Listed below is the blow-by-blow chronology of actions taken by Great Britain and the colonies leading to our Declaration of Independence.

Great Britain's actions are in the red bands, ours in the white. The blue field to the left gives the date.

As you read, remember the 27 violations of our rights we listed in the Declaration, and see if you can tell how Britain's actions led to each of our complaints.

1763

The Proclamation of 1763 - the Earl of Hillsborough, head of the British Board of Trade, decreed that settlers could not purchase land in the newly acquired territory west of the Appalachians and ordered settlers in the upper Ohio to remove themselves. The measure was intended to minimize disputes with Indians over land purchased by settlers.


Patrick Henry

Land was the key to wealth in the New World, many Europeans could only rent it. The limitations on new settlement land meant a limit on economic growth and the wealth of every colonist.

The Parson's Cause - By law Virginia clergymen were paid in tobacco. When the crop failed, the Va. Assembly passed a law to relieve farmers stating that debts owed in tobacco could be satisfied at a rate of two pennies per pound. The Virginia clergy complained, and the British Privy Council struck the law down. Rev. Maury then sued for his back pay, and argued that since the British authorities struck the law, it was void when it was passed. A young lawyer named Patrick Henry took over the case when the state had already lost, and Rev. Maury's right to back pay was acknowledged. The only issue remaining in the case was the amount of pay. Henry argued passionately that in striking the legislature's act, the King violated the colony's right to regulate its internal affairs. A jury agreed and returned a verdict of just one penny in back pay for Rev. Maury.

1764

The Sugar Act - Parliament had passed laws regulating trade in the colonies, but this was the first trade regulation designed specifically to raise revenue. The Act continued duties on molasses and sugar, increased duties on foreign sugar, and imposed new or higher duties on foreign textiles, coffee, indigo, wine from Spain and Portugal, iron, hides, whale fins, silk, potash, pearl ash, and all foreign goods shipped to the colonies via England. The Act also banned importation of foreign rum and French wine.

Customs enforcement - Before the Sugar Act, Britain spent three times the amount it collected in performing customs inspections on colonial goods. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Grenville, pushed through new customs laws designed to prevent smuggling and raise customs collections. The rules gave an English Admiralty court coequal jurisdiction over customs suits with colonial courts, took away a vessel owner's or merchant's right to sue on the grounds his ship or goods were illegally seized, put the burden of proving innocence on a party accused of a customs violation, imposed stricter registration and bonding requirements on merchant ships, and eliminated a practice that allowed customs inspectors to live in England and employ colonial agents to handle customs inspections.

The Currency Act - extended a ban imposed on the colonies in New England in 1751 that prevented the colonial legislatures from printing money.

The new measures were not only harsh, they were unprecedented. The ability to regulate trade solely to raise revenue was a power Parliament had claimed but never exercised. The use of admiralty courts to try customs cases showed a mark distrust for colonial courts, and turned every British naval officer on the American Station into a customs agent. Since the courts operated without a jury, their use denied the accused the right to a trial by jury drawn from his town or the location at which the violation was alleged to have occurred. The provisions barring suit and shifting the burden of proof violated rights secured by normal English legal procedure.

But an injury that is felt only slightly is but a slight injury. The sting of 1764's new laws came from their broad economic impact. The end of the French and Indian War brought with it a recession, as workers and resources shifted back into civilian employment. Like England, the colonies had also spent large sums to prosecute the war and had a shortage of species money to carry on normal commerce, let alone pay taxes. The prohibition on the power to print money meant that prices would be pushed further down (recall that if inflation is caused by more money chasing a scarce quantity of goods, deflation is caused by less money chasing those goods.) The tight money supply deepened the recession, since economic growth requires an increasing number of transactions and they, in turn, require a growing money supply. At the same time, while producers and merchants received lower prices for their goods, they were forced to pay higher prices for the goods on which duties were imposed, many of them consumer staples. The restrictions on French and Spanish goods virtually choked off trade with those countries. The new provisions affected industry, farming, and consumers, and triggered the move toward union that would provide the strength needed to resist.

Committees of Correspondence - Parliament's exercise of the power to regulate trade solely to raise revenue sparked the cry of taxation without representation, and the colony of Massachusetts led the colonial opposition. A Boston town meeting called for united action by the colonies, and the Massachusetts House of Representatives responded by authorizing the first committee of correspondence.

Boycott - Boston merchants began refusing to import English goods, a practice that spread to other colonies by the end of the year. Bostonians themselves began substituting goods of American manufacture for British goods to the extent they could.

