performance are tyranny, oppression, and even death.

From Covenant to Constitution

The establishment of the American covenant in an appropriate constitution occurred over a period of twelve years. The states were the first to write constitutions. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 -- the oldest written constitution in the modern world and still in effect today -- is as close to being an example as any. 22 Drafted largely by John Adams, it weaves together the elements of covenant, compact, and constitution quite nicely, as reflected in the Preamble quoted earlier.

The body-politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals. It is a social compact by which the whole people covenants with each citizen and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good. It is the duty of the people, therefore, in framing a Constitution of Government, to provide for an equitable mode of making laws, as well as for an impartial interpretation and a faithful execution of them, that every man may, at all times, find his security in them.

Similar statements, though usually less eloquent, appear in almost all of the fifty state constitutions. 23

It should not be surprising, therefore, that the Americans established a federal system of government with sovereignty divided and shared between the states and the nationwide government. This if often treated as an anomaly or as a product of unique circumstances. Yet the governmental outcome of the Revolution could have been very different. The states could have separated as independent nations. They could have been united in whole or in sections by conquest. The Americans could have erected a monarchy. Indeed, given past experiences with the governance of large territories, these were much more likely outcomes than the actual one. Instead, the Americans, within their states, sent representatives to a convention, ostensibly to improve the Articles of Confederation, and then ended up ratifying, under pacific conditions, a wholly new constitution that employed federal principles to create the first continental republic in world history. Whereas, historically, large territories (as well as most small ones) were invariably ruled by an imperial center, the United States became governed through a system of dispersed democratic majorities coupled with nationwide representation of both individuals and constituent states. 24

Although it is impossible to determine definitively the influences upon the minds of the framers of the Constitution who created the unique American federal system, the most overlooked, yet perhaps most important, source of ideas is the covenant tradition which found its first political expression in the federation of tribes of ancient Israel. One of the few political scientists to recognize this possibility was William C. Morey in the late nineteenth century. Morey saw the sources of American federalism in "the reappearance of democratic and federal institutions in the Puritan colonies. 25 Although he did not mention federal theology, he regarded the federative system of New England as the model of federalism. After all, there were no extant models for the framers of the U.S. Constitution except New England. Furthermore, representatives from New England, especially Connecticut and Massachusetts, were influential in the Constitutional Convention. The principal compromise of the Convention, The Connecticut Compromise, was initiated by those delegates accustomed to the New England legislative system in which one house provided for representation of towns. This compromise lies at the heart of the federal system and makes it, in the words of James Madison, a "compound republic" partly national and partly federal (in the earlier sense of confederal). In addition, the most covenantal of the state constitutions, that of Massachusetts, was among the most influential of the state models for the framers.

Supplementing the New England regional influences were the ethnoreligious conduits of covenant ideas, especially Congregationalism and Presbyterianism, the two largest denominations in 1787. A majority of the delegates to the Convention were affiliated with covenant-based churches, while most of the delegates were no doubt familiar with the covenant idea, given their Protestantism and attention to the Bible as a source of wisdom and literary enjoyment, if not always spiritual inspiration. The English and Scottish backgrounds of many of the delegates may have also accounted for covenantal influences. The Congregationalists were certainly grounded in covenant ideas, though their propensity for localism and local control made them somewhat hesitant to leap into large-scale arrangements. The Presbyterians, however, were already moving toward full-scale federalism. As Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., noted: "More than either [the Congregationalists or Anglicans] the Presbyterians in their reliance on federalist and representative institutions anticipated the political makeup of the future United States. 26 Indeed, as the first government came into office under the U.S. Constitution in 1789, the Presbyterians held their first nationwide General Assembly. In the Presbyterian system, congregations in a local area formed a presbytery several presbyteries in a region formed a synod and then came the General Assembly. As a result, the system of federal democracy established by the U.S. Constitution has often been referred to as Presbyterianism writ large for civil society.

Moreover, James Madison of Virginia, the principal architect of the theory of federal democracy, was a Scotch-Irish Episcopalian who had studied under and been greatly influenced by the Scottish Reverend, Donald Robertson, the prominent scholar-divine John Witherspoon at the Presbyterian-oriented College of New Jersey (now Princeton). Indeed, six of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had studied under Witherspoon. As a strong supporter of independence and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Witherspoon's influence was substantial enough that Horace Walpole is alleged to have complained that: "There is no use crying about it. Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson, and that is the end of it." 27

The comment may be fictitious, but the sentiment is not. Institutional structures and cultural traditions which served as carriers of covenant ideas were still strong in 1787, though increasingly in secular forms. The framers, however, were engaged in a wholly secular enterprise. By 1787 the theological stream of covenant ideas and the philosophic stream of compactual ideas had become so intermingled in the concept of constitutionalism that it is difficult to separate their effects. Albeit, given that the federal system established by the framers bears a much greater similarity to the political systems proposed by the federal theologians and implemented in their church polities, than the political systems proposed by Hobbes and Locke, and given that Americans were already covenanting into civil societies well before the speculative philosophers adopted the idea, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that covenant ideas had, in the final analysis, a more decisive influence than those of the "new political science."

Furthermore, the systems of the English philosophers could not by directly applied to America because, even in 1787, the country was simply enormous compared to tiny England. While such prominent revolutionary ideas as "natural rights" certainly belong to the Lockean tradition, they were also grounded in the covenant tradition and were further adapted to the federal framework of American constitutionalism rather than the monarchical framework of Hobbes or parliamentary framework of Locke. Thus, it is inaccurate to describe America as simply a Lockean nation.


1. Abraham Lincoln, "Reply to Mayor Alexander Henry at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania" in Collected Works (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953), Vol. 4, pp. 238-239.

