Frontier Fosters Self-Reliance

The colonists-inheritors of the traditions of the Englishman's long struggle for political liberty-incorporated concepts of freedom into Virginia's first charter. This 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, then, to enjoy the benefits of she Magna Charta and the common law.

In the early days, the colonies were able to hold fast to their heritage of rights because of the King's arbitrary assumption that they were not subject to parliamentary control. In addition, for years afterward, 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 the Amercan colonies to an imperial policy, they had grown strong and prosperous in their own right.

From the first year after they had set foot upon the new continent, the colonists had 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 less and less attention was paid to English practices and precedents. Nevertheless, colonial freedom from effective English control was not achieved without conflict, and colonial history abounds in struggles between the assemblies elected by the people and the governors appointed by the King.

Still, the colonists were often able to render the 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, as often as not, the colonial officials, once they had secured these emoluments, espoused the popular cause as strongly as ever.

The recurring clashes between governor and assembly worked increasingly to awaken the colonists to the divergence between American and English interests. Gradually, the assemblies took over the functions of the governors and their councils, which were made up of colonists selected for their docile support of royal power, and the center of colonial administration shifted from London to the provincial capitals. Early in the 1770s, following the final expulsion of the French from the North American continent, an attempt was made to bring about a drastic change in the relationship between the colonies and the mother country.