On the night of April 18, 1775,700 British soldiers marched silently out of Boston. Their orders were to. seize weapons and ammunition that rebellious colonists had stored in Concord, a nearby town.
But the colonists wrere warned that the soldiers were coming. Signal lights were hung from the spire of Boston’s tallest church and two fast riders, Paul Revere and William Dawes, jumped into their saddles and galloped off with the news.
In the village of Lexington the British found seventy American militiamen, farmers and tradesmen, barring rheir way. These part-time soldiers were known as “Minutemcn.’’-This was because they had promised to take Lip arms immediately-in a minute-whenever they were needed.
The British commander ordered the Minutemcn to return to their homes. They refused. Then someone, nobody knows who, fired a shot. Other shots came from the lines of British soldiers. Eight Minutemcn fell dead. The first shots had been fired in what was to become the American War of Independence.
The British soldiers reached Concord a few hours later and destroyed some of the weapons and gunpowder there. But by the time they set off to return to Boston hundreds more Mimuemen had gathered. From the thick woods on each side of the Boston road they shot down, one by one, 273 British soldiers. The soldiers were still under attack when they arrived back in Boston. A ring of armed Americans gathered round the city.
The next month. May 1775, a second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and began to act as an American national government. It set up an army of 17,000 men under the command of George Washington. Washington was a Virginia landowner and surveyor with experience of fighting in the French and Indian War. The Continental Congress also sent representatives to seek aid from friendly European nations-especially from France, Britain’s old enemy.
British soldiers firing on the Mimuemen at Lexington in і 775. .4 contemporary engraving based он a sketch by an eye-witness.
By the following year the fighting had spread beyond Massachusetts. It had grown into a full-scale war.
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress finally took the step that many Americans believed was inevitable. It cut all political ties with Britain and declared that “these United Colonics are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.” Two days later, on July 4, it issued the Dec/aranon of Wepen с/енсе.
The Declaration of Independence is the most important document in American history. It was written by Thomasjcfferson, a landowner and lawyer from Virginia. After repeating that the colonies were now “free and independent states.” it officially named them the United States of America.
One of the first members of the Continental Congress to sign the Dec/a radon of Independence was
John Hancock of Massachusetts. Hancock picked up the pen and wrote his name in large, clear letters – “large enough,” he said, “for King George to read without his spectacles."
The Declaration of Independence was more than a statement that the colonics were a new nation. It also set out the ideas behind the change that was being made. It claimed that all men had a natural right to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. ” It also said that governments can only justly claim the right to rule if they have the agreement of those they govern —“the consent of the governed.”
Ideas such as these were a central part of the political traditions that the colonists’ ancestors had brought with them from England. Colonial leaders had also studied them in the writings of an English political thinker named John Locke. Men likcjcffcrson combined Locke’s ideas with their own experience of
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