Individualism in American History

(Part 2)


During the colonization of America, individualism was the main push for starting new colonies. After the discovery of `the New World,’ new colonies were started for many different religious purposes. The Plymouth colony was founded in 1620 as a way to get `[r]eligious freedom for Separatists.’ The Maryland colony was founded in 1634 for people to gain `[r]eligious freedom for Catholics.’ As England continued to push its religious idealism on their people, more people began to leave to the New World. They wanted a new life where they can have their own beliefs and be unique for having them. The Pennsylvania colony was founded for “[r]eligious freedom for Quakers” but then “became home to many European immigrants’ (American Colonies).

The Virginia colony, the New World’s first colony was established as a `joint-stock company’ colony and was run by the `House of Burgesses’. The House of Burgesses was the first legislative body to exist in the United States. More colonies continued to be founded based on the need of `trade and profits’ for the country where the colonists originally came from (American Colonies). The trend of establishing colonies continued until 1733 when the Georgia colony was established.

The example of colonization emphasizes individualism. People acted on their unique beliefs by doing what they felt was best for themselves and by openly ignoring what society expected of them. Each individual took responsibility for their own well being and removed themselves from a situation that was not beneficial to their future. As time went on, England began to demand more from the colonies which led to tension leading to the American Revolution. The colonists no longer supported England’s laws for the colonies. The colony life was much different than traditional life in England, the idea of separation and running their own country became reality. On July 4, 1776, the colonists won their independence from England and became a country with its own ideas and beliefs.

As the colonies began to expand, slavery became prevalent in the South. Landowners needed free labor to get work done efficiently. Slaves were predominant a Southern way of life. Slaves were not treated as equals and were dominated by slave codes that were unique to each state. According to the slave codes of South Carolina, `Slaves being objects of property, if injured by third persons, their owners, may bring suit, and recover damages for the injury’ (Laws Pertaining to Slavery). The slaves were considered property and not human. Racism was created by white people who felt they were superior. After years of dealing with racism and slavery, blacks and those who disagreed with this discrimination fought against their opposition and won their freedom from slavery in 1865.

The struggles did not end there. As Richard Wright pointed out in his novel, Black Boy, his grandmother, who was mixed race, but had slightly tanner skin, was treated as if she was an African American and not as if she was white. Throughout his novel, Richard Wright struggled with the idea of individualism in a society that labeled him as dirt. Wright wrote, `I knew that I lived in a country in which the aspirations of black people were limited, marked-off. Yet I felt that I had to go somewhere and do something to redeem my being alive’ (Wright). As a black person in the 1920s society he was not expected to have a bright future that involved great success. He, however, went against society and his family. He got his work published and became famous for his work. Instead of giving into the pressure of society, Richard Wright focused on his individual initiative and stood out from the rest to make a better life for himself.

For Edna, however, individualism became too much for her to handle. Her independence forced her into solitude and loneliness. The man she fell in love with left her so she could salvage her relationship with her husband, but it was not enough. Edna lacked companionship and love in her life. She ended her own life because she could not conform. Her individual identity was something that she could not have which led her to her actions at the end of the novel.

Edna and Richard both have proven that in society you must continue to fight to be an individual person and ignore the restrictions that society gives that takes away from individualism. Labels in society limit what people see in others abilities which prevents them from moving forward and achieving higher expectations. The individual initiative shifted in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Instead of the focus being on the advancement of a group of people, the focus shifted to the concern of individuals finding their identity throughout their life in a society that labeled them.

Due to the rise and fall of the economy, individualism has taken a back seat to being able to support oneself financially. On September 29, 2008, the economy took its most recent turn for the worst, and was marked as the’ worst decline since the crash of ’87’ (Twin). Individuals were no longer concerned with living to be unique and independent; they were fighting to stay afloat in an economy that could easily swallow them up.


Individualism had begun to take a backseat to financial stability. As the economy has begun to improve, more people are able to leave their parents house and create their own life as individuals.

Since the beginning of time, people have been trying to become individuals and stand out as unique beings. During the foundation of the colonies, individuals were focused on preserving their religious beliefs. As slavery became more predominant, the Civil War era fought to give black people their identity back. In the 1800s and 1900s, the individual initiative shifted from giving a group of people identity to individuals fighting for their own personal beliefs. In today’s society, individualism has been diminished by the collapse of the economy, forcing people to live with their parents for longer periods of time. As the economy continues to grow again individualism is making strides in a positive direction.



American History