COLONIAL HISTORY ESSAY SUBJECTS
Social-history themes make great essay material for the AP U.S. History exam. This section covers a couple of ideas that historians love to discuss, which the information in this chapter addresses. There is a fair chance an assigned essay subject will deal with this area.
- The impact of the Great Awakening: The Great Awakening seems to be about religion and, thus, about following cosmic rules, but it also really shook things up socially. Public emotion wasn't something that had been big in Britain, but it was the common experience of religious deliverance in the Awakening. This swept-away feeling helped set the stage for the emotion connected to the Revolution, which would be fought by the grandchildren of the people who attended the Awakening. Awakening preachers often came from congregations outside the religious mainstream. Their very presence outside the church implied that people could be true to God without following all the cues of the established churches. In fact, maybe people had to follow their own hearts to be connected with God's will. The Awakening led to new schools and the beginning of new light ministers. Could a new country be far behind?
- The slavery/freedom paradox: One of the greatest questions in U.S. history is the slavery/freedom paradox. How can one country be the light of freedom in the world and a major exploiter of African slaves? One answer is to see New England as the tower of freedom and abolition and to view the South as the basement of slavery and reaction. But what about Patrick Henry, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, all Southern slaveholders? Another answer is that slavery blurred the boundaries between rich and poor whites in the South and made the idea of equality possible (for everybody but the slaves, of course). This idea gets some support when you consider two other slaveholding beacons of democracy in the ancient world: Greece and Rome.
Historian Edmund Morgan said, "Americans bought their independence with slave labor." A more balanced statement may be that America got economic power from a large-scale application of the system of slavery that was legal in most of the world and far larger in the West Indies and South America. The North and the Middle states didn't need large-scale slavery to make money; they were quite capable of winning their freedom without it. Only four generations after the Revolution, while slavery was making more money than it ever had before, the United States fought the bloodiest war in its history — the Civil War — to free the slaves. That war is one of the only times in history when one people (white Northerners with freed black help) fought for the rights of another people (enslaved black Southerners) — not for conquest or glory, but to put an end to slavery.