The Declaration of Independence: how and why it was written; its main content – especially theoretical arguments; its influence on world history
The Declaration of Independence is a statement which was adopted on July, 4, 1776 by the Continental Congress. The document announced that thirteen of American colonies considered themselves to be independent from Britain. Many colonists thought that their hopes for Independence were natural and they had the right to struggle for them. Despite the fact, that British Empire attempted to crush radicals with the force of the royal army, not all of them abandoned their desire for reconciliation and independence.
The first colony, which voted in favor of independence in March 1776, was North Carolina; other colonies had followed it a little bit later in May. The delegates from different colonies decided to appoint a committee to lay down a formal statement justifying the break with Britain. The committee included Thomas Jefferson (representative of Virginia), Roger Sherman (Connecticut), John Adams (Massachusetts), Robert R. Livingston (New-York) and Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania).
Thomas Jefferson was known as devoted patriot and the man with the ability to make crucial decisions, so he was given a task to write a draft of the Declaration. As Jefferson drafted the document, it was divided into five parts: introduction, preamble, body (two sections) and conclusion. The introduction explained, why the independence was necessary; the preamble stated the moral purpose of the document (“… all men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with… life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”); the body outlined the complaints to the British crown in general.
The Continental Congress was convened again on July 1. Twelve colonies adopted Lee’s resolution for independence. The process of the revision of Jefferson’s draft continued on the 3rd of July and lasted till the late morning of the next day. Some words were changed, however, the key preamble and the basic document remained almost the same. The Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4.
Being the formal document, asserting people right to be independent, the Declaration is considered to be a turning-point in the history of democracy. It played a very important role in the fate of American nation, and at the same time influenced outside the US, namely during the French Revolution in France. Thus, the Declaration of Independence, alongside of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, is the essential founding document in the history of the United States of America and world’s history as well.
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The major agreements and compromises made at the Constitutional Convention and embodied in the U.S. Constitution, including the amendments of the Bill of Rights
In four years after the United States of America won independence from the British Empire, fifty five delegates from different states convened in Philadelphia with the purpose of composing a new constitution. The Articles of Confederation, which were served as the first U.S. constitution and ratified in 1981, provided for a confederation of sovereign states and international and domestic legitimacy to conduct international diplomacy and direct territorial issues.
Despite the Congress had to govern international affairs, regulate money matters and conduct war, in practice all these seals were limited as it was not given a right to enforce their requests for troops or money. It was quite obvious, that the union could break up without rewriting or replacing the Articles of Confederation. Eventually, representatives of five states gathered in Annapolis, Maryland and discussed the problem. All the states were invited to a new convention to Philadelphia.
All the representatives convened for the Constitutional Convention at the Pennsylvania State House (the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation were also signed in this very building) on the 25th of May, 1787. The assembly decided not to amend the Articles but to create a new scheme of government and new document to be the U.S. Constitution. George Washington, the representative of Virginia, became the convention president.
Debates continued almost three months and the delegates managed to devise a federal system with the complex scheme of balances and checks. This issue divided the opinion as states with denser population strived for proportional representation while sparse populated states sought equal one. Finally, the issue was brought to a close by the Connecticut Compromise, an agreement which proposed a bicameral parliament. That meant that there would be the House of Representatives with proportional representation and Senate with the equal legislation. The final version of the constitution was signed on the 17th of September by thirty-eight delegates but it was stated that it would not become compulsory until it was ratified at least by nine out of thirteen states.
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Five states (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey and Connecticut) ratified the new constitution without hesitation, but other states opposed it, as the document lacked the protection of such political rights as freedom of religion, speech and press and had some other drawbacks. Eventually, Massachusetts agreed to ratify the constitution with the assurance that there would be some immediate amendments and the same decision was made by Maryland, South Carolina and New Hampshire. The latter state was the ninth to ratify the document and it was agreed that the new government would begin on March, 1789.
The first Congress adopted twelve amendments – the Bill of Rights – which were sent to the states for ratification. Ten of them were ratified and soon the rest of original colonies joined the United States of America. Today the U.S. constitution is considered to be one of the oldest constitutional documents in the world history.
The major motives for U.S. territorial expansion, 1800-1850, and the major episodes in this process
From 1800 to 1850 the United States were torn apart by the territorial expansion. Many Americans believed that their country was fated to expand across the whole continent and this belief was called Manifest Destiny.
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The original territory of the new country bordered with Canada in the north, with the Spanish colonies of Florida in the south, with the Atlantic Ocean in the east and with Mississippi River in the west. This territory included thirteen original states and territories which they claimed.
The US faced the problem of the existence of large unoccupied territory between the original area and the Mississippi River. Some of the colonies claimed some part of the territory but the Continental Congress made a resolution where it recommended to the original colonies that they desisted from granting these lands during the Revolutionary War. Seven states responded to the resolution favorably and ceded the lands. These lands included the lands which nowadays are Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Alabama and Mississippi.
The rest of the territory (present-day Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Maine and Vermont) was considered to be within the original limits of various states. For example, Tennessee was a part of North Carolina, while the territory of Kentucky was situated within Virginia. Soon new states separated from the parent ones and retained the right to use inappropriate lands within their bounds.
