THE CANADIAN DEBACLE brought about the Declaration of Independence. To be sure, Congress would have cut all ties with Great Britain sooner or later, but the military disasters at Quebec and along the St. Lawrence led it to make the break in July 1776.
As public opinion polls had not yet come into fashion, it is impossible to know what most colonists thought at any given moment in 1775–1776 about breaking away from Great Britain. Congress was never a precise barometer of public opinion. Its members were chosen by the colonial assemblies, most of which were apportioned in favor of the older, often more urban, eastern sectors of their provinces. This gave Congress a deeply conservative cast, almost certainly leading it to proceed more slowly than most citizens would have preferred. In addition, the war effort required the support of every colony, and especially the backing of large and powerful provinces such as New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, which were dominated by economic interests with deep ties to the mother country. This amplified the clout of the most conservative colonies and compelled those congressmen who had favored declaring independence since early in the war to take a more measured course. Many of those who favored independence privately grumbled that the conservatives, with their expectation that the king would intervene on the side of the colonists to save the empire, were given to dreamy reveries of an “Imbecility” that lent a “silly Cast to our whole Doings.” But month after month, the radicals went along, avoiding a congressional battle over independence.1 They had no choice but to do so if they wished to continue the war.