Women of Washington

Communicating America’s Founding Principles

Women of Washington is an educational organization with a focus on understanding local, national, and global issues that are critical to our world today.

IN SEARCH FOR FREEDOM Essays on America’s Founding

INTRODUCTION

For over 200 years, the United States of America has represented a beacon for freedom-seeking people from around the world.  This country is unique in that it was created when the principles of individual rights were enshrined in our founding documents: the Declaration of Independence; the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  Today, foreign travelers applying for U.S. citizenship are required to study and pass tests relating to our founding documents and, once approved, they are welcomed as American citizens in the freest, most ethnically diverse country on the earth.

However, prior to the founding of America in 1776, the people who settled the first colonies in the New World were not free.  Throughout the 1600s and first half of the 1700s they were subjects of England’s King George III.  Unlike their cousins in England, they were not allowed to have representatives in Parliament but were expected to abide by the laws set forth by their Parliament overlords.  English governors, judges, and the military were sent to ensure that the colonists followed the laws and paid their taxes.  In time, Parliament’s abuses increased to the point of being unbearable, causing great unrest among the colonies.   

Before the internet, modern media, or even telephones, word spread quickly throughout the colonies that in a Virginia town square, Patrick Henry railed about “Taxation without representation!” and proclaimed, “Give me liberty or give me death!”  Likewise, in 1775, when the British army clashed with the Patriots on Bunker Hill, the news reached the other colonies that it was time to take a stand against the king’s tyranny.  After considerable deliberation among its colonial representatives, in 1776, America’s First Continental Congress presented King George with their Declaration of Independence.

The king and his court considered the colonist’s Declaration of Independence to be an act of insurrection.  His government responded by sending a powerful naval fleet to the colonies to put down a possible rebellion.  A grueling eight-year-long war between the colonists and Britain ensued, but when the British army surrendered at Yorktown in 1781, the Americans were finally free from monarchical bondage.      

The following IN SEARCH FOR FREEDOM essay series will present a narrative of world events leading up to the English colonization of the New World, and of the lives of the courageous people who renounced 5000 years of authoritarian rule of monarchs and created America.

The history of the New World colonies began in 1607 when the Jamestown Colony was established and named after its benefactor, King James.  Over the next 170 years, a total of thirteen English colonies were created along the eastern seaboard, from Georgia to Massachusetts.         

Through these essays, you will learn how the colonial boyhood years of people like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and George Washington helped form them into the leaders their country needed during its tumultuous years of statehood.  You will also be introduced to some of the patriots whose stories may have been lost to history.  You will meet the dedicated undercover agents in General George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring.  Another hero was Salem Poor, a black man who fought bravely against the British at Bunker Hill, as well as throughout the Revolutionary War.  And, while we all know the story of Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride, we will also meet another Patriot, Sybil Ludington.  When word reached her Connecticut farm that British troops were on the attack, as her father began to assemble the local farmers in preparation to defend their homes and families, 16-year-old Sybil mounted her horse and rode through the night warning others in their community that, “The British are burning Danbury!”

America’s first founding document, the Declaration of Independence, declared that “All men are created equal…”  It is notable that, prior to1776, the colonies had been English vassals for over for over a century and a half.  However, history shows that enslaved people from most ethnic backgrounds had been used to bolster the economies of most cultures worldwide.  As early as 1500 BC, slavery was common in Mesopotamian cultures.  By the 1600s, African slave traders and sea merchants from the Dutch East-India Company developed a steady stream of slaves to be transported to countries surrounding the Indian Ocean, European countries, and eventually across the Atlantic.  However, slavery was not new to the cultures of the western hemisphere.  The African slaves were added to the ranks of indigenous slaves already working in the mines and rubber plantations of South America, as well as in the, sugar cane, and tobacco fields in the Caribbean Islands.  During the next 400 years, of the 11,000 African slaves being shipped to the New World, just 3% were sent to North America.              
To better understand slavery, our first essay, entitled “World Wide Slavery”, will attempt to bring perspective on how widespread human bondage has been among the cultures of the world.  In terms of North America, as early as the 1500s, European governments, including those of England, France, and Spain, laid claim to various territories on this continent.  The 13 American colonies declared their independence from England in 1776.  As the colonists, now called Americans, were free to govern themselves, the northern colonies began a movement to stop the spread of slavery.  However, owning slaves had been an integral part of the culture of the southern colonies since England established Jamestown in 1607.

Hostilities over slave ownership began to grow between the northern and southern states, resulting in a four-year-long Civil War between the Union and the Confederate armies.  After the deaths of 600,000 Americans, on both sides, the Union ultimately won the war, and the institution of slavery in America was officially ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on December 6, 1865, 89 years after America won its freedom from the monarchy of England.            

Unfortunately, even today, slave labor is prevalent in certain parts of the world. it is important to continue to educate ourselves and learn about current abolition movements whose efforts are exposing the cruelty of modern-day slavery.

There are numerous courses to take, books to read, and web sites to surf, where scholars, history buffs, and people interested in learning about human affairs can enhance their knowledge of the people and world events that shaped society as we know it.  As you read the following “In Search of Freedom” essays, we encourage you to explore the references which have been provided to gain more details on the given subject.