Published in Boston from 1743-1746, The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle (at right) was the first colonial periodical to use the term "American" in its title. Did it signify a distinctly colonial identity? an emergence of a non-English self-image? Not at all. The monthly was modeled after The London Magazine and its contents were primarily reprints from London periodicals.1 "Americans" still considered themselves proud and loyal citizens of the empire. Despite the power struggles with Great Britain in the 1700s, they did not view rebellion and independence as options. Not only were they too disunited and militarily weak to fight a war for independence, they didn't want to be independent. And in 1763, after Britain's victory in the French and Indian War and its acquisition of all French territory east of the Mississippi River, Americans were thrilled to be Britons. "Instead of national independence," notes historian Alan Taylor, "the colonists had wanted to preserve their privileged position within the empire as virtually untaxed beneficiaries of imperial trade and protection. Until the British began to tighten the empire in the 1760s, the colonists had a very good deal—and they knew it."2
What happened in the years 1763 to 1776 to turn the proud Britons in America into rebellious Patriots? What happened to the "very good deal" the colonists had enjoyed for decades? When did a war for independence no longer seem "the height of madness"? (10 pages.)
- "It would be the height of madness for them to propose an Independency." So wrote Lewis Evans, a geographer and mapmaker, in commentary accompanying his new map of North America in 1755 during the early years of the French and Indian War (when British forces were not the victors). His opinion follows the consensus among observers of the colonial relationship with the mother country, displayed in these selections from 1705 to 1767.
- - Remarks by Francis Makemie, Jeremiah Dummer, Hugh Jones, Peter Kalm, William Smith, Jonathan Mayhew, Andrew Burnaby, Thomas Barnard, Thomas Pownall, and Benjamin Franklin, 1705-1767.
- "How far are we obliged to submit?" In a sermon in 1750, the Boston clergyman Jonathan Mayhew pursued an inquiry into the ethical limits of "unlimited submission" to governmental authority. At the same time he warned against taking his argument to extremes. "If we may innocently disobey and resist in some crises, why not in all? Where shall we stop?" Although he closes with a call to "limited submission"—"Let us all learn to be free, and to be loyal"—he suggests when "limited submission" should become no submission at all. "His sermon contains the language, rhetoric, symbolism, typology, and religious and philosophical arguments," points out scholar Paul Royster, "that would be used extensively in the agitation for American independence twenty-five years later."3
- - Rev. Jonathan Mayhew, A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers, 1750, excerpts.
- What major reasons are offered against the likelihood of the colonies' uniting for independence?
- What do the commentators see as the core factor in the colonies' desire to remain in the empire? Loyalty? Need for security? Habit? Commercial gain? Identity as Englishmen? Military weakness? Disunity?
- Are there opposing viewpoints? Where might you find statements before 1763 that the colonies could unite and fight for independence?
- Contrast the American and European perspectives on the likelihood of American rebellion. How do they perceive the colonies' situation differently?
- What ethical justification does Jonathan Mayhew offer in his sermon for citizens to abandon "unlimited submission" to governmental authority? Why is he so scrupulous in basing his justification in scripture?
- Pair these readings with those in #5: Union? How linked are the issues of colonial unity, colonial rebellion, and independence from Britain?
- What, if any, evidence exists in these selections of the colonies "becoming American"? How are you defining "American" in order to reply to the question?
- What happened in the years 1763 to 1776 to turn the proud Britons in America into rebellious Patriots?
- What happened to the "very good deal" the colonists had enjoyed for decades? When did a war for independence no longer seem "the height of madness"?
|Commentary on the prospect of colonial rebellion: || 6
|Rev. Jonathan Mayhew on "unlimited submission":
|TOTAL ||10 pages
1 Another periodical, The American Magazine; or, Monthly Review of the British Colonies, briefly appeared in 1741. "It reared its head above the storm,—it drooped—and died." Charles Henry Timperley, A Dictionary of Printers and Printing (London: H. Johnson, 1839), p. 668.
2 Alan S. Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (New York: Viking/Penguin, 2001), p. 442.
3 Paul Royster, introduction to Rev. Jonathan Mayhew, A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers, 1750; in Digital Commons, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, at http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/etas/44/.
Image: The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Boston, August 1745, engraving by James Turner. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, General Collections, #LC-USZ62-51540.
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