- Document approved by Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776
- Articulated long list of grievances against the King and British Parliament as justification for separation and independence
- Declared Independence of “United Colonies” from Great Britain as “Free and Independent States”
Actions of the British Government Before American Independence
Growing tensions between Great Britain and American colonies, who struggled to maintain their autonomy against increasing control and interference of their activities by the British government in the late 18th century following the French and Indian War in 1763. Measures including the Sugar Act of 1764 (strictly enforcing restrictions on smuggling of molasses), the Stamp Act of 1765 (imposing a direct tax on colonists through stamp requirements on printed materials), the Townshend Acts of 1767-68 (imposing taxes and quartering of British soldiers in homes, restrictions on colonial governments, and removing jurisdiction of customs and smuggling cases from colonial to British courts), and the Tea Act of 1773 (undermining the colonists’ tea imports and business) met with resistance and protests from angry colonists who also argued that no taxation should be permitted without direct representation in Parliament. After the Boston Tea Party of 1773 (dumping British tea in Boston harbor in a protest led by the Sons of Liberty), Parliament passed the Intolerable (Coercive) Acts of 1774 (which included closing the Boston port, replacing the elected officials with appointed ones, removing colonial courts’ jurisdiction of British officials charged with capital offenses, and authorizing new quartering measures to requisition unoccupied buildings to house British soldiers). These acts led to the formation of the Continental Congress to express their grievances against the Crown and British Parliament, and, in 1775, a battle between British troops and American colonists at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts marked the beginning of a Revolutionary War, and soon followed by the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Declaration of Independence
Considered the founding document of the United States of America, the Declaration of Independence proclaimed independence of Great Britain to the entire world and would inspire similar declarations and radical movements, including within the United States, as well as revolutions against monarchies and colonial empires outside of the United States, more than two centuries later. The Declaration, including the self-evident truths and unalienable rights, as well as the grievances expressed in the document and experienced by the American colonies, also influenced the structure of American government as a democratic republic with three equal branches of government, separation of powers, and checks and balances, as well as the protections of the rights/liberties of the people and equality under the law.
New York State Focus
- Adopted on April 20, 1777 with one dissenting vote and not submitted to the people as NY was occupied by the British
- Incorporated text of the Declaration of Independence
- Outlined structure of NY government including a bicameral legislature (Assembly and Senate), a Governor, a Chancellor, and a Supreme Court.
NY Constitution (1777)
Essay by Carol Berkin, posted by Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History under its History Resources. Provides an excellent description of the causes and consequences of the American Revolution and the role of various participants fighting for and against the British including African Americans and Native Americans.
A brief clip describing the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, the significance of the document, and the meaning of language it used excerpted from Ken Burns’ PBS documentary Benjamin Franklin.
A short video, “Would you have joined the American Revolution?” from PBS Digital Studios’ Origin of Everything series, asking students to adopt different perspectives of individuals determining whether to join the Revolution, including enslaved African Americans, Native Americans, women, white landowning men, and poor white men.