The United Colonies of New England, 1643-90

By Harry M. Ward | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
Great Expectations

"MUCH HONORED IN OUR BLESSED SAVIOUR, at the returne of our Magistrates," wrote Hooker jubilantly to Governor Winthrop, "when I understood the gratious and desired successe of ther indeavor" for promoting "so good a work" and laying "a foundation of safety and prosperity in succeeding ages"-- a "meanes not only to mayntayne peace and truth in your dayes, but to leave both, as Legacy to those that come after, untill the coming of the Sonne of God in the Clouds."1 Thus is expressed the buoyant feeling of optimism which prevailed at the inception of the United Colonies.

It was fortunate that the hopes in the Confederation were high, for from the very beginning the Commissioners were faced with matters of gravest importance. The years of 1643-52 nevertheless were a period of success; and during this time the Commissioners, in the areas of their jurisdiction, exercised almost unbridled power--creating the illusion that the Confederation possessed sovereign powers, while in actuality it did not. With a firm hand, the Commissioners commanded allegiance from the Indians and won respect from the French and Dutch, while on the home front they skillfully handled many intercolonial problems. The crowning achievement was the preserving of peace in a time when peace was unlikely, thereby meeting the highest expectations of the founders. Only towards the end of this decade of activity were there rumblings of discontent; but these only quietly foreshadowed the storm that was to follow. The years of 1643-52, when the United Colonies of New England worked in coordinated action and followed the direction of one governing body, mark the first successful experiment in American federalism.

The main order of business throughout the early Confederation dealt with the continual threat of Indian hostilities, friction with the Dutch, and the controversy over lands in the Pequot and Narragansett country-all three of which will be treated

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