What do Americans think of Georgia?

USA - history, economy, society

Jörg Nagler

Prof. Dr. Jörg Nagler was a research fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., director of the Kennedy House in Kiel and has been teaching North American history at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena since 1999. His work focuses on the social and political history of the USA in the 19th and 20th centuries, war and society in the USA, history of immigration, German-American cultural transfer and African-American history.

The "salutary neglect" of the English colonies in North America by the mother country promotes their national independence. Waves of immigration are driving the continental expansion, but internal conflicts are always endangering the unity of the young nation.

The National Monument on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota pays tribute to US presidents of importance to the making of the nation: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln (from left to right). (& copy ullstein picture - chrome orange / TipsImages / Massi)
The rise of the North American colonies formerly on the periphery of the English empire to become a great and world power of the 20th century is a unique phenomenon in recent history.

When the United States of America was founded in 1776, it dared the oldest democratic "experiment" of modern times. They created a political system that always knew how to adapt flexibly to new circumstances and social developments. By the end of the 19th century, their agricultural and industrial production surpassed that of other industrial nations. Through their participation in the two world wars, which was decisive for the outcome, they rose to become a world power, which economically and militarily still takes the leading role within the western treaty and alliance systems. The USA owes this development not only to the rift between the European states, but also to its own internal political and economic nature. 50 million immigrants, who gave the country a strong innovative strength and vitality, contributed to this, as did abundant raw material deposits.

Colonial times

The age of discoveries and inventions triggered the European expansion overseas: around 1500 the Spanish, French and English crowns sent expeditions to explore the New World and subsequently derived various claims to power that inevitably created a potential for conflict. In 1507 the German cosmographer Martin Waldseemüller named the new continent after the Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci, known for his exploratory trips along the coasts of South America between 1499 and 1502.

The Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Léon explored the east and west coasts of Florida in 1513; between 1539 and 1543 his compatriot Hernando de Soto, governor of Cuba, explored the country north of the Gulf of Mexico; At the same time, the Spaniard Francisco de Coronado found his way from Mexico to what is now New Mexico in a vain search for gold deposits. It was also Spaniards who founded St. Augustine in northern Florida in 1565, the first permanent settlement in the area of ​​the future United States.

The later French claim to the area along the St. Lawrence Gulf and the river of the same name as far as the area of ​​Québec and Montréal was based in turn on the three voyages of the French navigator Jacques Cartier between 1534 and 1543, while the English claims to parts of North America derived from the exploratory trips of the Italian navigator John Cabot (actually Giovanni Caboto) who was in English service, who first explored the coast of Newfoundland in 1497 and a year later also parts of the North American mainland.

The English colony foundations in North America were fundamentally different from those of Spain and France in Central and South America. While the respective royal houses initiated and financed the conquest of the new territories there, the English crown was only indirectly involved in the development of the colonies: It only granted privileges and charters to private trading companies, which independently organized the settlement. This gave the settlers a sense of independence from the start. This found its institutional expression in self-governing bodies elected by landowners and taxpayers, which consisted of lower houses (assemblies) and upper houses (senates).

The almost 150 years of "salutary neglect" by the motherland promoted the impulse to break away and finally to independence from England during the American Revolution in the second half of the 18th century. The 13 colonies that then merged into a federation from Georgia to New Hampshire had distinct regional characteristics from the beginning and were founded under very different circumstances.

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How did America get its name?

The fact that a cartographer from Freiburg im Breisgau named (against his will) the American continent after an Italian merchant (without his knowledge) is one of the peculiarities of the history of the discovery of the New World. In 1507 Martin Waldseemüller published a description of the journeys of the "Amerigo" under the title "Cosmographiae Introductio". Amerigo Vespucci, who was in the service of the Medici banking family in Florence, had traveled across the Atlantic to South America several times between 1497 and 1504. His travelogues contributed significantly to the spread of the scholarly insight that there was not just a few islands between Asia and Europe, but a "new world"
("Mundus Novus" was the title of Vespucci's second travelogue).
Together with the humanistic poet Matthias Ringmann, Waldseemüller published a twelve-part world map in France in 1507. This map was a printing masterpiece of two and a half meters in length and also contained an "Introduction to the Description of the World", in which Waldseemüller suggested that the newly discovered country (South America, not North America!) Be named after its supposed discoverer "Land of Americus" or - by analogy to name the "women's names Europe and Asia" - "America".
The publication caused a tremendous stir in the early 16th century, as Claudius Ptolemy's view that there were only three continents was still undisputed. When Waldseemüller realized soon after the map was first published that he had wrongly ascribed the discovery of the new continent to the "Amerigo", he called the continent "terra incognita" again in the new edition of the world map. The 1000-fold printed map, of which only a single copy has survived (this has been in the Library of Congress in Washington DC since 2003, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005), has meanwhile become so widespread that America has borrowed the name stayed for the newly discovered continent.