1765

The Stamp Act - The Sugar Act was the first trade regulation enacted specifically to raise revenue, but it was an "external" tax - it applied only to goods imported into the colonies - and could be avoided to the extent one could live without the goods on which it imposed duties. It was also an "indirect" tax, although it was passed on in the form of higher prices, it was paid by merchants who imported the dutied goods. By contrast the Stamp Act was an internal tax, it required that virtually all printed material in the colonies, including books, newspapers, posters, advertisements, legal documents such as contracts, promissory notes, and bills of exchange, insurance policies, and even playing cards be produced on special "stamped" paper . Thus the Stamp Act was also the first direct tax Parliament had ever imposed on the colonists; the first time the colonists paid a tax directly to the British government, rather than to their own colonial legislatures. Like the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act could be enforced in British Admiralty courts in England. The Act passed Parliament in March, and was scheduled to go into effect on 1 November. Parliament projected that the Stamp Act and Sugar Act together would raise about a third of the funds needed to support the British military in the colonies.

The Quartering Act - required the colonial legislatures to appropriate funds from their own tax revenues to quarter and provision British troops.


Burning the Stamps!

The burden of the Stamp Act fell on all the colonists, but it fell particularly hard on those most able to organize the public to resist it, businessmen, lawyers, and publishers. The slogan of no taxation without representation began to be supported with serious legal and political argument and action.

The Treason Speech - Patrick Henry's victory in the Parson's cause gave him a name and allowed him to be elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. He was only 29, and had just been seated in May, the month the House was to recess, when news of the Stamp Act reached Virginia. Determined the House should take action, Henry introduced the Stamp Act Resolves (also called the Virginia Resolutions) that stated "taxation of the people by themselves is the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom" and argued that the colonists had no obligation to pay taxes levied by a body other than their own legislature. The other burgesses, older, aristocratic, and reluctant to antagonize England, tried to prevent action being taken on Henry's resolves. But the young backwoods lawyer persuaded the majority with a rousing speech. "What right has a king, three thousand miles away, to interfere with internal affairs of the colony?" he asked. "Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third . . . "Treason!" yelled the speaker, and the cry echoed around the room. Henry waited for the cry to die down and continued "and George the Third may profit by their example. I do not doubt that some American, jealous of the liberties of his country will, in due course, appear. If this be treason, make the most of it!" Swayed by Henry's speech, the House adopted a moderate resolution stating the colony had controlled its own affairs and rejecting the idea of taxation without representation.

Daniel Dulany - Though rejected by the Virginia legislature, Henry's resolution were widely published, as were Maryland lawyer Daniel Dulany's "Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes in the British Colonies, for the Purpose of raising a Revenue, by Act of Parliament."

The Sons and Daughters of Liberty - In many towns, this secret society was organized, often by well known and wealthy men. In enacting the Stamp Act, Britain borrowed a trick from the Roman occupation of Judea, and appointed loyal colonials to be stamp agents. The Sons bore out Patrick Henry's prediction, and used violence to intimidate the stamp agents. By the date the Act was to take effect, every stamp agent had resigned. The Sons also "persuaded" merchants to rescind their orders for British goods. The Daughters of Liberty helped make the boycotts of English goods work, by developing substitutes like tea made from strawberries, weaving "homespun" fabric and encouraging their men to stand up for what was right.

The Stamp Act Congress - The Massachusetts House of Representatives spurred united action by approving a motion by James Otis for a congress of representatives from all the colonies. The meeting convened in October with representatives from every colony except New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. The Stamp Act Congress adopted a "Declaration of the Rights and Grievances" of the colonists that claimed the colonists were entitled to all the rights of natural born British subjects, especially the rights to trial by jury and to no taxation without representation. In a moderate tone, the Declaration stressed the colonies attachment to Britain, but firmly insisted on the colonists rights. It was communicated to King George III and both houses of Parliament.

Boycott - Northern merchants now solidly followed a non-importation policy on British goods. On the November 1, when the act took effect, the colonists shuttered their businesses and the courts closed rather than use the hated stamps. But by the end of the year, business as usual had resumed, in open violation of the Act.

1766

Repeal of the Stamp Act - The colonists' boycott of English goods carried more weight than their political declarations. Some British merchants had been driven to bankruptcy, and a popular movement led by merchants had petitioned Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act. When it convened in January, Parliament began debate on whether to repeal the act. William Pitt spoke in favor of repeal, while Grenville, the treasurer, favored enforcing the act with military force. With the support of King George, a bill for repeal passed Parliament in mid March.

Declaratory Act - on the same day Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, it passed this act, declaring it had the power to pass laws binding the colonies in all cases whatsoever.

