The 18th century in British North America was characterized by three major movements: the Enlightenment, the Great Awakening, and the Wars for Empire. These movements profoundly impacted the British colonists in North America, helping to unite them in various ways. While these movements brought together people from diverse backgrounds and helped to unify the colonists, they also created new conflicts and divisions in several ways.
One of the ways in which these movements helped to unite the colonists was through the promotion of a shared cultural identity. The Enlightenment helped to spread new ideas about government, religion, and personal freedom, which would later become integral parts of the American identity (Corbett et al., 2014). The Great Awakening also helped create a shared cultural identity by bringing together people from different religious backgrounds to share a common religious experience.
Similarly, the movements helped unite the colonists through the shared experience of resistance against British rule. The Wars for Empire, notably the American Revolution, brought the colonists together in their struggle for independence from Britain (Corbett et al., 2014). This shared experience of resistance helped create a sense of unity and purpose among the colonists, and it laid the foundation for forming the United States as a sovereign nation.
The Wars for Empire had an economic impact on unifying the colonists. The struggle for independence from Britain required the colonists to work together to build a strong economy that could support the war effort. Creating a Continental Army, for example, required coordinating economic resources across the colonies (Corbett et al., 2014). The Enlightenment and the Great Awakening also helped promote the colonists’ entrepreneurial spirit. The emphasis on individual liberty and personal initiative encouraged people to start their businesses, which helped stimulate economic growth in the colonies.
The movements produced tension in British North America. While these movements brought together people from diverse backgrounds and helped to unify the colonists, they also created new conflicts and divisions in several ways. The Enlightenment, for example, challenged traditional religious and political beliefs, which led to tension between those who embraced its ideas and those who opposed them (Corbett et al., 2014). This division was particularly pronounced in the South, where many slaveholders saw the ideas of the Enlightenment as a threat to their way of life.
The Great Awakening also produced tension, bringing together people from different religious backgrounds and challenging traditional religious institutions like the Church of England. This led to a division between those who embraced the revivalist spirit of the Great Awakening and those who opposed it. The Wars for Empire also produced tension, as they pitted the American colonies against Britain and created division between those who supported independence and those who opposed it (Corbett et al., 2014). This division was particularly pronounced in the years leading up to the American Revolution and eventually led to the break-up of the British Empire.
In conclusion, by fostering individualism and personal liberty, fostering a sense of cultural identity and entrepreneurship, and providing a common experience of resistance against British rule, the Enlightenment, the Great Awakening, and the Wars for Empire helped bring the British colonists in North America together. These movements created the groundwork for the creation of the United States and shaped the American identity. Additionally, while these initiatives promoted unity among the British colonists in North America, they also sparked fresh conflicts and divisions. The American Revolution and the creation of the United States as an independent nation were ultimately influenced by these tensions.
Corbett, P. S., Janssen, V., Lund, J. M., Pfannestiel, T., Waskiewicz, S., & Vickery, P. (2014). U.S. History. OpenStax. https://openstax.org/books/us-history/pages/2-1-portuguese-exploration-and-spanish-conquest