Between the settlement at Jamestown in 1607 and the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the most important change that occurred in the colonies was the emergence of a society quite different from that in England. Changes in religion, economics, politics and social structure illustrate this Americanization of the transplanted Europeans.
By 1763, although some colonies still maintained established churches, other colonies had accomplished a virtual revolution for religious toleration and separation of church and state. The Anglican Church was the only established denomination in England. In contrast, the colonies supported a great variety of churches.
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The largest were the Congregationalist, Anglican, and German churches, but many smaller denominations could be found through the colonies. In addition to this, a high percentage of Americans didn’t belong to any church. These differences could be attributed to the fact that many of the Europeans who immigrated to America didn’t fit in to or agree with the churches in their homelands.
In a similar economic revolution, the colonies outgrew their mercantile relationship with the mother country and developed an expanding capitalist system of their own. In England, the common view was that the colonies only purpose was to compliment and support the homeland. This resulted in a series of laws and protocols called the mercantile system. While this system had its benefits, it placed harsh restrictions on who the Americans could trade with. For example, as directed by the Navigation laws, Virginia tobacco planters who played by the rules could only sell their products to England, even if other countries were offering a higher price. The Americans answer to this was to largely ignore the mercantile system and smuggle their products to other ports.
Building on English foundations of political liberty, the colonists extended the concepts of liberty and self-government far beyond those envisioned in the mother country. While Englishmen had some representation in their parliament, Americans took the system further. All colonies had some form of a two-house parliament system. Some, like New York, had governors appointed by the crown. Others, like Rhode Island, elected their own. Local government also varied between the colonies. The southern states had a strong County government, while the New England colonies relied on the town-meeting government. In either case, voting was reserved to land-owning white men.
In contrast to the well-defined and hereditary classes of England, the colonies developed a fluid class structure that enabled industrious individuals to rise on the social ladder. America was truly the land of opportunity for the hardworking. While the English social ladder was set in stone, with land-owning lords in control, America had no such nobility. Most white Americans were farmers, but land-owning farmers. The larger cities also contained a class of skilled artisans and shopkeepers. It was not uncommon for a former indentured servant to find himself owning his own plot of land or running his own shop.
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