Unit 1 Discussion Questions

  1. What did England and the English settlers really want from colonization? National glory? Wealth? Adventure? A solution to social tensions? New sources of goods and trade? Did they get what they wanted?
  2. Were the English colonizers crueler or more tolerant than the Spanish conqttistAOreS? Why did the Spanish tend to settle and intermarry with the Native American populatiOfl~ whereas the English did not?
  3. Was the development of African slavery in the North American colonies inevitable? (Consider that it never developed in some other colonial areas, for example, Mexico and New France.) How would the North American colonies have been different without slavery?
  4. How did the reliance on plantation agriculture affect the southern colonies? Were their societies relatively "loose" because they were primarily rural, or because they tended to rely on forced labor systems?
  5. Did the Puritans really come to America seeking religious freedom? How did they reconcile their own religious dissent from the Church of England with their persecution of dissenters like Hutchinson and Williams? Does their outlook make them hypocrites?
  6. How were government and religion—or church and state—related in New England and the middle colonies? How does the colonial view of these matters compare with more recent understandings?
  7. How ‘does the founding of the New England colonies compare with the origin of the middle colonies? In what ways were New England and the middle colonies each like the South, and in what ways were they different?
  8. In what ways were the middle colonies of New York more "open" and diverse than New England? In what ways were they less democratic?
  9. Why was family Life in New England so different from family life in the South?
  10. Why did slavery grow to be such an important institution in colonial America? What were the effects of slavery on the Africans who were brought to the New World?
  11. What was attractive and unattractive about the closely knit New England way of life?
  12. Were the Salem witch trials a peculiar, aberrant moment in an age of superstition, or did they reflect common human psychological and social anxieties that could appear in any age? How harshly should those who prosecuted the "witches" be condemned?
  13. How democratic was colonial American society? Why was it apparently becoming less equal?
  14. How were the various occupations and activities of colonial America related to the nature of the economy? Why were occupations like lawyer, printer, and artisan taking on greater importance?
  15. What were the causes and effects of the Great Awakening? How did such an intense religious revival affect those who experienced "conversion" as well as those who did not? How did the Awakening help to create a sense of shared American identity?
  16. In what ways was colonial life attractive, and in what ways would it seem tedious and dull to the average twentieth-century American? How were the educational, cultural, and leisured sides of colonial life affected by the basic nature of the econorn ?
  17. Why was the French empire ultimately so much less successful than either the Spanish or the British?

  18. If France instead of Britain had won the "duel for North America," would the thirteen colonies ever have become independent of Britain, or would they have been forced to stay within the empire for protection? Would Detroit, St. Louis, and New Orleans now be cities in "Canada" rather than in the United States?

  19. How does the history of the French-British conflict in Canada make Canada different from Britain’s thirteen other colonies (that is, the United States)?

  20. Should the French and Indian War be considered one of the causes of the American Revolution? Why or why not?

  21. Was the American Revolution inevitable? Could America have gradually and peacefully developed independence within the British Commonwealth, as Canada later did, rather than engaging in a violent revolt?

  22. Were all the American grievances really justified, or were the British actually being more reasonable than most Americans have traditionally believed?

  23. What was the Revolutionary movement really all about? The amount of taxation? The right of Parliament to tax? The political corruption of Britain and the virtue of America? The right of a king to govern America? The colonies’ growing sense of national identity apart from Britain? Was the Revolution truly a radical overturning of government and society—the usual definition of a "revolution"?

  24. In 1775 which side would a neutral observer have expected to win—Britain or the colonies? Why?

  25. What was radical and new in the Declaration of Independence, and what was old and traditional? What did statements like "all men are created equal" mean in their historical context, and what did they come to mean later?

  26. Was military strategy or politics the key to American victory in the war? How did the two coincide?

  27. Did the Loyalists deserve to be persecuted and driven out of the country? What difference does it make to understand the Revolution as a civil war between Americans as well as a war against the British?

  28. What has the Revolution meant to later generations of Americans, including our own? Do we still think of the United States as a revolutionary nation? Why or why not?

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