Following are the main points of the Road to Independence taken from US History Book by State Department.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 reserved all the western territory between the Allegheny Mountains, Florida, the Mississippi River, and Quebec for use by Native Americans. Thus the Crown attempted to sweep away every western land claim of the 13 colonies and to stop westward expansion. Although never effectively enforced, this measure, in the eyes of the colonists, constituted a high-handed disregard of their fundamental right to occupy and settle western lands.
Both the duty imposed by the Sugar Act and the measures to enforce it caused consternation among New England merchants. They contended that payment of even the small duty imposed would be ruinous to their businesses. Merchants, legislatures, and town meetings protested the law.
A general tax measure sparked the greatest organized resistance. Known as the “Stamp Act,” it required all newspapers, broadsides, pamphlets, licenses, leases, and other legal documents to bear revenue stamps. Bearing equally on people who did any kind of business, the Stamp Act aroused the hostility of the most powerful and articulate groups in the American population: journalists, lawyers, clergymen, merchants and businessmen, North and South, East and West.
Spurred by delegate Patrick Henry, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed a set of resolutions in May denouncing taxation without representation as a threat to colonial liberties. It asserted that Virginians, enjoying the rights of Englishmen, could be taxed only by their own representatives. The American Leaders asserted that he (Crown) was equally a king of England and a king of the colonies, but they insisted that the English Parliament had no more right to pass laws for the colonies than any colonial legislature had the right to pass laws for England.
In 1766 Parliament yielded, repealing the Stamp Act and modifying the Sugar Act. However, to mollify the supporters of central control over the colonies, Parliament followed these actions with passage of the Declaratory Act, which asserted the authority of Parliament to make laws binding the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.” The colonists had won only a temporary respite from an impending crisis.
The “Townshend Acts” were based on the premise that taxes imposed on goods imported by the colonies were legal while internal taxes (like the Stamp Act) were not. In response, Philadelphia lawyer John Dickinson, in Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer, argued that Parliament had the right to control imperial commerce but did not have the right to tax the colonies, whether the duties were external or internal. The agitation following enactment of the Townshend duties was less violent than that stirred by the Stamp Act, but it was nevertheless strong, particularly in the cities of the Eastern seaboard.
On March 5, 1770, antagonism between citizens and British soldiers again flared into violence. three Bostonians lay dead in the snow. Dubbed the “Boston Massacre,” the incident was dramatically pictured as proof of British heartlessness and tyranny.
Faced with such opposition, Parliament in 1770 opted for a strategic retreat and repealed all the Townshend duties except that on tea, which was a luxury item in the colonies, imbibed only by a very small minority. To most, the action of Parliament signified that the colonists had won a major concession, and the campaign against England was largely dropped.
The British troops reached the village of Lexington on April 19, 1775, and saw a grim band of 77 Minutemen. The Minutemen intended only a silent protest, but Marine Major John Pitcairn, the leader of the British troops, yelled, “Disperse, you damned rebels! You dogs, run!” The leader of the Minutemen, Captain John Parker, told his troops not to fire unless fired at first. The Americans were withdrawing when someone fired a shot, which led the British troops to fire at the Minutemen. The British then charged with bayonets, leaving eight dead and 10 wounded.
The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 10. The Congress voted to go to war, inducting the colonial militias into continental service. It appointed Colonel George Washington of Virginia as their commander-in-chief on June 15.
In January 1776, Thomas Paine, a radical political theorist and writer who had come to America from England in 1774, published a 50-page pamphlet, Common Sense. Within three months, it sold 100,000 copies. He presented the alternatives — continued submission to a tyrannical king and an outworn government, or liberty and happiness as a self-sufficient, independent republic. Circulated throughout the colonies, Common Sense helped to crystallize a decision for separation.
On June 7, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced a resolution in the Second Continental Congress, declaring, “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states. … ” Immediately, a committee of five, headed by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, was appointed to draft a document for a vote.
Largely Jefferson’s work, the Declaration of Independence, adopted July 4, 1776, not only announced the birth of a new nation, but also set forth a philosophy of human freedom that would become a dynamic force throughout the entire world.
The Declaration’s familiar opening passage echoes John Locke’s social-contract theory of government:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Jefferson linked Locke’s principles directly to the situation in the colonies. To fight for American independence was to fight for a government based on popular consent in place of a government by a king who had “combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws. … ”
During August 1776, in the Battle of Long Island in New York, Washington’s position became untenable, and he executed a masterly retreat in small boats from Brooklyn to the Manhattan shore.
On Christmas Day, December 25, 1776, Washington crossed the Delaware River, north of Trenton, New Jersey. In the early morning hours of December 26, his troops surprised the British garrison there, taking more than 900 prisoners. A week later, on January 3, 1777, Washington attacked the British at Princeton, regaining most of the territory formally occupied by the British. The victories at Trenton and Princeton revived flagging American spirits.
In September 1777, however, British General William Howe defeated the American army at Brandywine in Pennsylvania and occupied Philadelphia, forcing the Continental Congress to flee. Washington had to endure the bitterly cold winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, lacking adequate food, clothing, and supplies.
In France, enthusiasm for the American cause was high: The French intellectual world was itself stirring against feudalism and The French government had been eager for reprisal against Britain ever since France’s defeat in 1763. To further the American cause, Benjamin Franklin was sent to Paris in 1776. His wit, guile, and intellect soon made their presence felt in the French capital, and played a major role in winning French assistance.
France began providing aid to the colonies in May 1776, when it sent 14 ships with war supplies to America. In fact, most of the gunpowder used by the American armies came from France. On February 6, 1778, the colonies and France signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce, in which France recognized the United States and offered trade concessions. They also signed a Treaty of Alliance.
In June 1778 British ships fired on French vessels, and the two countries went to war. In 1779 Spain, hoping to reacquire territories taken by Britain in the Seven Years’ War, entered the conflict on the side of France, but not as an ally of the Americans. In 1780 Britain declared war on the Dutch, who had continued to trade with the Americans. The combination of these European powers, with France in the lead, was a far greater threat to Britain than the American colonies standing alone.
In July 1780 France’s King Louis XVI had sent to America an expeditionary force of 6,000 men under the Comte Jean de Rochambeau.
Finally, on October 19, 1781, after being trapped at Yorktown near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his army of 8,000 British soldiers.
A new British government decided to pursue peace negotiations in Paris in early 1782, with the American side represented by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay.
On April 15, 1783, Congress approved the final treaty. Signed on September 3, the Treaty of Paris acknowledged the independence, freedom, and sovereignty of the 13 former colonies, now states. The new United States stretched west to the Mississippi River, north to Canada, and south to Florida, which was returned to Spain. The fledgling colonies that Richard Henry Lee had spoken of more than seven years before had finally become “free and independent states.”
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