Declaring Independence: The Difficult Decision That Created America

George Washington University

Denver Brunsman is Associate Professor of History at George Washington University. He is a co-author of a number of textbooks, including: Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People, and Leading Change: George Washington and Establishing the Presidency. Professor Brunsman’s many honors include the Trachtenberg Prize for Teaching Excellence and induction into the George Washington University Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

Overview

Today, it is easy to take America’s independence for granted, but the decision to separate from Great Britain was anything but easy and inevitable. To celebrate the nation’s 245th birthday this July 4th week, join Professor Denver Brunsman of George Washington University as he shares the latest insights from the academy on the American decision for independence. Scholars currently emphasize the British identity of the American colonists, which made declaring independence an anguished and slow process. Without the spread of war between the British army and American colonists–and some perfectly timed “common sense” from Thomas Paine– we just might be celebrating the “near miss” of 1776, rather than the birth of the United States.

 

Discussion Questions:

1. In recent years, scholars have emphasized various events and contingent causes of American independence­–especially the early war with Britain–more than more ideological causes (like liberty and freedom). In what ways does this change how we view and understand the American Revolution?

2. According to the current literature on the American Revolution, the American colonists were becoming more culturally British in the generations before the Revolution (an idea known as Anglicization). This idea seems counterintuitive in light of American independence. How can the British identity of the colonists help to explain why they resisted the policies of the British government in the 1760s and 1770s, until they ultimately declared independence?

3. On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress approved Richard Henry Lee’s motion for American independence. Why, then, did the Congress feel it was necessary to have a Declaration of Independence? What were the domestic and international purposes of the Declaration?

4. In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson included a grievance that blamed King George III and the British Empire for the Atlantic Slave Trade and the institution of slavery. The Second Continental Congress removed the grievance in the final version of the Declaration. Would American history have turned out any different if the grievance about slavery had been left in the Declaration? If so, how?

 

 

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