Saturday, July 6, 2013

Life in the year of America's independence

I'm getting to this a bit late, but the Wall Street Journal published a short op-ed by historian Thomas Fleming explaining in rather broad terms what life was like in the American colonies at the dawn of American independence.  An interesting take to provide some perspective on just how prosperous and middle class America was even when it was just a part of the British Empire: What Life Was Like in 1776.

One point in Fleming's discussion provides the answer to a long-standing question that I have had, namely, how did some of the most patriotic subjects of the British Empire move from being enthusiastic supporters of the Crown to breaking free and setting up a new country allied, at least on paper, with their historic enemy France? As Fleming writes:
By 1776, the Atlantic Ocean had become what one historian has called "an information highway" across which poured books, magazines, newspapers and copies of the debates in Parliament. The latter were read by John Adams, George Washington, Robert Morris and other politically minded men. They concluded that the British were planning to tax the Americans into the kind of humiliation that Great Britain had inflicted on Ireland.
Thanks to the flow of information from England, the colonists ceased to trust believe that the Empire was looking out for their interests. Increased transparency, in other words, lead to the erosion of people's trust in government, as people got a good look at what the government was up to. The more things change...

2 comments:

matt s said...

This article presents a good picture of the economic prosperity of the colonies in the mid to late 1770s. It fails to mention, however, a very important fact. If it weren't for England supplying troops to protect the western borders of the colonies from invasion by the native American Indians, then the peace and prosperity could very well have been upset and the good times enjoyed by the colonists would not have existed. The only fair way to pay for these troops(their salaries and the supplies it took to support them)and the protection they provided was through taxation.

JMS said...

Matt - I think you have 1770s frontier scenario backwards. Native Americans were not "invading" the 13 British American colonies. It was the European American colonists (some poor to middling individuals, but mostly wealthy elites (including Washington, Franklin, Jefferson & Paine)comprising land speculation companies) who were violating the Royal Proclamation Line of 1763, and "invading" Indian country.

Despite the relative prosperity of European Americans in the 13 colonies (although inequality had risen sharply during the 18th century), their lust for more land was insatiable.