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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersBecoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Theme: GrowthTheme: PeoplesTheme: EconomiesTheme: IdeasTheme: American
Theme: American

Proclamation of Joseph Dudley, God Save the King, 1715
- "Liberty, once lost, is lost forever": a colonist's appeal to preserve colonial autonomy, 1721 (PDF)
- "They claim the right of directing themselves": a British official's warning about managing the colonies, 1764 (PDF)

When a parent revokes a privilege from a child, a loud "No fair!" is the likely response, especially if the privilege involves the child's sphere of autonomy, and especially if the child thinks the privilege is a birthright. Think of likely protestations—You promised. I've done nothing wrong. It won't help me grow up. It's not fair. These are precisely the four arguments presented in 1721 by colonist Jeremiah Dummer to oppose Parliament's revoking the original New England charters—the documents that established the colonies' rights and privileges, including self-governance—and imposing closer more imperial authority over the colonies. (His appeal was successful.)

Americans loved "Britannia," their parent, and cheered "God save the King" as loyal Britons. They also bristled and chafed as a child will do when the reins of power are drawn in. Here we consider this tug-of-war over power and autonomy as viewed by two officials who lived and understood colonial politics—one born in America with much experience in England, and other born in England with much experience in America.
  • "Liberty, once lost, is lost forever." This is Jeremiah Dummer's final warning in his 1721 appeal to Parliament, A Defense of the New England Charters, in which he presents the four arguments (above) in precisely formulated and extensively buttressed propositions. A Harvard-educated minister and lawyer who lived for many years in England as the commercial agent for Massachusetts and Connecticut, Dummer understood how much Britain would sabotage her own commercial interests if she restricted the colonies' power. His reasoning proving persuasive (along with other factors), Parliament dropped the bill to revoke the charters.
    • - Jeremiah Dummer, A Defense of the New England Charters, 1721, excerpts.

  • "They claim the right of directing themselves." Sharing Dummer's conviction that Britain could lose bigtime by autocratically limiting the colonies' long-cherished privileges, Thomas Pownall presented his position quite differently to British ears. Observing the power struggles between the colonies and the Crown during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), he published The Administration of the Colonies as a warning to Britain—implement clear central governance over the colonies or jeopardize Britain's future as a global commercial power. While convinced that the colonies would never revolt for independence, Pownall predicted their resistance to Britain's increased imperial authority and military presence after the war. Don't think of the colonies as "mere appendages to the realm," he counsels, but as loyal partners in "one organized whole, the commercial dominion of Great Britain." What must not happen, he emphasizes, is the colonies becoming unified as an entity in the commercial system. Pownall could have subtitled his work "Keeping the Power."
    • - Thomas Pownall, The Administration of the Colonies, 1st ed., 1764, excerpts.

While you're reading, remember that the issue here is not the colonies' independence from Britain; that comes later. The issue is the colonies' self-governance within the empire. You might include two earlier colonial power struggles in your readings—the 1689 Boston Declaration of Grievances and the 1707-1708 pamphlet war between the power elite of Boston and the royal governor of Massachusetts. What constitutes "winning" and "losing" in these power struggles? (7 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. Overall, what impressions do you get from the readings about the causes and resolutions of the power struggles between the colonies and Great Britain before the revolutionary period?
  2. To what extent are they "rehearsals" for the American Revolution? (Be careful, here, of over-applying hindsight.)
  3. To whom do Jeremiah Dummer and Thomas Pownall address their arguments?
  4. How do they structure their arguments for these audiences?
  5. What opinions and recommendations do they share? Where do they differ?
  6. How does Dummer acknowledge Great Britain's position while appealing for the colonies?
  7. How does Pownall acknowledge the colonies' position while promoting a "vast maritime system" of which Great Britain would be the center?
  8. What was the outcome of the two appeals?
  9. What constitutes "winning" and "losing" in these power struggles?
  10. What, if any, evidence exists in these selections of the colonies "becoming American"? How are you defining "American" in order to reply to the question?

Framing Questions
  •  How did the political relationship between the colonies and Great Britain change in this period?
  •  How did individual colonies and colonists influence and respond to these changes?
  •  To what extent were the colonies and colonists "becoming American"?

Joseph Dummer on colonial autonomy:  3
Thomas Pownall on colonial control:  4
TOTAL  7 pages
Supplemental Sites

- Britannia, engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi, 1768. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, General Collections, #LC-USZ62-45529.
- Proclamation of Joseph Dudley, governor of Massachusetts Bay, banning commerce and trade with the French in Canada, 29 March 1715. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Printed Ephemera Collection, #Portfolio 33, Folder 50.

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

1. Empire   2. Power   3. Rights
4. Union?   5. Independence?

TOOLBOX: Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Growth | Peoples | Economies | Ideas | American

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