Dbq: colonial foundations & settlement of north america

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By John A. Braithwaite

Using the accompanying documents, your knowledge of the time period and topic, and any other resources you have or care to consult, respond to the following question fully, accurately, and from a variety of viewpoints. Respond to this question using the textual information and the documents.
To what extent did religion, democracy, and mercantilism play major roles in the development of colonial North America from 16th to the 18th centuries?


  • Formulate a thesis statement

  • Deal evenly with each part of the assessment:

  • Be sure to cover the time period given

  • Write with fluency, good form, and correctness—of information

and mechanics

  • Build your case—be an intellectual attorney—prove your points

  • Use substantial outside information.


Gillon & Matson The American Experiment **

Davidson, et.al. Nation of Nations

Norton, et.al. A People & A Nation

Brinkley American History

Kennedy & Cohen The American Pageant

Boydston, et.al. Making the American Nation**

Henretta, et.al. American History.

Document A:

Source: Magna Carta, June 15, 1215. As quoted by C. Stephenson, Sources of English Constitutional History. (New York: Harper and Row, 1937), pp 115-26.

Editorial comment [Stephenson],

While these nobles wanted to protect their own feudal rights, the document is considered the first major step toward democracy in England. It established the principle that the king is not above the law.

1. …We have. . .granted to God and by this. . .confirmed, for us

and our heirs forever, that the English Church shall be free

and shall have its rights entire and its liberties inviolate…

12. Scutage [military tax] or aid [feudal tax] shall be levied in our kingdom only by the common council of our kingdom..

21. Earls and barons shall be amerced [fined] only by their peers

and only according to the degree of the misdeed.

39. No freeman shall be captured or imprisoned or [dispossessed] or outlawed, or exiled or in any way destroyed…except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the will of the land.

40 To no one will we sell, to one will we deny or delay right and


Document B:
Source: John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government. Old South Leaflets, No. 208. Boston. Old South Association, n.d.
The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone; and reason which is that law, teaches all mankind. . .that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, or possessions . . . Men being, as has been said, by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent…

The supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent . . .

These are the bounds which. . .society, and the law of God and Nature, have set to the legislative power of every commonwealth…

First, they are to govern by. . . established laws, not to be varied in particular cases, but to have one rule for the rich and poor. . .

Secondly, these laws ought to be designed for no other end. . . but the good of the people.

Thirdly, they must not raise taxes on the property of the people without the consent of the people. . .

Whenever the legislators endeavor to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery. . .they put themselves in a state of war with the people. . .

Document C:
Source: The Mayflower Compact. November 11, 1620
. . . We whose names are underwritten. . . Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first colony in the northern part of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the prescience of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue here of, to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James. . .the fifty-fourth Anno Domini, 1620.

Document D:
Source: Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. January 14, 1639. As quoted in Bernard Feder, Viewpoints: USA. p.6.
. . . we the inhabitants and residents of Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield. . . well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent government established according to God. . . do therefore associate . . . ourselves to be as one public state or commonwealth; and do for ourselves and our successors. . . enter into one combination and confederation together, to maintain and preserved the liberty and purity of the gospel of our Lord Jesus. . . and also in our civil affairs to be guided and governed according to such laws, rules, orders, and decrees as shall be made, ordered and decreed, as follows:

  1. It is ordered, sentenced, and decreed that there shall be yearly two general assemblies or courts. . .

  2. It is ordered. . . that no person be chosen governor above once in

two years.

  1. It is ordered. . .that when any general court. . . has agreed upon. . . any sum of money to be levied upon the several towns with in this jurisdiction. . .a committee be chosen to set out and appoint what shall be the proportion of every town to pay of the said levy, provided that the committees be made up of an equal number out of each town.

Document E:
Source: John Winthrop, The History of New England. Boston: 1853, II, p281.
Even so, brethren, it will be between you and your magistrates. If you stand for your natural corrupt liberties, and will do what is good in your own eyes, you will not endure the least weight of authority, but will murmur, and oppose, and be always striving to shake off that yoke. But if you will be satisfied to enjoy such civil and liberties, such as Christ allows you, then will you quietly and cheerfully submit unto that authority which is set over you, in all the administrations of it, for your good. Wherein if we fail at any time, we hope we shall be willing (by God’s assistance) to hearken to good advice from any of you, or in any other way of God. So shall your liberties be preserved, in upholding the honor and power of authority amongst you.

Document F:

Source: “The Bloody Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience.” 1644. By Roger Williams of Rhode Island.

First. That the blood of so many hundred thousands souls of Protestants and Papists, split in the wars of present and former ages, for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Sixth. It is the will and command of God that a permission of the most pagan, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries. . .

Eighth: God requires not a uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state. . .enforced uniformity. . .is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of soul.

Twelfth. Lastly, true civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or kingdom, not withstanding the permission of divers and contrary consciences, either of Jew or Gentile. . . . the government of the civil magistrate extends no further than over the bodies and goods of their subjects, not over their souls, and therefore they may not undertake to give laws unto the souls and consciences of men. . . .the Church of Christ does not use the arm of secular power to compel men to the true profession of the truth, for this is to be done with spiritual weapons, whereby Christians are to be exhorted and not compelled.

