The Declaration of Independence was a product of the Second Continental Congress. Two earlier intercolonial conferences had occurred, each building important keystones of colonial unity. The Stamp Act Congress and the First Continental Congress brought the delegates from differing colonies to agreement on a message to send to the king. Each successive Congress brought greater participation. Each time the representatives met, they were more accustomed to compromise. As times grew more desperate, the people at home became more and more willing to trust their national leaders.
"No taxation without representation!" was the cry. The colonists were not merely griping about the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act. They intended to place actions behind their words. One thing was clear no colony acting alone could effectively convey a message to the king and Parliament. The appeals to Parliament by the individual legislatures had been ignored. It was James Otis who suggested an intercolonial conference to agree on a united course of action. With that, the Stamp Act Congress convened in New York in October 1765.
Volumes and volumes of written work was emerging in the American colonies on the subject of British policies. Apart from major documents and publications, much writing had been produced as letters, pamphlets, and newspaper editorials. The arguments set forth in this way were at times very convincing. American patriots of the 1770s did not have modern means of communication at their disposal. To spread the power of the written word from town to town and colony to colony, Committees of Correspondence were established.
In the summer that followed Parliament's attempt to punish Boston, sentiment for the patriot cause increased dramatically. The printing presses at the Committees of Correspondence were churning out volumes.
Times had taken a sharp turn for the worse. Lexington and Concord had changed everything. When the Redcoats fired into the Boston crowd in 1775, the benefit of the doubt was granted. Now the professional imperial army was attempting to arrest patriot leaders, and minutemen had been killed in their defense. In May 1775, with Redcoats once again storming Boston, the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia.
Americans could not break their ties with Britain easily. Despite all the recent hardships, the majority of colonists since birth were reared to believe that England was to be loved and its monarch revered. Yet there were the terrible injustices the colonists could not forget. Americans were divided against themselves. Arguments for independence were growing. Thomas Paine would provide the extra push.
The moment had finally come. Far too much bad blood existed between the colonial leaders and the crown to consider a return to the past. More and more colonists felt deprived by the British not only of their money and their civil liberties, but their lives as well. Bloodshed had begun over a year ago and there seemed little chance of a ceasefire. The radical wing of the Continental Congress was gaining strength with each passing day. It was time for a formal break with mother England. It was time to declare independence.
How could the Americans ever hope defeat the mighty British Empire in a military conflict? Americans faced seemingly impossible obstacles. When the guns fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775, there was not yet even a Continental Army. Those battles were fought by local militias. Few Americans had any military experience, and there was no method of training, supplying, or paying an army.
The British seemed unbeatable. During the previous 100 years, the British had enjoyed triumph after triumph over nations as powerful as France and Spain. At first glance, the odds were clearly against the Americans. A closer look provides insight into how the underdogs emerged victorious.
It is impossible to know the exact number of American colonists who favored or opposed independence. This section discusses attitudes toward the American Revolution in the colonies
On the night of June 16, 1775, a detail of American troops acting under orders from Artemas Ward moved out of their camp, carrying picks, shovels, and guns. They entrenched themselves on a rise located on Charleston Peninsula overlooking Boston. Their destination: Bunker Hill.
During the war years, those Americans not involved in warfare were doing their best just trying to survive. Farmers continued to grow food, artisans continued to practice their trades, and merchants attempted to maintain their businesses. Despite efforts to maintain business as usual, the entire social landscape was changed.
At Valley Forge, there were shortages of everything from food to clothing to medicine. Washington's men were sick from disease, hunger, and exposure. The Continental Army camped in crude log cabins and endured cold conditions while the Redcoats warmed themselves in colonial homes. The patriots went hungry while the British soldiers ate well.
The Battle of Saratoga was the turning point of the Revolutionary War. The scope of the victory is made clear by a few key facts: On October 17, 1777, 5,895 British and Hessian troops surrendered their arms. General John Burgoyne had lost 86 percent of his expeditionary force that had triumphantly marched into New York from Canada in the early summer of 1777.
Nowhere was the victory at Saratoga more noted than in France, which had been tentative in its efforts to assist the Americans. France's interest in the American fight for independence stemmed from France's humiliating defeat during the Seven Years War at the hands of its ancient enemy, England.
Although the American military was still enduring losses in 1780, the French were making a difference. The French navy was disrupting the British blockade. French commanders such as Lafayette and Rochambeau earned the respect and admiration of the American troops.
Liberty, republicanism, and independence are powerful causes. The patriots tenaciously asserted American rights and brought the Revolution. The Revolution brought myriad consequences to the American social fabric. There was no Reign of Terror as in the French Revolution. There was no replacement of the ruling class by workers' groups as in revolutionary Russia. How then could the American Revolution be described as radical? Nearly every aspect of American life was somehow touched by the revolutionary spirit. From slavery to women's rights, from religious life to voting, American attitudes would be forever changed.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness simply did not seem consistent with the practice of chattel slavery. How could a group of people feel so passionate about these unalienable rights, yet maintain the brutal practice of human bondage? Somehow slavery would manage to survive the revolutionary era, but great changes were brought to this peculiar institution nevertheless.
During the colonial era, Americans were bound by British law. Now, they were no longer governed by the Crown or by colonial charter. Independent, Americans could seek to eliminate or maintain laws as they saw fit. The possibilities were endless. Republican revolutionary sentiment brought significant change during the immediate postwar years.
Every society needs a set of rules by which to operate. After the colonies declared independence from Great Britain, they had to write their own constitutions. Impassioned with the republican spirit of the Revolution, political leaders pointed their ideals toward crafting "enlightened" documents. The result was thirteen republican laboratories, each experimenting with new ways of realizing the goals of the Revolution. In addition, representatives from all the colonies worked together to craft the Articles of Confederation, which itself provided the nascent nation with invaluable experience.