Explain to students that surviving and thriving in the colonies required a strong commitment because life was very difficult, especially at first. Many of the people who colonized were independent minded to start with. Remind students that to emigrate from a known world, Britain, to one that was unknown, and originally without towns or any other familiar aspects of European culture, required immense conviction and strength of will. Recall that those living in America when the colonists arrived, the indigenous people, had a completely different way of life. The colonists did not assimilate into the pre-existing Native American culture. Instead, they turned the land into familiar towns and changed the culture into one that they recognized.
To bring European culture to the Americas required colonists with a strong desire for success, in order to face the many challenges. Most were freedom fighters (for religion in particular), opportunists for economic gains, forward thinkers, or perhaps even renegades, who did not want to be told what to do by the British. After all, the British did not know what colonists’ lives were like, considering they were far removed from the New World. Many colonists wondered, what right did the British have to make laws and taxes in the colonies? It is hardly surprising that the colonists wanted independence.
Making Connections to Now Discuss how students would characterize Americans today. Use any of the following prompts to explore this topic. Do any of the characterizations of the colonists, stated above, resonate with people in our time? If so, how? Ask students for specific examples of characteristics of Americans then and now. What advantages and challenges does having an individualistic, independent mindset have on our culture? How can people maintain their sense of individuality while living in a society full of other individuals, many of whom may have completely different points of view? Or conversely, how can individuals come together for the betterment of society as a whole, despite having different points of view? What role should the federal government play when considering all of these different points of view?
Explain that these are the types of questions the Founders pondered as they created the Constitution. These questions still are at the foundation of America’s challenges. Interested students may want to further investigate these concepts using specific examples from current events, such as America’s response to COVID-19, the bipartisan politics of today, foreign policy, etc. Learning to understand what motivated people in America’s past and what characteristics they had can help us understand why we are the way we are today in America.