Document G:

Records of the Town of Newark, New Jersey Historical Society Collection, Newark. 1864, VI, 3 ff.
At a meeting touching the indented design of many of the inhabitants of Branford, the following was subscribed:
1st that none shall be admitted freemen or free burgesses within our town upon River in the Province of New Jersey, but such planters as are members of some or other of the Congregational Churches nor shall any but such be chosen to magistracy or to carry on any part of civil judicature, or as deputies or assistants, to have power to vote in establishing laws, and making or repealing them . . . Nor shall any but such church members have any vote in any such elections; thought all others admitted to be planters have right to their proper inheritances, and do and shall enjoy all other civil liberties, according to all laws,

orders, grants which are, or hereafter shall be made for this town…

Document H:

Source: Gillon & Matson, The American Experiment: A History of the United States. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002), pp 92-93.

Spain , the preeminent colonial power in the 1500s, set the model for imperial economic policy that other nations would follow.
English merchants sought extensive government intervention in the economy to protect now one, now another rising economic interest. Their thinking known (and criticized) as mercantilism, the term used in 1776 by the famous Scottish political economist Adam Smith.
. . .Within the nation, mercantilists said, inhabitants needed a wise government to harness production, to curb the greedy and destructive tendencies of competition, and to promote and channel the exchange of goods through regulation.
By the late 1600s, many mercantilists believed that wealth was not necessarily finite, but that expanding commerce with far-flung peoples helped create strong empires. A commercial empire they wrote, should have one center from which flowed finished goods and many widely distributed satellites that consumed the center’s manufactures and sent back raw materials for additional production in the “home country.”

Document I:

Source: John D. Hicks, The Federal Union. 3rd ed. Vol. I, (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1957). P.19

The generous charters which trading companies received from the English crown reveal a kind of alliance between government and business that is not difficult to explain.
. . .According to the mercantilists, the chief measure of a country’s wealth was the amount of gold and silver it could amass. The trading companies, by exchanging expensive English manufactures for cheap raw materials, might be counted upon to produce for England a

“favorable balance of trade,” because of which a steady stream of precious metals would flow into the country. Indeed, economic dependence might easily lead to the loss of political independence

To thoughtful English officials America seemed ideally fitted to become an independent national source of supply. The Spanish had found abundant wealth [gold and silver] shy should not the English?

Document J:
De Lamar Jensen, Reformation Europe: Age of Reform and Revolution. pp. 434-5
In the meantime, the first English penetration of the Spanish colonial monopoly launched English colonization ventures in America. More in spite of James I than through his support. London merchants organized a colonizing company for settling and trading in Virginia. In 1607 its first exploration planted a colony upriver from the Chesapeake Bay, naming Jamestown in honor of the king. Difficult weather, lack of food and little desire to grow their own, harassment by Indians, and rampant disease almost destroyed the colony. Most of the settlers died within the first two years. Reinforcements from the newly chartered Virginia Company, the gradual realization that any wealth acquired would have to come from the sweat and toil rather from picking up gold nuggets, and introduction of tobacco cultivation, combine to salvage the colony and eventually make it a successful enterprise.

The second permanent English settlement was Plymouth Colony, established in 1620 by the Pilgrims, a voluntary joint-stock company composed of religious separatists from London, Southampton, and Leiden, Holland. It was later annexed to the larger Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded a few years later by Puritans from England. Neither colony produced the economic wealth that it expected to, but they did plant a legacy of representative self-government in the colony with the Mayflower Compact, by which its signatories agreed to unite in a political-religious society and obey the Laws that would subsequently by made.

From an economic point of view, other ventures were proving to be more profitable. This period was one of commercial expansion for England as well as France and the Netherlands. The American colonies were only a small part of that activity. The Spanish monopoly in the West Indies was penetrated by English seamen and merchants in the first three decades of the seventeenth century. Saint Kitt was settled in 1624. . .Nevis, Montserrat, Antigua, Trinidad, and Tobago,[sometime later]. Barbados, that hidden jewel of the Caribbean was claimed in 1625. It also produced quick wealth from the sale of cotton, tobacco, and sugar.

Document K:
Curitis P. Nettels, (Cornell University) Roots of American Civilization. [New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc. 1938,] p
The transition from medieval to modern economy introduced a new economic philosophy which the eighteenth century designated as mercantilism—not a systematic program but a collection of regulations exhibiting a major trend. Political mercantilism was an expression of the militant nationalism which arose upon the ruins of feudalism. Its objects were threefold: to achieve an economic self-sufficiency for the manufacturers, and merchants, and to yield an ample revenue to the Crown.

