It was a great stroke of luck for the future United States that the 13 colonies were founded by the English rather than those from another European nation. England, being an island power and thus much safer from invasion, had a smaller government and lower taxes than either France or Spain. The shires largely ran their own affairs unless there was serious trouble, so experience with government was widespread through the population. So was the uniquely English concept of liberty, the idea that people had rights that came not from the king but from God and that these rights could be enforced by law. Nothing could be clearer in economic history than the fact that the rule of law is essential to long-term economic success.

Virginia’s legislature was founded in 1619, only 12 years after the colony itself. By the time of independence, the United States had over a century-and-a-half’s worth of experience in self-government while the Spanish colonies in the New World had none when they achieved independence a generation later, a fact that has haunted many of them ever since. This proved crucial in establishing a stable political culture and a U.S. Constitution that is now the second oldest written constitution in the world, second among functioning constitutions only to the state constitution of Massachusetts.

Further, because the British government was small and had limited financial resources, it was not the government that founded the colonies along the Atlantic seaboard, but rather individual proprietors, such as Lord Baltimore and William Penn, or profit-seeking corporations, such as the Virginia Company. Even the Puritan settlers in New England, the most religious group of immigrants, were sent by a corporation whose investors wanted to see profits on their investments along with any shining cities on a hill the colonists might build. Puritans regarded wealth as a sign of God’s grace.

from Growth:  The Only Way Out of this Mess – The American past offers the best guide to a prosperous future by John Steele Gordon in the July/ August, 2011 Commentary Magazine