The Grievances of the Colonists

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Describe the events in the year before the Declaration of Independence that led the colonists to declare their independence.

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The colonists had been growing increasingly upset with the British government since the French and Indian War ended in 1763. Several actions occurred in the year before the Declaration of Independence was issued that convinced the colonists that this action was proper and necessary. The colonists were infuriated with the passage of the Intolerable Acts in 1774, and they refused to obey them. The First Continental Congress met in September 1774 and asked Great Britain to repeal these laws, which Great Britain refused to do. The colonists stopped importing British products and began to form their own militias. Britain refused to back down and increased the number of British troops in the colonies.

In April 1775, the first battle of the Revolutionary War was fought. It should be noted that this was an unofficial battle of the Revolutionary War since independence wasn’t declared until July 4, 1776. However, both sides suffered many casualties as a result of the fighting at Lexington and at Concord. Many colonists believed that a full-scale war was now inevitable with Great Britain.

The Second Continental Congress met in May 1775, and it established a colonial army led by George Washington. The Second Continental Congress began to act like a government as money was printed and a post office was created. The colonists still hoped for a peaceful resolution of their differences with Great Britain by sending the Olive Branch Petition to King George. The colonists indicated they wanted peace and again asked for the removal of the laws that they disliked. However, King George refused to do what the colonists had requested.

In January 1776, Thomas Paine wrote a very influential pamphlet called Common Sense, which explained why the colonists should become independent from Great Britain. This document swayed many people who were undecided about which side to support. Eventually, the Second Continental Congress authorized the drafting of a document that became the Declaration of Independence when it was adopted on July 4, 1776.

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Throughout the mid 1700s the British enacted several pieces of legislation which tightly corralled the colonials.  These included the Stamp Act in 1765 and the Tea Act in 1773.  One of the final measures was the Coercive Acts, passed in 1774, also known as the "intolerable acts" by the colonists.  This act established greater British control of Boston and instituted a more formal military rule throughout the colonies.

It is quite probable the Act alone would have eventually forced the colonies to declare independence, but not certain.  It is also possible the colonies would have sent an envoy to the Crown in an attempt to negotiate colonial rule.  However, in April 1775 Thomas Gage, British Governor of Massachusetts, sent British troops to Lexington, a known storage arsenal for colonial militia.  It was here the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired, although it was not even then officially known as a "war."  This is the "shot heard around the world," but it is uncertain which side fired the first volley. 

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