149. The American Colonies and Europe. The people who came to America during colonial times were mainly, though not all of them, Englishmen. The adventurous and gay settlers of Virginia and other southern plantations and the sternly religious Puritans who came to New England were very different in many respects, yet all of them had grown up in "the tight little island" of Great Britain. They spoke the English language, and nearly all of them had learned in their English homes whatever they knew.

But from the beginning, in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, a great number of the settlers had never seen England. New York was at first a colony of Holland; and long after it had been captured by the British (1664) a large part of its inhabitants showed by their speech and by their quaint costumes that they were Dutchmen. In this province also were seen many Belgians, French, Germans, and Jewish people. In proportion to its size there were nearly as many different nationalities in New York City in "the good old colony days" as now. In New Jersey, besides the majority of English, there were Dutch, Scotch, French, and Swedes, while the great province of Pennsylvania, though founded by the English Quakers, attracted large numbers of Germans, driven from their old homes because of their ways of worship, and of Irish—especially of those people from the North of Ireland often called Scotch-Irish. The first settlers of Delaware were Swedes and Finns. The southern colonies, too, had many non-English white people. But as the years rolled by, the different races everywhere in America gradually became more and more like their English neighbors, and, though usually proud of the history of their forefathers in Holland or France, they adopted English speech and customs.

A few of the New England colonies had the right to choose their own governors, but most of the American provinces had royal governors, sent from England, who lived in state and tried to impress the colonists with the greatness and majesty of the British monarch.

Moreover, the laws of England in those days prevented the people of the British Empire from trading with other nations unless they paid duties which would have ruined any merchant. Only British or American vessels with British or American crews were supposed to trade at American ports. There was, however, much smuggling, though the British officers would have punished the smugglers if they could have caught them.

Yet in spite of these facts the colonists were proud to be Englishmen. They cheered for the British flag, and when Great Britain was at war in Europe, with France or Spain, they too fought as well as they were able against the French in Canada or the Spaniards in Florida.

150. The American Colonies and England. But later, King George III and the colonists quarreled. For the British ruler and those Englishmen who supported him could not see why the Americans, if they were indeed Englishmen, should not be subject to the British Parliament just as were Englishmen at home; and the Americans could not see why, when other Englishmen had the right to take part in electing members of Parliament, they alone should have to submit to being ruled by a body of men of whom they could not choose even one.

The result was the war of the American Revolution, in which our forefathers were compelled to fight against the mother country of which they had once been so proud. Though many of the best men in England sympathized with the Americans who stood so bravely for liberty, King George III and his advisers nevertheless refused so stubbornly even to consider the requests of the colonists that our forefathers finally declared themselves independent. No longer would they fight for their rights under the British flag, but set forth in the "immortal Declaration" that all men have an equal right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." They said that they would not give allegiance to a ruler who had become a tyrant.

151. France in the Revolution. Yet before our forefathers could actually be free they had to struggle for seven long years against the troops and fleet of the British king, for Great Britain, with its large population, was the strongest power in the world at that time.

In Europe, however, many people read the Declaration of Independence and agreed with its ideas. From many lands came brave and adventurous men, skilled in arms, to join the forces of General Washington in their battle for liberty. Foremost among them were the gallant young Frenchman, Lafayette, with his friend, De Kaib; the famous Poles, Kosciusko and Pulaski, and the stout old German, von Steuben.

But France more than any other country was enthusiastic for the American cause. And finally, persuaded by the wise, prudent Benjamin Franklin whom Congress had sent to Paris, the king of France declared war against his ancient enemy, England. He sent his fleet and armies to aid in overthrowing the colonial power of King George in the New World. Americans never have forgotten how bravely the French soldiers fought beside Washington’s Continentals and how much they did to help win the final victory. Without their aid the war would have gone on much

longer, and no one knows how it would finally have ended.

152. Washington and Neutrality. When after a few years our forefathers adopted the Constitution which made us the first successful republic of large size in modern times, they were truly thankful that the wide Atlantic separated them from the old nations of Europe with their kings and princes, with their nobles and serfs, and with their constant bloody wars by which nobody benefited. Many of our leading statįsmen believed that the less the New World had to do with the Old the better it would be for our people.

But it proved hard for us to keep out of European wars. Soon after we became a nation occurred the cruel but wonderful French Revolution. The citizens of France, overwhelmed by the burdens put upon them by their king, rose against him. After grave disorders they established a republic which they hoped would give them freedom. When this event took place the Americans naturally applauded, for it seemed as if the French were following our example. But so shocking was the bloodshed and so terrible the mob in Paris that, as time went by, one party of people in this country became frightened, and was convinced that even if England had a king, her old and firm government was better than that of France.

Soon the new French Republic was engaged in war with the neighboring countries whose kings were opposed to the revolution. Before long, England was drawn into the conflict against her old rival. For practically twentyfive years the war raged between them, surpassing in fury anything which the world had seen since the days of the struggle between Rome and Carthage.

During this time there appeared in France a young man named Napoleon Bonaparte, who showed himself to be the greatest general that the world ever has seen. No such victories had been known as those in which he overthrew now the Austrians, now the Prussians, and now the armies of the Russian czar. But unfortunately Bonaparte cared more for his own glory than for the welfare of his country. In the end he overthrew the French Republic itself and had himself made emperor in imitation of the Roman Cæsars (39—42). Though in many ways Bonaparte proved as farsighted a ruler as he was a general, yet it was his love of war that finally brought disaster both to his country and to himself

Now when the struggle between England, our old enemy, and France, our former ally, began, many Americans felt that it was only fair that we should aid France just as she had so bravely helped us. But, on the other hand, it was clear that we had no cause for war against England, and as we were still a young and weak nation, it would be very bad policy to engage in so fierce a conifict. It was indeed hard for General Washington, who was then our President, to determine what we ought to do.

After consulting the members of his cabinet, which contained such able statesmen as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, our first President issued his famous "Proclamation of Neutrality." In contests between foreign nations dealing with matters concerning themselves we refused to take sides, but would be friendly to both parties and would obey all the rules established by custom for neutral nations in such cases. Had we adopted any other course, we should seldom have been free from war or from alliances that would have led to constant trouble.

153. Efforts to Maintain Neutrality. But while the war in Europe went on it proved hard for us to avoid coming to blows with the great nations in Europe. Both England and France were angry with us because we would not take sides with them and because our ships carried provisions and munitions of war to the enemy. England with her powerful navy seized our ships and often compelled our sailors to serve in her navy, saying that they were really British seamen. France, too, did us much injury and took all of our ships trading with Great Britain that she was able to get hold of.

Some of our citizens wanted to fight France; some England, and only the wisdoth and coolness of Washington and the presidents who followed him kept the peace. By sending ambassadors and by exercising great patience our government managed to keep out of European wars until the year 1812.

During this time our nation grew rapidly in wealth, population, and the spirit of loyalty to a common country. Though the policy of keeping out of European troubles had been very trying to our tempers, it proved wise.

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© 2001 by Lynn Waterman