The Declaration of Independence: Herald of the American Revolution

By the time that the Second Continental Congress first proposed a resolution for a Declaration of Independence from England in June of 1776, the 13 colonies had already been at war with England for over a year. The war had started on April 19th, 1775, when a contingent of British soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith marched on Lexington and Concord to seize the military supplies held there by colonial militias.

The patriots had heard of the coming of the British, and were prepared for their coming. Paul Revere among others served as the scout, informing the Minutemen (as the colonial militiamen called themselves) of when the British were coming and how they would be coming into Lexington and Concord. Thus came the first battles of the American Revolution.

Despite the fighting, in 1776 it was still unknown exactly what the colonies were fighting for. Were they fighting to repair grievances with England? Or were they fighting for independence, to turn their 13 colonies into a new nation?

Popular opinion was highly mixed, if not leaning towards the side of British loyalty. Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet, “Common Sense,” eloquently made the case for independence, however still not everyone was convinced.

In the 2nd Contintental Congress it was fairly well decided, however, by the summer of 1776 that independence was the only option. And thus, on June 7th of that year Richard Henry Lee of Virginia brought forth a resolution that the Congress officially declare independence from England.

This led to the creation of a committee to draft this declaration. The members of this committee were: John Adams of Massachusetts, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Roger Sherman of Connecticut. Thomas Jefferson did most of the actual writing of the document, however all of the committee worked upon what would be included and what would not.

After weeks of work, the declaration drawn up by this committee was brought to the floor of the Congress on July 1st, 1776. Over the next several days minor changes would be made to the document, until finally on July 4th the Declaration of Independence was officially accepted and distributed to the public.

This document served to unite the Continental Congress behind a common goal. For the signers of the Declaration, it also meant that failure was no longer an option. Were they to lose to the British, they most assuredly would all be killed for fomenting rebellion against the empire and attempting to create an independent state.

In some ways it united those patriots who were for independence closer together, and served as a propaganda tool, showing the goal for which they would fight and die. However, it also split the colonial public apart. Although the Congress was united behind independence, this was not the case with the average colonist. Many still supported England and did not want independence from it.

These English loyalists would eventually either move or be forced from the 13 colonies, into the British colony of Quebec. This would be the true creation of Canada, as Quebec was split in half. Lower Canada (modern Quebec) remained as it was, a primarily French colony, while the influx of British subjects from the lower 13 colonies would reside in Upper Canada (modern day Ontario).

Although the Declaration of Independence was signed on the 4th of July, 1776, it would still be 5 long years before the American Revolution would be won with the colonists victorious. However, the new nation did not look to 1781 as the beginning of their nation but rather that hot summer day in 1776, when the 2nd Continental Congress first made their Declaration.

It was one of the most important moments of the war, cementing the goals of the colonists in their struggle with England. To this day seen as the birth of the United States. Every 4th of July Americans celebrate their independence and the birth of the nation.

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