Frontier fosters self-reliance

Everything in the new environment tended to make the settlers forget the power, or even the need, of the British government. The fundamentals of political organization remained much as they had been in England, but a thousand laws, needed to keep order in the highly complex English society, became irrelevant and useless in the sparsely settled forest, and new ones of the colonists' own making took the place of those discarded. Having little cause to fear and often able to dispense with government, the frontiersmen fended for themselves and, developing a hatred of restraint, were "inclined to do when and how they please or not at all."

From the first, they profited by the inherited traditions of the Englishman's long struggle for political liberty. The concepts that resulted were fixed in a formal fashion in Virginia's first charter, which provided that English colonists were to exercise all liberties, franchises, and immunities "as if they had been abiding and born within this our Realm of England." They were, in effect, to enjoy the benefits of the Magna Charta and the common law. In the early days, the colonists were able to hold fast to their heritage of rights because of the King's arbitrary assumption that the colonies were not subject to parliamentary control. For years to come the kings of England were too preoccupied with a great struggle in England itself-a struggle which culminated in the Puritan Revolution-to enforce their will. Before Parliament could bring its attention to the task of molding them to an imperial policy, the colonies had waxed strong and flourished in their own way.

From the first year after they set foot upon the new continent, the colonists functioned according to the English law and constitution-with legislative assemblies, a representative system of government, and a recognition of the common-law guarantees of personal liberty. But, increasingly, legislation became American in point of view and ever less attention was paid to English practices and precedents. Colonial freedom from effective English control was not, however, achieved without conflict, and colonial history abounds in struggles between the assemblies elected by the people and the governors, in most cases the appointed agents of the King, who represented to the colonies the dangerous spirit of prerogative, an ever present menace to their liberties. Still, the colonists were often able to render these royal governors powerless for, as a rule, governors had "no subsistence but from the Assembly." Governors were sometimes instructed to give profitable offices and land grants to influential colonists to secure their support for royal projects but, often as not, the colonial officials, once they had secured these emoluments, espoused the provincial cause as strongly as ever.

The recurring clash between the provincial governor, symbol of the monarchical principle and external control in government, and the assembly, symbol of local autonomy and the democratic principle, worked increasingly to awaken the colonial sense to the divergence between American and English interests. As time went on, the assemblies took over the functions of the governors and of their councils which were made up of colonists selected for their docile support of royal power. Gradually the whole center of gravity of colonial administration shifted from London to the capitals of the American provinces. Early in the 1770's, an attempt was made to bring about a drastic change in this relationship between the colonies and the mother country. A principal factor in this turn of events was the final expulsion of the French from the North American continent.