New Government - In August, a new government came into power, with Charles Townshend as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The colonists greeted repeal of the Stamp Act with joy, and public thanksgivings were offered in churches. The colonists abandoned the boycott, and the New York Assembly even passed an act to honor King George. The legislatures also voted compensation for those who lost property through the violent actions of the Sons of Liberty and other civil disturbances. The Declaratory Act was viewed as just a face saving resolution, and few believed that Parliament would again attempt to impose direct internal taxes.

Riots in New York - The Quartering Act was still in place, however, and the British commander, General Gage, demanded the legislatures in New York, where he was headquartered, and Massachusetts vote funds to pay for housing and supplies for his troops. Both legislatures refused. In New York, some British troops tore down a liberty pole, which led to a riot the next day in which a prominent leader in the sons of Liberty was wounded by a British bayonet. As a result, the legislature again voted not to provide the requested funds, and New York's British governor suspended its session.

1767

The Townshend Acts - Parliament passed tax cuts in Britain, leaving Townshend, the new treasurer, in need of a new source of revenue. Townshend did not repeat the error of imposing direct taxes on the colonies. Instead, he extended import duties to cover glass, red and white lead, paper, pasteboard, paint, and tea. Jurisdiction to enforce the Townshend Acts was again placed in admiralty courts, which were now given power to issue writs of assistance. These writs gave customs agents the power to search for smuggled goods without any limitations. The Acts also created a new American Board of Commissioners of the Customs located at Boston, to make collections faster and more effective. Part of the revenues raised by the Act were to be used to pay the governors and judges in the colonies to ensure their allegiance to the Crown.

New York Legislature Restrained - Parliament prohibited the New York Legislature from passing any law whatsoever to punish it for refusing to vote the funds required by the Quartering Act.


Tormenting the Tories - about 30% of colonists stayed loyal to the end, and both sides sometimes resorted to forceful persuasion.

Warrantless searches - The court's ability to issue writs of assistance gave the agents of the Crown the ability to perform warrantless searches, to harass whom they would at any time.

Disguised taxes - The Townshend duties themselves, while not direct taxes, were imposed on goods the colonists were required to purchase from Britain. By law, Britain had structured its trade arrangements with the colonies so that the colonies exported raw materials and imported British finished goods. John Dickinson, who had helped draft the resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress, set out the colonists' position on the Townshend Acts in a series of essays entitled "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies." (Letters 2 and 4 of 14 are available on the web). Dickinson acknowledged Britain's right to impose duties to regulate trade and to prohibit the colonies from manufacturing certain goods, but he argued that imposing duties on goods the colonists could not make for themselves solely for the purpose of raising tax revenue made the Townshend Acts taxes, not trade regulations. The taxes violated the constitution and history of England and turned the colonists into "as abject slaves as France and Poland can shew in wooden shoes, and with uncombed hair" because they were imposed without personal consent or representation.

Boycott - The colonies in the North reinstituted their boycott of English goods, but with an important difference. This time, instead of the boycott being initiated voluntarily by the merchants themselves, town meetings of citizens drew up lists of the goods which would not be imported.

1768

Britain orders colonial legislatures dissolved - As a result of a circular letter drafted by Sam Adams and circulated among the colonial legislatures, Lord Hillsborough, in the newly created post of Secretary of State for the Colonies, authorized the British colonial governors to dissolve the legislatures to prevent them from endorsing the Massachusetts letter. The Massachusetts and Virginia legislatures were actually dissolved, Massachusetts in 1768 for refusing to rescind their circular letter, and Virginia in 1769 for adopting the Virginia Resolves and Association.

John Hancock's sloop Liberty seized - The new customs inspectors in Boston requested military assistance and received help in the form of the 50-gun frigate Romney. When an inspector was locked in a cabin while Spanish wine was unloaded from the Liberty, customs seized the vessel. A large crowd assembled at the pier to recapture it, but were frustrated when it was towed under the shadow of Romney's guns. The crowd then rioted and vandalized the homes of the chief inspector and other customs officers, forcing them to flee to Castle William in Boston Harbor.

Troops occupy the statehouse - General Gage in New York dispatched two regiments to reinforce Boston. The troops arrived under convoy and the ships took station with their broadsides commanding the town. Seven hundred soldiers debarked with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets. Their tents covered Boston Commons, and many were quartered in the Statehouse, now guarded by canon, where the legislature met before it was dissolved.

Parliament requests an inquiry - Parliament petitioned King George to express support for the use of the military and requested colonists guilty of treason be identified and returned to England for trial.

