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There were various reasons why the American Colonies were established. The three most important themes of English colonization of America were religion, economics, and government. The most important reasons for colonization were to seek refuge, religious freedom, and economic opportunity. To a lesser degree, the colonists sought to establish a stable and progressive government.
Many colonies were founded for religious purposes. While religion was involved with all of the colonies, Massachusetts, New Haven, Maryland, and Pennsylvania were established exclusively for religious purposes.
Massachusetts's inhabitants were Puritans who believed in predestination and the ideal that God is perfect. Many Puritans in England were persecuted for their nihilist beliefs in England because they felt that the Church of England, led by the King, did not enforce a literal enough interpretation of the Bible. Persecution punishment included jail and even execution. To seek refuge, they separated to go to Holland because of its proximity, lower cost, and safer passage. However, their lives in Holland were much different than that of England. The Separatists did not rebel against but rather preferred the English culture. They did not want their children to be raised Dutch.
Also, they felt that Holland was too liberal. Although they enjoyed the freedom of religion, they decided to leave for America. Pilgrims, or sojourners, left for America on the Mayflower and landed in Cape Cod in 1626. They had missed their destination, Jamestown. Although the climate was extremely rocky, they did not want to move south because of their Puritan beliefs. They thought that everything was predestined, and that they must have landed on this rocky place for a reason. They moved slightly north to Plymouth Rock in order to survive more comfortably. Also because of their Puritan beliefs, they had good relations with the Native Americans. Their pacifist nature led the Indians to help with their crops. In thanks, the Pilgrims celebrated the first thanksgiving in 1621. A second group of Puritans in England, the Massachusetts Bay Company, came to Massachusetts for more economically motivated purposes due to their non-minimalist beliefs.
New Haven and Connecticut were two other colonies founded exclusively for Religious purposes. Many of the Separatists in Massachusetts felt that the religion was too liberal inside of the colony. They felt that the beliefs were not being enforced enough and that the people were not living through literal interpretations of the Bible. These Separatists further separated themselves from Massachusetts and formed a new colony, New Haven.
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Yet another colony established for exclusive, religiously motivated purposes was Maryland. Roman Catholics, under George Calvert, the First Lord Baltimore, fled religious persecution in England from the Protestants. Due to the immediate wealth from tobacco harvesting, Protestants came over to the new colony seeking some of the wealth.
Ironically, the Protestants began to outnumber the Catholics, therefore once again making them a minority although the Catholics had been trying to flee from the Protestants. In immediate response to the Protestant immigration, the Catholics set up the Maryland Toleration Act, which stated that all Christian religions would be tolerated. This was to ensure the survival of the Catholics in Mary land.
Pennsylvania also was founded for the sole purpose of religion, but unlike the other colonies, it began to increase toleration of religious diversity later on in the progression of its settlement. King Charles owed William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, a favor. Penn asked the King for some land in the colonies, in return the King gave Penn a piece of the woods in the New World.
The Quakers, like the early Puritans, were pacifists and minimalists. They believed that God is perfect and had a strict interpretation of the Bible. Their beliefs included that mankind is evil and that every man is born a sinner. At the start of their settlement, they only accepted Christian beliefs. However, once settled in, they quickly proclaimed that all religions would be tolerated in Pennsylvania in order to populate their colony.
Many colonies were founded upon diverse religions because their primary focus and purpose was to make money or to populate the country. These economically motivated colonies include New York, New Jersey, the Carolinas, and Pennsylvania after its change in toleration.
New York was established by Charles II's brother, the Duke of York. He announced that every Christian religion would be tolerated in New York in order to populate his colony and maximise his profit. New Jersey, in addition to New York, was also founded for economic reasons. It was owned by proprietors, and therefore had diverse multiple Christian faiths. There was a three-way division of Quaker, Puritanism, and Protestant beliefs because of the three different proprietors who had their own original Christian faiths. This division of the three different Christian faiths continued until 1702, when all Christian faiths were accepted. This new toleration act was in order to populate the colony and to increase profit. New York and New Jersey were not religiously motivated colonies.
Other colonies that were not solely based upon religion were the Carolinas. The people in the Carolinas made a large profit off of sugar from Barbados, which attracted many settlers from all different cultures and increased the population. Migration and immigration between other colonies and the Carolinas was common because of the economic success of sugar. Puritans from Massachusetts and Catholics from Maryland came to share in the wealth of the Carolinas. Unlike any colony so far, the Carolinas was the only one that accepted all religious faiths, not just Christian faiths.
