Published in American Heritage Magazine()The Elizabethans And AmericaBy A. L. RowseApril 1959 | Volume 10, Issue 3“To push back the consciousness of American beginnings, beyond Jamestown,beyond the Pilgrims, to the highwater mark of the Elizabethan Age”Note: The author was an Englishman. Therefore, when he uses the pronoun “we”, he is referring to the English.The discovery of the New World, it has been said, is much the greatest event in the history of the Old. Certainly as that discovery went further and gathered momentum it marked a vast difference, after all, between the modern world and the Middle Ages—which, in contemplation, have a certain static, enclosed quality in contrast with the ceaseless dynamism, the expansiveness characteristic of our world. In this connotation—it is the heart of the subject—the discovery of America ultimately made the fortuneof Great Britain and transformed its situation in the world. In Trevelyan’s words, here was a very taut, efficient little society within an island lying athwart the main seaways from America to northwestern Europe, a situation from which the country profited more and more. As America prospered and became more important, so did England.We live in the midst of another profound transformation. In the dangers of our time, the separateness ofEnglish history may be thought of as merging in the general history of the English-speaking peoples, whoare drawn closer together by them. But already twice in our lifetime Great Britain’s existence has been assured by its preponderant partner, the United States.We owe this factor of our safety, the very condition of our lives, to the ambition and foresight, the enterprise and persistence, of our common ancestors, the Elizabethans. Their struggle to establish an English foothold on the other side of the Atlantic, their part in extending our language and institutions across the seas, the essential first steps that have led to an English world community—history can hardly offer a more significant theme.But our ancestors arrived on the scene rather belatedly: the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the French, wereall there before us. It is a striking thought that more than a century elapsed between the time when the Spaniards made their first permanent settlement in America in 1493 and the English made theirs at Jamestown in 1607. The Elizabethan effort, which did not really get going until the second half of the Queen’s reign, is all the more impressive: it shows what can be done by a small people, in the right circumstances, with a will.They had, under the early Tudors, with the backing mainly of the Bristol merchants and the inspiration ofthe Cabots, John and his son Sebastian, made various sporadic, inadequate, baffled efforts into and across the Atlantic. We may well think that Henry VIII would have done better to put some of the energy that went into matrimonial, into geographic, enterprises. However, he did create an English navy, the prime condition of later maritime achievement, and he did procreate Elizabeth; he could not have done much better.