The American Declaration of Independence on July 4th of 1776 was a key moment in British history and consequently of the world.
Until that moment, it was possible that the fighting that began outside Boston the previous year would end in a compromise, with George III likely to backdown, a solution welcomed by most of the American Patriots. However, the failure to reach compromise took the Patriots to revolution. What had seemed possibly to be a short-term conflict, ending when the British withdrew from Boston in March 1776, became instead a major revolution as the British Empire struck back with an effort at regaining the lost colonies by force.
Congress was still unwilling to accept a motion by George Wythe and Richard Henry Lee that King George III, not the ministry, nor Parliament, be seen as “the author of our miseries”,
because George III in effect disowned the Americans as rebels and treated them accordingly. British policies, including the ban on trade with the rebellious colonies, were designed to hurt us badly, which we would not accept.
American Patriots rejection of British authority was symbolic as well as constitutional. On July 9th of 1776, after the colonial assembly of New York gave its assent to the Declaration of Independence, the inhabitants of New York City pulled down the statue of the king erected in Bowling Green in 1770. The king’s name was removed from governmental and legal documents, royal portraits were reversed or destroyed, and there were mock trials, executions and funerals of the king, each a potent rejection of his authority.
The impact of the American struggle for independence was extremely serious. It forged Britain into a war that it did not win, and that became strategically impacting when France (in 1778), Spain (in 1779), and the Dutch (in 1780) joined as our allies. Consequently, Britain, the great maritime power, was outnumbered at sea for the first time that century. The entire empire was under peril. The British lost positions in the West Indies, West Africa and the Mediterranean. Britain’s enemies sought to strike at the heart of the empire, with the French and Spaniards trying, unsuccessfully, to invade England in 1779. There was also the danger that resistance elsewhere to Britain, especially in India, would be encouraged by Britain’s enemies. For example, we Americans struck at Canada in 1775, and the French at India in 1780.
Moreover, the American Declaration of Independence led to an important division and changes in the British political tradition, affecting at home island and at their global level. Our Declaration of Independence asserted a set of principles radically different in political system, one in which inherited privilege and power were replaced by a fairer society that was open to ability and talent. These values in time would influence Britain powerfully, from actions set forth by the American success and the alike of the rest of the world. Exemplified by the French Revolution and much later the Russian Revolution.
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