Friday, September 2, 2016

Land and the American Identity

One of the ongoing themes moving forward from the colonial era into the revolutionary era in American history is the continuing competition for land between all players involved. The colonial settlers wanted the land and the Native Americans wanted the land. France wanted the land and Britain wanted the land. The outcome of this competition can be summarized as:

American colonists wanted that land really, really bad -- so bad that they were willing to fight the French and Indians for it and then fight the greatest power in the world for it -- Great Britain. 


And they would continue to fight the Native Americans and the British to keep it...


By 1754, the population of the Thirteen Colonies was growing and both the tidewater elites and frontier farmers (mostly Scots-Irish) had their eye (and sometimes their whole families) on western lands. AP objective MIG-2.0 wants us to "Analyze causes of internal migration and patterns of settlement in what would become the United States, and explain how migration has affected American life." In a nutshell, what AP wants you to realize is that colonists moving west led to both conflict and expansion and this ultimately led to Revolution. Our hunger for land is often overlooked as a cause of the Revolution, but we will explore it here today. 

By 1754, tidewater elites wanted to buy up western lands and then sell to poor frontier farmers for profit. This is called speculation

Speculation is a risky, short-term investment that hinges on being able to sell for a higher price. In this case, the investment was in land (land that didn't really even belong to the investors) and they were betting that they could sell it later to settlers moving west. 

The Ohio Company marker

A good tangible example of this would be the Ohio Company and George Washington's survey expedition into the Ohio River Valley. Washington was a shareholder in the Ohio Company, along with Virginia's Governor Dinwiddie, and they wanted to sell this land to eager farmers (completely ignoring the land rights of the Native Americans who already lived there). When Washington shot a French envoy during this expedition, it triggered the French and Indian War. Therefore, it is safe to say that migration west led to both imperial conflict between Britain and France and to further conflict between colonists and Native Americans

It is important to remember that the French and Indian War marks the beginning of diverging interests between Britain and its colonists. This is why APUSH's period 3 begins in 1754. It was during this war that colonists began to view themselves as something separate -- as Americans. The 2015 APUSH national identity objective focuses solely on "ideas about democracy, freedom, and individualism" in the context of the colonial conflict during this period, but that isn't the whole story. 

If you look at AP's 2004 DBQ, you will find documents showing that the British Regulars looked down on the colonial militias and the colonial soldiers resented their dismissal and abuse as both soldiers and as British subjects. 

The schism, the cracks in the empire, were developing as colonials came in closer contact with British soldiers who were there to fight an imperial war but didn't understand the stakes for the colonials themselves. What really separated British and colonial interests was the Proclamation of 1763 at the end of the war. 

And the Proclamation of 1763 was all about LAND distribution. 

The colonists viewed the Proclamation of 1763 as a betrayal. The land that they had just fought and died for was made into an Indian Reserve. How could the Ohio Company sell land that had just been given to the Native Americans? How could frontier settlers justify keeping their developed lands, or moving onto new ones? This one move by the British managed to anger both elites and poor farmers alike. Poor frontier farmers, in particular, found the Proclamation unpalatable. 

Just like in Bacon's Rebellion back in the 1670's, frontier farmers felt their efforts to carve out an existence on the frontier were in vain if they didn't get the support of the royal government. And, just like in Bacon's Rebellion, the Native Americans took the brunt of their anger. The Paxton Boys, a group of irate Scots-Irish vigilantes in western Pennsylvania, made a point of killing at least 21 peaceful Susquehannocks as they marched to the capital in Philadelphia to present their grievances to the legislature. 



Conflict over land is an ongoing theme because to white Americans LAND MEANT STATUS. In the early days of the republic, voting was limited to property-owners. It wasn't until after the War of 1812 that we started to see a shift away from a sort of aristocratic elitism based on property ownership to a "common man" mentality that shifted status to men in general.




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