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Only a generation before, the events of 1776 would have seemed unimaginable to American colonists and British legislators alike. However, a series of events in the second half of the 18th century rapidly changed the relationship between the colonies and their mother country. The French and Indian War (1754 – 1763), fought by the British against the French and their Indigenous allies, established British dominance in North America and created a new set of challenges for the colonial power. In order to pay off their war debt and fund the defense of their newly-won territories, the British attempted to levy a series of taxes and regulations on the American colonists, beginning with the Sugar Act (1764) and the Stamp Act (1765). After over a century and a half of hands-off governance that allowed for relative self-rule in the colonies, this sudden tightening of control was not welcomed. Citing their lack of representation in British Parliament as legal justification for their outrage, the colonists met each new piece of legislation with increasing hostility. 

October 1765 – The Stamp Act Congress
The Stamp Act Congress convenes in New York. It is the first attempt to organize an intercolonial conference, and a unified response to the newly-levied taxes. Also in response to the Stamp Act, the Sons and Daughters of Liberty form as secret clubs. Both are dedicated to opposing British tyranny and coordinating protests across the colonies.
1766 – Repeal of the Stamp Act
The Stamp Act is repealed amidst boycotts and protests, but a series of further taxes and regulations soon follow. 
1768 – Non-Importation Agreement
Boston merchants sign a Non-Importation Agreement pledging to boycott British goods. Along with a general trend of rebellious activity in the port city, this leads to the military occupation of Boston.
March 5, 1770 – The Boston Massacre
At the Boston Massacre, British soldiers (newly stationed in the city) fire into a mob outside the Customs House, killing five colonists. 
A Closer Look: Black Americans in the Early Revolution
Marginalized groups – including free Black people, Irish Catholics, and Jewish and Indigenous people – were impacted most acutely by the trade boycotts, as well as the arrival of British soldiers who took over the already scarce jobs available to these groups. This led to tension and frequent skirmishes between soldiers and dock workers in particular. When the Boston Massacre escalated from one such confrontation, Crispus Attucks, a mixed-race sailor, became the first casualty of the violence. Initially, leaders of the patriot cause – generally wealthy property-owning white colonists – leaned into anti-Black and anti-Irish sentiment to distance themselves from these volatile events. However, as the injustice of the Boston Massacre emerged as a rallying cry to unite the colonies, these same marginalized and working-class protestors were suddenly presented as heroes of the cause.
December 16, 1773 – Boston Tea Party and Intolerable Acts
The Sons of Liberty organize the Boston Tea Party, dumping a shipment of tea into the harbor to protest the British control of taxes and trade. In response, Parliament restricts the colonists’ rights with the Intolerable Acts and shuts down Boston Harbor. 
September 1774 – First Continental Congress
Outraged by the Intolerable Acts, representatives from twelve colonies convene in Philadelphia at the First Continental Congress. The assembly coordinates boycotts of British imports, attempts to compromise with Parliament, and plans to reconvene in May 1775 if its grievances have not been resolved. 
A Closer Look: Women in Colonial SocietyWhile the more dramatic protests of the Sons of Liberty are better remembered by history, the Daughters of Liberty played an equally vital role in colonial resistance. Since women were the primary purchasers for many colonial households, their commitment to the cause was crucial to sustaining boycotts. As Abigail Adams notes in 1776, the nonimportation of British goods resulted in shortages of many basic necessities throughout the colonies – shortages which women were often expected to work around. In the case of textile shortages, for instance, a movement emerged to encourage the production of substitute “homespun” cloth at mass spinning bees. 
April 19, 1775 – Battles of Lexington and Concord
With the first shots fired between colonial militia and British soldiers at the battles of Lexington and Concord, the Revolutionary War officially begins. 
June 1775 – Commander-in-Chief George Washington
The Second Continental Congress appoints George Washington Commander-in-Chief of the new Continental Army. A few days later, the colonists are emboldened by the heavy casualties they inflict on the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill. 
 July 1775 – Olive Branch Petition
The Second Continental Congress sends the Olive Branch Petition as a final appeal to King George III. When the King refuses the petition and declares the colonies to be in a state of rebellion, the war escalates and the Congress begins to evolve into a full-fledged governing body. 
January 1776 – Common Sense
Thomas Paine publishes Common Sense, an instantly best-selling pamphlet which begins to turn public opinion in favor of full independence from Britain, and the creation of a democratic republic. 
A Closer Look: The Transatlantic Slave TradeAlthough Paine, Jefferson, and other wordsmiths of the Revolution drew heavily on European Enlightenment-era rhetoric of liberty and equality, these ideals were fundamentally at odds with the existence of the transatlantic slave trade as a long-established cornerstone of the British and colonial economies. Begun as early as the 1480s, this pattern of trade brought enslaved Africans to the Americas, European manufactured goods to Africa, and American plantation exports such as cotton, molasses, and rum to Europe. Trade volumes and value peaked in the 1780s just as the American colonists won their independence. While the trade is commonly visualized as “triangular” with ships originating from Europe, significant numbers of ships also sailed from the New England colonies in the decades leading up to the Revolution – making North and South equally complicit in an economy built on enslaved people and labor. The US Congress finally banned the importation of slaves in 1808, following the British abolishment in 1807, while continuing to avoid the question of the institution of slavery itself.
 Spring 1776 – War and Congress
The war continues. Lacking money, training, and supplies, the colonists seek assistance from France – although an official alliance cannot be made until independence is declared. In Philadelphia, the Congress debates how to effectively organize the colonies and the war effort. 
June 7, 1776 – The Resolution to Declare Independence
Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduces a resolution to the Second Continental Congress proposing a declaration of independence from Great Britain. A committee is assembled to draft a formal statement. 

The Aftermath of Independence

While the Declaration of Independence announced to the colonies – and the world – a fundamental shift in North America’s self-image, it caused little immediate change in practice. The Revolutionary War dragged on for another five years, until the British surrender at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 followed by the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Now recognized as an independent nation, the United States of America would be faced with sorting out the logistics of the democratic government suggested by Common Sense and the Declaration. After the initial system of the Articles of Confederation proved ineffectual, the government structure that we know today would ultimately take shape at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 (also held in Philadelphia).

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