Every July 4, the United States celebrates its Independence Day, the anniversary of the day in 1776 when the American Colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration declared the colonies to be free from British rule. So, what happened that led to that momentous day?
From 1607 to 1733, the English established 13 colonies in North America. Britain expected the American Colonies to serve its economic interests. In general, the colonists accepted British regulations. However, Britain largely neglected the American Colonies while it fought France in a series of wars during the 1700’s. After the French and Indian War ended in 1763, the British government tried to tighten its control over the colonies. The war had drained Britain’s treasury and left a huge debt.
By this time, Americans had grown used to a large measure of self-government. They strongly resisted the new laws, especially tax laws. The disobedience of the American Colonies angered the British government. Eventually, in 1775, the British government ordered its troops to take swift action against the rebels. The American Revolution broke out soon afterward.
In May 1775, delegates from the colonies gathered in Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress. At the time, most colonists still did not favor declaring themselves independent of Britain. In July, the colonists sent a final petition to Britain declaring their loyalty to the king and asking him to address their complaints. But the king ignored their request and declared the colonies to be in rebellion. In June 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced a resolution to the Second Continental Congress stating that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States…” After several days of debate, the Congress appointed a committee to draft a declaration of independence.
The committee gave the task to Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, who completed the work in about two weeks. Two other members, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and John Adams of Massachusetts, made a few minor changes. On July 2, the Congress approved the Lee resolution. The delegates then began to debate Jefferson’s draft. On July 4, the Congress adopted the final draft of the Declaration of Independence.
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