Lesson Objectives:- Steps towards independence
- The Declaration of Independence
- Universal truths and John Locke
- Republicanism and the Articles of Confederation
- The new government, its accomplishments and its weaknesses
- Shays' Rebellion
When the Second Continental Congress voted to boycott Britain in April of 1776, that could be seen as a Declaration of Independence.
Even more so was when a month later, each colony was prompted to form its own state government independent of Britain.
Finally, in July of 1776, the Declaration of Independence came.
Thomas Jefferson was given the task of writing the Declaration of Independence since he had already written the Resolution of Independence adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 2nd, 1776.
Amendments were made to Thomas Jefferson's original draft so that it would gain wide acceptance among the colonies. For instance, to satisfy Georgia and North Carolina, the condemnation of the slave trade was stricken from the draft.
It was passed on July 4th, 1776, but it went through more rewrites until it was signed by the Second Continental Congress on August 2nd.
Who does not know these words?
"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."
These words are one of the reasons the Declaration of Independence is considered one of the most significant government documents throughout history.
John Locke published the Two Treatises of Government in 1690.
In it, he talks about Natural Rights being the rights that are held to be inherent in natural law, not dependent on governments.
John Locke was a philosopher who was well-known by any colonist who claimed to be educated.
John Locke's words about natural law versus human law were modified and included in the Declaration of Independence when it referred to "unalienable rights," including "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
In John Locke's book was also the concept of Social Contract.
Social Contract is a voluntary agreement among individuals to secure their rights and welfare by creating a government and abiding by its rules.
This concept was nothing new. The Mayflower Compact and other agreements like it were clear about the purpose of government existing to protect these rights.
"That all men are created equal" were very important words, but not to declare our independence.
They were important for future use. The Declaration of Independence established America as a legitimate country, independent of Britain.
Foreign governments needed to see us as a legitimate, sovereign nation.
After the colonists declared independence, it was time for them to prove it. The Revolutionary War ended on September 3, 1783 even though General Cornwallis had already surrendered in 1781.
Britain did not formally recognize America's independence until they signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and George Washington was able to disband the Army.
Now, it was time to figure out what kind of government America was going to have. The Republicans were against a strong central government. They opposed monarchy, executive authority, and virtually any form of restraint on the power of local groups.
What kind of government did the people want?
A Confederation is a political system in which states or regional governments retain ultimate authority except for those powers they expressly delegate to a central government.
A powerful central government was not the goal. In fact, it was the general consensus that people wanted just the opposite.
A State is a group of people occupying a specific area and organized under one government. It may be either a nation or a subunit of a nation.
On March 1st, 1781, Maryland ratified the Articles of Confederation, becoming the 13th State in the Union.
On March 1, 1781, the thirteen colonies officially became thirteen states that formed a Government of the States.
The Congress of the Confederation was made up of delegates from each state.
Even though Congress could appoint an executive committee, there was no executive officer at this time. A president had not been elected yet.
Congress could regulate foreign affairs and they could declare war if they felt the need.
Congress could establish the revenue system. But, they really did not have much power. Sovereignty remained with each state.
Claims to western lands were settled, but Maryland would not sign the Articles of Confederation until those lands were made property of the United States.
Passage of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 became the way new territories were to be governed north of the Ohio River.
These were some major accomplishments as the American states learned to pool their resources.
With the Articles of Confederation, no central government was ever intended.
Congress had rights, but it was limited in its ability to enforce those rights.
It relied on the states to act favorably towards any policy the central government tried to establish. This would soon show itself to be a hazard rather than a strength.
George Washington disbanded the Army in 1783 even though America still faced threats from the Spanish and British militaries.
The Continental Congress could not force the states to raise funds for a military even though it had the power to control one.
The country experienced turmoil in those beginning years. Because of these new concepts of government, states were not really getting along with each other.
They were actually raising taxes on each other for the import and export of goods. In fact, the country was already in serious jeopardy of facing a depression by 1784.
In 1786, Daniel Shay led a rebellion that got the attention of our political leaders. He and his men marched to Springfield, Massachusetts and took control of courthouses while trials were taking place.
Shay then went on to lead his mob to attack the Springfield Armory. They were met with strong resistance from a militia commanded by William Shepherd.
This eye-opening experience led the nation's political leaders to realize that it needed to be able to protect the citizens from armed rebellions.