America is one of the greatest political-philosophical symbols in world history. It is equal in importance to Athens representing philosophy, Jerusalem representing biblical religion, Rome representing both its pagan and Catholic manifestations, and Mecca representing the home of Islam. But what is meant by America? When people refer to it are they signifying the precise measurements of the landmass that incorporates the territory from Canada's Ellesmere Island above the magnetic pole in the north to Tierra del Fuego off the tip of Argentina in the south? Do they want to call attention to the area that in the year 2000 was home to forty-five countries and territories with 900 million people, where dozens of languages are spoken, and where can be found people of almost every ethnic origin, religion, and social and economic class? It is unlikely that they are referring to these basic facts. Facts and figures do not begin to touch what America represents symbolically. Throughout its history, America has stood for two different, almost opposite, things. First, it stands for natural man, the Indians, who are said to represent the world's beginning. Second, it stands for the United States, the great political experiment based on natural rights, which has evoked inspiration and fear and envy. It inspires such strong feelings because the United States is often perceived as the world's future. America thus represents both the world's origins and its endpoint. This essay attempts to shed light on the "idea" of America by tracing its genealogy from America's discovery by Western man until the twenty-first century.
From 1492 until the American Revolution, and in some sense continuing into the twenty-first century, America evoked the image of Indians. Archaeologists believe that the American continent was first inhabited by human beings who walked from Siberia to Alaska over the Bering Strait on a frozen land bridge about 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. However, what the Indians represent in the global imagination is a fairly static image informed by media portrayals that starkly depict the Indians either as barbaric savages or as noble stewards of the land living in harmony with nature. These images have a long genealogy.
First attempts to explain America.
Although the Americas were undoubtedly visited by the Vikings around the year 1000, the "discovery" of America is attributed to Christopher Columbus, whose voyage to America in 1492 captured the European imagination. Ironically, to Columbus's dying day, he insisted that what he had found was part of Asia. Thus, perceptions of America have been mistaken from the very beginning. (Sixteenth-century mapmakers, recognizing Columbus's mistake, named the New World not after him, but after Amerigo Vespucci—hence the name America —whom they credited as the first to realize that the New World was its own continent.)
The Indians of America were misrepresented from the very beginning and ever since their discovery. Not only did Columbus believe America was someplace else—hence the name Indians—but his description of its inhabitants was fanciful, too. He claimed to discover cannibals, Cyclopes, Amazons, Sirens, dog-faced peoples, people with no hair, and people with tails. These bizarre claims were suggested to him by centuries of fanciful tales passed on through medieval times by supposedly reliable authorities. In short, Columbus claimed to find what he was looking for. This began a pattern of preformed opinions dictating what is supposedly found in America. He saw the land as potential wealth and its people as possible converts or slaves. For him, as for most of the early conquistadores and missionaries, the Indians had no independent status, no integrity of their own. They were just to be used.
The Spanish Renaissance philosophers who first reflected on the discovery of the Indians did little better in appreciating them. Two positions dominated the Spanish debates. The first position, arguing that the Indians did not possess the faculty of reason, went so far as to argue that the Indians were the concrete embodiment of Aristotle's natural slave. According to this view, the Indians could be incorporated into Europe's traditional Christian-Aristotelian worldview but only in its lowest place. God created the Indians as naturally inferior, the argument went, so it was just and right that the Spanish subjugate them. The second view saw the Indians as rational—as evidenced by their languages, economics, and politics—but as underdeveloped and needing Spanish tutelage. Because they were human, the Indians had to be governed by consent—not their formal, explicit consent, but rather what they would consent to after they came to understand the natural law, which of course the Spanish thought they possessed. In short, because the Spanish were so confident in their worldview, it never occurred to them that they might be incorrect or possess only a partial truth. Their cultural confidence led them to reject the Americans as barbaric.
America as the home of natural man.
In 1580 the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) began a path-breaking new way of thinking about the Indians. A skeptic and a keen observer of human diversity, Montaigne argued that "each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice; for indeed it seems we have no other test of truth and reason than the example and pattern of the opinions and customs of the country we live in." Unlike the Spanish, Montaigne doubts the standards of his own place and time. In his famous essay "Of Cannibals" (Essays ) he describes Indian society as the best society that ever was, real or imagined, because they are "still very close to their original naturalness" and thus live in a "state of purity" according to "les loix naturelles. " He claims their society, held together with "little artifice and human solder," is as pure and natural as a society can be. His account claims that these Indians do fight and eat their captives, but he says they do so not for economic gain but as a kind of aristocratic struggle for mastery. He describes their warfare as "wholly noble" and "as excusable and beautiful as this human disease can be." This is the origin of the image of the noble savage.
