Colonial American History Term Paper

  • Length: 6 pages
  • Subject: Mythology - Religion
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #8094771

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and Benjamin Franklin's "Advice to a Young Tradesman."

The writings of Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin represent two opposite extremes of Colonial thought. Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is an example of the "Hellfire" religious revivalism that exercised such strong appeal during the period. Thousands turned out to be converted and save at great mass meetings. These people place their absolute trust in God, believing that He alone could save them from the eternal torments of Hell. Only through trust in Him, could any of their endeavors be truly blessed. According to such beliefs, men and women were not masters of their own fate -- all lay in the Hands of God. In contrast, to the extent that Franklin's piece, "Advice to a Young Tradesman" does touch on religion at all, it is a very different sort of religion. From that described by Edwards. Franklin's faith is what could be described as Deism. The Deism viewed the Divinity, most notably, as the "great Watchmaker" who set in motion the Universe, and for the most part, did not directly interfere in the actions of man. Though Franklin does give a nod toward the concept of Divine Intervention with the line, "He that gets all he can honestly, and saves all the gets (necessary expense expected), will certainly become rich, if that Being who governs the world, to whom all should look for a blessing on their honest endeavors, doth not, in His wise providence, otherwise determine."

As Franklin describes it, it is good to be on the side of God, but human beings have their responsibilities as well.

In contrast, Jonathan Edwards calls forth the image of an entirely different universe. In Edwards' view of things, even the greatest kings are but, "are but feeble, despicable worms of the dust, in comparison of the great and almighty Creator and King of heaven and earth. It is but little that they can do, when most enraged, and when they have exerted the utmost of!"

A man cannot look to himself for proof that he will not be condemned to eternal damnation. Salvation can come only from Almighty God. Whereas in Franklin's concept of human existence, a man or woman makes his or her own destiny, finds success as he or she may, in Edward's worldview, virtually every human being stands perpetually at the slippery edge of the Pit. For Edwards, it is only God's Grace that prevents weak human beings from sliding off over the edge at any given instant. Edwards feels that almost all human beings are inherently evil and selfish. They seek their own pleasure and forget their duty to God. While Benjamin Franklin counsels young men to put their resources to good use and to work as hard as they can, and very importantly, to create the appearance that they are working as hard as they can, Edwards strongly disagrees. For the Puritan divine, however, nothing we achieve is that which God has not actively allowed us to have. Appearances can be, and often are, deceiving. Even the most successful and well-beloved individual can die at any moment and be cast down before he or she was ready.

Clearly, Edwards believes in Fate and Predestination, whereas Franklin believes in Hard Work and the Natural Abilities of mankind. Jonathan Edwards holds that a person must live every moment of his or her life as thought it were the last. One must seek out God, devote oneself to God and to righteousness, in the hope -- and it is after all just a hope -- that, in the End, the Almighty will show Mercy. Edwards' God is a wrathful God, a Divinity whose kindness is demonstrated by His supernatural forbearance. A lesser being would long ago have raised his hand against the multitude, and cast down all mankind into the very pit of Hell. Benjamin Franklin's ideas on humanity are entirely different. He firmly believes that what we do, or what we appear to do, is most important. A young man can become wealthy by adopting the appearance of hard work and thrift. He can use money and credit to make more money. Sometimes, yes, God places obstacles in the way of an individual's success, but on the whole God is not a vengeful and antagonistic force. Human beings can indeed be happy in the world in which they live, and can, as well, be successful and secure. In short, these are two very different views of the Universe and man's place within it. Jonathan Edwards and his followers live in a world that is, above all, a world ruled by fear, a world in which one misstep can cause one to become lost forever. Benjamin Franklin, on the other hand, sees hope and a promise of a better and brighter tomorrow, if only we grasp the opportunities that are presented to us. Together, these two thinkers help cement the foundations for the two very different patterns of thought that have helped to shape the American character and nation.

2) The Evolution of Slavery in the Colony of Virginia as Recorded by Colonial Law

Slavery did not develop immediately in England's American colonies. Virginia, the oldest of these colonies, was settled by free English men and women, who sought to make their fortunes by exploiting this New World. The gold and silver that was so readily available to the Spanish in Mexico and South America was soon discovered not exist in any appreciable quantities in Virginia. Virginia's wealth would lie in the land, in agriculture, rather than under the Earth in mines. Tobacco was the first crop to produce a large and consistent cash surplus for the new colonists. However, as with any large scale operation, the successful tobacco plantation required sufficient labor to support it. At the beginning, this labor was provided primarily by Indentured Servants. Indentured Servants served a term of years on the plantations in return for payment of their passage to the New World. A shortfall in European immigrants was made up by purchasing Africans. As slavery did not actually exist under English Law, these Africans were at first treated as indentured servants just like any other laborer who had not come over under power of his or her own pocketbook. The fact that Africans were not treated any differently from Whites is born out by such early laws as the one enacted in March of 1660, that stated, "In case any English servant shall run away in company with any negroes who are incapable of makeing satisfaction by addition of time, Bee it enacted that the English so running away in company with them shall serve for the time of the said negroes absence as they are to do for their owne by a former act."

In other words, the loss of an African laborer was the same as the loss of an English laborer. If the Englishman who helped the African to run away could not pay the cost of the African's indenture, he would have to serve out the remainder of that African's term himself. Thus, there is no distinction made between the two kinds of laborers.

However, with the passage of time, the status of the imported Africans began to change, and rather rapidly. By March of 1662, it is clear from a new statute that while some Afr5icans may hold a status similar to that of indentured Europeans and Native Americans, others clearly do not. Their status is lower and more onerous -- it is the status of the slave. This change can be seen in the negative way in which it is phrased in the enactment: "that what Englishman, trader, or other shall bring in any Indians as servants and shall assigne them over to any other, shall not sell them for slaves nor for any longer time than English of the like ages should serve by act of assembly."

Clearly, an Indian is to be treated like an Englishman, but there are others i.e. Blacks, who are not to be treated in the same way. At this point in time then, it is obvious that that status of Africans brought over to Virginia was in a state of transition. Some of them were evidently being enslaved, while others were still being treated in the traditional way that is as indentured servants. Also, it is evident that not all of the Colonists had yet taken to considering Africans as a different order of being from everyone else if it was thought by some that Europeans or Indians could also be sold as slaves.

By December of the same year, nevertheless, the status of Africans had taken another turn for the worse. While the condition of servitude that had attached to the Indentured Servant had always been temporary and personal, a new act made clear that the same could not be said for Negroes. "WHEREAS some…

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