What is an American? During the pre-revolutionary war era, the American colonists began to view themselves increasingly as Americans, breaking away from the English Culture and establishing themselves to form their own identity as American colonists. This was spawned by many decades of salutary neglect, during which the colonists developed their own identity, while still recognizing themselves as part of the British Empire but beginning to view themselves as different. The colonies slowly began to unify, putting aside their petty differences, and oppose British rule in many ways. The change from years which flourished on account of salutary neglect to years of strict ruling by King George III caused the colonists to unite completely and forced them to realize the new identity while still desiring to remain part of the British Empire.
The American colonies flourished under Sir Robert Walpole?s ideas of salutary neglect. This time period is best characterized by little to no British regulation over the colonies(Bailey, The American Pageant, 124).
However, when this English policy ended in 1762, marked by the end of the French and Indian war, Britain began to impose taxes on the colonists to pay for war debts and British troops in America and strictly reinforce the already existing, yet ignored, Navigation Acts. Frustrated by the new British rule, the colonies united to ?defend their liberties against every nation on earth that tries to take them away,? including Britain, and protest their unfair treatment as Englishmen (Document C). They united opposing such items as The Proclamation of 1763, The Currency Act, The Sugar Act, The Quartering Act, The Stamp Act, The Tea Act, and The Intolerable Acts (Bailey, The American Pageant, 125-134). The opposition of these acts showed the colonies ability to unite and put and end to taxation without representation. The colonists realized that in order to have their grievances addressed by King George III and Parliament they needed to join together as one or their cause would die out and be crushed by the mighty British army (Document A). With colonial unity in mind the colonies began to unify as observed in the response to the Coercive Acts when Boston?s Port was closed. Many colonies helped to assist the Bostonians by sending much needed supplies such as sheep, grain, corn, sheep, rice, etc. (Document G). This marked the beginning of colonial unity and the American identity separate from that of Britain?s.
The First Continental Congress in 1775 resulted in a rejection of the Intolerable Acts, the formation of colonial militias, suspended trade with the British Empire, refusal to pay taxes, and a petition for the redressing of grievances. The colonists insisted they had been forced by Britain to fight for the preservation of their liberties (Document E). The colonies were no longer willing to undergo such unfair treatment from British rule. They were Englishmen, yet they didn?t receive the rights of them. Thus, they began to join together against British rule. The spirit of one unified nation was present at the First Continental Congress during which it was stated that the colonies were ?with one mind resolved to die free men, rather that live like slaves (Document E).
The harsh reinforcing of British oppression led the colonies to form a new identity based on their distinctive American culture. They slowly began to realize that Americans and Britain?s were two completely different people and that they couldn?t thrive in one empire. ?Is there a single Trait of Resemblance between those few Towns, and a great and growing people spread over a vast quarter of the globe, separated from us by a mighty Ocean?? (Document B). The British government was not one that supported the local American governments either, which were established during salutary neglect and represented the American Identity. The culture of the Americans was a strange mixture of races which united many nationalities as a new race of men (Document H). As a result Americans felt less loyal to the British government, which sought to control them through strict governing. This aided in the formation of the American identity as a country no longer influenced by British rule.
While the American identity and unity was developing prior to the Revolutionary War many American citizens couldn?t betray their mother country by forgetting their pledged loyalty to her. John Adams gives us the rule of one third in which he states that approximately one third of the American population were patriots, one third loyalists, and one third indifferent. The loyalists didn?t believe they had it all that bad and feared what they might get if they broke ties with Britain; the worst of which would be mob rule. At the First Continental Congress our founding fathers agreed that they had not ?raised armies with ambitious designs of separation from Great Britain, and establishing independent states? (Document E). Even after the break out of war in the colonies many colonists still felt loyal to the crown, such as Mather Byles, which felt far more loyal to the crown that to the American patriots (Document D). A good example of this is the loyal Olive Branch petition during which the colonists pledged loyalty to the crown and sought to restore peace, even after clashes had already occurred in Lexington and Concord (Bailey, The American Pageant, 142-143). Some even thought that the colonies were spoiled and well treated and that they rebelled against a parent who had only done them good (Document F). Although there were loyalists during this time-period the American spirit prevailed as the American identity and unity was established.
During the eve of the revolution the colonies were slowly discovering themselves. Throughout the dramatic change from salutary neglect to fearless British rule the colonies united and began to protest and resent British rule. While loyalty to the mother country was still without a doubt present the true American identity began to unfold which would set the stage for the revolutionary war during which America would emerge as a strong unified nation with a new identity.
Bailey, The American Pageant