the  document in different resolutions

From the collection of the Deutsches Historisches Museum:

First Printing in German of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, July 4, 1776


Willi Paul Adams *

The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America (part 2)

view map of extent of Brititsh colonies

II. Steps on the Way to Independence

Only after the French and Indian War (1754/61), the North American component of the Seven Years War (1756?63), did several colonies begin to resist Crown and Parliament in a coordinated fashion. The war's greatest consequence for world history was spelled out unequivocally in the peace treaty of Paris in 1763: The king of France transferred his claim to sovereignty on the North America mainland to the king of Great Britain; the land West of the Mississippi and the port of La Nouvelle Orleans were left to the king of Spain, The French subjects who had settled in the St. Lawrence river valley since 1608 thus lost the protection of the French navy and had to come to terms with king George III, the Parliament in Westminster, and their mostly English-speaking and mostly Protestant neighboring new fellow subjects.

The ostensible success of British imperial rule that now extended from the Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi also weakened it in one respect. Elimination of France as a rival colonial power set the prospering British colonists free to defend more strongly than before their own economic and political interests against the directives issued by Crown and Parliament. Ever since the beginning of British settlement, acts of navigation and trade had channeled, supported or prohibited the colonists' trade, agriculture and manufacturing in such a way that merchants in England and the king's customs officers in British harbors everywhere received their spare of the colonials' economic growth.

To finance the high cost of the Seven Years War, the Privy Council and Parliament in 1764 and 1765 decided to raise taxes in the colonies. The new taxes were put into effect without involving the colonists' own legislatures. They triggered the resistance that eleven years later led to secession. »No taxation without representation!« became the battle cry of colonists who felt they were being treated unfairly. When in October 1765 delegates of nine colonies met in order to justify their effective boycott of English goods, they explained that taxes had never been »constitutionally imposed on them, but by their respective legislatures... All supplies to the Crown being free gifts of the people, it is unreasonable and inconsistent with the principles and spirit of the British Constitution, for the people of Great Britain to grant to His Majesty the property of the colonists. «

Although a majority in Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766 because London merchants suffered from the colonists' non-importation agreements, the MP's chose to ignore the fundamental nature of the reasons underlying the boycott and reasserted their authority »to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.« Another revenue act in 1767 and the Tea Act of 1773 document Parliament's mistaken assessment of many colonists` willingness to resist. The privilege granted to the East India Company of London in the tea trade provoked not only patriotic women to organize tea-boycott parties. On December 16, 1773, Sons of Liberty disguised as Indian warriors within three hours dumped 342 chests of tea worth 70,000 pound Sterling into Boston harbor. They intended to escalate the conflict. Boston attorney John Adams knew and identified with the mob and noted in his diary: »What measures will the Ministry take in Consequence of this? ... Will they punish us? How? By quartering Troops upon us? By annulling our Charter? By laying on more dunes? ... By Sacrifice of individuals, or how?«

The government under Lord North and its majority in Parliament reacted promptly in 1774 with four laws that cut deeply into the colonists' economic and political life and clearly set the stage for military conflict. The colonists' free press, experienced by now in the art of propaganda, condemned them as the »Intolerable Acts«: The port of Boston was to remain closed until the destroyed tea was paid for; crown officials could from now on avoid being sued in a colonial court with a potentially hostile jury; town meetings could legally convene only after the governor had approved their agenda; sheriffs and judges of the inferior courts could be appointed and removed by the governor, who soon was to be identical with the commander-in-chief of the British troops in North America; members of the Governor's Council were no longer to be elected by the legislature but appointed by the crown; soldiers could be quartered in private homes. Parliament's cleverest move, the Quebec Act of 1774, liberally granted to the 70,000 French speaking Canadians and their Roman Catholic church the right to self government-including recognition of French civil law and the bishop's see at Quebec. As a result, all peaceful and military attempts failed in 1775/76 to draw Quebec into the Confederation as the fourteenth state and thus to close the St. Lawrence valley as the Royal Navy's port of entry to North America.

To coordinate resistance to the Intolerable Acts, fifty-six delegates of the twelve colonies from New Hampshire to South Carolina met in Philadelphia in September and October 1774. When Pennsylvania's delegate Joseph Galloway moved to offer »His Majesty« a new constitutional agreement for »the whole Empire«, it was rejected on September 28, 1774, by 6: 5 delegation votes. (Each colony could cast only one vote.) Galloway's Plan of Union would have reserved to each colony the regulation of »internal police«, all measures beyond that would have needed consent by an elected Grand Council of all colonies in North America as well as by the Parliament at Westminster. The king would have appointed a President General to serve during the king's pleasure and to execute or veto the Grand Council's resolves. How decisive and bitter the struggle over the close rejection of Galloway's plan had been we can tell from the fact that on October 22, 1774, when the victorious patriots had gained complete control of the Continental Congress, they voted to expunge the very debate and vote from the official proceedings that were to be published.


view caricature from  "The London magazine"

* professor at the John-F.-Kennedy-Institut für Nordamerika Studien at the Freie Universität Berlin, i.a. editor of Fischer Weltgeschichtsband "Die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika" (1977) and of the dtv-Band "Die Amerikanische Revolution und die Verfassung" (1987) and together with Angela Adams translator of "Le Federaliste" by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1994)



[ part 1 ]
[ top ]
[ part 3 ]