In the opinion of mercantilists the external trade of a country was similar to the business of private merchant. Imports were analogous to the merchant’s purchases, and exports to his sales; the nation’s gain consisted in an excess of exports over imports, or in favorable balance of trade, likened to the merchants’ profit. Such excess value should, in part assume the form of gold or silver money imported to the country

In English mercantilism the role of agriculture was to supply raw materials and foodstuffs for the country rather than for exportation; to this end the landowners received favors from the government through high duties [tariffs] on imports of foreign grain (the corn laws) and through acts which restricted the importation of foreign wool. Manufactured good preferred as exports as exports because they bore high prices than raw materials and hence to create a more favorable balance of trade.

Document L:
SOURCE: Gerald N. Grob and Robert N. Beck, American Ideas. Vol. I, New York: Free Press, 1963. P.63
Puritanism was largely a middle-class movement that had economic as well as political implications.

There is little doubt that Puritanism was closer to medieval theory than the material goals and values of a growing middle class that was becoming prominent in England and Western Europe after the fifteenth century. While the Puritan never thought of his religion in economic terms, he did emphasize the fact that man could serve God not by withdrawing from the world, but rather by following an occupation or calling that served the world. The Puritan emphasis on industry and enterprise appealed to the middle class in a way that could not appeal to the peasantry or nobility. Although it is difficult to show a causal relationship between capitalism and Puritanism it is probably safe to assert that both movements tended to move closer together because of the affinity and attraction of each toward the other. Undoubtedly Puritan and capitalist ideas went into the formation of the American doctrine of Laissez-faire individualism, a theory that was destined to have momentous repercussions for subsequent economic and social development.

In spite of the proximity of certain Puritan values to the rising capitalistic ethic, Puritanism was more medieval than modern in its economic theory and practice. The idea of unrestrained economic individualism would have seemed a dangerous notion to any self-respecting Puritan. The statue books and court records of seventeenth-century Massachusetts abound in examples of price and wage controls instituted by the government of the colony. The Puritans, furthermore, always looked upon wealth as a gift from God given in the form of a trust; and they emphasized not only the benefits that accrued from work and wealth, but also their duties and responsibilities. In 1639, for example, one of the richest merchants in the colony was fined by the General Court (the highest legislative body) for excessive profiteering, despite the fact that there was no statue against the practice. The Puritans could never separate religion and business, and they often reiterated the medieval conception of the "just price."

In the long run, however, the Puritan ethic, when divorced from its religious background, did serve to quicken and stimulate the spirit of capitalism. The limitations placed by the Puritans on the individual and the freedom of movement within society were subordinated as the time went on in favor of the enterprising and driving individual who possessed the ability and ambition to rise through his own exertions. Thus it is paradoxical that seventeenth-century Puritanism, which was diametrically opposed to economic individualism, should have played a major part in the emergence of a laissez-faire capitalistic ethic.

Document Summary
Document A: Magna Carta from Medieval England
Document B: John Locke, 2nd Treatise on Civil Government
Document C: Mayflower Compact
Document D: Fundamental Orders of Connecticut
Document E: John Winthrop-History of New England
Document F: “The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for the Cause of Conscience.

Document G: Records of the Town of Newark

Document H: The American Experiment
Document I: J.D. Hicks, The Federal Union
Document J: Curtis Nettels, Roots of American Civilization
Document K: Grob and Beck, American Ideas
Document L: Richard Hakluyt, “On the Panting of English Colonies”

Rubric For Teaching, Reading, & Writing
Thesis statement:

The question identifies a whole handful of key ingredients that help to explain the discovery, colonization, and effective settlement of North America. All five elements were necessary to achieve the permanent settlement and development of a 200 year enduring culture that mirrored old Europe, while becoming a brave new world for the tired and oppressed of the Reformation. It was the creation of new nation based upon self-reliance, self-motivation, and self-government.
Point #1: Economic developments in Old & New Worlds

  • Mercantilism was the economic bridge of the time

  • French interest was in fur trading

  • Spanish interests were Gold & Silver exploitation of Indians

  • Portugal and Holland were involved in trading commerce ventures

  • Capitalism and commerce with agriculture was Britain’s interest

Point #2: Foundations of Democracy from the Beginning

  • American democracy has foundations in Middle Ages & theocracy

  • Espouses self-government by the majority

  • Representative government established in English colonies

  • Government by social contract and common consent

  • Development of self-reliance and independence were the outcome!

Point #3: Impact of Religion on colonization of the New World

  • Development and manifestations of Puritanism/Calvinism

  • Two-fold development of Catholicism with Spain and France

  • English contributed: Anglicanism, Quakerism, and Congregationalism

  • Lutheranism is only marginally important in New Holland

  • Religion is based on faith rather than dogmatism

Point #8: Conclusions

  • democracy evolved and developed over time

  • religion was a major player of democratization & autocracy

  • mercantilism was the economic philosophy of the whole age

  • The time, the events, and the location all played roles

  • England won, because England settled and provided the reasons for people to come to the new world

Conclusions: (Use bullet points if you wish here.)

  • The essay shows change over time in dramatic ways

  • Enables students to compare and contrasts styles and policies

  • Essay synthesizes the elements of colonial durability

  • Essay argues the causes and success of colonization

  • Essay is an historical evaluation of developing overseas expansion

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