America, part 2

Part two begins with looking at who and why the original thirteen colonies were settled. In addition we need to examine just how going from a Monarchical form of government shifted and eased into a representative democracy. Therefore, looking at who these original settlers were is remarkably different than most people know.

The colonists drew upon the institutions and ideas they had brought with them. These were naturally English in nature because it was the English who founded the colonies and again it was English charters, governors, and laws that controlled them. As with the mother country it was commonly accepted that the aim of government was to protect life, property, and liberty.

Without such protection, most people of the time felt that the greedy and the cruel would make victims of everyone else; subsequently, their lives, properties, and liberties would not be safe. It is easy to understand those fears insofar as now in the 21st century we have seen what happens to those who fall under tyrannical or totalitarian rule. Therefore we acknowledge and understand why the English were so adamant about governance.

The demographical make-up of America in 1750 was colonists totaling about 1.5 million. The last sizeable groups of English settlers had arrived fifty years earlier. The other people who came in the 1700s, who subsequently outnumbered the English were mainly from Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, and Africa. Approximately 50 percent or more of all whites were indentured servants; meaning, they were either prisoners, or unemployed, and couldn’t muster up enough money for passage. Therefore, they virtually sold themselves to labor for either a 4 or 7 year term completely at the beckon call of their masters.

During the 17th and 18th centuries there were never enough of white-indentured servants, even criminals, to meet the needs of the employers. We bring this forth insofar as this is perhaps when the gravest travesty in institutional history ensued – slavery – primarily hard working Africans in the south for plantation work and other more acclimated Africans in the north who worked as domestic servants. By 1750 there were approximately 300,000 Africans in the colonies, or about one-fifth of the population, including of course, those Native Americans who were available for counting.

Therefore, what was the original structure of the colonies? Basically at the top was a governor. He was the King’s agent. Then came the legislature, usually in the form of a bicameral nature meaning a two house system. One house referred to as the ‘Upper house’ or council was made up of the wealthy that owned property and were considered elite primarily because most of the Upper house was appointed by the governor. The other ‘Lower house’ referred to as the assembly was elected by the white male freeholders or what were called the landed (owned property) elite (some education). Interestingly, the Upper house spoke on behalf of the aristocracy while the Lower house spoke for the people.

This following point is important. Members of the Lower house did not speak or represent all of the people; only adult white males with enough property to produce a certain annual rental income could vote and/or be elected for office. All other white males were strictly excluded – as were all women, all blacks, all Indians, and all non-Christians.

These people were considered to be so ignorant or poor or unpredictable that it was accepted that they could not cast a thoughtful vote or even make a responsible decision. When we talk about government we are definitely addressing a remarkably limited number of people.

This was what the colonial government resembled; however, when looking at it from today’s perspective was this discriminatory? Then again if the other groups of people were accustomed to what was their place in society, did discrimination exist?

We will close Understanding America here for today…


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