The Massachusetts and Virginia Circular Letters - Sam Adams drafted a circular letter that explained how the Townshend Acts violated the principle of no taxation without representation and denounced the Acts' attempt to make the governors and judges independent of the people by paying their salaries from the revenue the Acts raised. The Massachusetts Assembly voted a resolution adopting the letter. Before Lord Hillsborough's order to the governors to dissolve the assemblies reached America, so had the legislatures of New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Virginia. In a move that marked a shift toward favoring Independence, the Virginia House of Burgesses also drafted its own circular letter advising the other colonies to join in support of Massachusetts' resistance.

Boycott - Boston merchants tightened their boycott of English goods, and were followed eventually by those in New York, who agreed to cancel all orders for British goods. The boycott also spread to the trades, with workmen in New York agreeing not to do business with a merchant who did not cancel orders from England.

1769

Governor Bernard recalled - Massachusetts' Governor Bernard, who had vigorously supported the use of troops to quell colonial resistance and dissolved the legislature, was recalled in August. Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson was promoted to governor. Massachusetts rejoiced with bell-ringing and public celebrations.

Virginia Resolves and Association - In May, George Washington introduced a set of resolutions in the Virginia House of Burgesses drafted by his neighbor on the Potomac, George Mason. The Virginia Resolves reasserted the exclusive right of the governor and the legislature to tax the colony, the right to trial by jury, the right to communicate with other colonial legislatures, and the right to petition the King. Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee drafted a letter which was transmitted to King George. On learning of these proceedings, Virginia's governor, Baron Botetourt dissolved the assembly, but it convened the next day at Raleigh Tavern, a Williamsburg public house. There, the delegates approved the Virginia Association, a boycott agreement banning importation of dutied British goods, slaves, many luxury goods from Europe. Boycott now progressed to an official policy of the colonial legislatures, with all but New Hampshire joining in by the end of 1769. British exports to the colonies fell by almost 40%.

1770

Townshend Acts repealed on all goods save tea - Lord Frederick North was appointed head of the British Ministry and his first measure was to repeal all of the duties on imports to the colonies with the exception of tea. The partial repeal kept Britain's claim to the right to tax the colonies in place, though North promised to impose no new taxes.

Quartering Act expires - Parliament allowed the quartering act to expire.


John Adams, who defended the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre.

Boycott abandoned - although the colonists objected to Britain's continued assertion of the right to lay taxes, the partial repeal of the Townshend duties undermined popular support for for continuing the boycott on goods other than tea.

Battle of Golden Hill - Tensions between the colonists and the British troops remained high while the Quartering Act was still in effect, especially in New York where the legislature had consistently refused to vote the funds demanded. In January, some British soldiers cut down New York City's liberty pole, leading to a riot between soldiers armed with bayonets and colonists. Both sides suffered casualties and Alexander McDougall, a leader of the Sons of Liberty was imprisoned.

Boston Massacre - Described in detail on the referring page, the massacre almost resulted in an outright battle between Bostonians and the occupying troops. Thousands flocked immediately to the site of the massacre, where the sight of their fallen neighbors stirred the call for a general uprising. A battle was only averted when Lt. Gov. Hutchinson (who had not yet been promoted though Gov. Bernard had been recalled 7 months earlier) addressed the crowds from the balcony of the state house and agreed to Sam Adams' demand that the occupation troops be removed from the town to Castle William.

1771

Hutchinson promoted - Lt. Gov. Hutchinson was promoted to governor of Massachusetts and moved the meeting site of the legislature from Boston where its records were maintained to Cambridge and Salem.

Tea boycott continues - no significant altercations took place in this year, though colonists continued to use substitutes rather than pay duties on imported British tea.

1772

Governor Hutchinson's salary paid by the Crown - perhaps because Massachusetts was the hotbed of resistance in the colonies, in June, Governor Hutchinson announces that his salary would henceforth be paid directly by the British government. Before, he was dependent on the tax revenue raised by the colony's own legislature.

Burning of the Gaspee - Gaspee was a revenue schooner commanded by Lt. Doddington, a British naval officer who had angered the colonists of Rhode Island by his zealous enforcement of tariff laws. But the colonists got their revenge when Doddington's zeal as a policeman exceeded his seamanship, Frost's United States, 1849, gives this account:

"On the 9th of June, the Providence packet was sailing into the harbor of Newport, and Lt. doddington thought proper to require the captain to lower his colours. This being refused, as degrading, the Gaspee fired at the packet, to bring her to: the American captain, however, still holding his course and keeping in shoal water, contrived to run the schooner aground in the chase. As the tide was ebbing, the Gaspee was set fast for the night, during which, a number of fishermen, aided by some of the most respectable inhabitants of Providence, manned some boats and boarded the Gaspee. The Lt. was wounded in the affray; but, with everything belonging to him, he and his crew were carefully conveyed on shore. The vessel, with her stores, was then burnt, and the party returned home."