Montaigne knows, however, that his account of the Indians' tranquility and bliss is fictitious. He concedes the barbarous horror of some of their actions, writing, "I am not sorry that we notice the barbarous horror of [their] acts, but I am heartily sorry that, judging their faults rightly, we should be so blind to our own." Here Montaigne reveals his true intentions in describing the Indians: he uses them as an image with which to expose the horrors and cruelty of his own world. This usage of the Indians as a countercultural marker was to become the norm. While Montaigne's account of the Indians is in the end neither anthropologically accurate nor fully desirable, he is the first to misrepresent the Indians in a positive fashion.
After Montaigne, no major philosopher in Europe doubted the Indians' naturalness. To the contrary, the Indians came to represent natural man par excellence. From Montaigne until the end of the Enlightenment, every major philosopher agreed with John Locke's (1632–1704) famous statement that "in the beginning all the world was America" (Second Treatise of Government ). America represented Europe's past. In ending one debate, however, Montaigne began a new one. While every major thinker agreed that the Indians represented mankind's natural state, debate arose over the interpretation of the natural state: was it a brutishness to overcome or an innocence to recapture?
Among these philosophers the debate evolved in a single direction. Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) first argued that mankind's natural state is a horrible state of war to be avoided at all costs. Locke and Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu (1689–1755), countered that the state of nature is pacific but undesirable. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694–1778), and Denis Diderot (1713–1784) later praised the Indians as naturally good and happy, in contrast to European artificiality and corruption. These varied representations, it should be noted, do not correspond to any changes in Indian societies, nor do they respond to new information about the Indians. In truth, the available evidence was barely consulted at all by any of the great thinkers. Rather, these philosophers clearly used their descriptions of the Indians as support for their own ends. As dissatisfaction with Europe increased, so did praise of the Indians grow as an alternative, more desirable and more natural, way of living.
In sum, contemporaneous representations of the American Indians really reflect Europe's own debates, not the reality of America. They have left the legacies of brutishness and of the noble savage, which remain in the twenty-first century. But there is another legacy of these debates. In using the Indians of America to promote their own visions of freedom and legitimate institutions, the philosophers set in motion a train of thought and actions that would lead to revolution. The first of these revolutions took place in America and led to the founding of the United States.
The United States
When people speak about America, they usually are referring not to the Indians, nor to the hemisphere as a whole, but to the United States of America (USA), the world's most powerful nation since World War II. The global obsession with American power revolves around four axes: cultural, economic, political, and military. American popular culture (e.g., blue jeans, rock and roll and jazz music, cinema and television programming, McDonald's restaurants, and Disneyland) is both highly prized for its energy, ease, accessibility, and speed and condemned as an unwanted cultural intrusion that threatens to swamp indigenous ways. Economically, America has for centuries represented the possibility of riches beyond belief ("streets paved with gold"), and as such has been the goal of tens and tens of millions of immigrants. But since the United States became the world's dominant economic power, its material wealth has become both envied and resented. Politically, America has been lauded as a uniquely favorable place (what the American colonist John Winthrop called a "city on a hill") for the promise of freedom that it offers, and it has been condemned, as in the eyes of the Iranian revolutionary, the Ayatollah Khomeini, as "the great Satan" for what are perceived to be its heathen and materialistic ways. Militarily, the United States has since World War II been the strongest country on earth, and since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is universally cited as the world's only superpower. This power is sometimes feared and envied by those without it. Moreover, people throughout the globe paradoxically call for the United States to use its power when they want it to do something and condemn the United States as arrogant when it uses it for a cause of which they disapprove.
These perceptions of the United States are neither new nor unmediated reactions to perceived facts. Each of these praises and complaints can be traced back almost to the founding of the United States itself. Thus, they cannot be explained merely as a reaction to a particular political administration or to the rise of American power. Deeper phenomena are at play.
First reactions to the United States.
The United States was formed in a rebellion from England in 1776. Its revolution was the first successful modern revolution in that it was inspired and justified (at least in part) by philosophical doctrine. The United States' Declaration of Independence invokes philosophy when it argues that "all men are created equal" and endowed with "inalienable rights" such as the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Government exists only to secure these rights, and any government that does not secure them is deemed illegitimate. The founders of the United States wrote a Constitution to secure these rights based on limited government and the separation of public and private spheres. At a time when no country on earth was based on the consent of the governed, the success of American democracy proved to the modern world that democratic and representative government could exist.
