Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The People of British America, 1700–75

The People of British America, 1700–75

In 1776, a revolution created a new nation from the British colonies of the Atlantic seaboard. The first colonial revolution for independence followed the emergence of those colonies as the most densely settled region of North America. North of the Rio Grande, the British colonial population of 2.5 million eclipsed the number of native peoples (about 800,000 in 1776) and the small enclaves of French (about 75,000) and Spanish (25,000). Numbers and the relative prosperity of the British colonies gave colonial British leaders a confidence that they could and should achieve independence. But the ethnic, racial, and regional diversity of that colonial population also gave the leading revolutionaries pause. Although most of the Continental Congressmen came from families of English origin, they meant to govern a far more diverse population, which included thousands of Germans, Dutch, Scots, Scots-Irish and at least 500,000 enslaved Africans. With good cause, the Founding Fathers of the revolutionary generation wondered if a union of thirteen disparate states could endure without a greater sense of common identity among the constituent people.

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