The Open Door Web Site
Colonies and Empires Index
European Settlement in North America
The Origins of Canada
The Struggle between France and Britain
The American War of Independence
BRITAIN : ISLAND STATE TO EMPIRE
Colonies and Empires
The First Continental Congress, 1774
To add to the hostile atmosphere already generated in the colonies, came the Quebec Act. In September 1774, a Congress (assembly) of the "ablest and wealthiest men in America" met in Philadelphia. There were representatives from all the colonies, except Georgia, at the Congress. It voted that the British Parliament had no right to raise taxes in the colonies and that the colonies should neither pay taxes, nor trade with Britain, until the British government had given in.
John Adams represented Massachusetts at the first Congress.
The War for Independence Begins
In Boston, a group called the "Minutemen" was formed. It was a group of colonists who claimed that they could be armed and ready to fight at a minute's notice if British soldiers used force against the local population.
On 19th April 1775, British soldiers were sent from Boston to seize a dump of arms which "Minutemen" had stored at Concord. Armed farmers stopped them at Lexington. There was a minor battle and the troops marched on to Concord to find that the arms had been destroyed. The countryside was in uproar. As the soldiers marched back to Boston they were continuously fired upon. War had begun.
The colonies that had risen up against Britain were by no means united in their opposition to the mother country. As we have seen, some colonies were hostile to neighbouring colonies. Also, perhaps half the colonial population remained loyal to Britain. It was obvious that, if they were to succeed in the coming struggle, some kind of union would be necessary.
In Philadelphia, a Continental Congress met in May 1775. It claimed the authority over all the colonies and established the American Continental Army. The Virginian landowner and militia colonel, George Washington, who had fought the French in the Seven Years' War, was placed in command.
The Second Continental Congress (1776)
Drafting the Declaration of Independece
As fighting spread and became more serious, a Second Continental Congress was held (May 1776). This time it was decided that a committee, led by Thomas Jefferson, would write a "Declaration of Independence" from Britain. This would give the different colonies a common cause to fight for and would, perhaps, attract help from European countries. Throughout June 1776, Jefferson shut himself up in a hot, dark room above a carpenter's shop in Philadelphia. With the smells and flies from a nearby stable penetrating the room, he drafted his Declaration. Many of the ideas were inspired by Locke's "Treatises on Government" - that all men are created equal, that they have certain inalienable rights, those of life, liberty and the "pursuit of happiness", (by "pursuit of happiness", Jefferson meant "property", but he was too shy to actually write it down), and that a government's job is to protect these rights and, if it fails to protect them, it should be replaced. The key expression of the Declaration is "government by the consent of the governed". This, and the other ideas contained in the Declaration, would inspire numerous similar declarations in other countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
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