The relationship between the Old and New Worlds (and the two images of America) is intertwined and reciprocal. The American Revolution marked the first major step in the collapse of the European empires founded after Columbus discovered the New World. This revolution was inspired in part by the European philosophical doctrines based on natural rights, which had themselves been partly inspired by the original inhabitants of America. Ironically, the political experiment in the name of natural rights then helped destroy the "natural" people who helped inspire the United States' philosophical forefathers. The American Revolution then helped inspire the French Revolutionaries and other lovers of liberty throughout the world. The complex nature of this relationship is seen in the following quotation from the essay "On the Influence of the American Revolution on Europe" by the French philosopher Marie-Jean Caritat, marquis de Condorcet (1743–1794):
"The human race had lost its rights. Montesquieu found them and restored them to us" (Voltaire). It is not enough, however, that these rights be written in the philosophers' works and engraved in the heart of virtuous men. It is also necessary that the ignorant or feeble man be able to read them in the example of a great people.
America has given us this example. Its Declaration of Independence is a simple and sublime exposition of these rights, so sacred and so long forgotten. Among no nation have they been so well known, or preserved in such perfect integrity.
The reciprocal relationship is evident: it moves from Montesquieu and Voltaire, who had been partially inspired by America's original inhabitants, to the Declaration of Independence then back to Condorcet, who authored France's Constitution of 1793.
Condorcet's praise of America was typical of the Enlightenment philosophes. Immediate reaction to the American Revolution by Enlightenment thinkers was one of enthusiastic praise. In his popular pamphlet entitled "Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution and the Means of Making it a Benefit of the World," Richard Price (1723–1791) writes, "I see the revolution in favor of universal liberty which has taken place in America; a revolution which opens a new prospect in human affairs, and begins a new era in the history of mankind." Given the unprecedented liberties guaranteed in America, Price is hopeful, nay certain, that liberty will soon spread throughout the world, if unchecked by tyrannical governments. He says the revolution will "raise the species higher" and compares its effect to "opening a new sense." Indeed, he goes so far as to suggest that "next to the introduction of Christianity among mankind, the American revolution may prove the most important step in the progressive course of human improvement." So many hopes has he pinned on America that "perhaps there never existed a people on whose wisdom and virtue more depended; or to whom a station of more importance in the plan of Providence has been assigned." Similarly, Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727–1781), whose brief stint as finance minister in France marked the last serious attempt at reform before the French Revolution, says in a "Letter to Price" that America is "the hope of the world" and should "become a model to it."
The Enlightenment thinkers did not think America was perfect. Slavery was America's greatest flaw. They understood the difficulties in eradicating this execrable institution and argued that America would be judged by the manner of eliminating it as circumstances allowed.
The great strengths of America, however, more than outweighed its imperfections. Enlightenment leaders praised the numerous liberties in the United States, including freedom of the press, speech, conscience, and religion. Moreover, America was seen as an inspiration for the world. As Condorcet writes, it is an example "so useful to all the nations who can contemplate it"; "it teaches them that these rights are everywhere the same"; "the example of a free people submitting peacefully to military, as to civil, laws will doubtless have the power to cure us." Europe developed these Enlightenment ideas, but due to its powerfully entrenched institutions, it could not act on them. The Enlightenment philosophes, however, thought that the example of America would inspire the deeds that their words could not. In fact, they were right. The American Revolution inspired the French Revolutionaries in 1789, and it has continued to inspire revolutionaries throughout the world.
Nineteenth-century views of the United States.
Nineteenth-century views of the United States are seen through the lens of the French Revolution. After the French Revolution devolved into terror, anarchy, and despotism, no major thinker ever again unqualifiedly praised the American Revolution. This is peculiar. Thinkers might have said that the French got it wrong, the Americans right, so let us praise the Americans and further intensify the study of it. Instead, they let the horrors of the French Revolution color their understanding of the American. This shows once again how the perceptions of America were based more on European dynamics than on the reality of America itself.
Despite the failure of the French Revolution, the existence of the United States, coupled with the Enlightenment belief in progress, led to a general feeling that the United States was the future. If the French proved that the path to the future was not simple and smooth, the perception of what the future was to be like, as embodied in the United States, was also ambivalent. Interest in the United States was heightened because everyone had a stake in the future, which the United States seemed to represent.
In the aftermath of the French Revolution, criticism arose about the United States. The substance of this criticism was similar across the ideological spectrum of the nineteenth century and is familiar to anyone aware of contemporary critiques of the United States. What America had become and what critics thought Europe would become—democratic—was regarded as a mixed blessing. The greatest representative of this ambivalence is Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859), the great French thinker and statesman. According to Tocqueville, democratic government is inefficient, meandering, and petty. But it has its advantages. It gets more done by energizing the people to do things themselves: "it does that which the most skillful government often cannot do: it spreads throughout the body social a restless activity, superabundant force, and energy never found elsewhere, which, however little favored by circumstance, can do wonders. Those are its true advantages" (Democracy in America ). Democracy is not conducive, however, to refinement, elevated manners, poetry, glory, or heroic virtues. All of the main political theorists of the nineteenth century agreed with this ambivalent assessment of America—and of the budding liberalism of Europe.
