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The Formation of the American Society

By nightshadowangel Feb 26, 2013 1378 Words
The formation of the American society
Mid-term essay

In this poem I will analyze the conditions which led to the formation of the American society, namely, the Protestants’ views on the colonization of America, their religious status in England and how it influenced their decision to leave for the Promised Land, their idea of America, and their explanation for the clashes with the Native Americans.

The Puritans, the Separatists and the Quakers which were English Protestant groups believed that the measures taken by the Church of England to eliminate Catholic practices from the Church were insufficient. The Puritans, for example, presented to King James I the Millenary Petition in which they requested the reformation of the Anglican Church, but the king perceived the act as a threat to his power and started persecuting them. In addition, the Separatists believed “that there was no hope whatsoever of purifying the Anglican Church of its Catholic tendencies”[1] and were persecuted for not abiding to the religious practices, while the Quakers were deported or imprisoned because they were considered by the English a threat to the state and Church for their rebellious acts. “To convince others of the truth of their doctrines, Quakers did not hesitate to interrupt church services, assault clergymen”[2] and they “refused to serve in the militia or even pay taxes that might be devoted to military purposes.”[3] In consequence, they all turned their eyes towards the American land, because their homes did not offer protection anymore.

The Pilgrims, in particular, started considering themselves “the second chosen people”[4] of God comparing themselves with the Jews and argued that the land was theirs by divine right. (“The land was ours before we were the land’s.”[5]) The Protestants moved to America “In Massachusetts, in Virginia,”[6] and started living according to their beliefs and laws, but despite owning the American land they did not severe the ties with England (“But we were England’s, still colonials.”[7])

Before arriving, the Protestants considered themselves a nation predestined to own the American land (“She was our land more than a hundred years/ Before, we were her people.”[8]) and they dreamed of building “a city upon a hill”[9] and offer a “worthy model for other nations.”[10] However, in order to create the “pure” society they dreamed of, Protestants needed to create a new culture as well, that was not corrupt like the English one. They came possessing the idea of America, “a slightly improved version of the Garden of Eden, overflowing with nature’s bounties”[11] where they could build the “most perfect society.”[12] Upon arriving, however, they started owning land and the idea of America was sculpted through fiction into history (“Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,/ Possessed by what we now no more possess.”[13]) This is unusual because in Europe, history was written based on the events people went through. In America, however, first there was the dream, the idea of America, and history was made to fit this idea.

However, upon coming to the “land of promise,”[14] the colonists found it invaded by Native Americans and started fighting for what they believed was their right (“The deed of gift was many deeds of war/ To the land vaguely realizing westward.”[15]) The Native Americans, on the other hand, viewed the colonists as invaders and tried to protect their homes. The result was clashes among the two peoples. The colonists believed that the only impediment standing against the colonization of a land that was rightfully theirs was their will (“We were withholding from our land of living,/ And forthwith found salvation is surrender.”[16]) “God makes room for his people”[17] so “he casts out the enemies of a people before them by lawful warre with the inhabitants.”[18] The colonists won due to their superior technology and recorded these events in the forms of letters, stories and captivity narratives which became historical documents. Thus, the perspective on the Native Americans as being savages is given by the early forms of fiction written by the colonists, literature which is highly influenced by promotional purposes or the mentality that “it was their duty to make his [God’s] favor known to the rest of the world.”[19]

Due to the fact that Protestants saw the Native Americans as a nation of heathen barbarians capable of “a series of the most unexampled cruelty and barbarity,”[20] they disesteemed them as a cultural civilization. Believing that God had sent them to “turn wilderness to garden”[21], they considered themselves “authorized to destroy old cultures”[22] and instruct them according to the superior European civilization standards (“But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,/ Such as she was, such as she would become.”[23]) These standards could be achieved by living according to the cult of the “self-made man”[24] because for the Puritans “economic success would come to those of pious diligence as a blessing from God.”[25] Also, for economical and religious motives, they wanted the Indians to change their beliefs and ways of life in order to be part of their “superior system.”[26] Crevecoeur argues that when the settlers came to America they also brought along “the embryos of all arts and sciences and ingenuity which flourish in Europe,”[27] prepared to build a successful society

In conclusion, the conditions that led to the formation of the American society are linked to the Protestants’ doctrine and the English historical circumstances which determined their leave. The Protestants fled to America because they were persecuted in their country for their religious views. Through the interpretation of the Bible they compared themselves to the Jews and started considering themselves the “second chosen people”. Consequently, the idea of America, a land destined for them where they could build an exemplary society, was born and they tried to make it real through literature. However, when the settlers arrived, they discovered that the Native Americans were unwilling give up their territories. This came into conflict with the Protestants’ belief that the land was promised to them by God and so, the wars started.

Bibliography:
1. Billington, Ray Allen, Prologue: Early Visions of the New World 2. Cotton, John, Gods Promise to His Plantation
3. Crevecoeur, Hector St. Jean de, What is an American, 1781 4. Frost, Robert, The Gift Outright
5. Reich, Jerome R., The Background of English Colonization 6. Șerban, Codruț, A city upon a hill: The Beginnings of Colonial America 7. Williamson, Peter, French and Indian Cruelty, Exemplified in the Life and Various Vicissitudes of Fortune 8. Robert Frost: Poems Summary and Analysis: http://www.gradesaver.com/the-poetry-of-robert-frost/study-guide/section19/ 9. The Gift Outright by Robert Frost: http://www.enotes.com/gift-outright-salem/gift-outright

Emilia Chira
University of Suceava

-----------------------
[1] Reich, Jerome R., The Background of English Colonization, p. 54 [2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] [5]erban, Codru[6], A city upon a hill: The Beginnings of Colonial America, p. 3 [7] Frost, Robert, The Gift Outright
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Frost, Robert, The Gift Outright
[11] Șerban, Codruț, A city upon a hill: The Beginnings of Colonial America, p. 3 [12] Frost, Robert, The Gift Outright
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Frost, Robert, The Gift Outright
[16] Șerban, Codruț, A city upon a hill: The Beginnings of Colonial America, p. 3 [17] Ibid.
[18] Billington, Ray Allen, Prologue: Early Visions of the New World, p. 1 [19] Crevecoeur, Hector St. Jean de, What is an American, 1781, p. 1 [20] Frost, Robert, The Gift Outright
[21] Cotton, John, Gods Promise to His Plantation
[22] Frost, Robert, The Gift Outright
[23] Ibid.
[24] Cotton, John, Gods Promise to His Plantation
[25] Ibid.
[26] Șerban, Codruț, A city upon a hill: The Beginnings of Colonial America, p. 6 [27] Williamson, Peter, French and Indian Cruelty, Exemplified in the Life and Various Vicissitudes of Fortune, p. 1 [28] Șerban, Codruț, A city upon a hill: The Beginnings of Colonial America, p. 3 [29] Ibid.

[30] Frost, Robert, The Gift Outright
[31] Șerban, Codruț, A city upon a hill: The Beginnings of Colonial America, p. 3 [32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Crevecoeur, Hector St. Jean de, What is an American, 1781, p. 1

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