The fighting starts. American colonists still hope for a deal with the British government. They blame King George III. They think the British people are likely with them. King George is painted a tyrant. King George III is actually a mentally ill man.
British policy to fight the colonists is the idea of his ministers. It is the opinion of Parliament. There are critics. They speak out. They stand up for the American colonists. They even speak for the colonists on the floor of Parliament. They can’t change the views of the ministers and the will of Parliament.
The revolutionaries make one last effort at a compromise. The Olive Branch Petition goes to the British government. The petition is rejected. The government will not hear of it.
It is now clear. Colonial leaders realize a deal with Britain is not possible. Britain can’t defeat the colonists. The colonists in 1776 can’t defeat the British navy and army. The British can take and control port cities. The colonists control the countryside beyond these cities. The British army takes some of the countryside. It just can’t hold the land it takes for a long time.
What to do? If there can be no deal, what is the right course of action? Colonial leaders decide on independence. Their only hope is to wear down the British. Tired of the war, the British will accept independence and go home to Great Britain.
Congress creates a committee of three men. The three are John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. They are to write a draft of a declaration. It will state the colonies are free and independent. It will also state the reasons why they must be free. And it will justify freeing themselves from the British Empire.
The committee assigned Thomas Jefferson the job of writing the first draft. What Jefferson starts writing will become the American Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson’s declaration is straight out of John Locke. He reminds people of the social contract. Government exists because people create it. They create it to protect their rights.
Next, Jefferson lists all the ways the British government has violated the Rights of Englishmen. He ends by saying the British government is not protecting the colonists. It’s oppressing the colonists. It’s stealing their liberties. It’s using force it is not allowed to use under the social contract. It’s wicked, it’s wrong, and its actions have broken the social contract. Colonists have no reason to accept the British government.
Instead, the colonists have every right to create a new social contract. This new contract creates a new government. That government will be their colonial governments. Individual independent states, yes. However, these states must work together to achieve certain goals. The first goal is winning the War of Independence.
Adams and Franklin make changes to small parts of Jefferson’s draft declaration. It is then sent to the Continental Congress. Members of the Continental Congress vote in favor of it on 3 July 1776. The next day, 4 July 1776 the Declaration of Independence is read out in the major cities of America. It quickly finds its way into every village in each of the colonies. As of 4 July 1776 the colonies consider themselves free and independent of Great Britain.
The Declaration of Independence is a brilliant document. One of the best documents ever written by man. It clearly explains Locke’s ideas of government. It clearly applies these ideas to the colonist cause. It clearly explains why people treated wrongly by a government can dump it. It clearly explains why the colonists can and should create their own government.aThe Declaration of Independence helped unite the colonists. It helped explain the colonist’s fight throughout the world. It helped draw the French to the colonist cause. Of course the French waited for the 1777 victory at Saratoga. The Declaration of Independence remains the greatest document on government to this date. It is an inspiration to millions of people throughout the world since the date it’s published. It’s probably Thomas Jefferson’s greatest gift to American history and to world history.
Remember! The Declaration of Independence explains why the colonist should have their own government. It doesn’t say a thing about what that government should be. Americans will have to work that out in the days following independence.