Colonial Political Thought and Independence

November 2020

The Colonial Charters of Virginia established the rights of settlers, and these rights became the basis of Colonial-era political thought. They were repeated in Revolutionary texts to cite the grievances of colonists and to justify their declaring independence from the British. These rights of settlers cited in the Charters inherently implied they could develop economic and political activities, and Jefferson preserved this when he was tasked with writing the Declaration. This piece makes three claims. First, the political philosophy that the natural rights of men entitled them to democratically governed economic and political activity, stated implicitly in the Charters and similarly repeated in the Boston Pamphlet and Declaration of Independence, predates enlightenment thinkers and this political philosophy was learned from the British system. Secondly, this philosophy has a basis in economic rights, and this basis, as well as liberty left for colonists’ decision-making in the Charters, provided the foundation for expanded political rights and political development in the Colonial era. Thirdly, fundamental colonial political philosophy was largely unchanged from settlement through the time of the revolution, but the development of political rights meant increased British involvement, or interference, in colonial economic and political affairs was antithetical to the Colonial era. Therefore, by establishing these rights the British sowed the seeds of their own destruction in Colonial America, and these rights provided the basis for colonial political thought eventually leading to the classic liberal tradition of life, liberty, and property. The Colonial era inherited its fundamental understanding of economic and political rights from British-American colonist ancestors. These ancestors were provided significant autonomy in their economic and political rights, so they declared their independence for those reasons.