Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How democratic was colonial America?

In time it became evident that there existed a different spirit than the one that existed in England. The colonists were a different breed of man. They were tough hewn adventurers, not the spoiled patricians that existed in the mother country. The colonists had come for many reasons, not the least of which was to get away from England. Whether their goal was economic opportunity or religious freedom it was goal that required a certain amount of independence from the King. While no colonist would acknowledge this it was true. They were some 3,000 miles away and for all intents and purposes expected to be left alone as long as they remained loyal to the crown. They were willing to owe allegiance to the King and they were willing to pay their fair share of taxes but the never expected the King to meddle in everyday affairs. The result of this was a spirit of Democracy that did not exist in England. Where the colonies democratic, far from it but they were on the way.

Democratic and Undemocratic Characteristics of Life in the Colonies

Democratic Characteristics

Freedom of the Press

- The trial and acquittal of John Peter Zenger on charges of libel set the stage for the first use of freedom of the press. This became a precedent in colonial trials and newspapers began to report news differently in the colonies than they did in England.

Freedom of religion

-Roger Williams, William Penn and others that founded colonies dedicated to promoting religious freedom.

Elected legislatures existed in almost all colonies.

Town Hall meetings took place where citizens consulted on all manners of law.

Mayflower Compact was an early sign of Democracy. It showed that government came from the will of the people and it set a precedent in the colonies.

Rugged nature of the colonists was one that did not take well to be told what to do by a King (or anyone for that matter.).

Distance from England - They were 3000 miles away and grew accustomed to making decisions for themselves.


Slavery - was clearly undemocratic, except that most did not consider the slaves to be really human.

Indentured Servitude was another relatively undemocratic fact of life, after all how can one sell himself as property.

Ruled by a King - The fact was the the law was made by the King and the colonists had sworn their loyalty to him. The fact remains that up until the revolution most still considered themselves loyal to the King.

Colonial existence was by its very nature undemocratic.

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