THE UNITED STATES grew up in an age of empires—a whole epoch of European history stretching from the fifteenth to the end of the nineteenth century. During this period, Europeans explored and mapped the entire globe and erected great overseas empires. The theory underlying such empire-building was called the mercantile theory and was, with appropriate variations, common to all the colonizing powers. In general terms, the theory stated that colonies existed and should be exploited principally for the military, naval, and commercial advancement of the "mother country" and her citizens; that colonies must be held subordinate in every way; and that their main purpose was to provide raw materials, shipping, markets, manpower, and bullion necessary to the European nations in their race for supremacy.
The hard facts of American life soon conflicted with British rule in both theory and practice, for from the very first days of settlement the colonists were slowly but surely developing as an independent nation with objectives and interests all of their own. A nation is a group of people bound over a long period of time by powerful and permanent ties: a common land, common traditions, common beliefs, a common culture,