The Declaration of Independence, 1776
When the bells announcing the new year rang on January 1, 1776, America and Britain had been at war for nearly nine months, and reconciliation between the colonies and the mother country seemed unlikely. Many Americans had for years believed that America should separate itself from England (see Chapter 28), but most who believed, for example, that America should have its own constitution and pass its own laws still envisioned America as part of the British commonwealth.
January 1776, however, brought more than just more hostilities between the colonies and England. On January 10, Thomas Paine published the pamphlet Common Sense (see Chapter 30), in which he not only advocated total separation from Great Britain but also urged the colonies to declare their independence from England. In May, the Virginia Convention took the first step on the road to all colonies declaring their independence when it adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Written by George Mason, the document stated,
That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights . . . namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. . . . And that, when any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community has an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such a manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.1