Give Me Liberty! Eric Foner Focus Questions Chapter One: -What impelled European explorers to look west across the Atlantic? The European conquest of America began as an offshoot of the quest for a sea route to India, China, and the islands of the East Indies, the source of the silk, tea, spices, porcelain, and other luxury goods on which international trade in the early modern era centered. Profit and piety-the desire to eliminate Islamic middlemen and win control of the lucrative trade for Christian Western Europe-combined to inspire the quest for a direct route to Asia.
Long before Columbus sailed, Europeans had dreamed of a land of abundance, riches, and ease beyond the western horizon. They hoped America would bring them a better life. Europeans envisioned America as a religious refuge, a society of equals, a source of power and glory. -What happened when the peoples of the Americas came in contact with Europeans? Whatever their numbers, the Indian population suffered a catastrophic decline because of the contact with Europeans and their wars, enslavement, and especially diseases like smallpox, influenza, and measles.
Never having encountered these diseases, Indians had not developed antibodies to fight them. The result was devastating. Indians would engage in the ritual sacrifice of captives and others, sometimes thousands at a time. This practice reinforced the Spanish view of America’s native inhabitants as barbarians, even though in Europe at this time, thousands of men and women were burned at the stake as witches or religious heretics, and criminals were executed in public spectacles that attracted throngs of onlookers. Hernan Cortes was the first explorer to encounter a major American civilization. It was the Aztec empire. Cortes conquered the city.
A few years later, Francisco Pizarro conquered the great Inca kingdom centered in modern-day Peru. Soon, treasure fleets carrying cargoes of gold and silver from the mines of Mexico and Peru traversed the Atlantic to enrich the Spanish crown. -What were the chief features of the Spanish empire in America? The Spanish took the lead in exploration and conquest in the New World. Inspired by a search for wealth, national glory, and the desire to spread Catholicism, Spanish conquistadores, often accompanied by religious missionaries and carrying flags emblazoned with the sign of the cross, radiated outward from Hispaniola.
By the middle of the sixteenth century, Spain had established an immense empire, which included the most populous part of the New World and the regions richest in natural resources. Stretching from the Andes Mountains of South America through present-day Mexico and the Caribbean and eventually into Florida and the southwestern United States, Spain’s empire exceeded in size the Roman empire of the ancient world. Its center in North America was Mexico City, a magnificent capital built on the ruins of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and boasting churches, hospitals, monasteries, government buildings, and the New World’s first university.
Unlike the English and French New World empires, Spanish America was essentially an urban civilization, an “empire of towns. ” For centuries, its great cities, notably Mexico City, Quito, and Lima, far outshone any urban centers in North America and most of those in Europe. In Spanish America, unlike other New World empires, Indians performed most of the labor. Thousands of Indians were forced to work in gold and silver mines, which supplied the empire’s wealth, and on large-scale farms controlled by Spanish landlords.
Although the Spanish introduced livestock, wheat, and sugar, the main agricultural crops were the same ones grown before colonization-corn, beans, and squash. Over time, Spanish America evolved into a hybrid culture, part Spanish, part Indian, and in some areas part African, but with a single official faith, language, and governmental system. Spain, the most powerful bastion of orthodox Catholicism, redoubled its efforts to convert the Indians to the “true faith. ” National glory and religious mission went hand in hand.
Convinced of the superiority of Catholicism to all other religions, Spain insisted that the primary goal of colonization was to save the Indians from heathenism and prevent them from falling under the sway of Protestantism. The aim was neither to exterminate nor to remove the Indians, but to transform them into obedient Christian subjects of the crown. To the Spanish colonizers, the large native populations of the Americas were not only souls to be saved but also a labor force to be organized to extract gold and silver that would enrich their mother country.
Las Casas’ writings and the abuses they exposed contributed to the spread of the Black Legend-the image of Spain as a uniquely brutal and exploitative colonizer. This would provide of a potent justification for other European powers to challenge Spain’s predominance in the New World. -What were the major patterns of Native American life in North America when Europeans arrived? Indian civilizations in North America had not developed the scale, grandeur, or centralized organization of the Aztec and Inca to their south.