Christof Mauch, The 101 Most Important Questions. American history, Verlag C. H. Beck, Munich 2008, page 15 f.




The English colony of Virginia, named after the "virgin" Queen Elizabeth I, was founded out of commercial interests: gold, spices and the presumed access to India via the legendary Northwest Passage attracted adventurers, merchants and shareholders of the London Company. They established the first permanent English settlement in North America called Jamestown on Chesapeake Bay in 1607. The survival of this colony initially seemed very uncertain: Malaria led to high mortality rates, suitable export products were lacking, and neither the suspected gold deposits nor the sea route to India could be found. It was not until the introduction of tobacco cultivation in 1612 that capital and labor attracted; The incentive to own private land also increased the desire in the mother country to emigrate to the New World.

When a Dutch ship with 20 Africans on board landed in Jamestown in 1619, a difficult chapter in US history began that has been shaped by ethnic conflicts up to the present day - the history of black America.

Initially, the Africans were roughly on a par with the white debt servants who had to pay the advance payment for their ship passage over a period of a few years. In addition to them, there were soon also prisoners who were abducted or forcibly deported from England. Only through the growing labor shortage did the institutionally anchored system of slavery prevail, which did not exist in motherland England and which declared a person to be a commodity (chattel slavery). The slave owners tried to dispel any moral scruples with quotations from the Old Testament, in which slavery appeared to be legitimized. When more and more people were brought from Africa to the colonies of Virginia and Maryland towards the end of the 17th century, slavery was firmly anchored and legally codified there.

By 1700 the number of resident slaves was already 20,000, which corresponded to about 20 percent of the total population there. In the Carolinas, which were founded later (from 1663), slaves were increasingly used for work. As a result, South Carolina with its large rice plantations and the export port of Charleston soon began to flourish economically.

The society of these southern colonies, whose population on the eve of the American Revolution (at the beginning of the 1760s), including their slaves, made up about half of the total population of the English mainland colonies, was still firmly rooted in esteem. A small group of large planters set the tone, above all the so-called Virginia aristocracy, a network of influential, educated and wealthy members of the upper class. Social tensions between these elites and the white middle and lower classes existed, but only rarely broke out - not least because of the presence of the many slaves, which had a rather mitigating effect on social conflicts within the white population.

New England

In the subsequent settlement of the northern colonies in New England (the area of ​​today's states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine), unlike in the south, the focus was not primarily on economic, but religious and socio-political motives. In 1620 the so-called Pilgrim Fathers, who had to leave England because of their faith, set foot on the ground of Cape Cod, the peninsula off today's Boston. While on board their ship "Mayflower", 41 of the 101 passengers had signed a contract on November 11th of that year, which went down in US history as the Mayflower Compact and defined the form of government of their future colony. He laid down a religious and political claim to self-responsibility, which obliged the members to stick together "in covenant with God". The pilgrims, a splinter group of the Puritans, that ecclesiastical and partly also social protest movement within the English Protestantism of the 16th and 17th centuries, wanted to "cleanse" the Anglican Church of England from the established hierarchies and rites and only the Bible as Accept the basis of human action.

There was little tolerance for those who think differently. Church members were considered "elect" and only they had the right to vote, a practice that continued until 1691. Nevertheless, the Puritans also introduced progressive political institutions with the self-government of each settlement (local self-government) and each individual community (congregationalism).

The Massachusetts Bay Company, which had been given a royal charter since 1629, commissioned the Puritan John Winthrop (1588-1649) with the establishment of new settlements. Among other things, he founded the city of Boston, convinced that his colony would become a role model for worldwide Christianity as the "New Jerusalem". This type of religiously and politically based sense of mission had a considerable influence on the development of a specifically US-American identity in the further course of history. "Idleness" was condemned as a sin, and religious instruction was the focus of civic education. Many appropriately oriented schools emerged, including Harvard, which was founded in 1636. Deeply convinced of the sinfulness of man and shaped by their experience in England, the Puritans generally distrusted power, since, in their opinion, people were inevitably prone to abuse and corruption. This explains the deep-seated American skepticism towards state power and the emphasis on democratic values ​​and the rights of the individual.

By 1640 alone, over 20,000 Puritans had come to the Massachusetts Bay region. Unlike the Pilgrim Fathers, they regarded economic success as a sign of God's grace. Coupled with ambition and striving for prosperity, this view quickly led to prosperity. A Puritan community emerged with a state church that drove dissidents and dissidents such as Roger Williams (1603-1683) and Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643) into exile. Both then founded the colony of Rhode Island in 1636/38, where the strict separation of church and state was introduced.

The first Thanksgiving festival in the New World in the fall of 1621 was intended to strengthen the relationship between the settlers and the Native Americans. The desired and publicly proclaimed harmony, however, was short-lived. As in Virginia, there were violent confrontations between European immigrants and Native Americans in New England from 1622, in the course of which they were almost completely exterminated.

