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The Declaration of Independence (1776)

Thomas Jefferson

Study Questions

Conclusion and Definition of a New Government

The Declaration of Independence -Suggestions for Further Reading

What caused the increase in parliamentary legislation after the French and Indian War?

King George III differed from the other Hanover monarchs in that he wanted to be a strong ruler over all British territory. During the French and Indian War, George III gained control over the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. He also gained the perfect opportunity to finally control colonial activity. George III did not want his colonies to become rich off their trade with other countries. He believed that the profits of the colonies belonged to the Mother Country. He further believed that the colonists, who reaped the most benefits from the defeat of the French and Indians, should assist in paying war debts. Therefore, he and his ministers passed legislation that was strictly enforced by royal appointees and the British military. This legislation was designed to strictly enforce trade regulations, as well as to tax the colonists. The legislation also made it painfully evident to the colonists that King George III was not interested in allowing them the self-rule and economic freedom they had enjoyed before.

What evidence was there that colonists acted in a unified fashion before the passage of the Declaration of Independence?

Before te French and Indian War, the individual colonies viewed themselves as separate entities only connected by their common heritage and their loyalty to the British King. When the acts of Parliament began to strip individual colonies of their rights and self-rule, other colonies noticed. As soon as the Stamp Act was passed in 1765, colonists began to organize a unified protest. Nine of the 13 colonies met to discuss the Stamp Act and resolved that the colonists, as British citizens, had the same rights as citizens living in England. Furthermore, they established the idea that it was unlawful for Parliament to impose a tax on the colonies, because the colonies had no representation in Parliament. Five years later in 1772, Samuel Adams began the Committees of Correspondence in order to strengthen the idea that an attack on one colony represented an attack on all of the colonies.

After the Intolerable Acts were passed in 1774, 12 of the 13 colonies met to issue a declaration similar in content to the resolution by the Stamp Act Congress. Only this time, they vowed to enact a unified boycott on all British goods. Although the Intolerable Acts targeted the Massachusetts colony, the other colonies felt a strong need to protest this abuse of rights. The precedent set by the First Continental Congress was that the colonies were willing to act together in a more permanent way. They vowed to meet again in May of 1775 if their protest did not lead to peaceful reconciliation. By the meeting of the Second Continental Congress, all 13 colonies were present and acted together to administer a war of defense even before they acted together to declare independence.

Why did the Intolerable Acts have a greater impact on the colonies than earlier tax acts?

The Intolerable Acts not only attacked the economic rights of people in the Massachusetts colony, but also removed their system of self-rule and representative government. The Intolerable Acts closed the port of Boston to imports and exports, appointed a military governor, barred town meetings, and prevented the election of local officials and the selection of jurors. Although colonists viewed earlier tax acts and acts to control trade as unconstitutional, this act actually deprived them of their civil rights. The Magna Carta and British Bill of Rights of 1689 indicate that the King is not above the law, and that certain civil rights are granted to British subjects to ensure that the King does not become to powerful. Among these rights are the right to trial by a jury of one's peers, and the power of taxation resting in the hands of an elected body. Both of these rights were removed with the tax act. The colonists had no form of economic or political defense against the King's absolute rule in Massachusetts.

In what ways was George III's nationality (German) influential in his actions against the colonists?

What influenced moderates to vote for independence?

Why would the Declaration of Independence ease the domestic turmoil between Tories and Whigs?

In what way did the King of Britain's actions make colonial independence inevitable?

Is the Declaration of Independence a radical document? Explain.

What issues did the Declaration of Independence fail to resolve regarding equality? Regarding the newly established national government?

What overall impact has the Declaration of Independence had on our nation? On the nations of the world?

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