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VII S E L F - S C R U T I N Y IN THE R E V O L U T I O N A R Y E R A A GLANCE AT THE COLONISTS* THOUGHTS IN MIDeighteenth century suggests an awakening to changes which had hitherto passed without conscious assessment. It was almost as if American colonials had drifted for years down a river without noticing that they were being carried into a new country. After the Great Awakeningof the early 1740*5 they began to evince manifestations of growing awareness that the American continent was not merely a corner of the world. When Thomas Paine inquired in 1775 whether an island should rule a continent, he played upon a sense of special destiny which had first been formulated twenty-five years earlier by the most self-conscious of Americans, Benjamin Franklin. With "One Million English Souls in North-America," Franklin predicted , the population would double every twenty-five years, and "in another Century . . . the greatest Number of Englishmen will be on this Side the Water. What an Accession of Power to the British Empire by Sea as well as Land! What Increase of Trade and Navigation! What Numbers of Ships and Seamen!" Franklin seized the opportunity to lecture imperial authorities on their obligations. "How important an Affair then to Britain, is the present Treaty for settling the Bounds between her Colonies and the French, and how careful should she be to secure Room enough, since on the Room depends so much the Increase of her People?" This selfcongratulatory mood achieved new heights after stunning victories over the French in the late 1750*5. The conquest of Canada, the Reverend Ezra Stiles proclaimed proudly to his congregation, suggested that divine providence was "making way for the planting and Erection in this land the best policied Empire that has yet appeared in the World. In which Liberty and property will be secured." Stiles predicted this empire would afford the manifold [ยป69] W H I T E O V E R B L A C K blessings of "Liberty civil and religious/' "apostolic purity" among the churches, and renown "for Science and Arts." Americans were becoming conscious, also, of the diversity which characterized their communities. Religious groups had proliferated after the Great Awakening. Boatloads of immigrants were arriving from Germany, Africa, and the countries of the British Isles. Owing to the pattern of migration and settlement, religious and ethnic diversity among white men was greatest in Pennsylvania and the southern back country. For a time, Franklin fretted about the future of Pennsylvania where "the Palatine Boors" were crowding out "the English." But the greater threat was, as Franklin said and most Americans must have sensed, that importation of slaves had "blacken'd half America." x The growth of American self-awareness formed an important theme during the gathering political crisis prior to the Revolution. Indeed the Revolution has been said to have been primarily a revolution in American consciousness. If this was the case in the realm of politics, it was even more so in the shadowy realm of communal intellect and self-identification. But it is impossible to separate completely the two realms, and their inseparability becomes apparent in the development of antislavery during the Revolutionary era. Indeed the assumption of heightening selfawareness in America serves to tie together apparently disparate developments in the period. Americans came to realize that they were no longer Englishmen; at the same time they grew consciousof their own "prejudices" concerning Negroes. As they began to question slavery, they began to see that there was a race problem in America and that it was necessary to assert the fundamental equality of Negroes with white men and to combat suggestions to the contrary. In doing so they embraced a mode of thought which for a half century was to serve the purposes of those who sought to achieve a viable national community. Environmentalism became an engine in the hands of republicans asserting their independence from the Old World. It was an integral aspect of the ideology of the Revolution, which itself was rooted in ideas about property and liberty and in the concept of equality. During the Revolution interesting transformations revealed themselves in that ancient concept : equality was naturalized, legalized, politicized, and nationalized . Perhaps these barbarisms do something to summarize what i. "Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind" (1751), Labaree et al., eds., Papers of Franklin, IV, 232-34; Edmund S. Morgan, The Gentle Puritan...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469600765
Related ISBN
9780807834022
MARC Record
OCLC
861793501
Pages
696
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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