Documents: Revolution / Declaration of Independence
Following the French and Indian War, the King of England issued the Proclamation of 1763 to keep the colonists from going west of the Appalachian Mountains into the Ohio River Valley. It was issued to keep the peace between the Native Americans and the settlers. This act angered the colonists because they believed that they had the right to settle in the Ohio River Valley. The Proclamation was enforced by British troops, many of whom were quartered in colonists’ homes which increased tension between England and the colonists.
The British Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765 to help pay England’s debts for the French and Indian War. The act required all legal and commercial documents to carry an official stamp, showing that the tax had been paid. Documents such as diplomas, wills, contracts, newspapers, playing cards, and calendars had to have the stamp. The American colonists felt they were being unfairly taxed without their consent (“no taxation without representation”). Thus, they met at the Stamp Act Congress and organized a boycott until the law was repealed.
After the Boston Tea Party, Britain was angered by the colonists’ actions, and Parliament passed the Coercive Acts in 1774. These were a series of laws to punish the colonies. The colonists called them the Intolerable Acts because they believed that the laws were too severe. One of the acts closed the port of Boston until the colonists paid for the destroyed tea. Another banned democratic town meetings. The Intolerable Acts also allowed the British to quarter (house) troops in colonists’ homes and let colonists accused of crimes in the colonies stand trial in Britain. In response to the acts, the colonies came together in September 1774, at the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia to mobilize a united resistance to the Crown and these policies.
In January 1776, Thomas Paine published a pamphlet titled Common Sense. This pamphlet contained a strong attack on the idea of monarchy and argued that it was only “common sense” for the thirteen colonies to separate from Great Britain. Within six months, 500,000 copies had been sold and read by one million people. Paine’s pamphlet convinced many colonists that the time for total independence from Great Britain had come.
In 1776, during the American Revolution, Paine also wrote a series of pro-revolution essays entitled The American Crisis. George Washington liked the first of Paine’s essays, which began with the words “These are the times that try men’s souls,” so much that he demanded it be read to colonial troops suffering at Valley Forge to strengthen their spirits and resolve to fight.
After much debate and over a year of fighting, colonial delegates to the Second Continental Congress determined that a complete break from Britain was necessary. A committee made up of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman, and Thomas Jefferson was given the task of drafting the declaration. The Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. Using ideas from English philosopher John Locke, Thomas Jefferson (the primary author) wrote “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…” The longest part of the document included twenty-seven specific grievances against the king and Parliament. The most serious or “war crimes” were at the end of the list. This document has served as a model for many in their attempts to overthrow an autocratic government.
Although the American victory at Yorktown marked the last battle of the American Revolution, it was not until the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783 (almost 2 years later) that the Americans and the British agreed on the diplomatic terms to end the conflict. The British gave up their rights to all land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River, except for Florida and New Orleans, and recognized the United States of America as an independent nation.