In 1776, King George III was violating written law, the 1215 Magna Carta and the 1689 Declaration of Rights that had been imposed on government officials by the English people. 1) Written law placed strict limits on what government officials, kings, academia, militarists, clergy, etc. could do. 2) The king was required to sign a contract, a Magna Carta, before being installed upon the throne. 3) In 1689, government officials were exploiting the people in spite of the Magna Carta. At that time, the people refused to accept a king until he and his queen took oaths and signed an explicit contract. That document was a Bill of Rights, if you will, for the English people.
Objections by the original colonies regarding the rule of the British king began when he imposed a series of unjust laws that violated the colonists’ rights as British citizens. The colonists objected most vehemently to taxation without representation.
Nearing the end of 1773, the Colonists were refusing to pay taxes required by the British Parliament because their representatives had not been allowed to participate in tax enforcement decisions. If Americans paid the duty tax on the imported tea they would be acknowledging Parliament’s right to tax them. On December 16, with three shipments of tea in Boston harbor the crisis came to a head. In the early evening about 200 colonists descended upon the three ships and dumped the expensive shipments into harbor waters. This act was monumental and there could no longer be any misunderstanding about the political will of Americans.
On September 5, 1774, the First Continental Congress came together in Philadelphia with hopes of reaching an agreement with the British king. A respectful petition was sent on October 25 to the King, pointing out acts of oppression. Congress was still communicating the desire of Americans to remain as British subjects although Americans had a valid concern. Alexander Hamilton expressed it well in a published pamphlet: “The only distinction between freedom and slavery consists of this: in the former state, man is governed by laws to which he has given his consent, either in person or, by his representative. In the latter he is governed by the will of another” (Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 1985, 160).
In 1775, the Second Continental Congress convened on May 10. The goal of the colonies was justice, not independence. On July 5, 1775, the Continental Congress approved the Olive Branch Petition and appealed “To the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, Most Gracious Sovereign” for reconciliation. The King’s response? He refused to read the petition and on August 23 proclaimed that the colonies had “proceeded to open and avowed rebellion.”
The English Parliament retaliated on December 22, 1775, with the American Prohibitory Act, a declaration of unrestricted war against the colonists, claiming the right to confiscate their property. Freedom for Americans at this point became a matter of self-defense and necessitated a new republican (republic) government.
From June 1775 to December 1783, upon the recommendation of John Adams, George Washington served as commanding general of the Continental Army. The winter at Valley Forge (1777-78) is an example of the privation suffered by the soldiers who gave their lives for liberty. At this time, George Washington had a portion of Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis read to the American army:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”
In 1776, on July 4, the Second Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence, and the American nation was born.
~ David Norris