Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Civil War and Restoration in America

As would later happen during the American Revolution, the American colonies were divided along with the rest of English society throughout the civil wars between Crown and Parliament. The background of each individual colony was to determine how each reacted to the war, regicide and eventual Stuart restoration in 1660.

This was still a formative period for America, and generally the colonies were already more than occupied with political disputes, conflict between religious groups, the Amerindians and simple survival. However, also as during the Revolutionary era, it was the northern colonies which largely favored the cause of Parliament. This is not surprising considering that these were Puritan-dominated areas which naturally looked favorably on the Puritan police-state of Oliver Cromwell. Particularly in the Massachusetts area, these were colonists who had left England because the established Anglican Church was considered “too Catholic” for their more radical tastes. Considering that this attitude existed even in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and King James VI & I, it could only have been strengthened by the even more traditional and conservative King Charles I and his Arminian Archbishop Laud of Canterbury. The Puritans had opposed the Elizabethan uniformity, the Bishop's War fought by King James and were the driving force against the monarchy under King Charles I. In fact, after King Charles II was restored to the throne, Massachusetts was the very last colony to recognize him, refusing to do so until August of 1661.

The colony of Rhode Island, while not exactly enthusiastic, was having enough internal troubles to proclaim Charles II their king in October of 1660, though probably more out of hope of gaining a royal ally than pure devotion to the monarchy. In fact, throughout the conflict, many colonial authorities found it safer to remain neutral and wait for one or the other to emerge victorious before declaring their loyalty.

It was though, in the southern colonies where the monarchy was to find its most widespread support. Again, the situation would be similar during the Revolution, and here also the original foundation of the colonies made the difference. Probably the most firmly loyal colony was Virginia, with Maryland right behind. Of all the colonies, Virginia had been from the very beginning, the most uniformly Anglican of the settlements in America. Here was the colony whose population most resembled a simple transplantation from England.

The Virginia colonists, by and large, were not people running away from persecution or intolerance, nor were they dreaming of establishing a new, radical, utopian society; rather, they were people who came calmly and willingly to North America in search of economic opportunities. Like much of mainstream English society, they were not exactly zealous or extreme on the subject of religion, but they were still firm members of the Church of England and supported the efforts of King Charles I to defend it. To most, religion was simply another form of patriotism, and thus the Parliamentarians were seen as traitors to God and the King for fighting their supreme political and religious leader. Besides being more completely Anglican, they had also benefited from royal favor and so were certainly not enthusiastic about the republican interregnum. Moreover, the restored Charles II was a king very much to the taste of Virginians; being much like themselves, practical, tolerant and able to enjoy himself. These were people who prided themselves on being proponents of common sense rather than religious or political fanaticism.

Probably the second most loyal colony, though still somewhat divided, was Maryland. In this case, the history of the foundation of the colony explains both the turmoil but also the ultimate loyalty of Maryland to the Crown. It has the distinction of being the only colony founded by religious refugees of the Catholic faith. This fact, along with the personal friendship between King Charles I and the colonial proprietor, Lord Baltimore, meant that the founding families of Maryland were very supportive of the monarchy, especially the toleration King Charles showed to Catholics and the restoration of certain Catholic traditions to the Church of England by the Arminians. However, Maryland was a much more diverse colony than many of the others and had a policy of religious toleration. This was a result of the intolerance the Church of Rome had recently suffered under Queen Elizabeth, but also, probably even more so, because there simply were not enough Catholics to make a viable colony. The result was a large portion of more recent immigrants of various smaller Protestant sects who favored the cause of Parliament, in contrast to the older Catholic families who favored the cause of the King. However, Maryland had been founded as a semi-feudal colony, so as the proprietor went, so went the colony, and the proprietor was firmly and zealously royalist.

If this seems to be a somewhat incomplete picture, we must also keep in mind that, at this point in history, the modern area of New York was still the Dutch colony of New Netherland, and would remain so until its conquest in 1664. The Carolinas had, likewise, yet to be firmly established and the rest of the continent was divided between the Kingdom of France and the Kingdom of Spain. When considering that the Dutch Republic had been, more or less, saved from royal reconquest by the English under Elizabeth I, and how horrified were the absolute monarchs of France and Spain at the overthrow and regicide of King Charles I, it is fairly safe to say that the vast majority of North America was on the side of the Crown rather than Parliament.

After the restoration of 1660 conditions in the colonies generally began to improve. Charles II was tolerant and no one, it seemed, had any real problem accepting the few terms he did impose. However, the lack of enthusiasm shown for the restoration of the monarchy in the northern colonies did not go unnoticed. Connecticut and Rhode Island were rewarded for their eagerness to accept the restoration, Connecticut even being given control of New Haven, which had proclaimed for the King only in June of 1661 and which had harbored two of the judges, William Goffe and Edward Whalley, who had voted for the regicide of Charles I.

Massachusetts, however, remained obstinate and repeatedly refused to accept the terms of the new charter proposed by Charles II, despite the earnest assurances of the king that their rights and religion would not be limited or interfered with in any way. In fact, the actions of Massachusetts were coming uncomfortably close to treason. A commission sent by the King found that they had encouraged a policy of non-cooperation with Crown officials, had welcomed and cheered the judges Goffe and Whalley while passing through Boston and that the Massachusetts leadership had been playing for time in the hopes that the recent outbreak of war with Holland would force the Crown to concede. Ultimately, Massachusetts prevailed and was able to continue on as before, under the old charter. This was a result of the fact that the commissioners had been captured by a Dutch ship on their way home, the royal government was still being reestablished and fairly unsteady at the moment, as well as the added burdens of fire and plague in London and a rampaging Louis XIV on the continent, all of which kept Charles II from dealing with Massachusetts. This was also an early case, to be oft repeated later, of Massachusetts taking a hard line against Crown officials and expecting to get their own way.
The most striking thing about the American reaction to the English Civil Wars is the evidence that, in spite of all the time that has past, America has not changed all that much from these early colonial times. Much as it was during the American Revolution and even similar to present day, the northern colonies were the most liberal, politically and religiously, while the south was, from the start it seems, the most conservative. Massachusetts, which was the most reluctant to accept the return of the monarchy, would become the first colony to openly revolt against the Crown while the more loyal colony of Maryland, a hundred years later, was to provide more than a few Tory units to fight against the revolutionaries in that same conflict. We can see how, largely as a result of religious foundation, our colonial roots shaped our views on God, King and country even still today.

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