Declaration of Independence: History, Meaning, Continental Congress, and Facts
In 1765, the Stamp Act was passed to collect taxes on printed materials and legal documents in the American colonies. The Act was later repealed after intense opposition from the colonies. The tax offices were destroyed, and the tax collectors were prevented from collecting the taxes. The colonies also refused trading with British merchants and companies. Colonial assembly leaders and politicians such as Patrick Henry in Virginia and Masschussettsans such as Samuel Adams, James Otis and John Adams (future president of the U.S.) strongly condemned the Stamp Act. They banded together to form a resistance that was called the Stamp Act Congress. There were also extensive protests from the Sons of Liberty in Boston, Massachusetts.
The combined efforts of the above two groups (as well as others) made the British government repeal the Stamp Act on March 18, 1766. As punishment for their defiance, the British passed the Declaratory Act to rein in the rebellion that was building across the various colonies. This act also categorically stated that the British government had the right to tax her American colonies. Therefore, more taxes followed even after the Stamp Act was scrapped off. These taxes were met with an even greater resistance from the colonies.
The bone of Contention between British Parliament and the American Colonies
As stated above, the conflict evolved around taxes and a lack of representation of the American colonies. This conflict was fueled by the different interpretation the two groups had about the British constitution. The British parliament believed that the British constitution grants the right to impose taxes upon the colonies. They took the orthodox interpretation of the constitution. Their interpretation makes parliament the highest authority in the empire. They could do as they deemed fit for the empire. On the contrary, the American colonies argued that the British constitution granted certain rights to them. These rights supersede the authority wielded by parliament. Therefore, the British parliament had no authority to impose any tax system upon the American colonies without given them any representation in parliament.
Additionally, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 as well as other trade regulations had gravely restricted the colonies westward expansion into the Ohio Valley. The colonies regarded this as the British trampling on their rights. They felt that the British wanted to confine the colonies eastward in order to properly regulate trade routes and ports. If the colonies expanded westward, the British officials would have had a difficult time and the forces would be spread thin.
From the British point of view, these measures were absolutely crucial because they were meant to prevent clashes between the colonies and the few French and Native Indian settlers to the west. They also argued that the taxes imposed on the colonies only covered a fraction of their soldiers expenses in the colonies. The colonies however felt that the French or Native Indian threat was under wraps, so why should the British forces be stationed in their colonies.
As time went by, the issue was no longer about taxes and trade regulations in essence. The conflict evolved into a much greater quest for freedom from the British Parliament. Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson , John Adams and James Wilson began publishing editorials that supported the rights of the colonies to self-govern themselves.
The Skirmishes Shortly Before the Declaration of Independence
The protest against successive British tax laws got ever more brutal as time passed. An example of such protests occurred on December 16, 1773 in Boston, Massachusetts. The event that took place on that day is popularly known as the Boston Tea Party. It was a crucial stand by the colonies against the British monarch. The British realizing how popular tea was among the colonies decided to impose very high taxes on them. To make matters worse, the colonies were forced to buy tea from one company: the British company, the East India Trading company.
In response, the various colonies climbed aboard the ships carrying the tea and dumped about 342 chests of tea and cargo into the sea. The ring leader of this protest was Samuel Adams (cousin of John Adams), the leader of the Sons of Liberty group based in Boston. However, some historians still doubt if Adams was the one who actually orchestrated the Boston Tea Party.
The British Empire fumed over this incident because aside from it being a rebellious action, the Boston Tea Party cost the East India Trading company huge sums of losses. King George III had to act quickly and decisively. He did this by imposing an even steeper tax laws on the colonies. The British military presence on the continent also sharply increased. However, rather than having the desired effects, the King’s increased suppression of colonial dissents forced the American colonies to band together to form the first continental congress.
By the early 1770s, the British soldiers had to contend with an increased number of colonial militias. These militias went to great lengths to sharpen their fighting and battle skills in order to fully take on the British soldiers.
The political front also saw all the 13 colonies set up functioning local councils and assemblies. In 1774, the colonies had each elected a delegate to represent them at the first Continental Congress. They realized that they would fair way better if they united and faced off their common enemy- the British Empire. Delegates from the colonies (except Georgia) met at Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia, from September 5 to October 26, 1774.
What ranked most on their agenda was the Intolerable Acts (also known as the Coercive Acts) imposed on them by the British Parliament. The first works that were done by the first Continental Congress proved very instrumental in the 1776 Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, the delegates decided to coordinate their efforts in response to any further oppression from King George III. They also decided to boycott all goods coming from Great Britain.
There were some delegates who suggested that the Congress exhaust all possible means of dialog with the British crown. As a result, Congress sent a letter to George III bemoaning the negative effects of the Intolerable Acts. Time and time again, the British monarch blatantly ignored their appeals. King George III and Prime Minister Lord North were bent on enforcing the decisions of the British Parliament. They maintained that the only way of restoring order in the American colonies was to completely crush the rebellion. In between all these bickering and sporadic wars, the Continental Congress decided to reconvene in May 1775.