The Birth of an American Cultural Identity, Essay Example

The evolution from being colonists who remained loyal British subjects to Americans with a unique sense of cultural identity did not happen overnight. Furthermore, there was no homogenous cultural identity that was common to all colonists or all colonies. As noted in the Schultz text, the British colonies were largely demarcated from a cultural standpoint into four distinct regions; these regions developed their own unique cultural identity that was predicated largely on the economic activity that predominated in each region. The issue of taxation was at the core of much of the resentment for British rule that developed among the colonists, but taxation alone does not suffice in explaining how the colonists developed their own cultural identity. Underpinning the emergence of a unified cultural identity was the fact that the “New World” afforded new opportunities for individuals to create their own wealth and forge their own destiny. These opportunities were uniquely American, and those who took advantage of them were able to build lives for themselves that would have been impossible in their homeland of Great Britain.

As Schultz (2012) describes it, one of the most sizeable classes “in New England society was what the colonists called the ‘natural aristocracy’—merchants and wealthy landholders who made their fortunes in the New World and were not deemed special because of their titles. These men dominated economic affairs and owned an increasingly larger and larger percentage of the area’s wealth.”  This “natural aristocracy” also had its counterparts in other regions, such as the landed gentry of the South. Put simply, the members of this new aristocracy in America were not afforded social status by birthright (as were members of British aristocracy), but by their economic successes in the New World.

Similar social-class phenomena occurred at all levels of American society, as a generation of colonists established farms and businesses, developed their own social structures, and built the colonies into thriving new cities and towns. It is understandable, then, that those who succeeded in turning what began as British-supported business ventures into successful and largely-independent new worlds would begin to resent the efforts of the British to maintain economic and political control of their lives. As succeeding generations were born and raised in the New World, they were increasingly enmeshed in a way of life and a cultural environment that was uniquely American, and the strong-arm taxation tactics of the British were merely the mechanism that triggered a cultural revolution that was, in hindsight, seemingly inevitable.


Schultz, K. M. (2012). HIST2, Volume 1. Retrieved from The University of Phoenix eBook Collection.