2. John Winthrop, "A Model of Christian Charity," in The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry , Perry Miller, ed. (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1956), pp. 79-84.

3. Lyndon B. Johnson, January 20, 1965 Presidential Inaugural Address, in Howard B. Furer, ed., Lyndon B. Johnson: Chronology-Documents-Bibliographical Aids (New York: Ocean Publications, 1971), pp. 92-95.

4. Richard P. Gildrie, Salem, Massachusetts, 1626-1683: A Covenant Community (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1972), and E. Brooks Holifield, The Covenant Sealed: The Development of Puritan Sacramental Theology in Old and New England: 1570-1720 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974).

5. John Quincy Adams, The Social Compact, Exemplified in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with Remarks on the Theories of Divine Right of Hobbes and of Filmer, and the Counter Theories of Sidney, Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, concerning the Origin and Nature of Government , a lecture delivered before the Franklin Lyceum at Providence, R.I., November 25, 1842 (Providence: Knowles and Vose, 1842).

6. Charles Hyneman and Donald Lutz, American Political Writing During the Founding Era, 1760-1805 (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983) Donald Lutz, Documents of Political Foundation Written by Colonial Americans (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1986) Perry Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953).

7. Edmund S. Morgan, Puritan Political Ideas, 1558-1794 (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965).

8. Cf. Donald Lutz, Documents of Political Foundation .

9. Henry Steele Commager, Documents of American History (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1963).

10. H. Richard Niebuhr, "The Idea of Covenant and American Democracy," Church History , Vol. 23 (1954): 126-135.

11. John Winthrop, History of New England, 1630-1649, ed. Sam Savage (Boston, 1853), 2: 279-282.

12. On non-New England covenants, see W. Keith Kavenagh, ed. Foundations of Colonial America (New York: Chelsea House, 1983),m especially Volume 3, Parts I and II.

13. Cf. Daniel J. Elazar, The American Constitutional Tradition (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987).

14. Andrew McLaughlin, The Foundations of American Constitutionalism (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1972).

15. William James, A Pluralistic Universe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977). Cf. also Harry S. Levinson, "William James and the Federal Principle," Publius , Vol. 9, No. 4 (Fall 1979): 65-86.

16. Cf. Robert MacIver, The Web of Government (New York: Macmillan, 1947), and Corinne L. Gilb, Hidden Hierarchies: The Professions and Government (New York: Harper and Row, 1966).

17. Cf. Donald Lutz, "From Covenant to Constitution in American Political Thought," Publius , Vol. 10, No. 4 (Fall 1980): 106, and Harry M. Ward, Statism in Plymouth Colony (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1972), p. 4.

18. Saul K. Padover, Jefferson (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1942), p. 54.

19. Cf. Carl Becker, The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), and Daniel J. Elazar, The American Constitutional Tradition , Ch. 4.

20. Neal Riemer, "1776 and the Tradition of Prophetic Politics," Working Paper (Philadelphia: Center for the Study of Federalism, 1981).

21. H. Richard Niebuhr, "The Idea of Covenant and American Democracy."

22. Ronald Peters, The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: A Social Compact (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1974).

23. John Adams, Adams: His Political Writings , edited with an introduction by George A. Peek, Jr. (New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1954), p. 95 Willi Paul Adams, The First American Constitutions (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973) Donald Lutz, Documents of Political Foundation Written by Colonial Americans .

24. Cf. Daniel J. Elazar, The Politics of American Federalism (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath, 1969), Introduction.

25. William C. Morey, "The First State Constitutions," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences , Vol. 4, No. 2 (1893): 201-232.

26. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., The Birth of the Nation (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1968), p. 83.

Colonial America Facts: Indentured Servants

Many of the early colonial immigrants came to America as an indentured servant. Indentured servants were men and women who signed a contract (also known as an indenture or a covenant) by which they agreed to work for a certain number of years in exchange for transportation to the colonies and, once they arrived, food, clothing, and shelter.

If you are able to trace your ancestry back to the early to the mid 18th century, then you will most likely have an ancestor that was an indentured servant. That is the story of one of my ancestors who immigrated over from Germany and in exchange for his passage he signed a contract. He worked for his master for two years and actually married his master&rsquos daughter. He then moved from Pennsylvania to Maryland where he died in 1777. His sons would fight in the American Revolution.

There are many stories such as this one. While life was not easy for many colonists in the New World, the life they were leaving in the Old World was worse. Protestant and Catholic wars, no middle class, no chance to better yourself or own land, and poor health conditions had taken its toll on European populations. To many, the conditions of becoming an indentured servant afforded them an opportunity that did not exist in any part of the world.

The 13 colonies can be divided into three regions: New England, Middle, and Southern colonies. The chart below provides additional information including the years of settlement and founders of each.

The New England colonies included Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Plymouth Colony was founded in 1620 (when the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth), but was incorporated into Massachusetts Bay in 1691.

The group that left England for America in the Mayflower was called the Puritans they believed in a strict interpretation of the writings of John Calvin, who dismissed the beliefs of both the Catholics and the Anglicans. The Mayflower first landed in Provincetown on Cape Cod, where they signed the Mayflower Compact while docked in Provincetown Harbor. After five weeks, they crossed Cape Cod Bay to Plymouth.

Watch the video: The Founding of the 13 Colonies. History (July 2022).


  1. Vudokasa

    I'm sorry, but I think you are making a mistake. Email me at PM, we will talk.

  2. Gassur

    What are all these people talking about in the comments? o_O

  3. Mika

    beautifully done! Thanks to!!!

Write a message