Was the American society depicted more by division than unity during the colonial times?I would like to know what factors united Americans and what factors were more divisive.

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marilynn07's profile pic

marilynn07 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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There were many divisions in American colonial society, but there was one major similarity that in the end made a new nation out of those colonies.

Some divisions were those of class, of course, which developed as time went on and the economies of the colonies developed.  Masters and apprentices; rich, poor and middle-class (ie, small businesses); farmers and townspeople, etc. were all divisions which were common to the society in Britain, also.  But unlike Britain, in which the rich and poor were almost equal in population, the majority of colonists were more in the middle.

There were differences between regions, also.  In New England, there was what was termed the "leveling spirit" in which men tended to the opinion, "I'm as good as anyone else, and maybe better."  In the South, there was a hierarchy of agriculture, with a patrician class of plantation owners at the top.  Partly this was because of the conditions of rural life in the South, but there were also more immigrants in Virginia from upper-class families in Britain, including Catholics and others who fled the Cromwellian wars.

There were also regional differences between the seaboard and the "West," which at the time meant the mountain chains just inland from the seaboard.  Those in the West were more self-supporting and lived rougher lives, "taming the wilderness" as we might say.

The thing which tied these colonists together was their desire to escape whatever they felt was oppressing them in the Old World- social and financial difficulties, class struggle, poverty, a desire to avoid war and make a better life for themselves and to own land.  The action of leaving home and building a new society in a new land gave these people a bond that transcended their regional and social differences.

brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

It's important to remember that the colonies were established and settled for largely different reasons, so they were pretty much divided by nature from the start.  They were divided ethnically, with the English settling along the coast, the Germans and Swiss farther inland, the Dutch in New York and the Scots-Irish in the Appalachian Mountains.

They were divided religiously, with most Royal colonies being Anglican, while Pennsylvania was established by Quakers, Massachusetts by Puritans and Catholics in Maryland.

And they were divided economically, with the Chesapeake and Southern colonies being established solely for profit, with cash crops and eventually slavery, while the northern colonies were largely subsistence farmers, merchants and craftsmen.

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