July 4th, 1776
With the other colonies watching intently, Massachusetts led the resistance to the British, forming a shadow revolutionary government and establishing militias to resist the increasing British military presence across the colony. In April 1775, Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Concord, Massachusetts, where a Patriot arsenal was known to be located. On April 19, 1775, the British regulars encountered a group of American militiamen at Lexington, and the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.
Initially, both the Americans and the British saw the conflict as a kind of civil war within the British Empire: To King George III it was a colonial rebellion, and to the Americans, it was a struggle for their rights as British citizens. However, Parliament remained unwilling to negotiate with the American rebels and instead purchased German mercenaries to help the British army crush the rebellion. In response to Britain’s continued opposition to reform, the Continental Congress began to pass measures abolishing British authority in the colonies.
In January 1776, Thomas Paine published Common Sense, an influential political pamphlet that convincingly argued for American independence and sold more than 500,000 copies in a few months. In the spring of 1776, support for independence swept the colonies, the Continental Congress called for states to form their own governments, and a five-man committee was assigned to draft a declaration.
The Declaration of Independence was largely the work of Virginian Thomas Jefferson. In justifying American independence, Jefferson drew generously from the political philosophy of John Locke, an advocate of natural rights, and from the work of other English theorists. The first section features the famous lines, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The second part presents a long list of grievances that provided the rationale for rebellion.
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to approve a Virginia motion calling for separation from Britain. The dramatic words of this resolution were added to the closing of the Declaration of Independence. Two days later, on July 4, the declaration was formally adopted by 12 colonies after minor revision. New York approved it on July 19. On August 2, the declaration was signed.
The American War for Independence would last for five more years. Yet to come were the Patriot triumphs at Saratoga, the bitter winter at Valley Forge, the intervention of the French, and the final victory at Yorktown in 1781. In 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Britain, the United States formally became a free and independent nation.