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Immigration to the Americas
Prior to 1650, many Englishmen immigrated to the New World,
specifically to the North American Colonies. These immigrants fled
from a society that they found to be displeasing in many specific
ways. Although economic and political values led to much of the
English migration to the New World, religious tumult in England was
undoubtedly the main cause for the immigration.
James I, who believed in the divine right of kings, thought he
was allowed to disobey Parliament because he answered to no one but
God. He started a conflict with Parliament that gained momentum under
Charles I’s reign. This conflict finally sparked a civil war lasting
seven years, during which time the government unsympathetically
persecuted its citizens, driving many of them out of the country.
Furthermore, England’s unstable economy and inflation led to
much poverty. The demand for a certain raw material like wool could
put many slaves out of a job if the landowner suddenly decided it was
more profitable to raise sheep; thus requiring only a small fraction
of the work force. Inflation also made life hard for the poorer
people, who found they could no longer pay for basic necessities.
People saw that moving to the North American Colonies was a great
money-making opportunity. Growing sugar on islands off the North
American coast was so profitable that one man’s capital may have
spilled over to a relative who lived generations later. People were
also quite excited about the idea of Capitalism, the economic system
in which one makes even more money by investing his capital in a
growing business, for example. Finally, people saw that the vast
fields in the New World would yield much produce, and that moving to
the Colonies was an opportunity too good to pass up.
Religious conflict, however, was the main factor contributing
to the English migration to New England. The Catholic Church had
become too intense on individuals and their everyday life, and
Protestantism seemed to be the best alternative for many people. Also,
King Henry VIII had established the Anglican Church, which he strongly
enforced upon the Englishmen. Protestants and Catholics in this
society were shunned by their neighbors, fined by the government, and
even sent to jail. The English nation was in a state of religious
turmoil with no religion to unify its citizens.
In addition, Religious warfare had become extremely gory, and
the amount of bloodshed was immense, simply because of each side’s
belief that any killing of the enemy was good since God was on their
side. People did not know where to turn, and began looking toward the
North American Colonies.
Certain Protestants, however, took the Reformation a step
further and tried to simplify or “purify” the Anglican Church, since
they believed that even Anglicanism was not as much a reform from
Catholicism as they wanted. These Protestants were called Puritans,
and they believed that they did not need priests, Anglicanism, or its
Church, but that they, alone, could talk to God. Such a feeling was
common to all the Protestants, so they decided that they would attempt
to create a Protestant nation in North America. Since they knew that
changing the ways and customs of an existing society would be far too
difficult, they left England and headed straight toward the New World.
Some of the Puritans even believed in typology; that their
life was a repetition of the Bible, and that they were compared to the
ancient Hebrews, who fled from Egypt only to wander in the desert for
forty years before entering the promised land. They believed that
while they temporarily settled in the Colonies, England would be
destroyed, and that they, the “saving remnants”, as they called
themselves, would later return and resettle it as the promised land.
After a couple of generations with no word of Europe’s long awaited
destruction, though, the colonists decided that they would create a
permanent settlement in the New World, since perhaps this was the
Many people from England fled to the New World during the late
1500s and early 1600s. Their country was in a state of economic,
political, and religious tumult, and they saw great potential in the
New World. They were displeased with the Catholic Church and all of
England, so they came to the Colonies to start anew, and create what
was, in their eyes, the perfect society.
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