America was seen as epitomizing the self-interested individualism of the new commercial society and as representing the centralization of power by the new middle-class regime. As such, four criticisms were repeatedly leveled at it. First, America was said to embody the disorder caused by collapsing institutions. The authority of all previous standards—experience, age, birth, genius, talent, and virtue—was undercut in America. Second, America represented a growing obsession with money. It was because of this that all other standards of human value were ignored. Third, America represented unchecked equality. The new type of man preferred equality to liberty, as Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) warned. Finally, the new form of government represented the power of the majority, the "tyranny of the majority" in Tocqueville's famous phrase. This stifled creativity and individuality. It guaranteed that society would be geared to the mediocre middle at the expense of individual refinement, the cultivation of culture, and the emergence of spiritual sublimity and greatness. These are essentially the same charges leveled against the United States in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries by traditional authorities in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, by the educated elites in Europe and elsewhere, and by the antimodern radicals, such as the Ayatollah Khomeini, Hizbollah, and Al Qaeda.
Twentieth-century views of the United States.
The main twentieth-century critiques of America, such as those by Oswald Spengler (1880–1936) and Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) on the right and by the Frankfurt School on the left, argue that America is overly technological and materialistic. Thus, America, once described as the home of nature, became the place where nature is most obscured. Twentieth-century thinkers did not agree on the origins of America's technological morass. For example, the Frankfurt School saw technology as the result of capitalism, whereas Heidegger attributed it to a particular metaphysical way of being. The characteristics that they lamented in America's overtechnicalization, however, are similar. They lament the mechanization of society and the way it alienates human beings from their deeper essences. They deplored the monotonization and leveling of the world and the resulting loss of individuality. They decried the way technology kills the spirit and prevents the attainment of the highest human developments. In short, their substantive list of complaints is very similar to those made during the nineteenth century; but whereas the nineteenth-century thinkers attributed the problems to an array of social, political, and economic factors, twentieth-century thinkers blamed them on technology.
Beyond the technological blame, there is another important divergence between nineteenth-and twentieth-century thinkers' assessments of America. Whereas nineteenth-century thinkers like Tocqueville saw Russia, as well as the United States, as an emerging power, they almost all greatly preferred the American model to the Russian. This was not true in the twentieth century. Many figures on the left, such as Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980) and Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986), ideologically committed to communism, lauded Soviet approaches and condemned American ones. Even among the anticommunist right, many considered the United States and the Soviet Union to be equally bad. Heidegger, for example, says that America and Russia "are metaphysically the same." An abstraction from politics that allows such comparisons is regrettable, but in Heidegger's case it is even worse. While formally arguing that the United States and Russia are the same, when he needs a shorthand label for the phenomena that he describes as a "Katastrophe, " he calls it "Americanization," not Russianization, implying that the former is closer to the core of the problem.
According to its representations, America has moved from representing Europe's past to representing Europe's future and from the epitome of nature to the epitome of technology, polar opposite views. Four points might be noted, however, that raise questions about the validity of these representations. First, descriptions of America have been fantastical from the beginning. They are inaccurate and often intentionally so. Second, although twentieth-century thinkers blame the United States for the technologization of the world, it is apparent that the technological attitude long predates the founding of the United States. Columbus and the conquistadores neither saw the New World for what it was nor had any desire to do so. Rather, they sought to exploit resources and people, and this is the essence of the technological attitude, the attitude that some claim began only with the United States. Third, twentieth-century thinkers miss the mark in blaming America for problems that have to do with modernity itself. Because the United States was created from scratch by colonists with minimal feudal baggage, the United States emerged as perhaps the purest embodiment of modern values. But there are multinational corporations in Europe and other countries around the world, and most people wherever they live in the world desire the standard of living and freedom that the United States—and many modern countries—have. So while there is a certain justification for seeing the United States as embodying modernity, it is not modernity's sole embodiment.
Fourth, there is a fundamental continuity in the views about America. The Indians have been described as on the one hand, naïve, innocent, childlike, and simple, and on the other as brutish, vulgar, shallow, stupid, and lacking spirituality. These are essentially the same charges that Europe and the world leveled at the United States throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The United States might be all of these things, although probably not more than most countries and possibly less so than many. But the fact that ways of life as opposite as those of the Indians and the United States are described in fundamentally the same terms indicates a problem in the substantive nature of the representations.
As an epilogue, it is worth noting briefly a postmodern view of America. Postmodern thinkers reject the idea of there being any humanly knowable truth and choose to play with images, which they claim is all we are left with. The French postmodern thinker Jean Baudrillard has done this with the United States. In a book entitled America (1986; English translation published in 1988), Baudrillard writes contradictorally, "For me there is no truth of America" and, "I knew all about this nuclear form, this future catastrophe when I was still in Paris, of course." He also mixes all of the main images of America, describing the United States both as "the original version of Modernity" and as "the only remaining primitive society." For him, America is the "Primitive society of the future." He combines five hundred years of images of America in a clever fashion.
