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The Declaration of Independence and Early American History

Native Americans and the New World

The Declaration of Independence is a famous and revered document that most people think of when speaking about early American History and culture. The original engrossed (handwritten) declaration is currently displayed at the National Archives in Washington DC Famous men, who defied a king, rebelled against the establishment, and wrote the renowned document were not the first to set foot in the “New World.”  Native Americans held dominion over the land for thousands of years but eventually saw Spaniards, French, English, and others pouring into their lands and homes to settle in. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the “New World” would be home to thirteen colonies and later called the United States of America; one word defines the times. That word was INDEPENDENCE.

With exploration, domination, territorial claims, differences in philosophical ideas, wars with Native Americans, indentured servants, slavery, and conflicts in every corner of the New World, something was needed to bring people together and bring order to the colonies. Because British rule was oppressive, the Declaration of Independence was the words needed to bring people together, reject a king, establish autonomy and bring order to the colonies that existed at the time. 

 In the years leading up to the Declaration of Independence, we take a peek at family and daily life in the colonies. It is estimated that only about 4% of Americans live in a major city. Most people lived a hard life in rural farming areas with little land and a clapboard-style house. A few plantations were worked with indentured servants.  Later, slaves would be bought and sold 
in mass to work the plantations.  Infant mortality was high, and women would give birth to many children hoping a few would survive. If a colonist had money, it was because he was a merchant.  

These schools “were the earliest schools in the colonial period, in which women of any married status taught young children in her home for meager fees or gifts.  Some of the students were mere toddlers; therefore, the dame schools served as a form of early daycare.” (Carlisle 108) The curriculum included teaching the alphabet, the Bible, reading, writing, and sometimes domestic 
training.  The purpose of the dame school was to prepare boys for a Latin Grammar School, which would prepare them for the university.   Education of the wealthy was commonplace, but 3not so the further away from the cities you would travel.  While many families who lived on the frontier could barely eke out a living and risked their lives to survive, 56 men on the east coast 
risked their lives to stand up to a king.   

Bringing Order to the Thirteen Colonies

 Assembling 56 men to agree on a plan would usually result in fights, debates, and disagreements.  These 56 men were surprisingly united in the same line of thought regarding taxes and hatred of King George III.  The reasons they hated King George and the British Government were for many reasons.  For example, the British government passed the Sugar Act in 1764, taxing textiles, coffee, and sugar. The Stamp Act of 1765 taxed newspapers, pamphlets, and even playing cards.  This was an unusual tax because it only applied to American colonies  Carlisle, Rodney. The Colonial and Revolutionary Era: Beginnings to 1783 (Handbook to Life in America). Page 108 3 1st ed., Facts on File, 2009. 

The Quartering Act, passed in March 1765, required the colonists to provide lodging to the Regulars when the Regulars demanded it. Many people are not familiar with the Stamp Act or the Quartering Act, but they remember the story of the Boston Tea Party from childhood.  Britain was deeply in debt, and to help pay for their debt, the British Parliament imposed a series of taxes on the colonists.  The website put’s it succinctly: “The British government felt the taxes were fair since much of its debt was earned fighting wars on the colonists’ behalf.  The colonists, however, disagreed. They were furious at being taxed without having any representation in Parliament and felt it was wrong for Britain to impose taxes on them to gain revenue.”  King George felt 4 otherwise. The Boston Tea Party was indeed a rebellion in spirit and actions.

 In December 1773, Colonists had had enough!  At the instigation of a group of men called the Sons of Liberty, it took just three hours to open the hatches of three ships located in Boston Harbor, split the tea chests with knives and tomahawks, and dump all the tea overboard.  Tea was a symbol of British tyranny.   About 300 bales of tea were thrown into the harbor that night. Two men, John Hancock and Sam Adams, were crucial figures in the group, Sons of Liberty.  Along with Paul Revere, and Benedict Arnold, Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty led civil disobedience and spoke out against British rule.

Events unfolded and moved fast after the Boston Tea Party. The British regulars wanted the guns and ammunition located in Concord in the spring of 1775. The minutemen and locals from the countryside around nearby Lexington were willing to resist and die in the fight against  Borougerdi,Bradley J, Ph.D. A Historical Survey of the Atlantic World and the United States of America to 5 Reconstruction, (Chapter 4) page 74, 85 the British, and die they did.  This sparked the beginning of the American Revolution.  In the following months, the Second Continental Congress began meeting, appointments were made, armies were gathered, and the Battle of Bunker Hill took place.  A significant battle that the Americans actually lost, but they inflicted such terrible casualties on the British, Americans considered it a moral victory.

Daily Life in the Colonies

The British were shocked!  In January 1776, Thomas Paine printed a pamphlet that strengthened the colonist's mindset on breaking away from British Rule.  The pamphlet was called Common Sense, and some say it laid the groundwork for the Declaration of Independence.  Many reviewers noted that two main themes (direct and passionate style and calls for individual empowerment) would swing the Colonists from reconciliation to rebellion. Yes, they wanted revolution, and they did not want to reconcile with King George.  Paine directed his address to ordinary people.

In June 1776, in his Philadelphia home, Thomas Jefferson wrote a first draft of The Declaration of Independence.  Usually, first drafts of anything are unsatisfactory.  And so it was in this case with 86 changes being made by a committee of five other men.  A Library of Congress research article on Thomas Jefferson stated he was critical of changes to the document, particularly the removal of a long paragraph that attributed responsibility of the slave trade to British King George III.  Interesting choice to be unhappy with since so many of his 7contemporaries were not interested in ending the slave trade at that time.

 The following excerpts are taken from the final draft given to the Continental Congress The first part of the Declaration of Independence explains that one people (the united 13 colonies) want to dissolve the political bands which connect them with another (British Crown) and states that the 13 colonies are separate and equal according to the laws of nature and to Go The next portion of the document may be the most famous lines learned by millions of people in the last 245 years in US American history:  
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” 

 Was it a favorable attitude towards slavery, hypocrisy, or a feeling of entitlement that led Jefferson to write that all men were created equal while he owned slaves?  Perhaps  Jefferson felt he had no choice but to own slaves to work on his land. Did Jefferson and the other slave owners who signed the document see the contradiction? Did they feel guilt for having slaves or perhaps affection for the slaves themselves?  Much has been written about Jefferson, and historians hold many opinions.  He and all the founding fathers were complicated men that were a product of the time in which they lived.  Could they have ever foreseen a time when the slave trade would ultimately end?  When those words were penned, “all men" did not refer to black men (or any women).  Black people were considered property, and “all men” would mean the Euro-

Analysis paper should attempt to answer questions such as: Topic: Primary Source The Declaration of Independence Where did the source come from? Why was it created? Why does the document exist? Provide info on what the document tells you about life at the time and place it was written; the overall significance of the doc What historical events were taking place at the time.

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