The United States of America is often called the land of the free, but that was not always the case. Long before there was the United States, explorers from Europe sailed across the Atlantic to America and established colonies. Even though they were in what they called the New World, these Europeans were still ruled by the countries from which they came.
Eventually, the people of the 13 British colonies grew tired of being ruled from across the ocean, and they declared their independence from England. It was these 13 colonies that formed the first states in the United States.
It All Began with Taxes
By 1765, England was suffering from a war with France and needed money. British Parliament started creating taxes the colonists had to pay. This began with the Stamp Act of 1765, which taxed paper documents in the colonies. Though the Stamp Act only lasted a year, there were more such laws to come.
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. 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 now 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 the rebellion in the colonies. It became clear to the colonists that to win the fights to come, they would need help from other countries, especially France. They would have to officially break away from England to get that help.
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. The Second Continental Congress met to debate the document. After two days of discussion and editing, 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. They no longer hoped to fix things with King George III, and the Declaration contained a long list of complaints against the king. Now the colonists 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.