THE FIGHT BEHIND THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
By Nancy Bradeen Spannaus - Posted at the Journal of the American Revolution:
Put yourself, in your mind’s eye, back in June 1776, specifically, the period between June 7 and July 1. It is precisely at that time that one of the most crucial political battles in the history of the American republic was fought—the battle over whether the American colonists would, as thirteen united colonies, declare independence to the world. Without that bold step—which put every outspoken leader, national or local, at risk of prison or death—the United States of America would never have been born.
Yet the chief leaders of the American Revolution had a serious problem. Despite the broad support for Boston against British depredations, a large portion of the colonists–the standard estimates range around one-third–were by no means ready to break with the mother country. Indeed, many even blamed the “radical” Sons of Liberty and other “rabble-rousers” for the troubles with England, even though King George had rejected Congress’s 1775 Olive Branch petition without even reading it. Many people wanted to stay out of politics, let things quiet down, make a deal. What was to be done? Bold leadership was required.
Start from the fact that the decision to issue a Declaration of Independence was a strategic question, not a matter of stating or mustering “public opinion.” By June 1776 a shooting war had raged between the British and the colonies, beginning with Massachusetts, for over a year. Declarations from King George himself had made it clear to leaders like John Adams and George Washington that the Crown was determined to impose total rule over its American subjects. The military force assembled by the Americans, under the leadership of George Washington, had brilliantly outwitted the British Army in Boston, driving it from the town, but tens of thousands of well-trained British and Hessian regulars were headed for New York City, with the clear intent of splitting the continent in two.