header by Emerson Taymor, 2005
1. The Colonial Era: 1607-1763
2. The Revolutionary Era:
3. The Early National Period:
4. Jacksonian America: 1824-1848
5. Antebellum America: 1848-1860
6. The Civil War Era: 1861-1877
7. The Gilded Age: 1877-1901
8. Progressivism: 1901-1920
9. The Twenties
10. Depression and New Deal: 1929-1939
11. World War II: 1939-1945
12. Early Cold War: 1945-1963
13. Social Ferment: 1945-1960
14. The Sixties
15. The Seventies and After
Andrew Burnaby scoffs at colonial unity (1760)
Andrew Burnaby, the broad-minded Church of England clergyman who traveled
extensively in the colonies during the closing months of the French and
Indian War, recorded many penetrating observations. But he scoffed at the
idea that the Americans would one day form a mighty nation or even
come together in a voluntary union. Which of his arguments were borne out
when the colonies did attempt to form one nation?
An idea, strange as it is visionary, has entered into the minds of the
generality of mankind, that empire is traveling westward; and everyone
is looking forward with eager and impatient expectation to that destined
moment when America is to give law to the rest of the world. But if ever
an idea was illusory and fallacious, I will venture to predict that this
will be so.
America is formed for happiness, but not for empire. In a course of 1,200
miles I did not see a single object that solicited charity. But I saw
insuperable causes of weakness, which will necessarily prevent its being
a potent state.
. . .
The Southern colonies have so many inherent causes of weakness that they
never can possess any real strength. The climate operates very powerfully
upon them, and renders them indolent, inactive, and unenterprising; this
is visible in every line of their character. I myself have been a spectator—and
it is not an uncommon sight—of a man in the vigor of life, lying
upon a couch, and a female slave standing over him, wafting off the flies,
and fanning him, while he took his repose. . . .
The mode of cultivation by slavery is another insurmountable cause of
The number of Negroes in the Southern colonies is upon the whole nearly
equal, if not superior, to that of the white men; and they propagate
and increase even faster. Their condition is truly pitiable: their labor
hard, their diet poor and scanty, their treatment cruel and oppressive;
they cannot therefore but be a subject of terror to those who so unhumanly
tyrannize over them.
The Indians near the frontiers are a still farther formidable cause of
subjection. The southern Indians are numerous, and are governed by a
sounder policy than formerly; experience has taught them wisdom. They
never make war with the colonists without carrying terror and devastation
with them. They sometimes break up entire counties together. Such is
the state of the Southern colonies.
The Northern colonies are of stronger stamina, but they have other difficulties
and disadvantages to struggle with, not less arduous, or more easy to
be surmounted, than what have been already mentioned. . . . They are
composed of people of different nations, different manners, different
religions, and different languages. They have a mutual jealousy of each
other, fomented by considerations of interest, power, and ascendancy.
zeal, too, like a smothered fire, is secretly burning in the hearts of
the different sectaries that inhabit them, and were it not restrained
by laws and superior authority, would soon burst out into a flame of
universal persecution. Even the peaceable Quakers struggle hard for pre-eminence,
and evince in a very striking manner that the passions of mankind are
stronger than any principles of religion. . . .
Indeed, it appears to me a very doubtful point, even supposing all the
colonies of America to be united under one head, whether it would be
possible to keep in due order and government so wide and extended an
difficulties of communication, of intercourse, of correspondence, and
all other circumstances considered.
A voluntary association or coalition, at least a permanent one, is almost
as difficult to be supposed: for fire and water are not more heterogeneous
than the different colonies in North America. Nothing can exceed the
jealousy and emulation which they possess in regard to each other. The
inhabitants of Pennsylvania and New York have an inexhaustible source
of animosity in their jealousy for the trade of the Jerseys. Massachusetts
Bay and Rhode Island are not less interested in that of Connecticut.
West Indies are a common subject of emulation to them all. Even the limits
and boundaries of each colony are a constant source of litigation.
In short, such is the difference of character, of manners, of religion,
of interest, of the different colonies, that I think, if I am not wholly
ignorant of the human mind, were they left to themselves there would
soon be a civil war from one end of the continent to the other, while
and Negroes would, with better reason, impatiently watch the opportunity
of exterminating them all together.
Andrew Burnaby, Travels through the Middle Settlements in North-America
in the Years 1759 and 1760 (London: J. Payne, 1775; reprinted Ithaca, N.Y.:
Great Seal Books, I960), pp. 110-114.