See also Enlightenment ; Europe, Idea of ; Individualism ; Natural Law .
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Alan Mitchell Levine
"America." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/america
"America." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/america
In the south, Virginia (1607) became a royal province in 1624. Its neighbour, Maryland (see Baltimore), was taken under royal control, but reverted to proprietary rule in 1715. Tobacco, a major export crop, shaped the development of both colonies. The demand for labour was met by indentured servants from the British Isles, young persons who worked for a term of years in return for a free passage and the promise of future benefits. After about 1680 African slaves gradually displaced them. In South Carolina (1663) rice became the great export crop; here slavery was more concentrated and harsher. South Carolina and North Carolina, which had pockets of slavery and of free subsistence farmers, became royal colonies. In Georgia, founded by humanitarians as a refuge for poor persons and oppressed protestants, attempts to ban slavery and strong drink failed; it developed as a plantation-based society.
In the north, no staples dominated. Families rather than indentured servants went to Massachusetts (see Massachusetts Bay Company), and to Connecticut, which received a royal charter in 1662. In both, the religious convictions of the early settlers and a congregational church system helped shape social and political institutions. Hostilities between congregationalists, baptists, and quakers played a major role in the development of religious toleration in Rhode Island, settled from 1636. New Hampshire, first settled by New England congregationalists and by more latitudinarian Anglican colonists, was chartered in 1679. These northern colonies had economies based on farming and maritime undertakings, including shipbuilding (and timber exports from New Hampshire).
The middle colonies, founded after 1660, became the great receptacles of continuing white migration, of both independent families and servants. New York was granted to James, duke of York (later James II) in 1664. From it he granted New Jersey, in which there was a substantial Presbyterian Scottish interest, to a number of proprietors. Both territories later came under direct royal control. Pennsylvania's (see Penn, William) early life was dominated by members of the Society of Friends. The Penns held it until the American Revolution. Its southern neighbour, Delaware, was formed from Pennsylvania's three lower counties. New York City and, especially, Philadelphia became substantial urban centres; their hinterlands and the region generally were characterized by successful farming, with a surplus of foodstuffs finding markets elsewhere.
In the 17th cent. the colonies were seen in Britain as receptacles for a surplus population. Traditional arguments that migration would relieve unemployment and reduce poverty as well as create markets for British goods and provide valuable sources of precious metals and raw materials persisted. By the end of the century, the need for a large labour force at home was stressed. Although immigration continued from mainland Britain, its major sources became northern Ireland and protestant Germany. This led to increasing religious diversity as Ulster presbyterians (‘Scotch-Irish’) and a variety of German baptists, Lutherans, and Moravians arrived. Even so, natural increase more than migration fed population growth. This was formidable, a distinguishing feature in the development of the colonies, underpinning a burgeoning self-confidence and a conviction that because of the availability of land a modest independence was attainable by the majority of white males in the New World, as it was not in the Old.
Westwards expansion and the settlement of the interior valleys filled the ‘back country’ from western Pennsylvania to South Carolina and settlers also moved into western New York and the Ohio region. Land speculation became a fact of colonial life. Land companies with American and British participants sought political favours from the colonial authorities and from the British government, while population pressures in the older settled regions caused social tensions. Intercolonial and back-country versus seaboard rivalries lasted to and beyond the American Revolution. From the 1750s the British government began to increase its attempts to create an imperial policy embracing western settlement and Indian relations.
British opinion was that the colonies were primarily of value to the development of a profitable maritime commercial empire. An appreciation of the trading interdependence of the Atlantic colonies, for which southern Europe also became an important market, and of their direct trade with Great Britain, including their great potential as markets for English manufactured goods, grew in the century after 1650. Regulatory measures included various acts of trade (‘Navigation Acts’) from 1651 onwards in the face of Dutch competition. Foreign-built and/or -crewed ships were excluded from colonial trade and most exports and imports were to be carried via English and (after 1707) Scottish ports. From 1673 a Customs Service was created in the colonies. In 1696 the foundation of the Board of Trade provided a focus for colonial administration and attempts were made to tighten British control, especially during times of war.
These were not continued with any force under Sir Robert Walpole and the duke of Newcastle, a period characterized as one of ‘salutary neglect’. Only renewed struggles with Spain and France, particularly from the late 1740s, and the rise of a group of imperially minded politicians and colonial governors, created demands for stronger executive control and greater colonial obedience. By this time colonial political identities were almost fully formed. The original crown charters had conferred large powers of self-government on the colonies, notably in allowing them representative assemblies with substantial legislative powers, chosen by wide electorates. These assemblies assumed fiscal authority and control of local government, a process shaped by the concurrent emergence of élite groups of successful families.