Central Atlantic

While the southern and New England colonies were predominantly influenced by English in religious, political, cultural and economic terms, a greater diversity of Euro-American cultural life has developed in the so-called Central Atlantic colonies since the 1640s. For example, the Dutch had established trading bases on the Hudson and Delaware rivers in order to operate a lucrative fur trade with the indigenous people living there. In this way the colony "New Netherlands" with its seaport New Amsterdam was created on the island of Manhattan, which the Dutch had bought from the natives for 50 guilders. With the introduction of the log cabin, Scandinavians shaped the typical architectural image of the pioneering days in this region. During the second British-Dutch naval war (1664-1667) the area was conquered by the English and given as a fief to the Duke of York, brother of the English King Charles II: New Netherlands became New York and New Amsterdam New York City.

A completely different form of colony foundation was Pennsylvania, which the English crown ceded to the Quaker William Penn as a fief in 1681. His religious community, founded in England in the 17th century, had a decidedly philanthropic orientation and has been socially engaged in many areas of society in the further course of American history. Penn, who regarded the founding of the colony as a "sacred experiment", founded the capital Philadelphia the following year at the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. Their checkerboard-like street pattern became the model for most US cities. Unlike the Puritans, Penn and his fellow believers believed in "the good in people" and had an optimistic expectation for the future - a view that ultimately became just as formative for the United States as puritanical skepticism.

The first generation of immigrants also included 13 German Mennonite families from Krefeld who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1683 on the ship "Concord" under the direction of the theologian Franz Daniel Pastorius. Since then there has been continuous German immigration to this region. On the eve of the American Revolution, the German population of Pennsylvania was still a third, in all 13 colonies an average of around ten percent. By 1700 the total colonial population was estimated at 250,000 people. With a rapid growth trend, it doubled almost every 20 years and amounted to 1.6 million in 1760. In the year of the declaration of independence (1776) it had grown to 2.5 million (including 20 percent slaves).

Tensions with England

Until the middle of the 18th century, the colonists mostly thought and felt English. Within 20 years this would change so fundamentally that they became "Americans". The causes of this process were complex and lay both in the colonies and in the mother country.

The so-called French and Indian War (1754-1763), the American variant of the Seven Years' War, in which the French allied themselves with various indigenous tribes against the English, limited the French advance from Canada into the Ohio Valley. The victorious British Empire was able to end the existence of the French colonial empire in North America in the Peace of Paris in 1763.England then tried to cover at least part of its high national debt with taxes from the North American colonies. Since the security of the English settlers on the settlement borders - the frontier - was increasingly endangered by increased attacks by natives, London decided to send protection troops to North America. However, this stationing was also associated with considerable costs, which in turn were partly to be borne by the colonists. It was also decided in London to quarter some of these soldiers in private households. Another step, which in the eyes of the colonists was rather unpopular, was to exclude the area beyond the Appalachians from "white" settlement, which England hoped to finally pacify the border between settlers and indigenous people.

A change in England's concept of imperial control was decisive for the future relationship between the colonies and the motherland. After nearly doubling its North American holdings in the Seven Years' War, England made a gradual transition from commercial to territorial imperialism. It wanted to rule the colonies no longer only from a trade perspective, but also with a view to their population size and the associated potential financial income.

Just at the time when an economic recession set in in the colonies from 1763, England made the first attempt with the so-called Sugar Act of 1764 to share the administrative costs with the colonies: It imposed import duties on luxury goods such as wine, coffee, sugar and molasses, which high financial losses of the American alcohol distilleries and various other industries were feared.

The biggest stumbling block for the colonists, however, was the preamble to the law, which generally emphasized the intended strengthening of imperial control over the colonies. At that time, significantly different views on the type of political representation were already revealed: While in England the view was still prevalent that a member of parliament bears responsibility towards the general population, the colonists, based on their experience in the assemblies, took the view that representatives of the people were directly and exclusively theirs Committed to voters.

Dispute over stamp duty

The colonists' protest reached a new high point with the Stamp Duty Act of 1765, which imposed a direct tax on all types of printed matter, advertising, legal documents and even dice games. In addition, a British bureaucracy should be built up to collect taxes in the colonies. This particularly excited the minds and was interpreted as an attempt by England to impose its authority on the colonists. Merchants, lawyers and journalists from Boston, Philadelphia and New York, who were particularly hard hit by the new tax, then organized an effective import boycott of English goods. At the same time, there were spontaneous mass demonstrations in the course of which British tax officials were tarred and feathered.

The Virginia assembly eventually passed a resolution that only a representative assembly of the colonies could claim the right to tax their citizens. "No taxation without representation" was the motto of the colonial resistance. An "anti-stamp tax law assembly," an intercolonial congress that can be seen as the first step towards revolution, met in October 1765 in New York with representatives from nine colonies.

