Happy Fourth of July.
On this day, in 1776, our Founders passed The Declaration of Independence, severing ties with Great Britain and announcing the birth of a new nation. The American colonists were then in the midst of a war that would see battles in all thirteen colonies, with the outcome of the war very much in doubt right up until victory came in the aftermath of British General Cornwallis’s Surrender at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. From the British perspective, the American Revolution ignited aworld war with France, Spain and Holland that would not end until 1782.
The American Revolution began in 1761, when British officials began a corrupt, concerted and heavy handed effort to end smuggling and increase revenues in the colonies, with these efforts falling hardest in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The first overt act of war did not take place until 1774, when Britain, bent on punishing all of Boston for the Boston Tea Party, established a complete naval blockade of Boston’s harbor. The actual shooting war began in April, 1775, when the British tried to disarm the patriots at Concord, Massachusetts. A second battle had taken place in June, 1775 when the colonists pre-empted a British attack by occupying Breeds Hill overlooking Boston, in what would later be called, incorrectly, the Battle of Bunker Hill.
And yet, it was by no means clear, until July 2, 1776 that the colonists would declare themselves independent of Britain. When the Second Continental Congress convened in May, 1775, the colonists still saw themselves as loyal citizens of Britain and their individual colonies. They had no desire to permanently join together the thirteen colonies. The colonies united simply for defense; the clear goal otherwise was not independence, but a return to the pre-1761 relationship that the individual colonies enjoyed with Britain.
In the end, it was not the colonists who declared war on Britain and started a revolution in the lead-up to 4 July, 1776; it was the other way around. For over a decade, Britain had been passing ever more draconian laws and taxes which would have had the effect, if meekly accepted, of stripping from the colonists all of the rights enjoyed by British citizens living in Britain proper. Then, in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, it was King George himself who decided that “blows should decide the issue.” It was the King of Britain who declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion, who sent the largest expeditionary force of the 18th century to the colonies to establish military rule, who authorized a naval war on the colonies, and who resolutely refused all formal entreaties from the colonists to engage in peaceful discussions. It was Britain’s forces in the colonies that, by July 1776, had started the shooting war by forcing the colonist’s hand at Lexington and Concord and had committed acts of pure terrorism in the attacks on civilian targets, including the burning of Falmouth. It was the British officials in the colonies who had allied with the Indians to attack the colonists from the west, and it was these same officials that sought to use slaves as a military force against the colonies.