Robert Kennedy's  United States History Class

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Learning Objective One
Define salutary neglect and discuss the background and development of Puritanism: 1620-1686

The definition of "Salutary Neglect" is Great Britain's unintended policy to allow its American colonies to develop independently politically, socially, and economically.   

Salutary neglect occurred in three time periods. From 1607 to 1696, England had no coherent imperial policy regarding specific overseas possessions and their governance, although mercantilist ideas were gaining force and giving general shape to trade policy. From 1696 to 1763, England (and after 1707 the Kingdom of Great Britain) tried to form a coherent policy through the Navigation acts but did not enforce it. Lastly, from 1763 to 1775 Britain began to try to enforce stricter rules and more direct management, driven in part by the outcome of the Seven Years War in which Britain had gained large swathes of new territory in North America at the Treaty of Paris in 1763. 

Salutary neglect was a large contributing factor that led to the American Revolutionary War. Since the imperial authority did not assert the power that it had, the colonists were left to govern themselves. These essentially sovereign colonies soon became accustomed to the idea of self-control. They also realized that they were powerful enough to defeat the British (with help from France), and decided to revolt. The effects of such prolonged isolation eventually resulted in the emergence of a collective identity that considered itself separate from Great Britain.

To best understand how the process of Salutary Neglect it is useful to examine the Puritan Movement  of the seventeenth century.  

To be a Puritan in the sixteenth and seventeenth century was not a simple, clear-cut thing.  There was no formal organization, no political party, not even a church called "Puritan."  It was a social movement that was not clearly defined and often underground and revolutionary. In many ways it was a movement aimed at recovering a "lost" way of life-- communal values .

The leaders of the movement almost never used the term "Puritan," in fact it was a word used most often by their critics. Puritanism originated in England in the mid 1500's when a group of religious reformers sought to "purify" the Church of England of bishops, church courts, and other remnants of Catholicism.

The English Crown, which under Henry VIII had renounced Catholicism, replaced it with the Anglican Church. The Anglican Church, or the Church of England as it came to be called, retained many aspects of Roman Catholic theology and ceremony.

During Queen Elizabeth's reign (1558-1603), a noticeable trend toward Protestant doctrine and ceremony developed.  By the time King James I (1603-1625) came to the throne, some Englishmen were content with the Anglican Church as it was; others hoped to reintroduce much of the ritual and some of the tenets of Catholicism, although they had no desire to return to papal control; and still others took an extreme Protestant position.



The extreme Protestants were called Puritans because they wanted to "purify" the Anglican Church still further.  With official Anglican doctrine the Puritans had no quarrel; but they wished to do away with bishops, deans, and all clergy above the rank of parish priests, to abolish set prayers, and to reorganize
the Church either by a hierarchy of councils (Presbyterianism), or on the basis of a free federation of independent parishes (Congregationalism).

The Puritans were mostly members of the urban middle class. Engaged in trade and commerce, they resented James' arbitrary and illegal taxation and wanted to secure laws for the protection and expansion of English commercial interests.  Puritans all agreed on what was wrong with the Anglican Church, but they disagreed on how to make it right.  They all relied on the Bible for guidance and they all extracted different opinions from it about how God wanted his Churches to be run. Consequently by the late 1500s early 1600s Puritanism was divided into three main groups:

  • Presbyterians wanted a central authority or a hierarchy of councils and accepted all comers into the faith.  They made no distinction between 'visible saints' and inhabitants as the Congregationalists did.

  • The Congregationalists were organized into independent parishes with each congregation governing itself (but with a state supported religion) and was made up of only true believers--'visible saints' versus inhabitants.

  • The Congregationalists wanted to purify the Church from within, but later established the colony of Massachusetts Bay, for religious reasons, as internal improvements were found to be impossible in the Old World.

  • (The Separatists, the most radical group, felt the Church could not be purified from within and to support such a corrupt institution was like shaking hands with the devil; thus, they wanted to separate and form their own church. The Separatists also felt that each congregation had the right to completely govern itself and thus rejected the idea of a state imposed religion--separation of church and state.

The two leading religious sects in England were Presbyterian and Congregationalist, and the Separatists both took much of their theological beliefs from John Calvin.  Although the Separatists were the smallest group within the Puritan movement, they were considered the most dangerous by the Crown because they were the most radical.




Learning Objective Two
Discuss the background to and the development of New Plymouth and how it represents the principle of "Salutary Neglect".

With the continued growth of the Separatists in England the Anglican Church and governmental  authorities became quite hostile towards the movement.   Consequently , between  1608 and 1609 many of the Separatists fled to Holland--Leyden and Scrooby--where they eked out a hard living.  After living in the Netherlands for some time, many of the Separatists feared that they were losing their distinct identity as their children were losing contact with their native English culture and they themselves were prevented from participating in the Dutch guild or union system. 


