The Federalist Papers Reader and Historical Documents of Our American Heritage

By Frederick Quinn | Go to book overview

The Declaration of Independence -- Introduction

The American drive toward independence came about gradually. There was little separatist sentiment in the thirteen Colonies before 1775. Americans were used to being part of the British Empire and enjoyed a large measure of home rule, including local taxation. Still, they objected that the British Parliament was depriving them of their rights. The British Sugar Act of 1764 was both a way of raising royal revenues and regulating American trade with the West Indies. In the same year, England forbade the Colonies' use of paper money, which created problems because there was not much coinage in the Colonies, and what there was often were returned quickly to England to pay for commerce. The British government also had decided to station a 10,000 soldier army in the Colonies and to have the Colonies contribute substantially to paying for it through a Stamp Act, which required the newspapers and official and legal documents bear government stamps. Here colonists drew the line; external taxes on international trade were acceptable, but internal taxes levied from London within the colony were not. A cry, "no taxation without representation" went up. Nine Colonies gathered for an ad hoc protest meeting, the Stamp Act Congress, and denounced the Act.

If the British leaders had been less arrogant and more conciliatory, the Revolution might not have come about when and how it did, but the Crown and Parliament in the persons of a stubborn George III, whom Thomas Paine called "a royal brute," and a hesitant Lord North were not wise rulers. Even if the British had adopted a more imaginative policy of cooperation and accommodation, the Colonies were growing too large, and were too distant from the motherland to be controlled indefinitely.

During 1774 the Continental Congress responded to British pressure by passing several acts shutting down trade with Britain. These included bans on imported tea, maderia and port wine, measures quickly affecting British merchants. The British responded with the Act of December 22, 1775 forbidding all trade with the American Colonies. Events were on a collision course.

Americans took a long time to opt for warfare and the Declaration of Independence. Loyalties to England were still strong, most of the Colonists had come from there, and many believed difficulties could still be resolved. Still, there were military skirmishes such as that at Bunker Hill on June 16-17, 1775, and for fourteen months England waged war in the Colonies. During the early months of 1776 many Americans, convinced the situation with England was

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