North American Indians lacked the technologies Europeans had mastered, such as metal tools and machines, gunpowder, written languages, and the scientific knowledge necessary for long-distance navigation. They also lacked wheeled vehicles, since they had no domestic animals like horses or oxen to pull them. But, over time, Indian societies had perfected techniques of farming, hunting, and fishing, developed structures of political power and religious belief, and engaged in far-reaching networks of trade and communication. The most striking feature of Native American society at the time Europeans arrived was its sheer diversity.
Each group had its own political system and set of religious beliefs, and North America was home to literally hundreds of mutually unintelligible languages. Indians had no sense of “America” as a continent or hemisphere. They did not think of themselves as a single people, an idea invented by Europeans and only many years later adopted by Indians themselves. Indian identity centered on the immediate social group-a tribe, village, chiefdom, or confederacy. Indeed, when Europeans arrived, many Indians sought to use the newcomers to enhance their standing in relation to other native peoples, rather than to unite against them.
The diverse Indian societies of North America did share common characteristics. Their lives were steeped in religious ceremonies often directly related to farming and hunting. The world, they believed, was suffused with spiritual power and sacred spirits could be found in all kinds of living and inanimate things. In all Indian societies, those who seemed to possess special abilities to invoke supernatural powers-shamans, medicine men, and other religious leaders-held position of respect and authority. Indian religion did not pose a sharp distinction between the natural and supernatural, or secular and religious activities.
In some respects, however, Indian religion was not that different from popular spiritual beliefs in Europe. Most Indians and Europeans held that a single Creator stood atop the spiritual hierarchy. Nonetheless, nearly all Europeans quickly concluded that Indians were in dire need of being converted to a true, Christian faith. In most Indian communities north of the Rio Grande, the idea of private property in land in a European sense did not exist. Indians saw land, the basis of economic life for both hunting and farming societies, as a common resource, not an economic commodity to be owned, bought, and sold.
There was no market in real estate before the coming of Europeans. Indians weren’t as devoted to the accumulation of wealth and material goods as Europeans. Chiefs certainly lived more splendidly than average members of society, but their reputation often rested on their willingness to share goods with others rather than hoarding them for themselves. The system of gender relations in most Indian societies also differed markedly from that of Europe. Indian women dressed scantily by European standards, openly engaged in premarital sexual relations, and could choose to divorce their husbands. Most Indian societies were matrilineal.
Tribal leaders were almost always men, but female elders often helped to select male village leaders and took part in tribal meetings. Because men were frequently on the hunt, women took responsibility not only for household duties but for most agricultural work as well. Among the Pueblo of the Southwest, however, where there was less hunting than in the East, men were the primary cultivators. Indian men and women judged each other according to their ability to live up to widely understood ideas of appropriate behavior. Far more important than individual freedom were kinship ties and the well-being of one’s tribe.
In Indian culture, group autonomy and self-determination took precedence to individual freedom. European colonizers quickly concluded that the notion of “freedom” was alien to Indian societies. Europeans considered Indians barbaric in part because they did not appear to live under established governments or fixed laws. In a sense, they were too free, lacking the order and discipline that Europeans considered hallmarks of civilization. -What inspired English colonization of the New World? If the Black Legend inspired a sense of superiority among Spain’s European ivals, the precious metals that poured from the New World into the Spanish treasury aroused in them the desire to try to match Spain’s success. As in the case of Spain, national glory, profit, and religious mission merged in early English thinking about the New World. Just as Spain justified its empire in part by claiming to convert Indians to Catholicism, England expressed its imperial ambitions in terms of an obligation to liberate the New World from the tyranny of the pope. By the late sixteenth century, anti-Catholicism had become deeply ingrained in English popular culture.
