Not all American ministers were swept up by the Age of Reason. In the 1730s, a religious revival swept through the British American colonies. Jonathan Edwards, the Yale minister who refused to convert to the Church of England, became concerned that New Englanders were becoming far too concerned with worldly matters. It seemed to him that people found the pursuit of wealth to be more important than John Calvin's religious principles. Some were even beginning to suggest that predestination was wrong and that good works might save a soul. Edwards barked out from the pulpit against these notions. "God was an angry judge, and humans were sinners!" he declared. He spoke with such fury and conviction that people flocked to listen. This sparked what became known as the Great Awakening in the American colonies.
No democracy has existed in the modern world without the existence of a free press. Newspapers and pamphlets allow for the exchange of ideas and for the voicing of dissent. When a corrupt government holds power, the press becomes a critical weapon. It organizes opposition and can help revolutionary ideas spread. The trial of John Peter Zenger, a New York printer, was an important step toward this most precious freedom for American colonists.
The British had an empire to run. The prevailing economic philosophy of seventeenth and eighteenth century empires was called mercantilism. In this system, the colonies existed to enrich the mother country. Restrictions were placed on what the colonies could manufacture, whose ships they could use, and most importantly, with whom they could trade. British merchants wanted American colonists to buy British goods, not French, Spanish, or Dutch products. In theory, Americans would pay duties on imported goods to discourage this practice. The Navigation Acts and the Molasses Act are examples of royal attempts to restrict colonial trade. Smuggling is the way the colonists ignored these restrictions.
Each of the original thirteen colonies had experienced violent uprisings. Americans had shown themselves more than willing to take up arms to defend a cause held dear. This tradition of rebellion characterized the American spirit throughout its early history.
Michel-Guillaume de Crčvecoeur was a French settler in the American colonies in the 1770s. Coming from France he could not believe the incredible diversity in the American colonies. Living in one area, he encountered people of English, Welsh, Scots-Irish, German, French, Irish, Swedish, Native American, and African descent. "What then is the American, this new man?" He could not be sure, but he knew it to be different from anything that could be found on the European side of the Atlantic.
The New World was only a small piece of a struggle for global domination between England and France. During the 1600s, France was the dominant power on the European continent, emerging victorious from the Thirty Years War. Louis XIV, the Sun King, built a palace at Versailles that made him the envy of every European monarch. French language, art, and literature prevailed on the continent. England, meanwhile, was in the throes of the only civil war in its history. As the century drew to a close, however, England was ready to start settling the New World.
About the same time John Smith and the Jamestown settlers were setting up camp in Virginia, France was building permanent settlements of their own. Samuel de Champlain led a group of French colonists through the mouth of the St. Lawrence River to found Quebec in 1608. The fur trade led fortune seekers deeper and deeper into North America. French Jesuit missionaries boldly penetrated the wilderness in the hopes of converting Native Americans to Catholicism. By 1700, France had laid claim to an expanse of territory that ranged from Newfoundland in the Northeast, down across the Great Lakes through the Ohio Valley, southward along the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, and as far west as the Rocky Mountains.
Round four of the global struggle between England and France began in 1754. Unlike the three previous conflicts, this war began in America. French and British soldiers butted heads with each other over control of the Ohio Valley. At stake were the lucrative fur trade and access to the all-important Mississippi River, the lifeline of the frontier to the west. A squadron of soldiers led by a brash, unknown, twenty-two year old George Washington attacked a French stronghold named Fort Duquesne. Soon after the attack, Washington's troops were forced to surrender. Shortly after that, a second British force also met with defeat. When news of this reached London, war was declared, and the conflict known in Europe as the Seven Years War began. Americans would call this bout the French and Indian War.
The fighting was over. Now the British and the British Americans could enjoy the fruits of victory. The terms of the Treaty of Paris were harsh to losing France. All French territory on the mainland of North America was lost. The British received Quebec and the Ohio Valley. The port of New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi were ceded to Spain for their efforts as a British ally.
The Treaty of Paris, which marked the end of the French and Indian War, granted Britain a great deal of valuable North American land. But the new land also gave rise to a plethora of problems.
"Nervous tension" is the term that best describes the relationship between the American colonies and England in the aftermath of the Stamp Act repeal. Several issues remained unresolved. First, Parliament had absolutely no wish to send a message across the Atlantic that ultimate authority lay in the colonial legislatures. Immediately after repealing the Stamp Act, Parliament issued the Declaratory Act.
The partial repeal of the Townshend Acts did not bring the same reaction in the American colonies as the repeal of the Stamp Act. Too much had already happened. Not only had the Crown attempted to tax the colonies on several occasions, but two taxes were still being collected one on sugar and one on tea.