With these problems , plus the fear that Spain (a Catholic country) might conquer the Netherlands , led some Separatists, among them William Bradford (later to become governor of the colony), to organize a movement to go to the New World where they might have a more favorable  environment.   Money presented the major obstacle to their plans so they petitioned for a land patent and a loan from the Virginia Company of London. 

According to the terms of the contract that was drawn up, they would accompany a body of non-Pilgrims on a voyage to some of the unclaimed lands of Virginia and the company would also advance them 700. 

In return the colonists would work seven years for the Virginia Company . At the end of this time, all the profits derived from fishing or trading would be divided between the settlers and the merchants. 


On September 16, 1620, the Mayflower sailed with  101 people for the New World .  A baby was born on the way over so 102 people arrived at Cape Cod on November  11, 1620, too late to plant any crops.


This area was outside the domain of the Virginia Company, and consequently the settlers became squatters. They were without legal right to the land and without specific authority to establish a government, a serious matter since some sailors who were not Pilgrims threatened mutiny.

Before disembarking, and in order to avoid anarchy, 41 men agreed to "covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politick." The Pilgrim leaders drew up and signed the brief Mayflower Compact. Consequently, a contract or social compact voluntarily drawn up by the settlers themselves became the foundation of government in early Plymouth.   Every member had the right to vote for the governor and his assistants, which meant that everyone had a voice in determining policy.

 Hence, the Mayflower Compact stands with the Virginia Assembly of 1619 as a foundation to the basic principles of  American self-government.  (The seeds of self-government in the House of Burgesses and the Mayflower Compact were the products of the constitutional evolution within England which dated back to the Magna Carta of 1215.  (These transplanted ideas (germ theory) were eventually to be modified and molded into institutions, in some cases so distinctively as to embody eventually an American· character. 


The Compact was the foundation of the colony's government and served as such until 1686 when the King combined the colony with the rest of New England in a vast new colony called the Dominion of New England. 

Plymouth never received a charter from the King and was the only colony not to do so.  However, the Council for New England which had control over the area by way of a charter from the King did grant a patent for title to the land in 1621 giving each settler 100 acres. (The boundaries of the patent were not spelled out at this time.)   The fact that the colonists from the Plymouth colony were able to govern themselves from 1620 until 1686 (when the King combined them with the rest of the New England colonies into a vast new colony called the Dominion of New England) demonstrates a good deal of neglect on the part of England in administrating her colonies.  It is because of this neglect and other situations that will be discussed later that the period from Jamestown in 1607 until the end of the French and Indian War in 1763 will be defined as a period of "salutary neglect." 

The phrase "salutary neglect" is justified in describing this period because all of the colonies within a relatively short period of time were able to become virtually independent, acknowledging allegiance to whatever authority had control in England, but making their own laws, trading · where they pleased, defending themselves without help from home and working out and developing their own institutions and value system. 

The significance of this period is that it allows the American Revolution as an evolutionary process to take place.  It is during this time that the colonists in Virginia, Georgia, New Plymouth and the rest of England's continental colonies were developing their own economic, political, social and cultural identity.  This new identity was a reflection of the new set of values and the new ways of doing things that led to the development of. new institutions that were emerging from the colonies.  This can be exemplified in several ways.  

First by the colonial practice of annual elections of all officers--governor as well the colonial legislature--on a definite date.  This practice became popular throughout the colonies and still survives in the federal government, with the election of the President, senators, and representatives on the same day. 

Next, in the area of representation, the differences were significant. In order to vote or hold office in the colonies a man had to be a land owner or freeholder in the colony, county or town were he was running for office--GEOGRAPHIC REPRESENTATION. 

The English believed in VIRTUAL REPRESENTATION-­ representation of classes and interests rather than of localities.  The concept held that, since all of the interests of the empire's citizens were considered in Parliament, all were therefore "virtually" represented in that forum. 


 It made little difference that large numbers of Englishmen did not actually elect representatives to Parliament this was irrelevant because the members of that body represented not the concerns of individuals or locales but rather the interests of the nation and the empire as a whole. 

Hence, American institutions began to diverge from English institutions at an early age.  The divergence occurred during the formative stage in colonial development thereby allowing the colonist to develop their own way of doing things . This had a major impact in the decade after 1763 when the period of "salutary neglect" ended and England tried to enforce her institutions, values and ways of doing things on the colonists. 

A statement from John Adams made to Thomas Jefferson in 1818, reflecting back on the developmental growth of the colonies best describes this process . 

"But what do we mean by the American Revolution?  Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people .... this radical  change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution ." 

Another significant point about New Plymouth was that no group of settlers in America were so ill-fitted by experience and equipment to cope with the wilderness_ as this little band of peasants, town laborers, and shipkeepers; yet none came through their trials so magnificently . 

The Pilgrims' first winter of 1620-1621 saw only 44 out of the 102 survive. At one time only seven were well enough to lay the dead in their frosty graves.  Yet when the Mayflower sailed back to England in the spring, not a single one of the courageous band of Pilgrims left.   These Pilgrims have set forth in acts, as in words, the stout-hearted individualistic idealism in action that Americans admire; that is why Plymouth Rock has become a symbol in our society .

