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Lesson 1

Why Declare Independence?

When we declared independence in 1776, our mother country, Great Britain, was the most powerful nation in the world, and the ties between Britain and her colonies were strong. Great Britain was the colonies' biggest trading partner, and Britain's Navy protected our trade with the rest of the world. Most of our people could trace their ancestry to English roots, and there was a free flow of people and ideas across the Atlantic. Many of our more well-to-do citizens sent their children to British universities. And just 13 years before the Declaration, in 1763, Britain and her colonies defeated France, Spain, and Austria in what, for the time, would surely qualify as a World War. In Europe, it was called the Seven Years' War. In America, where the colonists fought side by side with the British and captured Canada and all the land east of the Mississippi, it was known as the Old French1 or French and Indian War. The British also took Cuba from Spain, but swapped it back for Florida to consolidate British holdings on the North American continent. Our most renown military men, like George Washington, had no greater ambition than to obtain a commission as an officer in His Majesty's Army.

With the bonds and the benefits of union with Britain so great, breaking them seems not just bold but stupid. Why would we take such a step?

 

Men Fight for Ideas

The reason, of course, is an idea. The colonists had the idea that the way the British government treated them after the French and Indian war was not right. Having faced a common danger and shared a common victory, the colonists felt entitled to the rights of Englishmen. Many of the first colonists had come to America to escape the exercise of arbitrary power, and the close ties with Britain meant their descendants studied carefully the growth of the principles of liberty and democracy in the mother country. The colonists thought Britain's actions from 1763 until we declared independence violated their rights as Englishmen.

But here we must make a subtle point. The Declaration of Independence was not an act of war, or even of violence. The colonists were not "picking a fight." The Declaration was an act of flight - of running away - and we'll see what that means and why it is important in just a moment.

 


Today they are states, but in 1776, these were the original 13 British colonies.

 

 

"It is ideas that group men into fighting factions, that press the weapons into their hands, and that determine against whom and for whom the weapons shall be used."
~ Ludwig von Mises ~

 

 

There was probably some rivalry between younger and older Revolutionary War vets over which war was the real "Old French" war. A reader who has carefully researched colonial wars advises us that the term "Old French" war more accurately applies to King George's War, the American campaigns from 1744-1748 of the War of Austrian Succession. To vets of those campaigns, that was the "Old" French War, the French and Indian War was just the "French War."


Question: Why did we decide to declare independence when our ties to Britain were strong?

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