In 1492, Christopher Columbus was sent by the Spanish to explore new land to colonize. He discovered the whole North American continent. His coming over here had killed many natives, but it led to the colonization and formation of what became the United States of America. How our great nation eventually came to be is a long story of failed colonization attempts, successful colonization attempts, rebellions, wars, new governments, and anger at the British. It was a very long and painful story too. However, the result was wonderful and it spawned a new nation that would eventually grow to be a huge world power.
The first major step in founding our country was exploring and colonizing it. We all know that Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover the New World. After his exploration, Europeans realized the American continent had many major resources and was a good place to expand their empires. The Spanish Conquistadores, conquering land in the early to mid 1500s, were the first Europeans to colonize the Americas. While the Spanish were the first Europeans to colonize the Americas, our great nation’s founding is thanks to the English. In 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert attempted to colonize Quebec for the English, however he lost his life at sea. In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh and a group he organized landed on Roanoke Island, off the coast of Virginia, which was named by Queen Elizabeth, the virgin queen in honor of herself. The harsh climate of Canada and Raleigh being too busy at home to watch Virginia, made these attempts nowhere near as successful as Spanish Colonization. However, In 1607, a joint-stock company called the Virginia Company of London, received a charter from King James I for a settlement in the Americas. The Virginia Company, like most stock companies, was only intended to endure for a short period of time after which its stockholders were supposed to receive a profit. This showed the colonists that they had to get their money and quick. Nobody thought this charter would lead to the start of more colonies in the Americas, which was a big step in founding America.
While natural resources were a major reason for colonization, it wasn’t the only reason. Another big reason for founding new colonies was the desire for religious tolerance and freedom. An example of this colonization is Maryland, which was founded in 1634 by Lord Baltimore, who wanted to create a refuge for his fellow Catholics who were facing prosecution in Protestant England. Pennsylvania, which was founded by William Penn in 1681, was a Quaker haven and had very liberal views for colonies at the time, such as tolerance to all religions, no military, and no immigration restrictions. These were attractive to those wanting to flee religious persecution, and while resources in those colonies were more important to the settlers of the time, the freedom of religion was nice too. The two combined drew many English settlers over to the Americas.
The third major step in founding our country was the revolutionary fervor from anger at the British and the Revolutionary War. By the 1750s, the English and the French were fighting over the Ohio River Valley. This conflict led to the French and Indian War, also referred to as the Seven Years War, which lasted from 1754 to 1763. During the war, the British troops that were stationed in the colonies were very snobby to the colonial militia. They did many rude things, such as refusing to recognize any rank higher than “captain”, calling the colonists “scum” and also referring to them as dirty and cowardly. This had upset many colonists and started to turn the colonies’ relationship with Britain sour. Also, Britain had embraced the idea of Mercantilism, the idea that the colonial economy should be closely regulated and is only there to serve the mother country’s needs. Britian had passed the Navigation Laws in 1650 to enforce their mercantilism policies, however these laws were very loosely enforced until after the Seven Years War. In addition to stepping up enforcement of the Navigation Laws, Parliament passed the Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited expansion west of the Appalachians. This law was resented and disregarded by many colonials, who had felt that it was their right to explore the land since they fought a war for it. To make things worse in the following years leading up to the Revolutionary War, Parliament had passed a series of taxes on the colonies to help pay off the war debt. Most colonials accepted the right of Parliament to legislate, but not to tax. They felt that taxation should be up to the governments and citizens of the individual colonies. London felt that the Americans should pay for part of the war, especially since the British had protected them and their land, so Parliament passed the Stamp Act. This was a tax mandated the use of paper with a stamp on it, so it could be made certain that the colonials paid the tax. Colonial resistance to this tax was so violent that Parliament eventually repealed it, but instituted many new taxes soon afterwords. When the tea tax was protested in the Boston Tea Party on December 6, 1773, Parliament was very angry with the colonists and passed a series of repressive acts which the colonials saw as “the massacre of American Liberty.”
The Quebec Act was also passed by Parliament in 1774, and it extended Quebec into the Ohio River Valley which the colonists saw as an extension of Catholic lands and the non-jury trial system. This had made the colonists call for a complete boycott of British goods. In April 1775, the British commander in Boston sent troops to Lexington and Concord to try and seize colonial gunpowder stores and to take out revolutionary leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock. This event officially started the fighting that was the Revolutionary War and had convinced colonial leaders to declare independence. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia moved that the united colonies ought to be free and independent, The Philadelphia Congress adopted this proposal a month later, on July 2, 1776. Shortly after Lee proposed the idea, the Congress prepared an appropriate statement of independence, which was formally approved on July 4, 1776. Despite this declaration, the war had ravaged onward as Britain would not give up just yet. With the aid of the French and due to the fact that they were fighting defensively on their own land, the colonials won the war. British General Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 formally recognized the United States as an independent nation.
1. Bailey, Thomas A. The American Pageant. 11th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.
2. Kelly, Martin. “Causes of the American Revolution.” About.com American History. About.com, n.d. web. 16 Oct. 2013. http://americanhistory.about.com/od/revolutionarywar/a/amer_revolution.htm.