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Just How Free Were the Colonists?

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Just How Free Were The Colonists?

It was said by Samuel Eliot Morrison, a historian, that as of "1763, the British North American colonists were the freest people in the world." This is very provocative in the way it manipulates your mind into delving farther into the true meaning on this quote. Did Morrison mean to say that all other societies in the world were kept on a short leash? Did he mean to say that the colonies were kept on an abnormally long leash? How, when multiple restrictive laws were placed on them, were the colonists the freest people in the world? Just how free were the colonists in terms of economics, politics, and religion; how did they come about this freedom?

Economically speaking, in 1651, English Parliament passed the Act of Trade and Navigation. The Navigation Acts allowed only English or Colonial-owned ships to enter ports, excluding Dutch merchants who were ultimately the best choice for trade due to high-end goods, high purchase rates for tobacco, and cheapest shipping services. The Navigation Acts also required the colonists to ship their crop and other "enumerated articles" only through England, who held a high tax. Despite the economic downfall of the colonies, families fought through and rose out of their recession in an even better shape than they were in before. The Molasses Act of 1773 stated that colonists could not transport products via personal ships or those of another country - the colonists would be required to transport products via English ships which cost a great deal more. This Act was ignored. The colonists began smuggling good into the colonies and peacekeepers turned their cheek. This gave the colonists a taste of freedom they hadn't experienced before.

In terms of politics, each society had their own type of committee that ran it. In Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay colony, the puritan church ran their civilization. In 1619, the House of Burgesses was created as a representative government for all of the individual colonies. Also, the great distance between the colonies and the monarchy meant more political flexibility and a closer relationship between the colonies and their representative government. On another note, from 1607 to 1763, the English monarchy practiced salutary neglect. This policy allowed colonists to do as they pleased without fear of strict enforcement of parliamentary laws. This policy was meant to keep the colonies obedient to England. Prime Minister, Robert Walpole stated his belief that "if no restrictions are placed on [them], they will flourish." This meant that laws and standards were taken less seriously as England ruled their colonies with a lax fist.

Religiously, the colonies were pretty well off. "In 1748, a traveler counted no fewer than twelve religious denominations in Philadelphia." Among these denominations were Anglicans, Baptists, Quakers, Swedish, German



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