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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 Declaration of Independence
Benjamin Franklin was a member of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
In Congress, July 4th 1776, the Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, ,the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. -
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it 15 is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and 25 to provide new Guards for their future security. -
Such as been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former System of Government.
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of Absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
The original Declaration of Independence
The Constitution of the USA
It was the Thirteen Colonies who had won their independence from Britain, but certainly not a united, single country. After 1783, there remained little to bind the Thirteen Colonies together. The mother country had been defeated in war and each colony was happy to go its own way again.
The Continental army was neglected and each individual colony, (now called a state), started minting its own money, making its own laws and imposing import duties on goods from other states. Some states were even preparing to raise their own army and navy and to sign treaties with European countries.
The possibility of war between the newly independent states was very real. One state, Rhode Island, printed lots of paper money and allowed its' merchants to settle debts in other states with the worthless currency.
To prevent crises like this, each state sent representatives to Philadelphia in May 1787, to prepare a Constitution. These were educated men who were determined to use the ideas of the Enlightenment. They decided that America would be a Republic. This was unusual at the time; only Genoa, Venice and Holland were republics at the end of the 18th century. The head of state would be a President, and there would be two assemblies; an Upper House, called the Senate, and a Lower House, called the House of Representatives. Together the two houses were called Congress. There would also be a Supreme Court.
Each of the three branches - Executive (President), Legislative (Congress) and Judiciary ( Supreme Court) - was meant to closely examine the other two. In this way no one branch of government could become too powerful and nobody could exercise tyrannical power. This Separation of Powers can be traced back to Montesquieu and Locke.
It was important to define what powers lay with the Federal Government, in the capital and which powers were left to the states. So that no single state could claim to be the seat of the Federal government, some land was set aside on the banks of the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland. It was named the District of Columbia and it was here that the capital would be built.
The decisions made at Philadelphia were written down and became the world's first constitution. In 1789, George Washington was chosen as President and the capital would be named after him.
Americans claimed to have stood up to and fought a tyrannical mother-country. Having beaten Britain in the war, they had set up a republic based on the idea of liberty, equality and justice. Enlightened people all over Europe were happy to see this new nation created. Within two years the same idea would be applied in France.
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