Why did colonial rebellions of the 17th century not lead to demands for political independence on the part of the American colonists?

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The main reason why the English colonists in North America never made any moves for independence in the 17th Century was because they still saw themselves as loyal Englishmen and Englishwomen. The goal of these early colonists was to extend the privileges that they felt entitled to under English law to the New World. While they may have had occasional quarrels and grievances with the English authorities, it is unlikely that many of them ever seriously thought about fighting for true independence. In fact, there was still a large degree of freedom to be enjoyed in North America, despite being under the dominion of the English Crown. The few times that quarrels with the government in London did occur, the colonists still got their way in the end. This was reinforced through the hands-off approach by English authorities known as salutary neglect. If the English government was going to largely allow the colonists to practice local matters as they saw fit, then there was little reason to make a move towards independence.

Practically speaking, there was were also too few English colonists in North America in the 1600s to effectively build an independent nation. Many settlements still looked to their brethren in England for financial, material, and military support. At the time, North America was still mostly an unknown wilderness as far as English colonists were concerned. Ties with England were crucial in order to provide a safety net against the uncertainties of carving out a life out in such a place. There were too few colonists to establish a self-sufficient economy and raise a powerful military to safeguard them from the threats of other imperial powers and Native Americans. Severing ties with England at this time would have left the English colonists adrift and vulnerable.

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The colonies were too weak in the seventeenth century to think about independence, and despite some tensions with England, independence was not what they wanted.

The North American continent was crowded in the seventeenth century. The Spanish claimed Florida, and the French claimed large territories in eastern Canada and west of the Appalachians, hemming the British in. The Dutch controlled New York until the 1660s. Further, while disease and warfare had taken a toll on Native Americans, the various tribes, especially in alliance with the French, were a powerful force to contend with.

All of these other groups presented an ongoing and formidable threat to the English colonists. For instance, a joint French and Indian raid on Deerfield Massachusetts in the late 1690s led to the killing and capture of hundreds of English colonists. The colonists very much wanted the presence and backing of British troops, the British government, and the powerful British navy to deter such incursions into their territory and to provide arms, money, and men in case of trouble.

At this point, the British back home and the (white) American settlers were happy with the colonial venture, which was generating steady and substantial revenue for both groups. The British followed the system of salutary neglect, in which they did not enforce tariffs or exclusive trade agreements, turning a blind eye to colonial trade with other countries as long as the wealth kept rolling in—as it did.

This situation would not change until after the French and Indian War in the 1760s. Once the French no longer posed a threat, the Americans had very little need of the British.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 23, 2020
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Although some colonial rebellions in the seventeenth century were of a political nature, the issues raised by the rebels were more local than international. Thus, the issues did not touch on the throne or its authority. However, these issues were traced back to the source and led to a full-blown conflict with the British in later years.

The colonists were not looking to gain sovereignty in the areas they occupied or the entire region. The colonists considered themselves as part of the British Empire and only looked after their own interests. Besides, most of them arrived in the New World with hopes of acquiring wealth.

For instance, Bacon's Rebellion was an armed conflict led by Nathaniel Bacon against Governor William Berkeley. Berkeley was perceived to be dismissive, especially with regards to the issue of security and attacks from the Indians. Bacon took the opportunity to organize a militia to retaliate against the Indians and later criticized Berkeley’s administration by issuing the “Declaration of the People of Virginia,” which had little to do with the British government.

One of the main political issues in the seventeenth century was the passage of the Navigation Act, which sought to determine how the colonists conducted their business. The Navigation Act was among the reasons that Culpeper's Rebellion and the 1689 Boston revolt were instigated. The colonists were against the form of regulation and the taxes imposed. The situation restricted them from generating individual wealth, and the government was seen as the sole beneficiary of the laws. The situation forced the colonists to rise against the local leaders seeking to enforce the laws. Thus, the colonists were only making changes to their leaders but not actively seeking sovereignty.

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There are a number of reasons why these rebellions did not lead to a push for independence. 

First, some of the rebellions were not really aimed at the British government at all.  A good example of this is Bacon’s Rebellion in the 1670s.  This rebellion was not caused by colonists’ differences with the British government.  Instead, it was caused by tensions between colonists on the coast of Virginia (who dominated the colony) and those in the backcountry.  There is no real reason that a dispute between two groups of colonists would lead to a rebellion against Britain.

Second, some of the rebellions had their causes addressed by the British.  One example of this is the rebellion against the Dominion of New England.  The Glorious Revolution overthrew King James II, which led to the official dissolution of the Dominion.

However, there are broader reasons why the colonists did not rebel at this point.  The major reason is that the colonies were very young.  They were not yet as densely populated and as economically prosperous as they would be by 1775.  They did not have the built up sense of grievances that had accumulated over the longer time period.  For these reasons, they did not feel nearly as angry with the British or as ready to be independent as they later would.

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