Thoughts of American Independence, 1633-1755

colonial house

Colonial home.  Built for a wealthy and expansive people.


From the moment Englishman began to settle America, ideas here as well as in England began to drift toward some form of independence.  Some quotes taken from an excellent 1974 article:

1633: George Downing denied New England desires for independence: “it is a causeless fear without precedent that a colony planted in a strange land was ever so foolishly besotted as to reject the protection of their natural prince.” [quoted in Bumstead, “Ideas of American Independence,” 536]

Thomas Hobbes tried to distinguish between two types of colonies:“They are either a Common-wealth of themselves, discharged of their subjection to their Soverain [sic] that sent them, (as hath been done by many Common-wealths, of ancient time,) in which case the Common-wealth from which they went, was called their Metropolis or Mother, and requites no more of them, than Fathers require of the Children, whom they emancipate and make free from their domestique government, which is Honour and Friendship; or else they remain united to their Metropolis, as were the Colonies of the people in Rome; and then they are no Common-wealths themselves, but Provinces, and parts of the Common-wealth that sent them.” [quoted in Bumstead, “Ideas of American Independence,” 536]

Seventeenth century economist and Whig, Charles d’Avenant, wrote in 1697 (in his Discourses on the Public Revenue): “‘this can be no damage to the state, if they consist of men turbulent and unquiet at home, unless it can be made out, that they acquire abroad such riches, power and dominion, as may render them, in process of time, formidable to their mother country.’ He went on to contend that the colonies ‘are a spring of wealth to this nation,’ and insisted ‘that it must be through our own fault and misgovernment, if they become independent of England.’ Corrupt governors, ‘supine negligence,’ and mistaken measures ‘may indeed drive them, or put it into their heads to erect themselves into independent commonwealths.’” [quoted in Bumstead, “Ideas of American Independence,” 538]


Cato (Trenchard and Gordon), #106, first published on December 8, 1722: “I would not suggest so distant a Thought, as that any of our Colonies, when they grow stronger, should ever attempt to wean themselves from us; however, I think too much Care cannot be taken to prevent it, and to preserve their Dependencies upon their Mother-Country . . .  All Nature points out that Course.  No Creatures suck the Teats of their Dams longer than they can draw Milk from thence, or can provide themselves with better Food: Nor will any Country continue their Subjection to another, only because their Great-Grandmother were acquainted.” [quoted in Bumstead, “Ideas of American Independence,” 539-540]

1741, New York Assembly: “We dare Vouch That not one single Person in it [the Assembly] has any such Thoughts or Desire, for under what Government can we be better Protected, or our Liberties and Properties so well secured?” [quoted in Bumstead, “Ideas of American Independence,” 543]

1749, economist Josiah Tucker, in his third edition of Essay on Trade, argued that the colonies would revolt as soon as they believed themselves superior in wealth and resources [Bumstead, “Ideas of American Independence,” 544]

Late 1740s, Peter Kalm, a Swedish Botainst traveled throughout North America.  “I have been told by Englishmen, and not only by such as were born in American but also by those who came from Europe. . . That the English colonies in North America, in the space of thirty or fifty years, would be able to form a state by themselves entirely independent of Old England.”  Only the threat and presence of the French had been “the connection of the colonies with their mother country from being quite broken off.” [quoted in Bumstead, “Ideas of American Independence,” 553]

1755, Henry McCulloh, British (Scot) official in the colonies—especially S.C.:“to use their utmost endeavours to make themselves Masters of the English Islands in the West-Indies, and to encourage the English Colonies on the Continent of America to unite and form a Republican Government; . . . Such Schemes appear at present to be wild and extravagent, yet there are many things in the Womb of Time, which may favour the ambitious Views of France in such Enterprises. . . . [the colonies were approaching a kind of] Foundation of a kind of Independency in the Colonies on the Continent of America.” [Bumstead, “Ideas of American Independence,” 549]

McCulloh:“Experience hath shown, that it is extremely difficult to enforce the Execution of any Law made contrary to the general Bent and Disposition of the People; but how much more so must it be to enforce a Law made here, and to put in Execution in America, not only contrary to the general Bent and Disposition of the People, but likewise contrary to the very Genius and Constitution of some of their Governments; where-fore, in passing Laws of this Nature, ’tis most humbly submitted, whether it may be more proper, and better answer the End thereby proposed, so to form the law, as that the People there should not have too great a Temptation to resist, and act contrary to it.” [Bumstead, “Ideas of American Independence,” 549]

1755, the anonymous author of The State of the British and French Colonies in North America wrote: “The colonies have, in reality, in may cases. . . Acted as if they thought themselves so many independent states, under their respective charters, rather than as provinces of the same empire: which consideration necessarily requires a union of the parts, for security of the whole.” [quoted in Bumstead, “Ideas of American Independence,” 544]

Further, the anonymous author wrote: “Britain the political parent of her colonies (like a natural one, who intends to raise a progeny for advantage, strength and power) in their infancy should indulge, nourish, and support them. As they encrease [sic]and become capable of helping themselves and benefiting their mother country, they should be taught the obligations they owe her: that all their particular and heriditary [sic] rights and privileges, are derived from her: that they are bound to obey her laws; and that restraints laid on them are intended for mutual advantage.” [quoted in Bumstead, “Ideas of American Independence,” 552]

All quotes taken from J.M. Bumsted, William and Mary Quarterly 31 (October 1974).


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