Part 3. A Land of Contrasts

The Boisterous Sea of Liberty

Part 3. A Land of Contrasts

The Boisterous Sea of Liberty

A Documentary History of America from Discovery through the Civil War
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Paperback 13/01/2000 ISBN13: 9780195116700 ISBN10: 0195116704 Drawing on a gold mine of primary documents--including letters, diary entries, personal narratives, political speeches, broadsides, trial transcripts, and contemporary newspaper articles--The Boisterous Sea of Liberty brings the past to life in a way few histories ever do.
Here is a panoramic look at early American history as captured in the words of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe and many other historical figures, both famous and obscure. In these pieces, the living voices of the past speak to us from opposing viewpoints--from the vantage point of loyalists as well as patriots, slaves as well as masters. The documents collected here provide a fuller understanding of such historical issues as Columbus's dealings with Native Americans, the Stamp Act Crisis, the Declaration of Independence, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Missouri Crisis, the Mexican War, and Harpers Ferry, to name but a few.
Compiled by Pulitzer Prize winning historian David Brion Davis and Steven Mintz, and accompanied by extensive illustrations of original documents, The Boisterous Sea of Liberty brings the reader back in time, to meet the men and women who lived through the momentous events that shaped our nation.

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      The most distinctive feature of colonial America was the diversity of its population, which was a product of the way that the colonies were originally settled. The earliest settlements were established by commercial companies, religious organizations, and individual entrepreneurs. In the mid-seventeenth century, the English government adopted a more systematic approach to colonization; it annexed New Netherlands and New Sweden and began to grant territory to specific persons called proprietors. Some proprietors projected utopian fantasies over the lands they were granted. Schemes to set up feudal manors and Georgia's attempt to ban the importation of hard liquor and slaves failed. To attract settlers, it proved necessary to guarantee religious freedom, offer land grants, and permit self-government through a representative assembly.


    1. Why do you think that the Dutch, the English, and the French scrambled to establish overseas colonies and trading posts during the early seventeenth century?
        To ensure that they would not be shut out of the New World by Spain and Portugal; to tap sources of wealth.

    2. Foreign travelers were more impressed by the differences among the colonists than their similarities. What linked them together? In what ways were the colonies and colonists diverse?
        Linking the colonists together was the absence of a titled aristocracy, widespread ownership of land, and religious diversity. The colonies were diverse in their economies, climate, and topography. The colonists were ethnically, racially, religiously, and in the source of their livelihood diverse.

    3. During the colonial period, slavery could be found in every one of the 13 colonies. Why didn't slavery offend the colonists' sense of morality?
        In part because they lived in a society in which many people lived in situations of "unfreedom": as indentured servants, apprentices, household servants.

    4. What were the English liberties that Americans kept demanding for themselves?
        Limits on the power of government and protection for individual liberties; certain basic political rights and freedoms, including the right to self government, representative assemblies, and rule of law.

    WHAT IF?

    How would American history have been different:

    1. If there had been no Indians in North America?

    2. If German settlers in the Middle Colonies had continued to speak only German?

    3. If Indian peoples had uniformly supported the French?


    Ask your students to look closely at the map on page 86. What is the picture of the various people supposed to illustrate? What can this picture tell us about the values and attitudes of the Dutch toward their colonial possessions?

      The picture shows Indian peoples and African slaves providing various goods for the Dutch.


    The Zenger case helped establish the principle of freedom of the press. Should there be limits to freedom of the press? Does the principle of freedom of the press mean that newspapers should be able to publish anything?

    Document 1.

      It is useful for students to know the difference between capitalism and mercantilism. Under capitalism, the production and pricing of goods largely takes place as a result of competition within a free market. Mercantilism, in contrast, seeks to increase a nation's wealth through strict government regulation of the economy. It usually involves the establishment of foreign trading monopolies and development of agriculture and manufactures. According to the mercantilist economist Thomas Mun, how can colonies contribute to the wealth of nations?
        By reducing a nation's imports and encouraging shipping.

    Documents 4-8.

      In interactions between the English and neighboring Indian peoples, power was not only on one side. Throughout the colonial period, the English felt forced to deal with Indians as nations. Why did the English find it necessary to negotiate with Native Americas?
        To establish military alliances against the France and to gain access to furs.

    Document 10.

      The idea of religious tolerance is a relatively recent historical development. As the example of the Quakers illustrates, even in colonial America religious intolerance existed. A key question that your students might want to ponder is how religious conflict eventually grew into greater religious tolerance in the colonies. This selection by William Penn, the Quaker leader, points to a possible answer. On what grounds does Penn reject the idea of religious uniformity?
        He argues that the quest for religious uniformity increases religious dissent and discredits Protestantism.

    Document 12.

      How is the founding of Georgia an example of a noble ideal that was overcome by human nature.
        James Ogelthorpe had a utopian vision of Georgia as a haven for English debtors and persecuted European Protestants. A rational plan for a good and orderly society was worked out on paper, but the realities of human weakness, greed, rivalry, and conflict with the Indians prevented it from working out in practice.

    Document 13.

      Two contradictory trends were at work in colonial America. On the one hand, there was a growth of wealthy regional elites that aped English manners and fashions. On the other hand, there were growing claims of English liberties against all forms of tyranny and subservience and mounting challenges to social deference. How does the legal case involving Governor Joseph Dudley and Thomas Trowbridge illustrate both of these trends?
        Two cartmen refuse to show deference to the Massachusetts governor and are charged with insubordination. This case limited the authority of public officials.

    Document 15.

      Ask students to define the word "redemptioner." What does Mittelberger's account tell us about the plight of German redemptioners, forced to sell themselves or their children into servitude in order to pay for their passage to the New World.
        Mittelberger describes the sale of human beings in Philadelphia. In this case, the people who were sold were not Africans, but Germans.

    Document 16.

      Colonial Americans were very familiar with a variety of forms of unfree labor. Many youths, like Javin Toby, served a term of years as servants or apprentices, which gave a highly charged meaning to such words as liberty, freedom and tyranny. You might ask your students how long Toby's indenture was supposed to last and what restrictions he was supposed to obey.

    Document 17.

      The trial of Peter Zenger for seditious libel is a landmark in the history of freedom of the press. What are some of the issues raised by the Zenger case?
        One of the key issues raised by the case involves the freedom of the press to print truthful criticisms of a public official. The jury ruled that truth is not libelous.

      What does the article from Zenger's Weekly Journal in 1733 tell us about popular attitudes?
        That the colonists considered themselves English citizens with the rights and liberties guaranteed by English law and custom. The article underscores the popular suspicion of arbitrary and unchecked power.

    Document 19.

      One of the greatest challenges that historians face is trying to determine what actually happened in the face of contradictory or ambiguous evidence. Even today, no one knows for sure whether there was a concerted plan among slaves in New York in 1741 to burn down the city. What do your students think: Was there a conspiracy to commit arson, or did civic official exaggerate the threat? Did the fear of a Spanish invasion and severe food shortages lead New Yorkers to overreact to isolated fires?

    Document 20.

      Why does Benjamin Franklin believe that the American population is growing much faster than Europe's?
        In contrast to Europe, which was fully settled, an abundance of land in America meant that even a laborer could establish a farm, marry at an early age, and have more children than his European counterpart.

      On what grounds does Franklin criticize the institution of slavery and foreign immigration?
        He contends that slavery is inefficient because slaves lack incentives to work hard and he criticizes foreign immigration because he wants a homogeneous population.