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Colonies and Empires Index

15th Century 'Voyages of Discovery'
In the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries

European Settlement in North America

Introduction
The First Colony : Virginia
The Pilgrim Fathers
The Mayflower and the Mayflower Compact
Plymouth Settlement
The First Thanksgiving

The Origins of Canada

Introduction : New France
The Hudson Bay Company
France Claims the Mississippi River

The Struggle between France and Britain
for North America

Introduction
The Seven Years' War
The Fall of Quebec
The Treaty of Paris

The American War of Independence

Introduction
Britain Taxes its Colonies
The Boston Massacre
The "Boston Tea Party"
American Victories
The Declaration of Independence

History Chapters Main Index

 

George Washington

George Washington

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

 

BRITAIN : ISLAND STATE TO EMPIRE

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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

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

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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