02 July 2016

The Birth of a New Nation

On this date 240 years ago thirteen of Great Britain's twenty seven North American colonies declared independence from their mother country.

The First Continental Congress had met during the summer of 1774 to coordinate the colonies in a response to a group of laws passed by Parliament called the Coercive Acts. The Continental Congress initiated a boycott of imported goods, hoping that suffering British merchants would lobby Parliament to repeal the acts.

A Second Continental Congress met the summer of 1775 to assess the progress--or lack thereof. Before it assembled, however, fighting broke out in Massachusetts. During that summer session, the Continental Congress operated as a provisional government, coordinating the defense of the thirteen colonies. Even while the Congress prepared for war, it sought reconciliation. It sent the so-called "Olive Branch Petition" to King George III.


The Second Continental Congress re-convened on 10 May 1776.

The situation had worsened.

The previous October King George III charged in a speech before Parliament that opposition in the colonies was “carried on for the purpose of establishing an independent Empire.” The colonists, he continued, make “vague expression of attachments to the parent state, and the strongest protestations of loyalty to me, whilst they were preparing for a general revolt.”It was time, he concluded, “ to put a speedy and to these disorders by the most decisive exertions.” In response to the King's charges, Parliament passed the American Prohibitory Act. This act declared the colonies outside the protection of the empire, prohibited all commerce with the colonies and initiated a naval blockade, and announced that all colonial ships and cargo forfeit to the Crown as enemy vessels.

Then on 7 June 1776, representative Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced the following resolution:

“That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted tot he respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.”


After a couple of days debate, the Congress postponed additional discussion until July. At the time, only slightly more than half the colonies supported independence. A consensus had to be formed. Meanwhile, the Congress appointed a committee of five to draft a declaration of independence for adoption if the colonies reached a consensus. The committee delegated to one of its members, Thomas Jefferson, the task of writing a draft.


Finally, on 1 July, the Congress resumed debate on Lee's original resolution. Although no new points emerged, a virtual consensus had been reached. Only the delegates from the state of New York had failed to receive any instructions to support the resolution. So on 2 July 1776, the Continental Congress voted to pass the Lee resolution declaring independence. The United Colonies became the United States.



Richard Henry Lee



The Continental Congress then completed debate on Thomas Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence. After some revisions that more accurately reflected the consensus of the delegates, the voted to approve Jefferson's Declaration on 4 July, 1776.

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