Unit 1 Discussion Questions
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- In what ways were the middle colonies of New York more "open"
and diverse than New England? In what ways were they less democratic?
- Why was family Life in New England so different from family life in the
- 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?
- What was attractive and unattractive about the closely knit New England
way of life?
- 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?
- How democratic was colonial American society? Why was it apparently
becoming less equal?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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 ?
Why was the French empire
ultimately so much less successful than either the Spanish
or the British?
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?
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)?
Should the French and Indian War be considered one of the
causes of the American Revolution? Why or why not?
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?
Were all the American grievances really justified, or
were the British actually being more reasonable than most Americans have
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
In 1775 which side would a neutral observer have expected
to win—Britain or the colonies? Why?
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?
Was military strategy or politics the key to American
victory in the war? How did the two coincide?
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?
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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