Such developments were accompanied by the growth of a political culture, with roots in English opposition to Stuart absolutism, drawing on 17th-cent. puritanism and vulgarized Lockianism, later mingled with the opposition rhetoric of country against court, and against Walpole's system, and a belief in New World purity and British corruption. The Great Awakening of the 1740s also revitalized protestant dissent and further distanced many Americans from the claims of an Anglican political and church establishment to authority. But denominational and other interest group rivalries, like those over land, caused internal conflicts. Yet a degree of cultural cohesion and awareness of shared political, commercial, and economic interests was stimulated by the productions of the colonial printing presses, particularly by newspapers. Virginians and New Englanders recounted their short histories as the successful creation of quasi-independent New World societies.
Warfare between France and England in North America in 1754, arising from rivalries in the Ohio valley, therefore necessitated co-operation between a mother country and colonies whose differences were masked by shared ambitions for commercial and territorial victory over a catholic power believed to be seeking universal monarchy. British plans for colonial union in 1754 failed in the colonial assemblies. The course of the Seven Years War revealed the jealous self-interest of the colonial assemblies towards each other and towards London, despite royal governors' and English ministers' orders. Overwhelming advantages in terms of wealth and population enjoyed, for example, by New York and New England over French Canada, together with the deployment of British regular troops, failed to bring victory until 1759–60.
Success brought rejoicing for a God-ordained triumph of protestantism and liberty, even prophecies of a forthcoming millennium. The reality was a huge increase in the British national debt, provoking anxieties about bankruptcy and fears that colonial expansion, no longer checked by the French and their Indian allies, would precipate expensive new conflicts with the frontier tribes, concerns fed by the Cherokee War (1759–61) and by a major middle-colony Indian war in 1763. These and British official memories of colonial military non-cooperation and illegal trade during the Seven Years War suggested that colonial dependence on crown and Parliament might need to be ensured by new British measures. The mood in America also altered as wartime spending was succeeded by deflation and depression and as credit crises in the mother country were increasingly felt. When British ministers introduced new measures to raise larger revenues from America, colonial political awareness was stimulated and diffused and intercolonial co-operation increased. Resistance and then revolution followed.
The loss of the thirteen colonies occurred, however, as British–American trade was again increasing and as British politicians were becoming more involved in schemes to profit from the opening up of western lands. Tobacco imports were changing Glasgow's commerce, Chesapeake wheat was beginning to feed Britain's own growing population, and enormous quantities of American products were being shipped to the sugar islands. British manufactured goods were also pouring into America, leading some historians to claim that the colonies were experiencing a ‘consumer revolution’. Benjamin Franklin believed that the future prosperity of Britain depended on America and that the centre of the British empire might one day be found there. Isaac Barré told the House of Commons in March 1774 that ‘You have not a loom nor an anvil but what is stamped with America.’ Even George III mused on the interdependence of commerce and power, prophesying the West Indies following the Americans ‘not [into] Independence but must for its own interest be dependent on North America: then Ireland would soon follow the same plan … then this Island would be reduced to itself, and soon would be a poor Island indeed, for reduced in her Trade Merchants would retire with their Wealth to climates more to their Advantage, and Shoals of Manufacturers would leave this country for the New Empire.’
Such views illustrate the impact of successful colonial growth on some contemporaries and hinted at the need for an imaginative readjustment of the view that the colonies were still the dependent children of the mother country. But the political nation upheld the sovereignty of crown and Parliament over America. This must not be sacrificed to colonial or trading interests. Schemes on both sides of the Atlantic, either for granting the colonial assemblies a form of equality with the British Parliament or for managing the thirteen colonies by admitting their representatives to the British Parliament, as Scotland had been managed since the Act of Union, found no vital support. In 1776 the thirteen colonies, bolstered by the experience of more than a century of successful growth and a large degree of self-government, declared themselves ‘free and independent states absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the crown and parliament of Great Britain’.
Richard C. Simmons
Greene, J. P., and Pole, J. R. (eds.), Colonial British America: Essays in the New History of the Early Modern Era (Baltimore, 1984);
Simmons, R. C. , The American Colonies from Settlement to Independence (New York, 1976).
"America." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/america
"America." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/america
Attracting a huge audience with their soft-rock sound, America released a string of popular hits in the 1970s. They adhered to their original pop formula over the next two and a half decades, even as the music scene evolved into harder-edged rock in the late 1970s and one of the trio’s original members left to pursue solo interests. Although some critics have faulted the band in the past for their ultramellow sound, their recordings have often been cited for their fine harmonies and superior production.
Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell, and Dan Peek—all sons of U.S. Air Force officers stationed in the United Kingdom—met while in high school in London in 1967. They began playing and writing music together and, with two other friends, formed an acoustic folk-rock quintet called Daze after graduation. Peek enrolled in college, then returned a year later; meanwhile, the two other members of Daze left the band for good. When Peek returned, the remaining threesome—he, Beckley, and Bunnell—decided to continue on as an acoustic trio and started to seek out club work.
Rock promoter Jeff Dexter, who managed a popular London club called the Roundhouse, was very impressed when the group auditioned for him. He began booking them as an opening act for many established bands who played at his club, including Pink Floyd. Now calling themselves America, the trio landed a contract with Warner Bros, in 1970—partly because Dexter was good friends with Ian Samwell, one of the record company’s producers. America began recording songs for its first album at Trident Studios in London, working with Dexter and Samwell. Their first single, “A Horse with No Name,” gave them instant fame as it soared to Number Three on the U.K. pop charts. America was soon likened to a softer version of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Bunnell’s vocals bore more than a passing resemblance to those of Neil Young.
The group’s base of fans grew after they performed on a North American tour with the Everly Brothers. Soon after their return to England, America’s debut million-selling single rose up the U.S. charts to Number One. Their self-titled debut album also made it to the top of the American LP charts. Soon to follow were two more Top Ten singles, “I Need You” and “Ventura Highway.”
Changing their base of operations, the band self-produced and recorded their next two albums in the United States. They returned to London when their next three singles failed to crack the Top 30, then began working with famed Beatles producer George Martin. Martin collaborated regularly with the group through 1979. America enjoyed consistent success with their soft rock sound during much of the 1970s, with the singles “Tin
Original members included Gerry Beckley (born September 12, 1952, in Texas), vocals, guitar; Dewey Bunnell (born January 19, 1952, in Yorkshire, England), vocals, guitar; and Dan Peek (born November 1, 1950, in Panama City, FL; left group, 1977), vocals, guitar.
Formed acoustic folk-rock quintet called Daze in London, 1970; changed named to America and signed contract with Warner Bros., 1970; released first single, “A Horse with No Name,” and debut album, America, 1972; toured North America with the Everly Brothers, 1972; first worked with producer George Martin, 1972; released History: America’s Greatest Hits, 1975; became duo when Peek left group for a solo career in Christian music, 1977; signed with Capitol, 1980; returned to charts after long absence with”You Can Do Magic,“1982; vocalists on soundtrack for animated feature The Last Unicorn; released Hourglass on American Gramaphone, 1994.
Selected Awards: Grammy award for best new artist, 1972.
Addresses: Record company —American Gramaphone, 9130 Mormon Bridge Rd., Omaha, NE 68152.
Man,” “Lonely People,” and “Sister Golden Hair” all making the Top Ten in the States.
After a personal religious awakening, Dan Peek left the group in 1977 to pursue a solo career in Christian music. Beckley and Bunnell decided to carry on as a duo and continued to be a popular concert attraction even though their new songs made little impact. Silent Letter, their first studio album without Peek and final collaboration with Martin, only made it to Number 110 on the U.S. album charts in 1979.
Despite decreasing success, Beckley and Bunnell refused to shift their musical direction. “I remember one recording session in the 1970s where our producer suggested ’Why don’t we put a disco beat here?’” said Bunnell in an American Gramaphone press kit. “But that wasn’t what America was all about. Our core group of fans just weren’t going to buy us going country or disco.”
In 1980 America switched record labels, signing with Capitol. After a six-year absence from the charts, they generated a major hit with “You Can Do Magic,” which made it to Number Eight on the U.S. charts in 1982. Written by songwriter-producer Russ Ballard, the song was the first of their Top Ten hits not to be written by a member of the group. Ballard worked on and off with the duo as a producer from this point on. Beckley and Bunnell also began writing songs with actor Bill Mumy, who as a child had starred in the television series “Lost in Space” in the 1960s.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, America continued to perform and often toured with acts such as Stephen Stills, Three Dog Night, and the Beach Boys. After another change of record companies, the band released Hourglass, their eighteenth album, on American Gramaphone in 1994. Straying from their past practice of writing songs individually, Bunnell and Beckley made a pointed effort to collaborate on the songwriting process from the very beginning for this recording. Featured contributors to the album included Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys and Mannheim Steamroller’s Chip Davis.
Whether their uncompromisingly mellow melodies continue to find an audience in the late 1990s and beyond remains to be seen. Clearly, the duo has no intentions of surprising its audience. As Beckley stated in the American Gramaphone press kit, “We stay very true to form. America’s music has always been acoustic, lyrical, harmonious and accessible. Nothing way to left, or way to the right.”
Singles; on Warner Bros., except as noted
“A Horse with No Name,” 1972.
“I Need You,” 1972.