Pennsylvania, as said before, started out exclusively as a religious refuge. However, to ensure the economic survival of the colony, all faiths were accepted in Pennsylvania.
The Quakers were open minded pacifists and almost immediately Quakers came from all over (not just from England). Due to the immigration of Quakers from other countries, cultural diversity and differences in ethnicity were present. The main cultures that inhabited Pennsylvania were French, English, Dutch, and German.
Government was also important in the founding of English colonies in the New World. With each colony, the government and idea of democracy progressed. With a weak and unpredictable government first established in Virginia, the American colonists gradually advanced to a more democratic government. However, even the most democratic government was a far cry from the pure democracy we enjoy today. Their gradual learning experience and progression led to many more instances of attempted improvement, thus leading to more voice from the common people.
The government in Massachusetts began with the Mayflower Compact, an agreement signed by the Pilgrims pledging that they would set up a theocracy, a political system headed by the clergy. In the compact, they also pledged loyalty to support and follow England. Seven years later, the Massachusetts Bay Company, under John Winthrope, coming for economic and religious reasons, set up a general court. This type of government started with 18 elected freemen, or white, male, wealthy, land-owning puritans. This government had many problems. The fact that only 18 people were representing the mass of colonists in Massachusetts caused misrepresentation of the majority of the colony. The elected freemen made decisions that looked to their own interests rather than to the good of the colony. Also, this general court only met four times a year, which is far too little to get any important, every day decisions made.
Other colonies with a unicameral, or one house assembly, government includes New Jersey and New York. New Jersey, before 1702, was proprietary; the business owners made decisions. This type of government is an autocracy. After 1702, the King of England appointed a governor and council, and there was one house of elected freemen. New York, much like New Jersey, was a one-house government that consisted of a powerful governor and a council of elected freemen. Two other colonies, Maryland and New Haven, had bicameral, or two housed, governments. In Maryland, the governor was appointed by the King and was therefore loyal to England. Only freemen could be in these two houses, but there was more representation due to higher numbers of representatives. This was much like New Haven, which had a bicameral government as well. New Haven had a Constitution called the "Fundamental Orders." It stated that the 7 officials, solely from the church, were only to meet twice a year. Although the meeting times became even more drastically spaced apart, all free men could vote under this government. The fact that one did not have to be a member of the church to vote showed that the government was beginning to break away from theocracy and move closer to democracy.
The furthest developed government, in theory, was that of the Carolinas. A man named Berkeley obtained the land as a proprietor from King Charles. The Fundamental Constitution was set up as a balance between aristocracy and democracy. When the King gave the land to the proprietors, a bicameral government was set up. The governor was the head of the government. Directly below him was the upper house nobility, which consisted of freemen. Far below them, the lower-house assembly, or commoners, had power. Commoners finally had a say, in theory. The problems with this government were that the Lower House still did not have a say. The upper house assemblies felt that since they gave the commoners a little bit of voice, say, and power, that they should be able to manipulate the system and make a profit. Despite the many problems, the government of the Carolinas was more democratic than any other colony so far.
In some colonies, economy was a less significant element of colonisation. However, many were founded for economic reasons. The New England commerce colonies were centred around ports and fishing. The middle Atlantic colonies based themselves upon tobacco harvesting. The southern colonies, such as Georgia and the Carolinas, made their money from sugar from Barbados. Labour Intensive Crops, or LIC, are Georgia, a colony not yet discussed, is a wild card in its own identity. It has completely different origins than any other colony. Founded by James Ogelthorpe, Georgia was very diverse in its inhabitants. Outlaws and debtors were sent there by King George, and therefore there was a conservative law. King George had to loosen restrictions because people left. Georgia was also a military boundary or buffer zone between Spanish Florida and the British colonies. Georgia was different because it was ruled under the military and was occupied by criminals. It was a quite unpopular place to live.
There are clearly many similarities and differences in overall religious, economical, and governmental origins in American colonies. Many colonies were founded exclusively for religious diversity. However, many came to be motivated in origin by economy. Also, the American colonies evolved from non-representative and elitist governments into a more democratic system, which is closer to the pure democracy of today.
Bartlett, Robert M. The Faith of the Pilgrims: An American Heritage. New York: United Church Press, 1998.
Kennedy, David M., Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas A. Bailey. The American Pageant: A History of the Republic. 15th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2012.
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