King George offered a reward of 500 pounds for information about who had burned the Gaspee, and a commission of inquiry was set up, but no evidence was ever found.

New Committees of Correspondence - At Sam Adams urging, the Massachusetts legislature set up a new standing committee in Boston under James Otis to communicate the colonists' position. Other towns in Massachusetts followed suit. One of the documents the committees circulated was Sam Adams' "State of the Rights of the Colonists".

1773

The Tea Act - The East India Co. was one of Great Britain's most important commercial interests because of its ties to India. With the colonists boycotting British tea, the company amassed a huge inventory of unsold tea, and persuaded Parliament to waive taxes on its tea other than the American import duty and allow the company to sell directly to agent in America rather than at auction in London. The law allowed the company to undercut the prices charged by both smugglers who brought tea in from Holland and American merchants who obeyed the law and bought their tea through middlemen in England. The company found loyalists in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston who agreed to receive large tea shipments.

The Boston Tea Party - The Tea Act ignited colonial opposition not because tea duties were not lifted but because the law gave the East India Co. a monopoly by driving out legitimate competition. Town meetings and threats by the Sons of Liberty convinced the loyalist tea consignees in New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston to cancel their contracts. The ships bound for New York and Philadelphia were sent back still loaded and the Charleston tea was landed and stored until America's revolutionary government sold it to raise money in 1776. The Boston tea consignees, however, included two sons and the nephew of Gov. Hutchinson, and they refused to bow to the Bostonians' demand to cancel their order. When the three ships containing the tea shipment arrived in Boston Harbor, Governor Hutchinson refused to allow the ships to leave unless the tea was landed. Determined not to allow the tea into Boston, a crowd of 8,000 assembled at the Old South Church on the last day the tea could be landed before the government seized the vessels. When the captain of one of the ships reported to Sam Adams that the governor still refused to allow the ships to leave, Adams said "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country." Instantly a war whoop sounded, and a party of men dressed as Mohawk Indians ran to the docks, boarded the tea ships, and dumped the entire shipment into Boston Harbor.

Gov. Hutchinson's "Lettergate" - In 1772, Thomas Whately, a member of the British Ministry, gave Benjamin Franklin, the London agent for Massachusetts, some letters sent to the Ministry by British officials in Massachusetts. The letters were from Thomas Hutchinson, then Chief Justice, and Andrew Oliver, then Province Secretary. The letters said that the patriot movement was small, and was able to stir up so much trouble only because the measures to restrain them were too lenient. They recommended sterner measures, including altering the colony's charter and paying the salaries of British officials directly from the British treasury so they were not dependent on the colonial legislature. Whately gave Franklin the letters to show that bad intelligence from the colonies was responsible for Parliament's tough laws. Franklin sent the letters to the speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly with orders to keep them secret, but Sam Adams obtained them, read them to the whole legislature, and had them printed. The legislature sent a letter to the King asking that Hutchinson and Oliver be removed which caused a great scandal in England.

1774

Ben Franklin fired as Postmaster - Besides acting for Massachusetts in London, Franklin held the position of Deputy Postmaster General for the colonies, a British government post. When news of the Boston Tea Party reached Parliament, he was vehemently denounced and removed from office.

The Coercive Acts

Parliament adopted the following laws in an attempt to coerce the colonists into submission. In the colonies, though, they became known as the Intolerable Acts, and were the final straw that pushed the colonies into united opposition.

Boston Port Bill - Enraged at the actions of the Massachusetts patriots, Parliament passed this act forbidding the loading or unloading of ships in Boston Harbor with the exception of military supplies and some shipments of food and fuel. The bill also directed the customs house at Boston be moved to Salem. The bill authorized the King to reopen the port only after the East India Co. was fully reimbursed for its loss and the King was satisfied that peace and good order had been reestablished in Boston.

Administration of Justice Act - This bill authorized allowed removal to England of trials of colonists for acts of treason or sedition or trials of British officials for capital offenses committed while putting down riots or collecting taxes.

Massachusetts Government Act - This act subverted the charter of Massachusetts by eliminating self-government. The act directed the King appoint members of the Council, who had been elected by the House of Representatives. The governor was given power to appoint virtually every other public official, including judges, sheriffs, justices of the peace, and the attorney general. Juries would no longer be chosen by the people of the town in which they served but by the sheriffs, and town meetings were outlawed unless the governor approved the agenda.

