Why did the Second Continental Congress decide to adopt a declaration of independence?
There are several reasons why the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. One factor was the belief that things were not going to get better between England and the colonists. There had been many issues since the end of the French and Indian War, and these issues had grown more serious and the reactions to them had become more aggressive. The Boston Tea Party caused significant destruction of property as a result of the actions of the colonists. The British responded with the Intolerable Acts, which the colonists refused to obey. This eventually led to fighting at the Battle of Lexington-Concord in 1775. Blood had been shed. Many of the colonists believed the King of England had no interest in listening to the concerns of the colonists.
When the colonists sent the Olive Branch Petition to the King indicating they wanted to remain peaceful, the King refused to accept it. This was another reason to support the idea that the King had no willingness to peacefully resolve the differences that existed between the colonists and England.
The publication of Common Sense, a document written by Thomas Paine that gave reasons why the colonists should become independent from Great Britain, gave momentum to the movement for independence. Furthermore, more colonists believed they were ready to rule themselves. These factors helped lead the Second Continental Congress to declare independence in July of 1776.
The basic reason for this, of course, is that the delegates to the Congress thought that it was time for the colonies to become independent from Britain. So the better question is to ask why the delegates had come to believe this. Why did the Congress declare independence when the First Continental Congress had not?
I would point to three reasons:
- Britain had rejected the "Olive Branch Petition" that the Congress had adopted in 1775. This petition had restated the colonies' devotion to the King and had asked that he stop his government from mistreating them. By rejecting it, Britain was telling the colonies that they would not get what they saw as fair treatment.
- Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" had been published. This pushed many more colonists towards the idea that the colonies should be independent and that monarchy was a bad system.
- Finally, there was the war. The colonies and Britain had been at war for a bit more than a year by this time and attitudes had hardened on both sides.
For these reasons, the Second Continental Congress decided to adopt a declaration of independence.