I wrapped up the colonial era (which I end at 1763) today in my United States survey course. I devote 10 (of 45) class periods to the British colonies and end with a lecture on the British nature of the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution. I enjoy this lecture a great deal since it challenges many of my students who uphold, whether they realize it or not, a Whig understanding of the colonies. I stress the ways in which the colonies, since the founding of Jamestown in 1607, were getting increasingly more British as the American Revolution approached. By 1763 the colonies were fully integrated into the British Empire economically (mercantilism, Navigation Acts, consumerism), politically (love of liberty, balanced government), religiously (Protestantism and the First Great Awakening), and culturally (print culture and Enlightenment ideas). The British victory in the French and Indian War was the peak of this British identity in the American provinces.
Such an approach, of course, places a lot of interpretive weight on the period between 1763 and 1776. My students often wonder: If the colonies were so British in 1763 then why did they rebel thirteen years later? This is a good question, but I prefer to leave them hanging until after our exam on Friday.
This approach to the British colonial era draws on what might be called the Anglicization school of early American scholarship. These four works, perhaps more than any other, have shaped my thinking on this period:
John Murrin, “A Roof Without Walls: The Dilemma of American National Identity,” in Richard Beeman, Beyond Confederation.
T.H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution
Brendan McConville, The King’s Three Faces