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The United States of America: A History
Book 2: Chapter VI - Independence


EVEN yet, after months of fighting, the idea of final separation from Great Britain was distasteful to a large portion of the American people. To the more enlightened it had long been evident that no other course was possible. But very many still clung to the hope of a friendly settlement of differences. Some, who were native Englishmen, loved the land of their birth better than the land of their adoption. The Quakers and Moravians were opposed to war as sinful, and would content themselves with such redress as could be obtained by remonstrance. Some, who deeply resented the oppressions of the home Government, were slow to relinquish the privilege of British citizenship. Some would willingly have fought had there been hope of success, but could not be convinced that America was able to defend herself against the colossal strength of England. The subject was discussed long and keenly. The intelligence of America was in favour of separation. All the writers of the colonies urged incessantly that to this it must come. Endless pamphlets and gazette gazette articles set forth the oppressions of the old country, and the need of independence in order to the welfare of the colonies. Conspicuous among those whose writings aided in convincing the public mind stands the unhonoured name of Thomas Paine the infidel. Paine had been only a few months in the colonies, but his restless mind took a ready interest in the great question of the day. lie had a surprising power of direct, forcible argument. lie wrote a pamphlet styled "Common Sense," in which he urged the Americans to be independent. His treatise had, for those days, a vast circulation, and an extraordinary influence.

1776 A.D.

The time was now ripe for the consideration by Congress of the great question of Independence. It was a grave and most eventful step, which no thinking man would lightly take, but it could no longer be shunned. On the 7th of June a resolution was introduced, declaring "That the United. Colonies are and ought to be free and independent." The house was not yet prepared for a measure so decisive. Many members still paused on the threshold of that vast change. Pennsylvania and Delaware had expressly enjoined their delegates to oppose it; for the Quakers were loyal to the last. Some other States had given no instructions, and their delegates felt themselves bound, in consequence, to vote against the change. Seven States voted for the resolution; six voted against it. Greater unanimity than this was indispensable. With much prudence it was agreed that the matter should stand over for two or three weeks.

On the 4th of July the Declaration of Independence was adopted, with the unanimous concurrence of all the Stat's. In this famous document the usurpations of the English Government were set forth in unsparing terms. The divinity which doth hedge a King did not protect poor King George from a rougher handling than lie ever experienced before. His character, it was said, "was marked by every act which can define a tyrant." And then it was announced to the world that the Thirteen Colonies had terminated their political connection with Great Britain, and entered upon their career as free and independent States.

The vigorous action of Congress nerved the colonists for their great enterprise. Time paralyzing hope of reconciliation was extinguished. The quarrel must now be fought out to the end, and liberty must be gloriously won or shamefully lost. Everywhere the Declaration was hailed with joy. It was read to the army amidst exulting shouts. The soldiers in New York expressed their transference of allegiance by taking down a leaden statue of King George and casting it into bullets to be used against the King's troops. Next day Washington, in the dignified language which was habitual to him, reminded his troops of their new duties and responsibilities. "The General," he said, "hopes and trusts that every officer and soldier will endeavour so to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier, defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country."


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