Those Ungovernable Colonists

The American colonies must have been an unruly place, full as they were of religious fanatics and slave traders, second sons and fortune hunters, criminals and former political prisoners, and all manner of people in between. The first settlements hugged the coast, where one set of adventurers looked seaward while another looked to the interior wilderness. It was, in retrospect, almost inevitable that North America would quickly become the wealthiest place in the world by the 17th century.

Why? Because those seditionists, fanatics, and gamblers were impossible to rule. While we are counting our blessings this Thanksgiving, let’s not forget to count that one: Our ancestors did not much like being told what to do, and we — and the world — are immeasurably richer and happier for that.

Edmund Burke called the Crown’s attitude toward the colonies “wise and salutary neglect,” but it was as much pragmatism as it was policy. There were many colonies and colonists, they were not of a uniformly obedient type, they were far away — and, most important, they were extraordinarily productive. By the latter half of the 18th century, there were more iron forges in the American colonies than in Britain, the colonies were exporting millions of barrels of flour and tons of other agriculture products, and one out of three ships in the British merchant fleet was American-built. The economy was booming, and most of the population still lived in rural or semi-rural areas, far from the amusements of urban life, which may explain….

By Kevin D. Williamson – National Review Online –