“Ventura Highway,” 1972.
“Don’t Cross the River,” 1973.
“Tin Man,” 1974.
“Lonely People,” 1974.
“Sister Golden Hair,” 1975.
“You Can Do Magic,” Capitol, 1982.
Albums; on Warner Bros., except as noted
Hat Trick, 1973.
History: America’s Greatest Hits, 1975.
View from the Ground, Capitol, 1982.
Hourglass, American Gramaphone, 1994.
Bronson, Fred, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Volume 1, edited by Colin Larkin, Guinness, 1992.
Hardy, Phil, and Dave Laing, Encyclopedia of Rock, Schirmer Books, 1987.
The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, edited by Donald Clarke, Viking, 1989.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, editors, Rock Movers & Shakers, ABC/CLIO, 1991.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from American Gramaphone publicity materials.
"America." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/america
"America." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/america
- apple pie typical, wholesome American dessert. [Am. Culture: Flexner, 68]
- bald eagle national bird of the U.S.; native only to North America. [Am. Culture: EB, I: 753]
- baseball traditional American sport and pastime. [Am. Sports: EB, I: 850]
- Brother Jonathan the original Uncle Sam. [Am. Hist.: Hart, 110]
- Crossing of the Delaware Washington’s beleaguered army attacks Trenton; famous event in American history (1776). [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 138]
- e pluribus unum motto of the U.S.: Latin ’one out of many.’ [Am. Culture: RHD, 481]
- Fourth of July Independence Day; traditional U.S. holiday; anniversary of adoption of Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776). [Am. Culture: EB, V: 326]
- Liberty Bell symbol of American freedom; at Independence Hall, Philadelphia. [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 284]
- Mayflower ship that brought the founding Puritans. [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 313]
- melting pot America as the home of many races and cultures. [Am. Pop. Culture: Misc.]
- Old Ironsides the frigate Constitution, symbol of U.S. success in War of 1812, now preserved as a museum. [Am. Hist.: Benét, 733]
- Peoria typical mid-American town. [Am. Culture: Misc.]
- Pledge of Allegiance statement of loyalty to the U. S., inaugurated in 1892 upon 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. [Am. Hist.: WB, P: 508]
- Plymouth Rock site of Pilgrim landing in Massachusetts (1620). [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 395–396]
- pumpkin pie traditional dish, especially at Thanksgiving. [Am. Culture: Flexner, 68]
- Red, White and Blue, the colors of the U. S. flag, used in reference to the flag itself and ideals of patriotism. [Am. Hist.: Misc.]
- Silent Majority average Americans of middle class. [Am. Culture: Flexner, 375]
- Star-Spangled Banner, The U.S. national anthem. [Am. Hist.: EB, IX: 532]
- Stars and Stripes nickname for the U.S. flag. [Am. Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 8567]
- Statue of Liberty great symbolic structure in New York harbor. [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 284]
- Thanksgiving annual U.S. holiday celebrating harvest and yearly blessings; originated with Pilgrims (1621). [Am. Culture: EB, IX: 922]
- Uncle Sam personifies people or government of the United States. [Am. Hist.: Hart, 870–871]
- Vespucci, Amerigo (1454–1512) Italian navigator-explorer from whose name America is derived. [Am. Hist.: EB, X: 410]
- Washington, D.C. focus of U.S. government, policies, etc. [Am. Hist.: Hart, 899]
- Washington, George (1732–1799) “the Father of our country”; first U.S. President (1789–1797). [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 535–536]
- White House official residence of the president of the U.S. in Washington, D.C. [Am. Culture: EB, X: 656]
- Yankee to an American, a New Englander; to a Southern American, any Northerner; to a foreigner, any American. [Am. Hist.: Hart, 953]
"America." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/america-0
"America." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/america-0
America's Cup an international yachting race held every three to four years, named after the yacht America, which won it in 1851. The America's owners gave the trophy to the New York Yacht Club as a perpetual international challenge trophy, and it remained in the club's possession for 132 years. An Australian crew won it in 1983, but the Americans won it back in 1987, and held it until 1995, when New Zealand were successful.
"America." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/america
"America." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/america
"America." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/america
"America." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/america
America [for Amerigo Vespucci], the lands of the Western Hemisphere—North America, Central (or Middle) America, and South America. The world map published in 1507 by Martin Waldseemüller is the first known cartographic use of the name. In English, America and American are frequently used to refer only to the United States.
"America." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/america
"America." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/america
- an obsession with America and things American.
- the state or condition of being out of sympathy with or against an ideal of American behavior, attitudes, beliefs, etc. —un-American , n., adj.
"America." -Ologies and -Isms. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/america
"America." -Ologies and -Isms. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/america
"America." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/america
"America." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/america
"America." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/america-0
"America." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/america-0