Although the English government was then ready to repeal the controversial tax law, it still pursued its plan to integrate the colonies more firmly into the empire and to enforce the authority of the king and parliament. The dispute over a tax law sparked the fundamental conflict between the motherland and the colonists, who insisted on the rights they had developed during the "wholesome neglect".

Way into the resistance

Soon there were renewed import duties, for example on paint, paper and tea, and in 1770, in the course of a dispute between colonists and British soldiers, the so-called Boston massacre, in which five civilians were killed. Although the English then resigned from the tea duty and from their other claims, the growing resentment of the colonial population finally erupted in the so-called Boston Tea Party in December 1773, at which colonists disguised as Indians tipped the valuable tea load of three ships into the Boston harbor basin.

A well-coordinated intercolonial resistance movement was organized against the threatened punitive measures of the mother country, which convened the "First Continental Congress" in Philadelphia for September / October 1774, to which all colonies sent delegates. The Congress decided to stop trade with the motherland, whereupon King George III. and the English Parliament in February 1775 declared that the colonies were now in open rebellion, ordered a reinforcement of the British troops on the ground and gave orders that rebellious colonists be brought to justice immediately. In turn, they began to organize militias and collect weapons and ammunition. Only a few weeks later, in April 1775, the first military clashes between colonists and English broke out at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts.

In May 1775 the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia with 65 delegates from all the colonies. He now took over the government function, appointed the planter and war veteran of the French and Indian War George Washington from Virginia as commander in chief of the newly created American armed forces and proclaimed the state of defense. New paper money was printed and diplomatic relations were established with various other nations. A petition for peace to the English king had no effect. George III rather proclaimed the state of open colonial rebellion in August 1775 and had a sea and trade blockade erected in November. The advocates of independence, however, saw themselves strengthened by Thomas Paine's pamphlet "Common Sense", which took the view that only an independent republican form of government could protect the colonies from the tyranny of the English monarchy, which is now regarded as corrupt. The phenomenal success of this pamphlet showed the growing politicization of broad strata and documented that the American striving for independence increasingly led to a revolution.

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Thoughts on the Current State of American Affairs (Excerpts)

[...] I have heard some have suggested that America flourished under its previous association with Great Britain. Therefore, the same connection is necessary for his future happiness and will always have the same effect.
Nothing can be more misleading than such an argument. We might as well claim that because a child could thrive on milk, it never needed meat, or that the first twenty years of our life should determine the next twenty years.
But this also means more admitting than is true, because I answer straightforwardly: America would have flourished just as much and probably even more if no European power had had anything to do with it. The trade that made it rich meets the needs of life and will always find a market as long as eating is the custom in Europe.
But England protected us, some say.
It is true that it claimed us; and it is admitted that it defended the continent at our own expense as well as at its own; but it would have defended Turkey for the same reasons, namely, for the benefit of trade and domination. [...]
We have boasted of protecting Great Britain without considering that her motive was selfishness, not affection; that it protected us not from our enemies for our sake, but from its enemies for its sake, with whom we had no quarrel for any reason [...].
Let Britain give up its claim to the continent or let the continent shake off its dependence, and we will live in peace with France and Spain when they make war with Britain. [...]
But Britain is the motherland, some say. [...]
Europe, not England, is the motherland of America. This New World has become a haven for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious freedom from every part of Europe. This is where they fled, not from the tender embrace of a mother, but from the clutches of monsters. And it is true, with regard to England, that the same tyranny that drove the first emigrants from their homes still persecutes their descendants.
In this vast part of the globe we forget the narrow limits of three hundred and sixty miles, the circumference of England, and measure our friendship on a larger scale; we lay claim to brotherhood with every European Christian […].
I therefore completely reject the term motherland for England because it is false, selfish, narrow-minded and petty. [...]
Our plan is trade, and if we do it well, it will secure us peace and friendship throughout Europe; because it is in the interests of all of Europe to have America as a free port. Your trade will always be a protection, and America's gold and silver sterility will keep us safe from invaders.
I urge the most ardent proponent of reconciliation to point out one single benefit this continent can reap from its association with Britain.
I repeat this challenge: there is not a single benefit. [...]
But the harms and disadvantages we suffer from this connection are innumerable [...].
Because any submission to or dependence on Great Britain tends to involve this continent in European wars and confrontations and to bring us into enmity with nations that otherwise seek our friendship and against whom we neither harbor anger nor complain. Since Europe is our trading market, we should not enter into any partial association with any of its parts. It is America's real interest to avoid European disputes, which it could never do so long as it is made the ultimate weight on the scales of British politics in its dependence on Britain. [...]

Thomas Paine, Common Sense, Philadelphia 1776