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The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 was the state's first constitution adopted after gaining independence from Britain. After suffering years of tyranny under the Crown, the Constitution reflected the new American ideal of constructing a republican form of government. Like many other state constitutions, the Massachusetts Constitution was designed to represent the people and serve the public good. However, the Massachusetts Constitution was unique in that it also recognized the danger of placing too much authority in the hands of the people. Providing for a bicameral legislature with an upper house dominated by the wealthy elite, the Constitution checked the power of the masses in government. The Massachusetts Constitution was also the only state constitution to give the governor veto power over the legislature, further illustrating the desire to limit colonial assemblies. Believed to be incompetent, unqualified, and turbulent by politicians such as Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, much of higher society feared that the inclusion of the lower classes would destabilize the government. This is further reflected in the Constitution's restrictions on suffrage and office holding to property-holders and economically independent individuals. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 illustrates the internal political struggles faced by early America. Divided over the degree of democracy in the new government, the concept of checks and balances came to play a large part in the debates of the Constitutional Convention and creation of a national government. By illustrating a balanced system of government with a strong executive to check the people's voice, the Massachusetts Constitution became an early model for the eventual United States Constitution.
According to Adam Smith, renown economist, mercantilism is the measure of a country's wealth based on how much gold and silver a nation possesses. However, by the time Adam Smith came up with the idea of mercantilism in 1776, European countries had already been trying, with varying degrees of success, to implement mercantilism amongst their empires. Our textbook described mercantilism as the monopolization of trade and the regulation of all other aspects of the empire's economy. It was the colonies that were to serve the best interest of the mother country, and the crown. In England, their mercantilist practices were most clearly seen through the use of the Navigation acts, which served as ways to insure that all goods exported from the colonies went through England before being shipped anywhere else. This practice maximized the amount of Tax profit the crown could receive from every incoming shipment, insuring that both british merchants and the crown received the full benefits of the colonial prosperity. Not only did these acts help enrich the English, but they also helped to cut out the Dutch merchants who were in direct competition for transporting American colonial exports. As time progressed, American colonies grew discontent with the staunch trade laws that often times restricted profits. As a way to combat these laws, Americans looked to trade their exports with other countries. This prompted the crown to enact the Molasses Act which disallowed such practices. It was named after the molasses trade as American colonies were exchanging their lumber, food and cash crops for French Molasses which they could then sell back to England for High prices. While mercantilism worked extraordinarily well for English Crown during the first half of the 18th century, more and more acts limiting the freedom of trade eventually pushed the American colonists to find other ways to maximize their profits.
Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was the author of Common Sense and believed strongly in the promotion of independence. His book helped solidify the demand for independence from Britain. Paine said, "the floor of Freedom is as level as water." Paine was also well known for his pamphlet The Age of Reason in which he promotes deism, reason, and free thought. Paine spent most of his early life in France involved in the French revolution. As an adolescent, he worked for a short time as a privateer. Paine arrived in Philadelphia in 1776 and quickly became a leader in the extralegal committees and the local militia. At this time, Paine was a man of modest wealth, by no means was he considered an elite. He had very little political influence and he, like the other leaders of this time, believed a democratic reform was needed. A temporary alliance was formed with members of the Second Continental Congress who supported independence, even though most of these men disapproved of their belief in equality. The common goal of the members of this alliance was to move Pennsylvania toward independence from Britain. Paine's call for a republic stated that this was not a particular form of government, but a structure of government mainly concerned with the promotion of the public good. Paine is significant because he was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and was one of the most influential promoters of independence in his time. He authored pamphlets and other writings that inspired the rebels to break free from Britain and declare independence in 1776.
The Great Awakening was a religious movement beginning in the 1730s in the colonies that moved public society away from Enlightenment thinking and back towards religion. This was not a planned movement by a group of people, but rather it was many individuals who made changes to preaching style and moved towards a more emotional religious side of things. This happened in the colonies right after the Enlightenment, so people were beginning to try and think rationally about things, which was changing how society was working. The Great Awakening moved people back towards society based on religion through more upbeat and emotional sermons. One example of this emotional style of preaching was by a Massachusetts congregationalist Jonathan Edwards in a sermon titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. In this sermon Edwards said only a "new birth," or recognizing ones sins immediately, would keep them from going to hell. This is one example of the emotional and very different styled sermons that were given during the Great Awakening. Another influential figure in America during the Great Awakening was George Whitefield. Whitefield often gave sermons for which people gathered in numbers as high as tens of thousands to hear. His sermons were so widely known that they were reported in the press, making this individual very well know throughout the entirety of the colonies. The Great Awakening had a great impact on slaves and converted many to Christianity, some of whom even took to preaching. The revival changed people of the colonies greatly. People began trusting their own instincts and stopped listening to what the wealthy elites were doing. The Great Awakening inspired people to strive for religious perfection in their lives rather than making their number one goal just to make a profit in business.
Creolization was the process of cultural change and development of African American cultures occurring in British North America, primarily in the 1700's. This process consisted of a blending of African cultures brought by African slaves from different regions and tribes, along with English culture in the context of North America. As slaves were taken from a huge variety of contexts in Africa, they spoke many languages, had vastly different cultural practices, and practiced many religions. They did not have much in common with another aside from their status as slaves. As a means of survival and self-preservation, however, they combined bits and pieces of their home cultures to create entirely new institutions of culture, dialect, and therefore identity as African Americans in the White-ruled colonies. This mixed identity and culture was largely due to multiple generations of captivity over time, as the first generation of slaves, those who came over from Africa on the slave ships, identified strongly as African, however those slaves born in the Colonies, were African Americans, indication the shift to cultural blending. This process of blending of cultures to create new African American identities is extremely historically significant, as it allowed African slaves from all over the continent of Africa to unite in their misery, to synthesize elements of life outside of slavery in the colonies. Due to the large percentage of blacks in the English colonies, these African American cultures contributed largely to the overall social landscape. Many cultural elements, especially music and food, are still incorporated in American tradition.
Following the War of Independence, America faced a problematic post war economy. In order to finance this expensive war, Congress sold high interest-bearing bonds to wealthy suppliers and soldiers. The weak central government created by the Articles of Confederation limited the power of Congress, not allowing it to tax citizens. Without a source of revenue, Congress was unable to pay back these high interest-bearing bonds. This promoted the states to enact their own economic policies in order to generate revenue, placing tariffs on imported goods and taxing citizens. This taxation promoted discontent from farmers who were struggling under the post war economic depression. These farmers wanted to lower taxes and and increase the circulation of printed money so that it was easier for them to pay back their debt. While some states implemented laws to help postpone debt collection and assist the desperate farmers, Massachusetts resisted their plea for help. This caused an uprising from the debt-ridden farmers. Between 1786 and 1787 there were a series of protests by American farmers. 500 armed farmers, led by war veteran Daniel Shay, rallied in front of courts in western Massachusetts to "prevent the seizure of their land for failure to pay taxes." They linked their own rebellion with the war of independence, believing they were fighting for justice. In response to these protests, Continental Congress rallied 1500 armed troops to end their revolt. In January of 1787, the rebel farmers dispersed. Shay's rebellion caused many Americans to feel that the Articles of Confederation needed to be revised, in order to limit the power of the people.