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Among other additions to the territory of original states were the acquisitions of Louisiana (1803) and Florida (1810-1819), the annexation of Texas (1845), Oregon Country (1846), the Mexican cession (1848), Gadsden Purchase (1853), purchase of Alaska and annexation of Hawaii. All the territory in the west of the Mississippi, except Texas, became a public domain. The original states managed to create the union and named it “The United States of America” together with the ratifying the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. Actually, the boundaries were not defined after the ratification but generally the states maintained their claim to the colonial boundaries. The other states were admitted by the Congress acts upon petitions of citizens, who lived in the question areas.
The territory expansion and the states uniting, however, were followed by an increase of the slavery, which divided the nation into the South and the West and became the major cause of the Civil War.
The importance of slavery – or the debate over slavery – as a major “cause” of the Civil War
Slavery and its role in the beginning of the Civil War has always been interesting and complicated issue. Many historians nowadays agree that it was the status of African American people in the U.S. that underlay the crisis, which caused the Civil War. In fact, not every soldier fought for or against slavery: some fought to stay alive, some fought for moral grounds, and others wanted to support their friends. However, African Americans’ primary aims were definitely freedom and emancipation.
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The original causes of the crisis over slavery (1860-1861) went back to 1619 when slavery was introduced to Virginia with a Dutch ship, which traded African slaves. White Americans, being unable to find cheaper labor, turned to slaves from Africa and by the 1700s slavery meant African slavery and plantations, where they worked, produced the great crops that made American colonies wealthy and flourishing. Thus, there were many merchants who either went into the slave trade or exported products of slave labor. Slavery definitely played the key role in the development of the North America.
When the Declaration of Independence was signed, everybody understood that there was an obvious contradiction between the document and the reality. In reality, slavery existed in all the colonies. Northern states reacted to the contradiction and decided to phase out slavery after the Revolution. In the South the issue was debated but nevertheless people hoped the slavery would disappear in the South as well. However, this hope ended when southerners understood that their prosperity depended on slaves and labor (the production of cotton fully depended on slaves and it was in demand in the world), and many people considered slavery to be inseparable from the carefree and rich life of the South.
At the same time, there were some others sources of dispute between the North and South. They were different in nature and demanded different things from their government. While the North society was becoming industrial and there were immigrants and women, who provided a source of inexpensive labor, while the South remained a region of large plantations.
Eleven states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina) proclaimed themselves an independent nation and called it the Confederate States of America. This event became the key element and the Civil War began. Southerners also proclaimed that they were fighting not just for slavery. They had a war for independence (so-called second American Revolution). On January, 1863 Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This document granted freedom to slaves in areas which were controlled by the confederates.
The result of the Civil War was the 13th amendment in the Constitution according to which slavery was abolished.
Key developments of the 1850s which contributed to the onset of the Civil War
The Civil War was the event, that united all the states, but at the same time it devastated the country and took away many lives. Let us single out the main events and key developments, which contributed to the onset of the Civil War.
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First problems came up in 1848 when the Mexican War has ended. Americans, who ceded western areas, did not know, whether new lands would be free or slave. Thus, in 1850 Congress passed the Compromise, which freed California and gave people the right to decide whether it would have slaves or not. This ability was called popular sovereignty. Within the Compromise was passed the Fugitive act, which forced federal officials to pay a fine if he did not arrest a refugee. The act increased underground activities as slaves run off to Canada.
In 1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote his famous book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly”, where he depicted the slavery and its evils. This book helped many people to change their views on slavery and even Abraham Lincoln agreed that it had great impact on the abolition and could be considered as the event that contributed to the onset of Civil War.
In 1854 Northerners were shocked by the Bleeding Kansas. After passing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed these two states to use popular sovereignty, Kansas became the hearth of violence because people (pro-slavery forces and anti-slavery ones) fought over the future of Kansas. One of the most famous events was Lawrence ransacking on the 21st of May, 1856 and violence that occurred on the Floor of the Senate a day later. Preston Brooks, who was pro-slavery, attacked Charles Sumner, after his speech attacking the pro-slavery forced for the events taking place in Kansas.
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Finally, in 1857 pro-slavery forced created the Lecompton Constitution, which allowed Kansas to be a slave stated. President James Buchanan, supported by pro-slavery forces, tried to push the document for acceptance, but in 1858 it was rejected by the Kansas voters and the state became free.
Another event that helped to open warfare was John Brown’s foray into Harper’s Ferry. The main aim of the radical abolitionist was to start a slave revolt using the captured weapons. Eventually, the rebels were surrounded and killed or captured. Brown was hanged for treason, but this event did have consequences.
When in 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected, South Carolina and six more states separated from the union. Despite the fact that Lincoln was moderate during the election, he agreed that slavery should not be extended to new areas and territories added to the country.
To sum up, there were many events which played key roles in the onset of the Civil War, but all of them were closely connected with slavery and the problem of its abolition throughout the union.
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