Reports of the atrocities of Spanish rule were widely circulated. Although atrocities were hardly confined to any one nation-as England’s own conduct in Ireland demonstrated-the idea that the empire of Catholic Spain was uniquely murderous and tyrannical enabled the English to describe their own imperial wishes in the language of freedom. But bringing freedom to the Indians was hardly the only argument marshaled as England prepared to step onto the world stage. National power and glory were never far from the minds of the era’s propagandists of empire.
Through colonization, some Englishmen argued, England, a relatively minor power in Europe at the end of the sixteenth century, could come to rival the wealth and standing of great nations like Spain and France. Equally important, America could be a refuge for England’s “surplus” population, benefiting mother country and emigrants alike. The image of the New World as a unique place of economic opportunity, where the English laboring classes could regain economic independence by acquiring land and where even criminals would enjoy a second chance, was deeply rooted from the earliest days of settlement.
The main lure for migrants from England to the New World was not so much riches in gold or silver as the promise of independence that followed from owning land. Economic freedom and the possibility of passing it on to one’s children attracted the largest number of English colonists. -How had ideas of freedom developed in England at the time of colonization? From the outset dreams of freedom-for Indians, for settles, for the entire world through the spread of Protestantism and the weakening of Catholic empires-inspired and justified English settlement in America.
As English colonization began, however, “freedom” was not a single idea but a collection of distinct right and privileges, many enjoyed only by a small portion of the population. Numerous numbers of freedom coexisted. Some were as old as the city-states of ancient Greece, others arose during the political struggles in early modern England. One common definition understood freedom less as a political or social status than as a moral or spiritual condition. Freedom meant abandoning the life of din to embrace the teachings of Christ. Christian liberty” had no connection to later ideas of religious tolerance, a notion that scarcely existed anywhere on the eve of English colonization. Every nation in Europe had an established church the decreed what forms of religious worship and belief were acceptable. The religious wars that racked Europe centered on which religion would predominate in a kingdom or region, not the right of individuals to choose which church to worship. In its secular form, the equation of liberty with obedience to a higher authority suggested that freedom meant not anarchy but obedience to law.
The identification of freedom with the rule of law did not, however, mean that all subjects of the crown enjoyed the same degree of freedom. Early modern England was an extremely hierarchical society, with marked gradations of social status ranging from the king and hereditary aristocracy down to the urban and rural poor. Within English families, men exercised authority over their wives and children. In this hierarchical society, liberty came from knowing one’s social place and fulfilling the duties appropriate to one’s rank.
A well-ordered society, like a well-ordered family, depended on obedience. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, “freedom” still played only a minor role in England’s political debates. But even as England colonized North America, the political upheavals of that century elevated the notion of “English freedom” to a central place. As in all revolutions, the idea of freedom suddenly took on new and expanded meanings between 1640 and 1660. Some of the ideas of liberty that flourished during the 1640s and 1650s would be carried to America by English emigrants.
The belief in freedom as the common heritage of all Englishmen and the conception of the British Empire as the world’s guardian of liberty would help to legitimize English colonization in the Western Hemisphere and to cast its imperial wars against Catholic France and Spain as struggles between freedom and tyranny. But since, from the earliest days of settlement, the idea of freedom was tied to the opportunity for ownership of land, the pursuit of English liberty inevitably meant conflict with those already occupying North America.
Thus, in the midst of two centuries of religious and political turmoil in which contests over the meaning of freedom played a central role, England embarked on the colonization of North America. Chapter Two: -What were the main contours of English civilization in the seventeenth century? Although the arrivals to New England and the Middle Colonies included many families, the majority of the newcomers were young, single men from the bottom rungs of English society, who had little to lose by emigrating. Many had already moved from place to place in England.
Colonial settlement was in many ways an extension of the migration at home of an increasingly mobile English population. English North America in the seventeenth century was a place where entrepreneurs sought to make fortunes, religious minorities hoped to worship without governmental interference and to create societies based on biblical teachings, and aristocrats dreamed of recreating a vanished world of feudalism. Settlers who paid for their own passage arrived in America as free persons. Most quickly acquired land.
