In what ways might the English colonial experience in Ireland have shaped their expectations about the colonial experience in America?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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English colonization of Ireland, which stretched as far back as 1100, intensified many of their beliefs about themselves and about "the other." In particular, Ireland provided them with a model for expropriating land, and a justification for doing so. The English argued that the Irish did not improve their land through the type of cultivation that was becoming dominant in England, so they claimed that they were justified in taking it.

Over time, Anglo-Norman Irish political leaders grew restless, and the series of wars, beginning in the sixteenth century, demonstrated to the English that they could subdue a hostile people, and discipline them as a labor force, if they were willing to use enough force. Cromwell's actions against Ireland demonstrate the lengths to which the English were willing to go.

As thousands of English settlers streamed into Ireland, the English developed a model of exploitation that would be transported to its colonies in America. Colonies could serve as both markets for English goods and suppliers of raw materials. Native cultures could be destroyed or subjugated, and colonies could be profitable.

The Irish experience also convinced Englishmen of their own superiority over people that did not live as they did. Many of the tropes used to describe "savages" in the New World had been used for years to describe the Irish.

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jameadows's profile pic

jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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The English colonial experience in Ireland, which began around 1162, intensified under Henry VIII, from the House of Tudor, in the 1500s. In 1542, he created the title King of Ireland, and under the Tudors, English law was imposed in Ireland. In the 1600s, wars to intensify English control of Ireland caused death and destruction, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Irish people. Henry VIII had become Protestant in 1533 after separating himself from the Roman Catholic church, and the religious divide between England and Ireland intensified their conflict (particularly after the Test Act of 1762 barred Catholics from holding public office). Over time, English law denied Catholics rights and land ownership.

This type of colonial administration shaped the expectations of the English towards their settlement in America. It made English settlers regard the Native Americans as inferior heathens, much as the English regarded the Irish as heathen. In addition, the English were accustomed to using mass slaughter as a method to enforce their political and legal authority, and English settlers in America turned to the same techniques in their treatment of Native Americans. Just as the English insisted on Protestantism in Ireland and were unwilling to accept any form of syncretism (or blending of Irish and English religions and traditions), so did English settlers in the New World also try to enforce their religion and culture on Native Americans without regard to existing Native American traditions. English settlers tried to enslave Native Americans, but when they found that Native Americans died in captivity or resisted captivity, the English in the Americans turned to enslaving Africans. Their experience in Ireland taught the English to enforce their sense of superiority on other peoples, using force to subjugate others. 

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