1. Who made up the colonial elite? To what extent did they dominate the socio-economic and political policies in the colonies?
The class system of colonial America followed the British model very closely – those who had more money tended to hold the power in the colonies. The colonial elite consisted of larger landowners, as well as successful planters and growers – they were typically found in the South. In the North, wealthy merchants made up the colonial elite. This class system was typically confined to seaports like Philadelphia and New York – due to the prosperity that came with the expanding populations of these cities (25,000 people in Philadelphia by 1750, 15,000 in New York and so one), the goods and supplies that these merchants provided made them extremely wealthy. It was not uncommon to see gigantic Georgian mansions owned by many a merchant during this time in these cities. Between the mercantile culture of New England and the farm culture of the South, those who held the most economic power tended to determine the social and economic cultures of those areas.
Political policy in the colonies during the time of early America was largely determined by the social and economic elite. Because these wealthy merchants and big planters had so much wealth to go around, and to use to contribute to the community, their opinions held sway over many decisions in colonial politics. Despite the fact that suffrage was in effect, and every man who owned a particular percentage of property could vote, the elite tended to be favored in colonial elections due to their financial means. These colonial elites were conservative nature, and had good heritage – they owned the fishing grounds, the forests, and fluid capital by which the colonies ran.
With this wealth of political and socioeconomic power supplied to the elites, it stood to reason that the colonial elites held political stability in a very high regard. As a result, many different pieces of legislation were put forth to allow England to profit further from the commerce of the colonies, as long as the colonial elite benefited as well. Class distinctions ran high as the rich continued to limit the lower class’ political power through the varying property qualifications required for voting and holding offices. The colonial elite often became the ambassadors of English policy, as the existing system kept them rich – they had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
There were most certainly attempts to usurp the colonial elite or lessen their hold on the social and political fortunes of America. In 1760, Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia proved that a large group of the lower class could successfully overthrow one of the social elite from office (Governor William Berkeley was recalled to England after the Rebellion). Many other rebellions and uprisings cropped up immediately afterward as a result of that highly-publicized event, and colonial governments were being challenged left and right. However, it was not until the events leading up to the Revolutionary War that the colonial elite friendly to Britain were thrown out or usurped.
2. What role did African Americans play during the Great Awakening”? Explain the contradiction between enslavement and religion.
During the Great Awakening of the 1700s, a cultural revolution was occurring in American Society. A spiritual refreshment was taking place in America, revival of Christianity occurring on a great scale throughout the colonies. Regardless of denomination, whether Puritan or Dutch Reformed or Baptist, the Great Awakening increased interest in faith everywhere in America. Religion was becoming more and more of an integral part of Americans’ lives, in New England and elsewhere. Nowhere did this movement have greater impact than in the Southern colonies, particularly those with larger African American populations.
In churches, African Americans were given more power and more religious personhood than they had as slaves. Often, Baptist churches would openly allow blacks to serve actively in congregations; in some instances, black preachers were common during this time. The presence of the church afforded blacks agency and freedom they did not receive on the plantation. During this time, the English hymn came to America, and this was blended with African musical styles among African Americans to form the early Negro spirituals. In this way, African Americans influenced church policy in very dramatic ways during the Great Awakening, injecting aspects of their culture into church culture.
The Great Awakening also saw a greater level of religious tolerance towards blacks, and even the first inklings of the abolitionist movement. John Woolman, in 1743, stood up for blacks and advocated abolition, while Samuel Hopkins opposed importing slaves through his congregation. Revival occurred to everyone, regardless of race, and despite attempts by African Americans to hold onto their own religious traditions, many accepted Christianity into their hearts. Many black ministers came forth and created their own Baptist churches in South Carolina and Georgia, granting themselves agency by converting and running black churches on their own. These small but important steps to freedom were provided through the Great Awakening’s commitment to converting as many people as possible – white or black – to Christianity.
There is an interesting contradiction that occurs between enslavement and religion as a result of the Great Awakening. At this time, blacks were still immensely socially and economically disenfranchised; they were barely considered people, as they were enslaved and put to work for white masters. In the comforting grip of religion, however, they were equal to all other men – in the eyes of a just and loving God, they were just as worthy of salvation as anyone else. They were not taught differently, and African Americans embraced the possibility of that kind of freedom. However, it is telling that, while white preachers would still extol the virtues of a God who would forgive him and embrace them, many of these same powerful whites would refuse to grant African Americans the same freedoms and sense of personhood on Earth. African Americans would be torn in this direction constantly throughout the Great Awakening, and through their interaction in the church would find new ways of expressing themselves and finding their voice.
