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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

From Empire to Independence - Document Overview

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"Tis time to part." Thomas Paine declaimed this as a matter of common sense in January 1776. But was it? How and why did so many colonists arrive at this decision? Just a dozen years earlier they had been celebrating their good fortune in belonging to the British empire. Even James Otis, who was labeled an incendiary by Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson in 1766, was still praising the British government in 1764. He wrote, "I believe there is not one man in an hundred (except in Canada) who does not think himself under the best national civil constitution in the world. . . . Their affection and reverence for their mother country is unquestionable. They yield the most chearful and ready obedience to her laws, particularly to the power of that august body the parliament of Great-Britain, the supreme legislative of the kingdom and in dominions." The events of 1765 changed his mind, as they did the sentiments of others. Insanity would fell this early champion of colonists' rights by the end of the 1760s, but by that time there were numerous others to carry on the fight. And a fight it was, for not all the colonists rejected the mother country. Neighbors turned against neighbors as some people, who had lived through the same events and faced the same demands as those who turned rebel, continued to be loyal to those ties.

Loyalists abhorred the escalation of protest into rebellion. Many were advocates of reform, and as such had resisted many ministerial and parliamentary edicts throughout the 1760s and into the 1770s. But every imperial action from the Sugar Act to the Tea Act begat increasingly radical colonial reaction. Colonists were confronted time and time again with the need to make decisions as to how far they were willing to go in protesting British policy. Some consciously, and others rather unconsciously, ended up choosing revolutionary resistance. Over the same time, growing numbers of their fellow colonists reached personal political precipices over which they would not or could not jump. Whether in 1766 or 1776, when they had to choose between rebellion or supporting the sovereignty of king and Parliament, many conservative colonists chose the latter course, and then found themselves condemned as Tories while their opponents retained the name Whig, and later Patriot, for themselves.

Colonists resisted British policies for various reasons, both materialistic and nonmaterialistic, and in numerous ways. Initially their protests seemed to be grounded in economics, but in time constitutional issues (which were instrumental in the move to revolution) assumed greater importance. The colonists presented their grievances by way of petitions, boycotts, speeches, and ultimately spectacles, such as the Boston Tea Party. By the time the latter occurred in December 1773, and certainly after Parliament's punishing response the following spring, most colonists were taking a stand: some actively promoted rebellion, while others advocated a self-interested or disinterested neutrality, or profusely professed loyalty to the king and his government.

By 1774 the initiative had clearly shifted from the imperial government to the colonies. Members of Parliament, responding to the growing dissent across the Atlantic, began to concentrate on coercive tactics to bring the colonists in line, while colonists debated the possibility of creating a new order or system of government within—or perhaps outside of—the British empire. The radicals, some of whom had begun to call themselves Americans as well as Virginians, Pennsylvanians, and so on, sent delegates to a continental congress, which in turn considered a plan of union, endorsed the Suffolk Resolves, and adopted a Declaration of American Rights along with the Continental Association. That declaration served as an ideological defense while the association became an economic offense. The conflict continued to escalate. As the Pilgrims had removed themselves from the Church of England to escape the corruption they had perceived there, so by 1775 through 1776 did some Americans propose to remove themselves from the perceived corruption of the British government. These colonists, over a period of twelve years, had moved from agitation for reform to resistance against government acts and officials and on to a rebellion against the crown and a revolution in government.

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