On October 26th, 1775 the King of England rode through the streets of London on his way to address Parliament. Setting in his massive coach his mind was on the words he was about to speak and the commitment to war he was about to make. Soon an official state of war would exist between the British Empire and the colonies of North America. The truth was a defacto state of war already existed, by that time the shots at Lexington and Concord had already set in motion an expanding military confrontation. The colonialist had laid siege to the British forces at Boston and the infamous Battle of Bunker Hill had already taken place.
The King’s speech was not especially long, only twenty minutes in all, but the course it plotted would change history. Committing to an all out war on fellow Englishman, he hoped that the colonies would capitulate quickly once they saw what they were facing. He had arrogantly spoke of the Americans as if they were children whose treachery he would soon corrected with the equivalent of a strong English spanking. It was not the first time King George III would underestimate colonial resolve, it had in fact become a pattern. Accusing them of wanting full independence, his speech and the actions it initiated would push the Continental Congress and the American people into declaring it.
After the King’s speech, the Debate in Parliament was lively, even if the conclusion was preordained. The defenders of the colonialist provided the most spirited words of the evening but in the end the majority voted for war. Townsend, whose acts had pushed the colonialist into rebellion, pledged the lords would support his majesty with “our lives and our fortunes.” Empty words as almost all of the aristocracy would never enter the conflict and none would be substantially hurt by it.
Just a few short months later the members of the Continental Congress had finally accepted that reconciliation with England was no longer possible. Their king had employed the most desperate measures against his colonies, often punishing civilians and even using mercenaries to do his dirty work. John Adams would later recall that when they finally resigned themselves to the inevitable it was merely an accepting of what had already happened. The chasm between the England and the colonies had been widening for decades prior to the conflict, the Declaration of Independence was merely an acknowledgement of what in reality had long existed.
In the late spring and early summer of 1776, the Continental Congress, heavy of heart and determined in their minds, set out to forever sever the colonial ties with the mother country. Knowing full well the historical significance of their actions, the men worked diligently to get it right. Thomas Jefferson would originate the words but the sentiments held in the Declaration of Independence would be those of the Congress and the patriots fighting for the newly formed United States of America.
The debate over the declaring the colonies a free and independent country, like that in Parliament, was lively but with a preordained outcome. The only worry was that in the the final tally the colonies would not be unanimous in their decision. They knew all the colonies needed to work together if they had any chance of coming out victorious. While those that thought the venture foolhardy, like John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, made their voices known, the winds of destiny were against them. A majority of each colony joined in the call to create a new nation making the decision unanimous. Echoing Townsend, they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause. For them these were not just empty words but a solemn vow for they knew death awaited them if the King was victorious. As Benjamen Franklin put it, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” By wars end none of them would be left untouched yet all counted the cause worthy of their sacrifice. Theirs was a call to liberty that would resound around the world.
Seven years later the war would be won, thirteen years later a new form of governance would be forged that would become a pattern for the world, fifty years to the day Thomas Jefferson and John Adams would die miles apart, and eighty nine years after the country would finally live up to its creed and its people would universally adopt the name christen upon them by the Great Powers of Europe, Americans. Now, two hundred thirty eight years have passed since the founding of the country dedicated to the principal that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” and it still stands as a beacon of freedom.
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