In the seventeenth century, however, nearly two-thirds of English settlers came as indentured servants, who voluntarily surrendered their freedom for a specified time (usually five to seven years) in exchange for passage to America. Access to land played many roles in seventeenth-century America. Land, English settlers believed, was the basis of liberty. The promise of immediate access to land lured free settlers, and freedom dues that included land persuaded potential immigrants to sign contracts as indentured servants.
Unlike the Spanish and French empires with their relatively small European populations, the English were chiefly interested in displacing Indians and settling on their land, not intermarrying with them, organizing their labor, or making them subjects of the crown. As settlers fenced in more and more land and introduced new crops and livestock, the natural environment changed in ways that undermined traditional Indian agriculture and hunting. -How did English settlers gain a foothold in the early Chesapeake colonies?
Jamestown became the first permanent English settlement in the area that is now the United States. The early history of Jamestown was, to say the least, not promising. The colony’s leadership changed repeatedly, its inhabitants suffered an extraordinarily high death rate, and, with the company seeking a quick profit, supplies from England proved inadequate. The Virginia Company slowly realized that for the colony to survive it would have to abandon the search for gold, grow its own food, and find a marketable commodity.
It would also have to attract more settlers. With this end in view, new policies were adopted in 1618 that powerfully shaped Virginia’s development. Indians remained a significant presence in Virginia, and trade continued throughout the century. But the unsuccessful uprising of 1622 fundamentally shifted the balance of power in the colony. The settlers’ supremacy was reinforced in 1644 when a last desperate rebellion led by Opechancanough was crushed after causing the deaths of some 500 colonists.
Virginia forced a treaty on the surviving coastal Indians, who now numbered less than 2,000, that acknowledged their subordination to the government at Jamestown and required them to move to tribal reservations to the west and not enter areas of European settlement without permission. Settlers spreading inland into the Virginia countryside continued to seize Indian lands. Tobacco became Virginia’s substitute for gold. It enriched an emerging class of tobacco planters, as well as members of the colonial government who assigned good land to themselves.
The expansion of tobacco cultivation also led to an increased demand for field labor, met for most of the seventeenth century by young, male indentured servants. Despite harsh conditions of work in the tobacco fields, a persistently high death rate, and laws mandating punishments from whipping to an extension of service for those who ran away or were unruly, the abundance of land continued to attract migrants. Although it began under very different sponsorship and remained much smaller than Virginia during the seventeenth century, the second Chesapeake colony, Maryland, followed a similar course of development.
As in Virginia, tobacco came to dominate the economy and tobacco planters the society. Maryland’s history, though, was strikingly different than that of Virginia. It was there that an experiment of religious freedom took place. -How did slavery take root in the Chesapeake colonies? No European nation, including England, embarked on the colonization of the New World with the intention of relying on African slaves for the bulk of its labor force. But the incessant demand for workers spurred by the spread of tobacco cultivation eventually led Chesapeake planters to turn to the transatlantic trade in slaves.
Compared with indentured servants, slaves offered planters many advantages. Anti-black stereotypes flourished in seventeenth century England. Africans were seen as so alien-in color, religion, and social practices-that they were “enslavable” in a way that poor Englishmen were not. Most English also deemed Indians to be uncivilized. But the Indian population declined so rapidly, and it was so easy for Indians, familiar with the countryside, to run away, that Indian slavery never became viable. A sense of Africans as alien and inferior made their enslavement by the English possible. But prejudice by itself did not create North American slavery.
For that institution to take root, Chesapeake planters and government authorities had to be convinced that importing African slaves was the best way to solve their persistent shortage of labor. By 1700, blacks constituted over 10 percent of Virginia’s population. Fifty years later, they made up nearly half. Recognizing the growing importance of slavery, the House of Burgesses in 1705 enacted a new slave code. Slaves were property, completely subject to the will of their masters and, more generally, of the white community. -What made the English settlement of New England distinctive?