The Quebec Act - The attempt to govern Canada using English legal traditions was abandoned by this act, which put laws in place that more closely followed French ideas about law and government. The act established a council appointed by the King to serve as a legislature, though the King retained veto powers. The council was granted power to set local taxes, but the power to tax generally was specifically reserved to Parliament. No right to a jury was provided in civil cases, and Catholicism was officially recognized. Canada's border was extended south to the Ohio River, right through the territory claimed by Virginia, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The Quebec Act was not intended to be part of Parliament's Coercive Acts, but the colonists worried that if English rights could be suspended in Canada they might just as easily be suspended in the colonies as well.

A new Quartering Act - A new Quartering Act was passed that not only required the colonists to pay to house and supply British troops but, unlike the previous law, allowed the troops to be quartered in occupied dwellings. If British officials chose to push the issue, they could now force colonists to receive troops into their very homes.

Military rule - General Gage, the British military commander in the colonies, was assigned to replace Governor Hutchinson of Massachusetts.

Fasting, Prayer and United Opposition - The Intolerable Acts ignited a united response from the colonies. In Virginia's House of Burgesses, Thomas Jefferson proposed a day of fasting and prayer "to give us one heart and mind firmly to oppose by all just and proper means every injury to American rights." The other colonies followed suit, appointing their own days of fasting, humiliation, and prayer to seek the blessing and protection of God. Boston sent letters to the committees of correspondence of all the colonies suggesting they "consider Boston as suffering in the common cause and should resent the injury inflicted on her." The other colonies agreed, and following many public calls for united action, all of them except Georgia chose delegates to meet in a Continental Congress at Philadelphia in September.

First Continental Congress - 56 delegates from every colony but Georgia met in Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia from September 5th to October 26th, 1774. The delegates from Virginia included Patrick Henry, George Washington, and Richard Henry Lee. Patrick Henry rode to Philadelphia along with George Washington, and as Mrs. Washington saw them off from Mt. Vernon she said "I hope you will all stand firm. I know George will." The Massachusetts delegation included Sam Adams, John Adams, and John Hancock. Sam Adams was so involved in defending the rights of the colonies that he had closed his business and was a poor man, but friends paid to have a new hat, suit, and pair of shoes made for him.

On September 17th, the Congress adopted the Suffolk Resolves, a set of resolutions rushed to Congress by Paul Revere after they were adopted by Suffolk County, Massachusetts. The resolutions declared the Coercive Acts unconstitutional and called for the colonists to arm and form militias. Not all of the delegates supported resistance however. Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania proposed a plan to retain British rule by remedying the colonies lack of representation in Parliament. Under the Galloway Plan of Union, the colonies would be united under a President General and colonial Grand Council that would be an "inferior and distinct branch of the British legislature." A measure that effected the colonies would require the assent of both Parliament and the Grand Council before it became law.

The delegates finally adopted a document called the "Declaration and Resolves." This document was the precursor to the Declaration of Independence and restated the colonists' claim to the rights of life, liberty, and property afforded Englishmen and the right to self-government subject to the King's veto. The Declaration and Resolves denounced the Coercive Acts, the tax laws imposed since 1763, trial without right of jury, the dissolution of colonial legislatures, and the posting of the British army in colonial towns in time of peace. Addresses were sent to the King, the inhabitants of the colonies, the British people, and the people of Canada. "The state papers, emanating from this congress, have been pronounced, by competent authority, to be master pieces of political wisdom, dignity, and moral courage. . . . They were read and admired in every part of Europe; and enlisted the friends of liberty throughout the civilized world, in the cause of American liberty." Frost's United States, 1849. The delegates resolved to meet again on May 10, 1775 if their grievances were not by then redressed.

Political Spin - In both England and the colonies, the political party that favored the rights of freemen was known as the Whigs. Years later, the Whig party would reform itself to become the Republican Party, with a new agenda to oppose slavery in the United States. Those that preferred to be ruled by the King were called Tories. In the colonies, about a third of the colonists remained Tories even throughout the Revolutionary War. Just after the First Continental Congress, the Tories did their best to argue that the patriot's claims to liberty had no basis. Typical of these was a letter to the people of Massachusetts by Daniel Leonard. John Adams, the Massachusetts patriot, responded to Leonard in an address known as the "Novanglus."

Continental Association - The Continental Congress also agreed to boycott British goods, to halt the slave trade, and not to export the colonies products to Britain, Ireland, or the West Indies. Enforcement of these provisions was based on public opinion. A committee was to be chosen to monitor the agreement in each county and town and violations were to be publicized and violators boycotted.

