The Previous Declaration
That bloodless rejection of Great Britain’s authority sparked a decade of deliberation and debate, which proved invaluable. Americans spent the next 10 years exploring and developing ideas about individual rights, natural law and self-government. By the time fighting did break out in 1775, colonial democratic philosophies had matured and galvanized.
Those percolating years provided, in the words of American historian Page Smith, “time for the creation of a remarkably well-articulated set of political principles, and for the training of an unusually gifted group of leaders.” Both distinguished the colonial rebellion from other revolutions, which grew more radical from start to finish. The French Revolution proceeded from Girondists to guillotines; the Russian Revolution from Menshevik methodology to the Bolshevik massacre of the czar’s family.
The American Revolution ignited with Stamp Act riots, but grew more moderate, culminating in a Continental Congress that was resolved, but cautious rather than reckless.
Ruminating in his retirement, John Adams observed as much in an 1818 letter. “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced,” he wrote. “The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”
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