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General Studies 1 >> World History

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1. Context
July 4 marks the 248th Independence Day of the United States. It was the day when the Declaration of Independence, the document which marked the foundation of the US as a union of states liberated from Britain, was signed
2. History of Colonists
  • More than 150 years after the British began establishing permanent colonies in North America, the colonists became increasingly dissatisfied with British rule.
  • The 13 British colonies were expected to function with self-governing legislatures, allowing them to pass their own laws, levy taxes, and raise troops independently. However, the colonists had no representation in the British Parliament in London.
  • Until 1763, the British followed a policy of 'salutary neglect,' granting the American colonies considerable freedom in their trade practices.
  • This changed after the French and Indian War ended. The British issued a proclamation prohibiting colonists from expanding into indigenous territories, which the settlers viewed as an infringement on their freedom.
  • This directive was largely ignored, leading to strained relations with London. Subsequently, a decade of stringent sanctions followed. Legislation such as the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765), the Tea Act (1773), and the Intolerable Acts (1774) increased British control over American life.
  • Combined with Enlightenment ideas about freedom and equality, the conditions were set for a revolution against the monarch
3. Struggle for Declaration
  • On December 16, 1773, a group called the Sons of Liberty destroyed a shipment of tea sent to Boston by the British East India Company.
  • This event, known as the Boston Tea Party, sparked a resistance movement across the colonies against the oppressive tea tax and the British Empire as a whole.
  • The colonists argued that Britain had no right to tax them without providing representation in the British Parliament.
  • In response, the colonies formed the Continental Congress to decide on further actions against the British. Initially, they attempted to enforce a boycott of British goods and sought to negotiate better terms with King George III, but these efforts were unsuccessful.
  • By April 1775, the 13 colonies were engaged in a war for independence from the British Empire.
  • While the conflict continued, on July 2, 1776, 12 of the 13 member states of the Congress unanimously declared that the colonies "are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states," effectively voting for independence.
  • John Adams, who later became the second President of the United States, remarked that "the second day of July 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival." He was slightly mistaken—the formal document declaring the colonies' independence was signed on July 4
4. Declaration of Independence
  • In June 1776, a committee consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston was formed to draft a statement justifying the colonies' assertion of independence if it became necessary.
  • The document was primarily written by Jefferson, who had earlier authored ‘A Summary View of the Rights of British America’ in 1775.
  • In this work, he stated, “Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate and systematical plan of reducing us to slavery.” It is noteworthy that Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves, highlighting an irony.
  • The Declaration of Independence drew heavily from this earlier treatise. It was signed by 56 delegates, including the committee members who drafted it, and these signatories would forever be recognized as the founding fathers of the United States.
The Declaration famously stated, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
5.Aftermath of 1776 American declaration

Following the Declaration of Independence in 1776, several significant events unfolded that shaped the course of American history:

  • American Revolutionary War (1775-1783): The Declaration marked the formal beginning of the American Revolutionary War, which had already been ongoing since April 1775. The war intensified after the Declaration, as the colonies fought against British forces to secure their independence.

  • Formation of a New Nation: The Declaration laid the philosophical foundation for the formation of a new nation based on principles of liberty, equality, and self-governance. It articulated the grievances against British rule and asserted the natural rights of all people.

  • Foreign Diplomacy: The Declaration helped garner support from other nations, particularly France, which provided crucial military and financial assistance to the American cause. This foreign support was instrumental in the eventual victory of the American colonies over the British.

  • Articles of Confederation (1781): After declaring independence, the colonies operated under the Articles of Confederation, which established a loose alliance of states with a weak central government. This early form of government faced challenges, leading to the eventual drafting and adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

  • Legacy of the Founding Fathers: The signatories of the Declaration, often referred to as the Founding Fathers, continued to play pivotal roles in shaping the new nation. Their ideals and principles, as articulated in the Declaration, influenced the formation of American laws, institutions, and democratic values.

  • Impact on Global History: The Declaration of Independence had a profound impact beyond the American colonies, inspiring movements for liberty and independence worldwide. It became a symbol of resistance against tyranny and an affirmation of human rights.

For Prelims: understand the sequence of events leading to the American Declaration of Independence
For Mains: GS I - World History
Source: Indianexpress

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