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The Early Years of American Law

Colonial Freedom

By the 1750s the American colonists enjoyed the situation within which they found themselves. Distant from British rule, they had grown accustomed to a personal, political, and economic independence unheard of back in England for commoners. The colonies basically consisted of small agricultural settlements whose residents steadily converted woodlands to croplands. Plenty of land was at hand to claim and develop though much to the detriment (harm) of the existing American Indian populations who were shoved aside. Most families had enough land to satisfactorily support themselves, while in England as well as the rest of Europe, laborers and farmers had little freedom or property. Small farmers in European countries were largely tenant farmers, meaning they had to rent their land from wealthy landowners.

British officials were quite aware of the freedom and independence the colonists were growing accustomed to. They looked on it as a threat to traditional British social order they hoped to maintain in their worldwide colonial empire. Emigration (moving from one country to another) from Britain to the colonies was steadily increasing. Over a twenty-year period from 1754 to 1775 the colonial population grew from 1.5 to 2.5 million people, a 67 percent increase. British leaders feared the colonies were attracting so many common laborers away from England that soon wages for workers who stayed in England might have to rise. A trend of fewer workers earning higher wages could not only affect productivity but Britain's competitive edge in the world market.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawThe Early Years of American Law - Colonial Freedom, Britain's Push For Greater Control, A New Start, A New Criminal Court System