Greetings to all,
During this week we left Europe and went back to America ca. 1700. We will begin the buildup to the American Revolution over the next few weeks. As a backdrop, I wanted the following questions to be in our minds:
- Why did the American Revolution happen? Was it inevitable? Was it mainly motivated by economics, politics, culture, or religion? From the beginning, the colonists were in an unusual relationship to England. England did not usually force them out — most left on their own accord. And yet most left for a reason rooted in dissatisfaction with England. Colonial charters affirm loyalty to the king, but don’t say anything about Parliament. More on that difference later. . .
Of course, a combination of distance and internal English politics meant that both sides mutually ignored one another for generations. All that began to change around 1750.
- Was the American Revolution Christian in origin and execution? Or did it have to do more with prevailing Enlightenment ideas of the time? Can the desire for ‘liberty’ in the colonies be reconciled with the presence of slavery? What did the colonists mean by ‘liberty?’
- How did the Revolution look from the British perspective? Most of us have always heard the story from ‘our’ side, so I think it’s crucial that we try and understand the issues from the English point of view.
We began by looking at the events that precipitated the Seven Years War, also known as the French-Indian War, from 1756-63.
The war involved the major European powers overseas, but on the continent the war had some of its origin in the fate of the Iroquois Nation. Here is a map:
When the colonies were first being settled, had the Indians united against them the European settlers would have had no chance. Native American tribal unity appears to have been rare, however, except in the case of the Iroquois Nation. This unified stance allowed them to maintain themselves with the British to the NE in the South in the New England settlements, and French to the West of them.
They maintained their survival by trying to play the British and French off one another and never letting one get too powerful — a tricky game to be sure. One could easily argue that the British posed the greater threat. Their settlers formed unified social and political communities, whereas the French just did trading posts. But, if you thought that the British might one day just take it, perhaps you should find a way to pre-empt and get something for it? Of course this risked alienating the French, who were more likely to be their natural allies.
In the 1740’s the Iroquois sold land to the British. Did this solve their problems? No — for the French got scared, and bulked up their presence, so the British returned the favor and bulked up theirs Eventually war broke out between the two powers and the Iroquois would not be able to survive. One can’t help but feel bad for the Indians in this. The “Iroquois Nation” managed to do what so few other tribes managed to do — unify in the face of the European threat. But this bought them only a slight amount of time. Sandwiched between two greater powers with a history of animosity, almost every move they made would bring suspicion from one side or the other. Their fate was the unfortunate fate of so many small nations caught between bigger ones. One only needs to think of Poland and their history with Prussia/Germany and Russia, for example, to see that their fate was the fate of many other such nations in similar circumstances.
The conflict had other roots too, perhaps in the basic perception of the continent both the English and French had. Here is America according to the French:
And here according to the British (look how far the faint pink line extends west!)