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As we celebrate the Fourth of July this year, please realize that the colonies did not receive their independence on this date. It was miraculous that our nation was able to win its independence from the most powerful country in the world at the time. The outcome of the Revolutionary War was not predetermined from the outset; in fact, the odds of colonial victory were slim when the conflict began.
The American Revolution was not just a war with the British Empire, but an internal battle as well. It was America’s first civil war because of divided loyalties. The Revolution was a minority event with only a third of our population considered Patriots — a third were loyalists to the crown and a third were apathetic about the war. Most colonists believed themselves to be loyal British subjects until repressive taxes and punitive laws, in our view, were passed by Parliament to exert more control over the colonies.
The Stamp Act (1765) and the Intolerable Acts (1774), just to name a few, began to fuel American resentment over a distant government that heretofore allowed greater self-government in the colonies since 1688, a period known as “Salutary Neglect,” that lasted until 1763. Loyalists, many of who were wealthy landowners, clergy members and political appointees of the crown, believed the re-establishment of the monarch’s power would be beneficial due to colonial dependence on Britain for trade.
Patriots, however, viewed these new laws as oppressive after years of self-rule. These conflicting views led families and regions of the colonies to split along ideological lines, resulting in both an internal clash and external conflict with Britain.
What, then, allowed us to be the only colonies to win their independence from Britain in a war?
Superior leadership under George Washington, military and economic aid from France and Spain, a dedicated and motivated minority consisting of farmers, enslaved and free black colonists and young men and women who sincerely believed that independence was necessary. The war (1775-81) cost around 25,000 colonial casualties wounded and dead. Our true date of independence was Sept. 3, 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed by British and American diplomats recognizing our new nation.
The Declaration of Independence is a truly landmark document that had to be brought to life by American resolve to win the war. We must remember it was the tremendous sacrifices of these patriots that earned us the freedom we enjoy today.
The writer is a retired history teacher.