Our Colonial History
and Its Influence on the Constitution

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Early Colonization of North America

Philip II (1527-1598), king of Spain and son of Emperor Charles V, who also controlled parts of Italy, the Netherlands, and the Spanish colonial empire in Mexico and South America, established two major colonies on the North American continent: St. Augustine (1565) and Santa Fe (1598). Philip II (with his father) is notable for mounting the Counter Reformation against the Protestants and for his struggle against the expansion of the Ottoman empire from the eastern regions. His marriage to England’s Mary I (1554) was intended to bring England back under the spiritual rule of Rome, but her early death, without an heir, instead but Protestant King Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth on the throne in 1558. Philip pursued the hand of Elizabeth to no avail, and England returned to Protestantism.

Under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), Sir Francis Drake began exploring the new world discovered by Columbus in 1492. In the mid-1580s Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to establish a colony in the area of Virginia, which he named for the "Virgin Queen" Elizabeth. However, this colony, for unknown reasons, did not survive. Elizabeth died 24 March 1603 and was succeeded by James I.

Jamestown, Virginia was founded in 1607 as an Anglican colony in honor of King James I by the Virginia Company of London, England. Due to many factors, this colony struggled to survive until John Rolfe introduced a strain of tobacco that was profitable for export. The wealth of the colony began to prosper with the first exportation in 1612. Rolfe later married the Native American woman, Pocahontas on 24 April 1614.

With the development of tobacco as a cash crop, more investors became interested in the Virginia colony, and more settlements were established. By 1617 the colony was exporting 50,000 pounds of tobacco a year to England. Labor-intensive tobacco plantations demanded manpower, and in August of 1619, twenty African men were purchased from a passing Dutch slave ship, thus establishing slavery as an economic institution in the North American colony. This would later be a major sticking point for the development the Constitution of the United States during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

America’s First Rebellion

The first rebellion in the North American colonies was Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. The coastal regions of Virginia and Maryland were controlled by the few aristocratic plantation owners who possessed the majority of the fertile land around the tidewaters of the Chesapeake Bay. The vast majority of the population of Virginia were small farmers, indentured servants, and slaves. Unable to purchase the expensive lands along the tidewaters, the small farmers were pushed deeper into the backcountry areas where they were vulnerable to attacks from Native American Indians. Situated at greater distance from the shipping ports made it difficult for the small farmer to transport and export his tobacco crop.

Increased taxation without any representative voice from the populace, lack of military protection against the Indians in the western frontier zones, and ineffective leadership by the Virginia colonial governor created a general disaffection toward the government. Rebellion against the government erupted in 1676, with its leader, Nathaniel Bacon, overthrowing the governor and assuming leadership of the colony.

The British government quickly quashed the rebellion by sending in the Royal Navy and Commissioners. Realizing that the majority of Virginians had supported the rebellion it seemed prudent to the British representatives to seek compromise and offer pardons to those involved in the rebellion. To do otherwise would extend the rebellion into outright war, destabilize the economy of the colony, and decrease the wealth coming into the British government through taxation. As a result of this rebellion, one of the most significant reforms was granting the right of the citizens of the colony to bear arms to defend themselves against any Indian uprisings. One hundred years later, this right would be written into the United States Constitution as the Second Amendment.

 

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