Capitalism and Empire in the 18th Century Atlantic World

At the beginning of the 18th century, the American colonies were little more than tiny pockets of population huddled between the cold Atlantic and the imposing spine of the Appalachian Mountains. New England had grown too respectable size through immigration and a low death rate, but the total population of America was only about 250,000 souls - black and white - spread over some eleven colonies. Most of these people lived on widely scattered farms or in small towns. America was known as 13th colony of Great Britain. As historians have increasingly recognized, it makes more sense to think of this era, and these people's lives. In this paper I will try to show the importance of 17th and 18th century to the American history and to the whole Western civilization. In 18th century new Americans, as promoters and travelers continually advertised, enjoyed a bountiful climate, fertile fields, and generally good health, which meant that they doubled their numbers about every 22-1/2 years.( Lemon, p.17) This was the factor that, perhaps more than anything else, spelled the ultimate victory of the English colonists over the native Indian populations and their less numerous but diplomatically adept French allies. Until French Canada fell to the British in 1760, the English were pinned to the Atlantic seaboard.

When Montreal surrendered two years after Wolfe's dramatic seizure of Quebec, English colonists were at last free to spill over the Appalachians into the rich farming country of Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, no longer fearful of the lightning attacks of French and Indian war parties. By 1775 the American colonies could boast a strapping population of 2-1/2 million, more than enough to wrestle from the British monarchy their independence. It was to this growing, changing country that European visitors came in the 18th century. Most of them came for a short time - a few months, a year or two - on business that usually had little to do with idle sightseeing. Not unnaturally in a rough new country, most were men - scientists, ministers, and most frequently soldiers - and most stayed on the well-trodden roads between Charleston and Boston. Consequently they saw little of the fiercely independent Indian people except a few docile creatures who had been reduced to poverty, ill health, and dependence by European disease, war, and alcohol (Lemon, p.18). But they did see the burgeoning numbers of Negro slaves at work in southern plantations and northern towns, which they commented upon at great length. They also noticed two other American characteristics: the heterogeneous character of the colonies and their inhabitants and the begrudging but necessary toleration of the many religious denominations that had come to America with those colonists.

In the 18th century, differences were perhaps the main thing that Americans had in common, and foreign observers were eager to catalog them. But they were equally quick to characterize "The American" as a distinct genus and to compare him with their own or other national groups. To Europeans, America was a laboratory for a momentous social experiment, the outcome of which would reverberate through their tradition-bound societies in unpredictable ways. So they looked and listened with special interest in hopes of taking the full measure of "this new man, this American." One of the most well known and significant "new American" of that time was Benjamin Franklin. Franklin initially worked toward keeping American within the British Empire, his personal letters written during the early 1770s reveal his growing conviction that America had to break away from British rule. When the American break with England finally appeared to be inevitable, Franklin's international fame as a scientist made him the natural choice as key diplomat for America in Europe. Always referring to himself as a "simple American," Franklin was in fact a shrewd political operator (Franklin B., p.14 ). In France, he began a letter- and essay- writing campaign to gain French support for the American colonies' cause. He became extremely popular with the French people, "lionized and idolized as the great natural philosopher, the august champion of liberty, and the friend of humanity" (Franklin B., p.15). As a result, Franklin was able to arrange an alliance with France that secured loans and arms from the French, which were vital to the success of the American Revolution. Franklin's writings were also instrumental in laying the foundations of the United States government. As a firm supporter of colonial unity, Franklin offered sound, well-thought-out suggestions. Franklin's "Plan of Union" which he presented at the Albany Congress of 1754 was especially influential because it introduced the concepts of divided sovereignty between local and national authorities, a president as the head of the executive branch, and a representative legislature based upon population. In The Political Thought of Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Ketcham states that Franklin's plan was one of the first steps toward colonial union and the final United States Constitution (Lemon, p.23). As the American Revolution progressed, Franklin wrote another highly important work titled the "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union". It, like the "Plan of Union," contained many ideas, such as representation by population, ratification by state legislature, and an orderly process of amendment that became incorporated into the Constitution of the United States. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the elderly Franklin "played his favorite role of conciliator and compromiser," his final public service to the nation he loved (Lemon, p. 21). Nevertheless 18th century was also known as the period of slavery movement in America. Slaves were brought to America from Africa and were settle particularly on south in the areas were agriculture was very popular in that time. ...

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