On this date two hundred thirty five years ago thirteen of Great Britain's twenty seven North American colonies declared independence.
The Second Continental Congress convened on 10 May 1776 to assess the progress made since its sessions the previous summer in maintaining their rights while at the save time preserving their union with Britain. The situation had worsened.
The previous October King George III charged in a speech before Parliament that opposition in the colonies was “carried on for the purpose of establishing an independent Empire.” The colonists, he continued, make “vague expression of attachments to the parent state, and the strongest protestations of loyalty to me, whilst they were preparing for a general revolt.” It was time, he concluded, “ to put a speedy and to these disorders by the most decisive exertions.” In response to the King's charges, Parliament passed the Prohibitory Act. This act declared the colonies outside the protection of the empire, prohibited all commerce with the colonies and initiated a naval blockade, and announced that all colonial ships and cargo forfeit to the Crown as enemy vessels. Moreover, the month before the convening of the Congress, fighting erupted between British regulars and Massachusetts militiamen at Lexington and Concord.
During the month of May, Congress assumed the role of an unofficial provisional government, trying to coordinate the colonies and assume military control over the thousands of militiamen gathering in the Boston area.
Then on 7 June 1776, representative Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced the following resolution:
“That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted tot he respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.”
After a couple of days debate, the Congress postponed additional discussion until July. At the time, only slightly more than half the colonies supported independence. A consensus had to be formed. Meanwhile, the Congress appointing a committee of five to draft a declaration of independence for adoption once the colonies reached a consensus. The committee appointed one of its members, Thomas Jefferson, to write the draft.
Finally, on 1 July, the Congress resumed debate on Lee's original resolution. Although no new points emerged, a virtual consensus had been reached. Only the delegates from the state of New York had failed to receive any instructions to support the resolution. So on 2 July 1776, the Continental Congress voted to pass the Lee resolution declaring independence. The United Colonies became the United States.