3. How were Puritan families organized”? What roles were assigned to men and women”? How was property owned”? Described the relationship between parents and children.
Puritan families had a strict patriarchal structure, especially in early America. A hierarchy existed where God came first, then the man, and the women came third. Men and women were given strict and vastly different roles within the family, occupying different roles but ultimately subservient to the husband. Men were the workers and masters of the family; they would be the ones to teach young men their own skills and the word of God. The women were responsible for ensuring that their children were pure, and would grow up into responsible Puritans themselves. Respect for the elderly was a paramount virtue of the Puritans; when Puritans gathered, elders had the best seats in the house, and this extended to the family structure as well.
When it came to property, Puritan families typically deferred ownership of their property to the patriarch. However, before marriage, single women were able to conduct businesses and own their own property. When the women became married to a Puritan man, the principle of coverture took effect – basically, the legal identity of the woman was absorbed into the husband. Because the husband and wife are one person according to the law, the husband incorporates all her property, and she no longer owns and property for herself.
In terms of parenting, Puritan parents were very strict, but held very passionate beliefs about their children. While mental discipline and affection were means of controlling and instructing their children, physical force was also a means to discipline. Puritan parents were also very limited on the affection they would show their children; this was done in order to ready the children for the obeying of the laws of God. Children were supposed to behave like adults and do adult chores; they also attended church services just the same. When a child was disobedient, they were sorely punished, and emotions and shows of weakness were frowned upon. Because Puritans saw playtime and leisure time as a sin, Puritan children rarely played, instead learning from their parents and doing chores with them. Puritan parents would use the practice of “sending out,” for their children. This involved sending their children to work, live and study with craftsmen and other families in order to learn a vocation. Sometimes, this was also done to train and discipline them, permitting them to learn skills and traits outside of the family structure.
In short, Puritans had a very strict, conservative view of family, all of which centered around the father. The man of the family held all the property and all of the power; the wife would take care of the children and the house, and the children would spend their time learning trades and the word of God. The energies of this family would be allocated to serving the will of God and learning about His teachings – instead of overt familial affection and nurturing emotion, these ties are kept at a distance in order to prepare their children to accept and embrace the love of God.
4. Discuss how and why the lifestyles and experiences of American colonists began to differ from those of their kinfolk in England. When do you believe they began to see themselves as being less British and more Anglo-American?
Living in distant colonies far from the immediate reach of the King, American life quickly started gravitating away from what was familiar to those in England and became wholly new. The American system of government was somewhat different from the English way of governing. English life was always predicated on the monarchic system of serving a king or queen; instead of a democracy, royalty determined the fortunes and allocation of resources for the entire country. However, in the American colonies, its increased size meant creating colonies without a land-based aristocracy. With this in mind, a broad electorate was created, making elections free and numerous. Candidates would have to run and post their case for winning the citizens’ votes. This created a much higher interest in society on the whole in America, and placed the burden of government on a select few governors as opposed to direct royal influence.
The American environment helped determine a great deal of the unique experiences found by American colonists at the time. Instead of loving on a smaller island, the larger size of America meant more room to spread. Furthermore, the existence of native peoples created both an opportunity and an danger that was not present in English life. Americans had to have a much more survivalist temperament in order to survive in this wilderness; learning how to cultivate their own new, rich lands was much more of a priority than in the populous English cities. Another factor that led to Americans believing they were less European was the homogenous culture that sprang forth from the many different nationalities coming to live and work in America. From Africans to Native Americans, German, Dutch, East Anglicans and more, this ‘melting pot’ of peoples began to share an experience not reciprocated by white Protestant Englishmen.
The economy of America was dependent on farmland and planting, much more so than in England, which was the inspiration for quite a few differences. The American economy was primarily export-based, sending many resources and goods out to England. Furthermore, mercantilism began to be emphasized less and less as a means of transporting and delivering goods; while that was initially put into effect by England itself, the plentiful resources of America made the import of goods less vital. With that in mind, America became more and more self-sufficient, relying less on English ship trade to allow them to survive.
The chief schism that occurred between American colonists identifying themselves as something separate from England likely came at the beginning of the higher taxes levied against them by the British. A result of the French Indian War, England demanded higher taxes of American citizens; this set many American citizens against the English, and they began to see themselves as agents of a greater sovereign nation – England was always so far away as to be practically nonexistent in their affairs, and they finally recognized that they may not be English anymore. It was at this point that American colonists saw themselves as American, instead of English.