In many ways, the settling of New England was unique. Although servants represented about one-quarter of the Great Migration, most settlers arrived in Massachusetts in families. They came for many reasons, including the desire to escape religious persecution, anxiety about the future of England, and the prospect of economic betterment. Compared with colonists in Virginia and Maryland, they were older and more prosperous, and the number of men and women more equally balanced. Because of the even sex ratio and New England’s healthier climate, the population grew rapidly, doubling every twenty-seven years.
Although the region received only a small fraction of the century’s migration, by 1700 New England’s white population of 91,000 outnumbered that of both the Chesapeake and the West Indies. Nearly all were descendents of those who crossed the Atlantic during the Great Migration. -What were the main sources of discord in early New England? Differences of opinion about how to organize a Bible Commonwealth emerged almost from the founding of Massachusetts. With its emphasis on individual interpretation of the Bible, Puritanism contained the seeds of its own fragmentation. Tolerance of difference was not high on the list of Puritan values.
The first sustained criticism of the existing order came from the young minister Roger Williams, who arrived in Massachusetts in 1631 and soon began to insist that its congregations withdraw from the Church of England and that church and state be separated. Banished from Massachusetts in 1636, Williams and his followers moved south, where they established the colony of Rhode Island, which eventually received a charter from the crown. In a world in which the right of individuals to participate in religious activities without governmental interference barely existed, Rhode Island became a beacon of religious freedom.
Most threatening to the Puritan establishment both because of her gender and because she attracted a large and influential following was Anne Hutchinson. Hutchinson began holding meetings in her home, where she led discussions of religious issues among men and women, including a number of prominent merchants and public officials. What set Hutchinson apart was her charge that nearly all ministers in Massachusetts were guilty of faulty preaching for distinguishing “saints” from the damned by activities such as church attendance and moral behavior rather than by an inner state of grace.
In Massachusetts, where church and state reinforced each other, both ministers and magistrates were intent on suppressing any views that challenged their own leadership. Her critics denounced Hutchinson for Antinomianism. In 1637, she was placed on trial for sedition. Hutchinson and number of her followers were banished. Anne Hutchinson lived in New England for only eight years but she left her mark on the regions religious culture. As in the case of Williams, her career showed how the Puritan belief in each individual’s ability to interpret the Bible could easily lead to criticism of the religious establishment.
It would take many years before religious toleration-which violated the Puritans’ understanding of “moral liberty” and social harmony-came to Massachusetts. Along with disruptive religious controversies, New England, like other colonies, had to deal with the difficult problem of relations with Indians. To New England’s leaders, the Indians represented both savagery and temptation. Puritans generally saw Indians as an obstacle to be pushed aside, rather than as potential converts. As the white population expanded and new towns proliferated, conflict with the region’s Indians became unavoidable.
The destruction of one of the region’s most powerful Indian groups not only opened the Connecticut River valley to rapid white settlement but also persuaded other Indians that the newcomers possessed a power that could not be resisted. -How did the New England economy develop in the seventeenth century? Lacking a marketable staple like sugar or tobacco, New Englanders turned to fishing and timber for exports. But the economy centered on family farms producing food for their own use and a small marketable surplus.
Per capita wealth in New England lagged far behind that of the Chesapeake, but it was much more equally distributed. A majority of New England families achieved the goal of owning their own land, the foundation for a comfortable independence. New England gradually assumed a growing role within the British empire based on trade. By the second half of the seventeenth century, New England merchants shipped and marketed the staples of other colonies and supplied them and markets in Europe with fish, timber, and agricultural produce gathered at home.
While Puritans never abandoned the idea that economic activity should serve the general welfare, Boston merchants soon came to exercise a decisive influence in public affairs. The government of Massachusetts Bay Colony actively promoted economic development, building roads and bridges, offering bounties to economic enterprises, and abandoning laws limiting prices. Eventually, the Puritan experiment would evolve into a merchant-dominated colonial government.