The Year 1776: Deceleration of Independence
One of the most important periods in the US history is the American Revolutionary War, in particular 1776, the year of adoption for the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration is widely viewed as one of the significant moments in the history of the USA and a background for further development of the idea of equality for all. This event indirectly generated many new ethno-political ideas, concepts, and principles. Among them were the rights of colonial peoples, limited national sovereignty, decentralized federation, the right of peoples to self-determination, and others. However, its influence is much more significant, which is pointed out by a number of living researchers. In their works, such authors as Alexander Tsesis, Danielle Allen, David Armitage, and Alexandru Boboc-Cojocaru not only reflect on the foundations of independence and equality laid in the late 1770s. They also expound on the influence of that period and the Declaration of Independence itself on American identity and the lives of other nations both in the past and nowadays. The watershed year of 1776 had a lasting effect on various aspects of life such as human rights, legal protection, political philosophy, social position, and many other domains. This paper examines the above ideas and findings to have a more broad understanding of the history of the United States.
Keywords: 1776, the Declaration of Independence, US history
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The Year 1776: Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a fundamental document in the wake of the Revolutionary War. Moreover, being a part of the US Constitution, it has been regarded as a literary monument of the USA. The historical episode under study was the first step towards the formation of the present-day United States of America, that “was born in the revolutionary struggle which was largely animated by the desire of the colonists to restore and protect their rights against arbitrary state power” (Boboc-Cojocaru, 2013, p. 196). The success of this fight for freedom and the ideas stated in it had offered hope for those who craved recognition of equal rights. Thus, Armitage (2008) considers South America and Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain, and Africa as the examples of successors in this path. The participants of anti-imperial movements spread the text of the Declaration in some countries. Others used the ideas announced therein in their own acts and bills. Thus, the fight for freedom and basic human rights of one country gave hope to many different nations. To have a clear idea of the significance of the Declaration, which the Second Continental Congress adopted on July 4, 1776, one should review the historic period, in which events unfolded.
During eight years of their Revolutionary War (1775 to 1783), Americans pursued two goals – to gain national independence and to remove obstacles hindering the development of capitalism. The Revolution, which started one year before the crucial juncture, was caused by many factors. Thus, England imposed on its colonies such severe taxes and fees that not only were they cruel for the local population, but they also often replenished exclusively the treasury of Britain. Another important prerequisite for the revolutionary sentiments was the fact that Americans did not have a representative in the Parliament of Great Britain and they could not participate in the discussion of possible taxes.
On September 5, 1774, the deputies from 12 American colonies of Great Britain gathered in Philadelphia for a congress. The main issue for discussion was the laws of the British government limiting the independent development of the colonists. Thus, the First Continental Congress declared a trade boycott to British missions. This was a pronounced demonstration of cooperation between the colonies and a true sign of their preparedness to separate and create an individual state, which also provided a significant experience in running a federal nation (Tsesis, 2012). The outcomes of the Congress ultimately led to the outbreak of war on April 17, 1775, when the British detachment was sent to seize the leaders of American colonists. Over the course of the war, the multi-ethnic population of English colonies grew into a new dynamic nation, united by a common economic interest and a single national idea. This idea had not only an ethnic but also a political character – the creation and development of a sovereign state.
As agreed at the First Continental Congress, the Second Continental Congress of all 13 colonies gathered in 1775 and practically acted as national government until 1781. Over the period from 1776 to 1789, the United States transformed into an independent state with its own constitution and the government. Having formed a military alliance with European powers, Americans annexed new state territories between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, which was decided by the peace treaty with Great Britain. To strengthen the federal government, in 1789, the current US Constitution replaced the first one, the Articles of Confederation. Although eight years of the war had killed thousands of people from all parties involved and brought economic devastation to the colonies, these sacrifices opened the door to the creation of a new state that would turn into a strong and prosperous nation.
Alongside the Bill of Rights, which granted citizens the right to freedom of speech, assembly and choice of religion, inviolability of the person and home, the adoption of the Declaration of Independence was one of the most significant achievements for Americans. The Declaration proclaimed the separation of 13 North American colonies from the Kingdom of Great Britain. The representatives from Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, South Carolina, and Virginia signed this act (Allen, 2014). The main author of the document was Thomas Jefferson, a diplomat and philosopher as well as the future president of the United States. Together with him, another future US president John Adams, as well as Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston, worked on the text of the Declaration. In American historiography, the authors and those who had signed the Declaration are known as the Founding Fathers.
The main provisions of the Declaration of Independence were as follows. The principle of natural and inalienable human rights was proclaimed, which meant that all people were created equal and they had equal inalienable rights. To ensure natural human rights, governments were established among people who borrowed their power from the consent of the governed. If the said government become disastrous for this purpose, people had the right to change it. The Declaration also listed the abuses of the English government in relation to the colonies and established the dissolution of political connection between the colonies and Britain. Finally, the document annunciated freedom and independence of the States of America, with the full right to declare war, join unions, and conduct trade.
On September 3, 1783, Britain recognized American independence. This victory destroyed all impediments for the development of American industry and trade as well as gave an opportunity for free competition. Moreover, this was a milestone for other countries and nations and an example to follow. As Armitage (2008) notes, “The ultimate success of the Americans’ claim to independence encouraged others to follow their example, not only in claiming statehood as an escape from empire, but also in declaring independence as the mark of sovereignty” (p. 113). In some way, the American Declaration set a precedent in global history. A new-era democratic state was born, wherein equality and liberty were the summits of human empowerment, the twinned foundations of democracy (Allen, 2014). Thus, for the first time in the history of humankind, the declaration proclaimed the idea of sovereignty of the people as the basis of the state.
Even centuries later, the US Declaration of Independence is still regarded by many people all over the world as an example of the expression of public will through a political instrument. This was a public will to build a state where everyone could live a dignified life and enjoy fundamental human rights. Today, this concept is widespread and rarely connected to the historical events that occurred in the USA in the 18th century. Nevertheless, when looking closer at the events of 1776, one would find that it was the background for the creation of the state that would be known eventually as the country of freedom and equality.