Colonial Period in America Essay

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Colonial Period in America

What factors during the Colonial period hindered or promoted national identity? A what point did nationalism become a major influence -- why?

The national identity of the young nation was formed as time went on and it became clear that the mother country, England, was just not relevant to the needs of the colonists, and in fact the king had become an impediment to the sense of nation for America. In the book Performing Patriotism: National identity in the Colonial and Revolutionary American Theatre, the author, Jason Shaffer, discusses the theatre -- college plays, the occasional street theatre-based protests by the Sons of Liberty, and the "closet dramas" -- during the colonial and Revolutionary periods. Reviewing the book in the peer-reviewed publication, Theatre History Studies, critic Odai Johnson comments that while Shaffer's work was not inclusive of all the theatre during the colonial period, Shaffer did present about half of the plays that were produced in early America.

One of those plays, Cato, by John Addison, was performed on May 10, 1774, in Charleston, South Carolina, and was the last "patriotic" production prior to the Revolutionary War, Johnson explains. At that very time in early American history, Johnson points out, Boston Harbor was "…under a blockade" and in two months the Continental Congress would be choosing delegates (Johnson, 2009, p. 235). Still, notwithstanding the tensions in the young country at the time, the young players in Cato "…were optimistic enough to secure a fifteen-year lease on the building" in Charleston, and they sent to England for more "scenes and actors" (Johnson, 236).

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So it was clear that negative events (taxation and harassment) in the colonies leading up to the 1774 performance of Cato were responsible for patriotic plays like Cato, which was a tragedy "…extolling a virtuous and actively involved citizenship in the face of tyranny." In fact the character Cato "…chose suicide rather than go along with Julius Caesar's triumph and the fall of Rome" (Warren, 2011). George Washington, certainly the greatest American patriot, attended the play during its run, Warren writes.

Essay on Colonial Period in America What Factors During Assignment

Among the most obvious factors that promoted the sense of national identity was when the colonists responded rebelliously to the taxes the British handed down. When the colonists realized that they were taxed to help pay for the soldiers (Redcoats) that were sent to keep them in line, this was a major factor in the sense of patriotism for the colonists. Nationalism began to become part of the colonists' consciousness when they learned that "…the king is not to be trusted" (Henry, 2008).

The ultimate colonial patriot Patrick Henry, writing in Common Sense, was so firmly focused on national identity, that he said any colonist that wanted to reconcile with the king is not to be trusted, is "weak," is "prejudiced," cannot see and "WILL NOT see" (Henry, 2008, p. 28). The bottom line for Patrick Henry -- in terms of his sense of nationalism for America -- was that the king had shown himself "…such an inveterate enemy to liberty…and discovered such a thirst for arbitrary power" that "thousands are already ruined by British barbarity" (35).

Question TWO: To what extent did African-Americans develop a separate sense of community during the colonial period?

Author Oscar Reiss recounts that when colonial laws "…assured slave owners that baptism of their slaves did not bring freedom," those slave owners accepted that their slaves could engage with Christianity (Reiss, 1997, p. 137). And the bigger plantations during the colonial era actually had a black male preacher living there, and had churches for worship as well, Reiss writes. Actually the sense of community that black people developed through their churches played into the hands of the slave owners, Reiss explains, because "…slaves could be taught subservience and honor to those that 'God placed over them'" (137).

In the northern colonies, blacks could pray in churches built by Caucasians, but blacks were not permitted to mingle with others that were attending services, Reiss writes (138). The churches and religious experiences that were established for black folks around Christianity were an important part of their communities. When the Free African Society of Philadelphia founded the very first all-black church (founded by Absolam Jones), the cost of the building was supported by well-known Caucasians like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. And this was a big moment for the development of community within the black community.

Blacks also found a sense of community in schools, and although many white schools were not welcoming to blacks, the Quakers started a school for black children in 1774. Right after the Revolutionary War there were seven schools set up for black children, Reiss explains (139). This was all happening in the northern colonies, because on page 141 Reiss notes that there were "…laws prohibiting slaves from learning to read and write" in the southern colonies.

In his 2006 book, Reiss noted that blacks had another kind of community in the colonies, and that was an "underground telegraph system" in which that communicated with slaves from other plantations (218). James Blair of Virginia wrote letters to England describing the social situation in the colonies, and he wrote that "…the Negroes themselves in our neighborhood are very desirous to become Christians…and so are baptized and frequent the church, and the Negro children are not commonly baptized" (Reiss, 218). Blair went on to explain that many slaves believed (wrongly) that if they were baptized, somehow they might be set free, and when they were baptized and then found out there was no freedom associated with Christianity, some "…grew angry and saucy" and talked of an uprising (Reiss, 218).

That having been said, there were many Christians in the north that believed every human soul should be "saved" and hence, slaves were invited to participate in churches, and this became part of the community they established notwithstanding the terrible injustices that had been perpetrated upon them.

Question THREE: Were there irreconcilable differences that made the colonial bid for separation inevitable, or did the underlying similarities outweighed the differences? How did the American colonists view their condition and define themselves as Englishmen and as Americans?

Certainly the bulk of the literature on the subject indicates that the differences were definitely irreconcilable. The divorce was going to happen, it was just a matter of how and when, and the "how" got answered when the Revolutionary War broke out. Thomas Paine, who helped stir up the passions of the colonists to support revolution, wrote that he always "…considered the independency of this continent, as an event, which sooner or later must arrive…" (Paine, 2008). Paine roared at those who thought that a compromise might be possible; he called them "Men of passive tempers" who "look somewhat lightly over the offenses of Britain" and who call for being "friends again" (Paine, 28).

Can any colonist truly said that he or she is willing to "…love, honor, and faithfully serve the power that hath carried fire and sword…" against the colonists who are just trying to build a community with true democratic values (Paine, 28). Paine certainly enjoyed blasting the king and the Parliament because he seemed to know this ultimate clash was inevitable. "There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of monarchy," Paine wrote on page 7-8. "It first excludes a man from the means of information, yet empowers him to act in cases where the highest judgment is required."

Moreover, Paine continued, the most "powerful of arguments" against continuing to be under the thumb of the British kind is that "…nothing but independence, i.e. A continental form of government, can keep the peace of the continent and preserve it inviolate from civil wars." He went on, insisting that he dreaded the "…event of a reconciliation with Britain" because it is "more than probably, that it will be followed by a revolt somewhere or other"; and the consequences of that revolt may be "…far more fatal than all the malice of Britain" (Paine).

Randolph Greenfield Adams writes in the Duke University Trinity College publications that Benjamin Franklin didn't envision any reorganization of the two political entities since "…our present relationship is so little understood on both sides of the water" (Adams, 1922, p. 80). It was Franklin's view that there was no way to imagine the colonies and the King of England reaching an accord.

"The more I have thought and read on this subject," Franklin wrote, "the more I find myself confirmed in the opinion that no middle ground can be maintained" (Adams, 81). Franklin, ever the intellectual diplomat, asserted that either the British Parliament has the power to make "all laws for us, or that it has the power to make no laws for us," Franklin stated. And he leaned toward "the latter" for which the arguments are "more weighty and numerous than those for the former" (Adams, 81).

The rallying cry for the colonists was "…no taxation without representation," and that hit home for many colonists,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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"Colonial Period in America."  June 29, 2012.  Accessed January 23, 2021.