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Declaration of Independence: Freeing America from Foreign Rule

The Declaration of Independence is the first of our founding documents – the very beginning of freedom in America.

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The United States of America is often called the land of the free, but that was not always the case. Long before there was a United States, explorers from Europe sailed across the Atlantic to America and established colonies. Even though they arrived in what they called the New World, these Europeans were still ruled by the countries from which they came.

There were many battles fought between the colonists of different countries, and against the Native Americans, who were already here when the Europeans arrived. By the mid-1700s, England controlled 13 colonies in what is now the Eastern United States. Those colonies were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Eventually, settlers in the colonies grew tired of British rule, which was becoming more tyrannical as time went on. They declared their independence from England, and these 13 colonies formed the first states in the United States of America.

It All Began with Taxes

By 1765, England was suffering from war with France and needed money. The British Parliament started passing new laws that created taxes that the colonists had to pay. This began with the Stamp Act of 1765, which taxed paper documents in the colonies. The colonists didn’t feel Parliament had the right to tax them without their consent, and angry mobs tried to intimidate tax collectors into resigning. Parliament repealed the Stamp Act a year later but declared that it had the authority to institute whatever laws it wanted for the colonies – and it passed many the colonists didn’t like over the next decade.

Restore the Relationship or End It?

Every time the colonists fought back against an abusive law or tax, King George III sent troops to quell the uprisings and Parliament passed more Coercive Acts – even going so far as to revoke the charter of Massachusetts and close the port of Boston. These Intolerable Acts, as the colonists began calling them, led to the formation of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774 to demand an end to taxation without representation.

Despite the fact that actual battles were being fought, most colonists considered themselves loyal British subjects who wanted to restore their relationship with the Crown rather than end it. But in 1775, King George III denounced the colonies in front of Parliament and started building up his army and navy so that he could finally end rebellion in the colonies and force compliance. It became clear to the colonists that to win the fights to come, they would need help from other countries, especially France, and that they would have to officially break away from England to get that help.

Declaring Independence

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. The Second Continental Congress, which included representatives from 12 of the 13 colonies, met to discuss the document.  After two days of discussion and revision, they voted to accept the final version that we know today, and the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776.

The Declaration united the colonists, which changed the nature of the war. The colonists no longer hoped to fix things with the king; the Declaration contained a long list of grievances against him and denounced his tyranny. Americans finally had a cause worth fighting for: freedom from foreign rule and the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for the people.

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