Minute Men - When General Gage learned that the Massachusetts legislature was meeting to choose delegates for the Congress, he tried to dissolve the assembly, but his messenger was met at the door and had to shout the order of dissolution from the staircase. Undaunted, the House continued to meet, and in October set up a Committee of Safety under John Hancock with power to call out the militia. Special units within the militia were established to be ready to fight on a moment's notice. These were the Minute Men.

Rumors of War - General Gage found himself unable to put the Coercive Acts into effect. The people of Salem refused to allow the customs house to be set up there or to receive Boston's commercial traffic. The new councilors were forced to resign under threats of violence. The new judges were made powerless by crowds who filled the courtrooms. In all the colonies, arms and ammunition were being laid up and companies of volunteers organized. General Gage marched on Charlestown and Cambridge to seize the ammunition and supplies in the colonial armories. The colonists responded by overpowering a garrison at Portsmouth, N.H. and carrying off the garrison's arms and powder.

1775

Reconciliation fails - News of the Continental Congress' Declaration and Resolves prompted Lord Chatham, long a friend of the colonies, to propose a plan similar to the Galloway Plan of Union that would recognize the Congress and give it both the power and responsibility of laying the taxes needed by the Crown, but his proposal was defeated. Parliament was determined to force the colonies into submission. Over objections raised by Edmund Burke in a brilliant speech, Parliament passed the New England Restraining Act, prohibiting the New England colonies from trading with any nation other than Great Britain and the West Indies, and barring fishermen from New England from the rich Newfoundland fisheries. When Parliament learned that other colonies had joined those of New England in boycotting English goods, it extended the act to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina.

Gage Ordered to Use Force - On April 14, General Gage received a letter from Lord Dartmouth, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, ordering him to use force and strike at once to execute Parliament's repressive measures so the colonists would not have time to organize armed resistance.

 


Paul Revere

Concord Hymn

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood,

And fired the shot heard round the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Give me Liberty or give me death!" - On March 23, Patrick Henry assessed the situation of the colonies in a now infamous speech and predicted "[t]he next gale that sweeps from the North will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms." His prediction came true the very next month.

The Shot Heard 'Round the World - General Gage knew that the Massachusetts' patriots main cache of arms was at Concord and learned that Sam Adams and John Hancock were at the house of Rev. Jonas Clarke in nearby Lexington. Gage planned to march on both towns to capture the patriot leaders and destroy their arms. From Boston, the troops could either march out along the peninsula on which the town was situated or cut across the Charles River to Cambridge in boats. The Sons of Liberty learned of Gage's plan and posted a watch to learn which route the British would take. Paul Revere and William Dawes were to ride by separate roads to alert the Minute Men and warn Hancock and Adams. A signal post was set up in Boston's Old North Church to tell Dawes and Revere which route the British would follow, one light if by land, two if by boats.

About 10 p.m. on the night of April 18, a British force of about 700 began embarking for the row across the Charles River. Dawes and Revere raced to Lexington, warned the patriot leaders, and headed on to Concord joined by Dr. Samuel Prescott. On the way they encountered a British patrol on horseback. Revere was captured, Dawes, evading capture, was unable to reach Concord, but Dr. Prescott got through. At dawn, the British reached Lexington where they found a rag-tag line of 70 Minute Men drawn up on the village green. Major John Pitcairn, commanding the British, ordered the colonists "Disperse ye rebels. Lay down your arms and disperse!" "Stand your ground!" countered Captain John Parker, commanding the Minute Men. "Don't fire unless fired upon: but if they mean to have war, let it begin here." Although both commanders ordered their men not to fire, a single shot rang out from nowhere. The British responded with volleys, deaf to Pitcairn's order to cease fire. Eight Minute Men fell dead and 10 wounded. The British marched on to Concord and destroyed the military stores there, but their march back to Boston turned into a rout as almost 4,000 colonial militiamen picked them apart from behind every tree and rock. British casualties from the action were 73 killed, 174 wounded and 26 missing. The colonists lost 93 total dead, wounded, or missing. Riders raced news of the battle to every colony, meanwhile Adams and Hancock were spirited to Philadelphia for the next meeting of the Continental Congress.

"Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!" The colonial militiamen that chased the British back to Boston took up a siege to blockade the city. General Gage figured his best defensive position was the high ground of Dorchester Heights, which he planned to occupy on June 18th. Gage's plans were discovered, however, and during the night of June 16th the colonial forces countered Gage's plan by entrenching on Breed's Hill, on the Charlestown Peninsula. With command of the city, Gage could not allow the Americans to hold and reinforce their position. He ordered General Howe to attack that day, though the site the Americans had chosen forced the British to mount an amphibious landing. Howe attacked with 2400 troops with full packs in tight formation. The Americans had only 1600 troops, 6 canon, and little powder. To save powder, Col. William Prescott, commanding the Americans ordered his troops "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes." Twice the British charged the hill and twice they were beaten back, but they forced the Americans to use up almost all of their precious powder. Finally, General Howe ordered his men to drop their packs and fix bayonets, and his third charge sent the Americans fleeing back to Bunker Hill. The Americans had first intended to occupy Bunker Hill, but moved to Breed's Hill because it was closer to Boston. Nevertheless, the battle is known today as the Battle of Bunker Hill.

The Second Continental Congress - The Second Continental Congress convened on May 10th, even as the fate of American liberty was being decided on the battlefields of Massachusetts. This time, loyalist delegates like Joseph Galloway were missing, and John Hancock was elected President of the Congress to replace Peyton Randolph of Virginia who withdrew. In June, Congress adopted the forces around Boston as a Continental Army and appointed George Washington as its commander. Washington accepted, but he refused to accept the salary of $500 a month voted for him and instead asked Congress merely to reimburse his expenses. In July, Congress adopted two resolutions, the Olive Branch Petition, which pledged loyalty to the King and asked him to suspend hostilities until a settlement could be worked out, and the "Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms." The second document, written by Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson, was an address to the world to show that the colonies were justified in defending their rights by force of arms.

In September, a delegation from Georgia joined the Congress, making it for the first time representative of all the colonies. Congress authorized a colonial navy consisting of four ships on October 30, and on November 10 voted to recruit two battalions of marines. These dates are now recognized as the birth dates of each of these services. Also in November, Congress learned that both Parliament and the King had rejected the Olive Branch Petition, and the King had proclaimed the colonies to be in open rebellion. Congress answered in December by renouncing any allegiance to Parliament, though not to the King.

Loyalist Armies - In Virginia, the British governor attempted to raise an army of loyalists and slaves by promising the slaves their freedom. The governor's forces were defeated, however, at Great Bridge, near the North Carolina border.

1776

Britain continues hostilities - The British pressed their attack on several fronts, including Charleston, S.C., Boston, and in the frontier from northwestern Pennsylvania to Quebec. They were soundly defeated in Charleston and forced to evacuate Boston. In the northwest, however, the Americans were pushed back, but managed to hold on to Fort Ticonderoga. Ethan Allen had captured the fort in 1775 without firing a shot when he surprised the garrison there and demanded its surrender "in the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress."

Common Sense - Britain's willingness to use military force made it obvious that the colonies could not regain their rights without declaring independence. In January, American patriot Thomas Paine published the pamphlet "Common Sense," calling for Americans to rally to the cause of independence and attacking King George and government by monarchy in general. Paine declared "[t]he cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind . . . . 'Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity is involved in the contest and will be more or less affected even to the end of time by proceedings now." Common Sense was an instant sensation, a hundred thousand copies were sold in just a few weeks. People everywhere had grown to favor independence, and Paine's pamphlet steeled their will.

Congress Votes for Independence - As early as May, 1775, Charlotte Town, North Carolina had declared the authority of Parliament and the King to be illegitimate. In April, North Carolina became the first colony to authorize its delegates to vote for independence. Virginia followed in May, and in June, Virginian Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution that the United Colonies "are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states." Congress debated the resolution from 7 to 10 June but decided to postpone a vote until the 1st of July. A committee to draft a Declaration of Independence was appointed consisting of Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman. The committee reported the Declaration back on June 28. Congress debated the resolution to declare independence on July 1, and on an informal vote the resolution carried, although Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted against the measure and, with only two of three delegates present, Delaware's vote was divided. The next day, Congress formally convened to vote on independence. Two delegates from Pennsylvania did not take their seats, shifting that colony's vote to the affirmative. South Carolina also flipped its vote, and Caesar Rodney, the third Delaware delegate, rode breathlessly throughout the night to reach Philadelphia and cast his vote for independence. The resolution carried 12-0, with New York abstaining.

Congress next took up the Declaration and, after making some changes, approved it on the 4th of July, 1776. The Declaration was read to the people of Philadelphia on July 8. The next day, the Provincial Congress of New York added its assent, making the Declaration unanimous. The Declaration was written out for the delegates signature and, on August 2, most of the 55 signers affixed their signatures. As President of the Congress, John Hancock signed in letters "large enough for the king to read without spectacles."

Sources: Encyclopedia of American History, Richard B. Morris, ed., 1953; America Land of Freedom, 3rd ed., Gertrude Hartman, 1956; Frost's United States, John Frost, 1849; George Washington A Brief Biography, William MacDonald, 1987.