Learning Objective Three
Discuss the early settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and demonstrate your understanding of how this colony was a prime example of salutary neglect

While the Colony of New Plymouth was struggling along in the 1620s, a dozen fishing and trading posts were founded along the New England coast from southern Maine to Massachusetts Bay, and in some cases without permission. One of these trading posts established in 1626 was developed at present day Salem and was taken over by a group of leading Congregationalists in 1628.    

After obtaining a charter for the Massachusetts Bay Company from King Charles I in 1629, when Anglo-Catholic pressure began to be severely felt, the Congregationalists voted to transfer charter, government, and members to New England. The colony got off to a fast start with a well-equipped expedition in 1630, with 11 ships carrying 900 to 1,000 men and women who founded Boston and seven other towns nearby.     

The transfer of the Massachusetts Bay charter and the results of the transfer represent an important element in the development of American institutions.   With both the charter and company in America, the colony became practically independent of England.   The "freemen," as stockholders were then called, became voters and elected the governor, deputy-governor and assistants who made up the upper branch of the legislative assembly.    Thus, neither the King nor Parliament had any say in the Massachusetts government. The franchise or right to vote was restricted to church members, which prevented non-Congregationalists  from participating  in the government.


 In 1635, the English government tried to revoke the Massachusetts Bay Company charter, but the colony refused to return it. After numerous delays and pleas from Massachusetts, plus internal political and religious problems within England, England finally was in a position to revoke the charter in June of 1684 after allowing almost 50 years of self-government to develop. "Salutary neglect" again became the unofficial policy of the English government which allowed for truly American institutions, such as "geographical representation" versus "virtual representation ," to be developed within the American environment out of the European model.

Between 1686-1689 England attempted to end "salutary neglect" with the creation of the Dominion of New England . The Dominion was a vast new colony which included all of New England plus New York and New Jersey .

The Dominion was to serve several purposes.
  •  Most important , the Dominion was designed to promote urgently needed efficiency in the administration of the English Navigation Acts.  
  • The Navigation Acts sought to stitch the colonies more tightly to the mother country and to cut off American trade with countries not ruled by the English Crown. 
  •  The Dominion was also an attempt to lighten the cost of Administration and generally tighten the over all control of the colonies.  
  • Finally the Dominion was aimed at bolstering colonial defense in the event of war with the Native Americans and the French in Canada.

The headquarters for the Dominion was in Boston and Sir Edmund Andros was made the governor of the new colony. Andros, who had been a professional soldier, had shown earlier as governor of New York that he could be a skilled colonial administrator.


At the demand of King James II all colonial legislatures were dissolved , and Andros and the local councils appointed by the King assumed all of the judicial and legislative power .  Andros charged quite rents and laid heavy restrictions on the press and schools.  The results of Andros' actions forced the liberty-loving colonists, accustomed to unusual privileges during long decades of neglect, to the edge of revolt.

Meanwhile in Europe, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 disposed of James and created an opportunity for the colonists to rid themselves of the Dominion. When word reached Massachusetts that William and Mary had been offered the crown in England, the Congregationalists  wasted little time in jailing Andros and his council in what resulted in a bloodless revolution by over  1,000 armed colonists.

The justification  for the overthrow was that the Dominion was part of James' tyrannical policies and was no longer a legal or valid institution.  Massachusetts, though rid of Andros, did not gain as much from the upheaval as she had hoped.  In 1691 the colony was ·made a royal colony, with a new charter and a new royal governor.  Worst of all, the privilege of voting, once a monopoly of church members, was to be enjoyed by all qualified male property owners.




The rise and fall of the Dominion marks a turning point in American history.  Success would have led to the unification of the colonies under two separate governors; if successful, the rest of the colonies would have been combined into a Southern Dominion and the reduction of colonial self-government would have taken place. Also, if successful, there would have been no colonies to become states after the American Revolutionary War and, possibly, no American Revolution .


Learning Objective Four
Discuss the Treaty of Paris of 1763 and show HOW and WHY the
Treaty had such a profound impact on "salutary neglect" and hence the relationship between England and its colonies

Until 1763, a sense of unity among the colonists was missing; however, by  1 775 the fumbling policies of Parliament had provided this sense of unity.


By 1776 the American Revolution had been completed in every way but the war itself.

"But what do we mean by the American Revolution?  Do we mean the American War? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people .... This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution ."


The war was fought by the American colonists to keep the rights they had in practice.  The only thing the colonists wanted was the right to manage their own affairs within the British Empire. (The colonists wanted to maintain the status quo; the English wanted to change it).

But the Americans insisted that they were already carrying their full share, and contributing, directly and indirectly, to the maintenance of the imperial government up to the limit of their capacities.  The colonies had incurred a debt of over£2.5 million in supporting the war and the estimated colonial commerce brought in an annual profit of more than£2 million to English merchants.  This did not count the port duties collected by the English government on American trade.