Development of the American Identity Between 1750 and 1776
In what ways and to what extent did the “American identity” develop between 1750 and 1776? Though the American colonists had not achieved a true, uniform sense of identity or unity by 1776, on the eve of Revolution, the progress towards unity and the inchoate idea of an “American” between 1750 and 1776 is inevitable in both existence and significance.
Previous to the French and Indian War, America as a whole had been, more or less, loyal mercantile-based, and subservient to the British crown as British colonists in the New World; however, the Americans’ sense of unity kindled and proliferated with the increased tax burdens and coercive Parliamentary decisions, while even until 1776, Americans, in a broad scope, retained more so their “British” identity rather than a truly American one. Throughout the time period from 1750 to 1776, Americans undoubtedly developed a stronger, not solidified, sense of unity against a common enemy, the British.
Even during the 1750s, when no particular duties or grievance troubled the American colonists (from the British), Benjamin Franklin proposed the Albany Plan of Union in order to secure the Iroquois loyalty and raise inter-colonial unity/agreement. Through political cartoon such as the famous ‘Join, or Die’ fragmented snake, Ben Franklin hinted at the fact that, against a common enemy (in this case, the French and Huron Indian tribes), unity was of necessity in order to strengthen America as a whole (Doc. A).
Furthermore, Ben Franklin expressed his opinion or unity at the Albany Congress, where a plan of, long-term unity was suggested. Though the colonies and the British crown both disapproved of the plan, the Albany Plan of Union was an important step towards unity, especially so early on in the existence of the American colonies. Although the first years of the period 1750-1776 were not as filled with ideas of unity, a chain reaction of direct taxes, strict Parliamentary Acts, and martial order shocked the American colonists into taking further steps towards unity.
In a sense, the Proclamation of 1763 initiated the American process towards unity. By suddenly ending “salutary neglect”, the British Parliament had, unknowing, prompted the beginnings of the Americans’ grievances. Though not much protest occurred in response to the Proclamation (most colonists moved West anyways), the Act itself would set a precedent for Americans’ sense of anxiety. The first direct tax on the American colonies, the Stamp act, contributed significantly to the beginnings of pre-Revolutionary unity.
With the rallying battle cry, “No taxation without representation”, the American colonists proceeded to call together the Stamp Act Congress. Not only was this event significant due to the fact that it was another group meeting, automatically signifying at least some unity, but major proponents of Revolution, such as Samuel Adams, started new efforts towards uniting colonists against Britain, such as the Sons of Liberty. The following several years, though not marked with tremendous amounts of unification, definitely contributed to a growing sense of anxiety and oppression amongst the American colonists.
With more direct taxes such as the Tea Acts, Coercive Acts, and Quartering Acts. Grievance after grievance, the number of “unreasonable” British actions inevitably forced the Americans into a dilemma. While some colonists, such as Richmond Henry Lee, equated such acts to the British desire to “ruin” the colonies, others, such as Mather Byles, believed that a radical revolt in response to direct duties would be worse than no revolt at all (Doc. C and Doc. D).
By observing those two significantly contrasting opinions regarding the idea of revolution and mistrust of the British empire, the idea of pervasive colonial unity can be refuted; however, the existence of uniformity of ideas, even if they existed only within select groups (such as the Tories, true blues, or neutral/timid), proves the moving of fragmented America into a more-unified America. Edmund Bunke sympathizes, in ideology, with Richard Lee by claiming that the colonies, merely by nature and geography, shouldn’t coalesce and put up with British coercion. Doc. B).
By expressing similar ideas with Lee, the existence of ideological unity between some colonists is undeniable. By the end of the pre-Revolutionary period, enough grievances, such as the Boston Massacre, had prompted Americans to agree that a Declaration of Independence was the wisest course of action. Though the Declaration was, more or less, a culmination of the growing unity in America, loyalist factions, especially those of the upper class, prevented the development of complete inter-colonial unity.
Although the development of unity amongst certain colonists was apparent between the years 1750 and 1776, the development of unique “American” identity was not quite as prominent. Since 1750, the Americans had never explicitly asserted a desired separation from the mother country and establish themselves as “Americans”, but expressed a desire to “go back” to the way it was. In the Declaration for causes of Taking up Arms, the states, as a whole, even include that there is no “ambitious design of separating from Great Britain . . . and establishing independent states” (Doc.
Even in such a ‘rebellious’ declaration, the Americans did not profess a desire to unify and revolt as ‘Americans’, but more as fellow-subjects that were dissatisfied with certain Parliamentary actions. Though the development of an “American” identity can be argued for, even that potential “identity” was limited to radical areas. By observing the chart portraying contributions for the relief of Boston, an unevenness of involvement in the Revolution reflects the sentiment that many colonists had no true sense of American identity.