In 1620, Pilgrims seeking religious freedom travelled from England to the New World aboard the Mayflower. They landed off the coast of Cape Cod well outside the limits of the Virginia Company Charter. As a result, before they left the ship, the men drafted and signed an agreement called the Mayflower Compact. This document was an agreement among the men to create a government. The Mayflower Compact helped establish the idea that the people create government based on consent of the governed. As a result, the Mayflower Compact served as a precedent to the creation of the government for the United States.
The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut was adopted in 1639 and was the first written constitution in North America. Thomas Hooker was the author of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. This document created a “General Court” that had legislative, executive, and judicial authority. It helped to advance the idea of representative government. It provided that all freemen elect their representatives, and it put some limits on government’s power. Consequently, it set the example of a written constitution as the basis for government.
In the 1650’s, the American colonies were forced to trade with England by a series of acts passed by Parliament known as the Navigation Acts. According to these laws, American colonies were required to trade mainly with Great Britain, buying Britain’s manufactured goods in exchange for the colonists selling them their raw materials. For example, the colonists sold the British lumber and the British sold the colonists furniture made from that lumber. Manufactured goods were more expensive than raw products. As a result, this mercantile trade policy allowed Great Britain to increase its wealth. These acts were not heavily enforced (salutary neglect) by the British until they needed money to pay for the French and Indian War. When they attempted to enforce these acts, colonial unrest increased.
Benjamin Franklin proposed the Albany Plan of Union in 1754. It was the first formal proposal to unite the colonies during the early months of the French and Indian War. The Albany Plan called for each of the colonies to send representatives to a Grand Council in Albany, New York. This council would be able to collect taxes, raise armies, make treaties, and start new settlements. It was not viewed as a desire on the part of the colonies to seek independence from England. However, the Articles of Confederation, the plan of government adopted by the colonies after winning independence was similar to Franklin’s plan. Seven colonies attended the Albany Congress and adopted the plan in 1754. However, the Albany Plan was never adopted by the remaining colonial governments who feared it would limit their own authority.
The “Join or Die” cartoon was the first political cartoon to appear in any newspaper in the colonies. It was published in Benjamin Franklin’s newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette, and urged the colonists to unite and assist the British during the French and Indian War. The cartoon was a picture of a snake cut into two and based on the superstition that the snake would come to life if the pieces were joined together. The cartoon encouraged the colonies to unite with the message, “Join or Die.” It is one of the earliest examples of a call for colonial unity.
The Treaty of Paris ending the French and Indian War was signed in 1763. The treaty gave land previously held by the French in North America to the British. This included Canada and their land east of the Mississippi excluding Florida which was controlled by Spain. To reward Spain for its help in the French and Indian War, France gave Spain New Orleans and all land west of the Mississippi River. The treaty effectively ended French colonial power in North America.