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Americans: The Colonial Experience Essay, Research Paper
The Americans: The Colonial Experience
America was not believed to be a ground for a utopian society, rather a place for a new start, more freedom, and fewer taxes. The initial group to settle the “New World” were the
Puritans, “separatists” making a hopeless attempt to try to purify the Church of England by swearing loyalty to the group instead of the king. This all takes place during the 17th and 18th centuries. The following topics that will be discussed are intended to portray all of the different aspects of colonial American social and governmental tendencies. The impression that Boorstin has hidden in the context of the book is that of the portrayal of the “Old World’s” ideas and the influence that those ideas had on the coming of the New World, or better known as America.
The Puritans sailed westward across the Atlantic Ocean in 1630. There were fifty-two Puritans that came to the New World to set up the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the governor of the colony was to be John Winthrop, who stated, “Wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill.” This simply meant that they would be a beacon for the entire world to look upon. This group included many people of substantial wealth and position. The Puritans wished to be “guided by one rule, even the Word of the most high.” They were ruled by the Bible, which resulted in the special character of their approach to experience. The peculiar character of their Biblical orthodoxy nourished a practical and non-Utopian frame of mind. Anne Hutchinson believed that if the Puritans are going to ignore the non-elect, that they should ignore all of the non-elect. She was put on trial by John Winthrop, however, she knew her scripture very well so she could not be persecuted. She and her followers were banished from the colony. Another disagreement that took place was that of Roger Williams. He questioned the legality of congregationalism and said that church and state must be separate. Williams believed that the civil government should remain totally uninvolved in religious matters. He was then banned from Massachusetts and later, he founded Providence, which was the only New England colony at the time that practiced religious tolerance.
The Puritans were not the only colonists driven by religious motives to leave England. William Penn, the son of Charles II, was given the last large tract of land that the king owned. In 1681, William Penn and his fellow “Quakers” used this land grant in the founding of Pennsylvania, ‘the city of brotherly love‘. Penn’s Frame of Government in 1682 guaranteed religious freedom to all “who confess and acknowledge the one Almighty and Eternal God…..and hold themselves obliged, in conscience, to live peaceably and justly in civil society.” William Penn had two goals: set up a religious community ‘holy experiment’ based on the teachings of George Fox, the founder of English Quakerism; and make some money for all of the troubles he went through. George Fox’s teachings were simply, “that every man was enlightened by the divine Light of Christ,” and he was tried for blasphemy and he warned the judges to “tremble at the word of the lord”, hence the name Quakers. Penn also publicized the fact that there are opportunities awaiting the newcomers to the Pennsylvania colony, and convicts were actually given the chance to escape from the prisons and start a new life in the New World. Mary Dyer, a follower of Anne Hutchinson, spoke out against her oaths, and she was hung for sedition.
Georgia was founded in 1732 by the British. General James Oglethorpe, an appealing figure of Georgia, despised slavery and he tried to ban it in Georgia. He was an arrogant and tough-minded military man of good will. Britain tried to make Georgia into a utopia, but their basic error was the strictness of their rules for the ownership, use, sale, and inheritance of Georgia’s primary resource, land. The London Philanthropists tried to make Georgia into what Europe could not have been, a charity colony. They felt that this colony ought to be a protector of the frontier, a refuge for the unfortunate and unemployed of London, and a source of valued semi-tropical products. The government of Georgia eventually failed because the Trustees had burdened themselves with powers which nobody could wisely exercise from London.
Late in December 1606, a group of about one-hundred men set out in search of great adventure and hope of finding gold. Among them, Captain John Smith emerged as the dominant figure, and despite many quarrels, starvation, and Indian attacks, he managed to hold the little colony together through the first years. In 1612, the discovery of a method of curing Virginia tobacco to make it pleasant to the European taste revolutionized the economy of Virginia. The first shipment of this tobacco reached London in 1614, and within a decade it had become Virginia’s chief source of revenue. The local government varied throughout Virginia. They adopted a county-court system in which the justices were appointed by the Governor. The entire colony was governed by a vestry, or elected council. The members of the church were legally indebted to pay a certain tax to the Anglican church. Virginia did not have the elite members of society to provide for the unfortunate because the wealthy class emerged mainly from thieves.
Harvard College was founded in1636 in Massachusetts. Near the end of the 17th century, the College of William and Mary was established in Virginia. A few years later, the Collegiate School of Connecticut (Yale College) was chartered. Even more remarkable was the growth of a school system maintained by governmental authority. In 1647, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, followed later by all the other New England colonies except Rhode Island, provided for mandatory elementary education. In the south, the farms and plantations were so widely separated that community schools like those in the more compact northern settlements were impossible. Some planters joined with their nearest neighbors and hired tutors for their children, while other children were sent to England for schooling. One of the most innovative colonies educationally was Pennsylvania. The first school there began in 1683, and it taught reading, writing, and keeping of accounts. The College of New Jersey at Princeton, King’s College (Columbia University) in New York City, and Queen’s College (Rutgers) in New Brunswick, New Jersey, were not established until the middle of the 18th century. The intellectual and cultural development of Pennsylvania reflected the vigorous personalities of two men: James Logan and Benjamin Franklin. Logan was the secretary of the colony, and it was in his library that Franklin did his works. Franklin founded a public academy that later developed into the University of Pennsylvania.
Considering all of the events that took place during this time, the intellectual energy of colonial Americans was strikingly small. There were not many books written, even by the most literate of them all, Franklin and Jefferson. In his circular letter, Franklin suggested that not many people wrote books because they were too involved in other things and didn’t have time to write about American culture. In New York, freedom of the press had its first important test in the case of Peter Zenger, whose New York Weekly Journal, begun in 1733,was the spokesman for opposition to the government. After two years of publication, the colonial governor could no longer tolerate Zenger’s satirical barbs and had him thrown into prison on a charge of libel, or simply slander. Zenger continued to edit his paper from jail during his nine-month trial, which excited an intense interest throughout the colonies. Andrew Hamilton, a prominent lawyer defending him, argued that the charges printed in the paper were true and, therefore, not slanderous. The jury returned the verdict of not guilty, and Zenger went free. This momentous decision helped establish in America the principle of freedom of the press.
The Americans had certain experiences in the earlier colonial times that have been discussed that affect their attitude towards war. The colonies are a newly formed nation and, therefore, do not have a very strong militia built up. They often had small battles with the Natives, most likely over land control. Americans wanted war on clear days in nice weather, however, the Indians didn’t care one way or the other. They had their own weapons and own ways, just as the Americans do. As for prisoners, colonists would trade prisoners for prisoners, but the Natives would torture and massacre them. Compared to Natives, the American way of warfare is much more civilized.
Boorstin is attempting to show an interpretation of how habits of people who lived more than two centuries ago shaped the lives of modern Americans. He proves this by saying, “Old categories were shaken up, and new situations revealed unsuspected uses for old knowledge,” meaning that all the bad things that happened in the nation’s history happened so as to shape it how it is today. The arguments discussed in the book made me reexamine some of my preconceptions about the colonial period and consider the impact of early American history on the present in a whole new light. Although the book is well-documented throughout, Mr. Boorstin was not there during that time, therefore, he can only go by what the individuals that were there remembered and documented. Also, those people that were there most likely had their own biased opinions of the causes and reasons of the events that took place. The viewpoints of an elite group would be much different than the viewpoints from a group of farmers.
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