Sections: Creating the Declaration of Independence | Creating the United States Constitution | Creating the Bill of Rights 

Return to Creating the Declaration of Independence List Next Section: Battle Joined

The American Revolution emerged out of the intellectual and political turmoil following Great Britain’s victory in the French and Indian War. Freed from the threat of hostile French and Indian forces, American colonists were emboldened to resist new British colonial policies that raised issues of inequalities of power, political rights, and individual freedoms. People such as John Adams and Mercy Otis Warren believed that the British policies stimulated the minds of Americans to demand independence and expanded individual rights.

This revolution of the mind had physical consequences as Americans openly and sometimes violently opposed Great Britain’s new assertions of control. The right to representation, political independence, separation of church and state, nationalism, slavery, the closure of the Western frontier, increased taxation, commercial restrictions, use of the military in civil unrest, individual freedoms, and judicial review were some of the salient issues that boiled up in the revolutionary cauldron of Britain’s American colonies.

"The Revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected, from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen years before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington."

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, August 24, 1815

Discover!

The American Colonies

British and French colonies, with their Indian allies, challenged each other for dominance of North America on the eve of the era of republican revolution. Freed from the threat of hostile French neighbors after the British victory in the French and Indian War in 1763, Britain’s American colonies increasingly demanded rights of political and economic independence. A copy of this map by John Mitchell (1711–1768) was used to define the boundaries of the new United States during negotiations for the peace treaty of 1783 that ended the American Revolution.

1 of 4

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj0

American Revolution Transforms North America

The American Revolution transformed North America. This map shows that the United States replaced Great Britain as the dominant nation in the part of North America lying east of the Mississippi River. Spain regained control of East and West Florida and held vast territories west of the Mississippi River, while Britain was pushed back to Canada.

Carington Bowles (1724–1793). New Map of North America and the West Indies, Exhibiting the British Empire . . . . London: Carington Bowles, 1783. Hand‑colored engraved map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (1.03.00) [Digital ID# ar010000]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj1

Benjamin Franklin’s Idea for National Confederation

Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), America’s consummate “wise man,” was among the first to imagine a national confederation.  In 1754, he proposed a union of American provinces at a conference of provincial delegates at Albany, New York, to better battle the French and their Indian allies. The Albany Plan, calling for proportional representation in a national legislature and a president general appointed by the King of Great Britain, served as a model for Franklin’s revolutionary Plan of Confederation in 1775.

Benjamin Franklin. Plan of Proposed Union (Albany Plan), 1754. Manuscript. Hazard Papers in the Peter Force Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (2.00.02) [Digital ID# us0002_2, us0002, us0002_1]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj2

Locke’s Influence on the American Ideas of Natural Rights

The works of John Locke (1632–1704), well-known English political philosopher, provided many Americans with the philosophical arguments for inalienable natural rights, principally those of property and of rebellion against abusive governments. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson did not incorporate Locke’s emphasis in his “Second Treatise of Government” on the right to property but gave the right to rebel a prominent place.

John Locke. Two Treatises of Government. . . .The Latter is an Essay Concerning the True, Original Extent, and the End of Civil Government. London: Awnsham Churchill, 1690. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (003.00.04) [Digital ID# us0003p4, us0003_1, us0003, us0003_2, us0003_3, us0003_4, us0003_5]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj3

“Pursuit of Happiness”

When Thomas Jefferson asserted the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence, he was influenced by the writings of Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696–1782). Kames was a Scottish moral philosopher who argued for the right to “the pursuit of happiness” in his acclaimed work Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion. Jefferson owned and annotated this copy.

Henry Home, Lord Kames. Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, in Two Parts. Edinburgh, 1751. Thomas Jefferson Library Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (4) [Digital ID# us0004]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj4

Radical British Writers Prepare the Way for Revolution

Many republican and anti-authoritarian writers from Great Britain—some convicted of sedition—were read and admired by American revolutionaries. Chief among them were John Locke (1632–1704), a well known anti-authoritarian political philosopher and Algernon Sidney (1622–1683), a republican writer executed for seditious writings. The writings of both men were essential to the natural rights political philosophies of America’s founders.

Algernon Sidney. Discourses Concerning Government by Algernon Sidney with his Letters, Trial Apology and Some Memoirs of His Life. London: Printed for A. Millar, 1763. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (004.01.02) [Digital ID # us0004_01p2, us0004_01p1, us0004_01]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj5

Back to Top

Discover!

America’s Last Monarch—George III

George III (1738–1820) of Great Britain had the misfortune to become king in 1760, shortly before the drive to revolution in his American colonies began to gather momentum.

Many historians and contemporaries have blamed the stubborn, inexperienced, and mentally unstable monarch for the repeated British miscalculations and mistakes that led to the independence of the United States. Certainly George III displayed no creativity or imagination in the formulation of policies toward the British colonies in America.

1 of 3

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj6

London Merchants Announce Repeal of Stamp Act

London merchants involved in the American trade sent a copy of the act of Parliament repealing the Stamp Act to John Hancock, Boston's leading merchant and a Son of Liberty. Although the more than fifty merchants who signed this letter heralded the repeal, they decried the mob threats and violence visited upon British officeholders in America by the Sons of Liberty.

Letter from London merchants to John Hancock, March 18, 1766. Manuscript. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (007.01.00) [Digital ID#us0007_01]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj7

English Missionaries Work to Convert Native Americans

Colonial governments considered missionary work essential to their efforts to control Native Americans. In this letter John Brainerd (1720–1781), a missionary to the Alonquin Indians, reports on the collection of funds to further his work. Brainerd was instrumental in arranging for Native Americans to move from the settled lands of the colonies to lands unoccupied by English settlers in the west.

Letter from John Brainerd to P.V.B. Livingston, November 20, 1752. Manuscript. Marian S. Carson Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (7.03.00) [Digital ID# us0007_03]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj8

Protests Lead to Repeal of Stamp Act

The British government enacted the Stamp Act to raise revenue from its American colonies for the defense of North America. Prime Minister George Grenville (1712–1770) also wanted to establish parliament’s right to levy an internal tax on the colonists.

Viewing the act as taxation without representation, Americans passionately upheld their rights to be taxed only by their own consent through their own representative assemblies. Future revolutionists saw the act as a harbinger of greater direct taxation and the loss of political rights. Widespread American opposition led to repeal of the act in 1766.

An Act for Repeal [of] the Stamp Act, March 18, 1766, At the Parliament Begun and Holden at Westminster.… London: Mark Baskett, Printer to the King, 1766. Marian S. Carson Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (8) [Digital ID# us0008_1]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj9

Discover!

Mock Funeral Procession for the Stamp Act

This 1766 cartoon depicts a mock funeral procession along the Thames River in London for the American Stamp Act. The act generated intense, widespread opposition in America and was labeled “taxation without representation” and a harbinger of “slavery” and “despotism” by the Americans. Colonists convened a Stamp Act Congress in New York in the fall of 1765 and called for a boycott of British imports.

Bowing to the pressure, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766. In this cartoon, a funeral procession to the tomb of the Stamp Act includes its principal proponent, Treasury Secretary George Grenville (1712–1770), carrying a child's coffin, marked "Miss Ame-Stamp born 1765, died 1766."

The Repeal, or the Funeral of Miss Ame-Stamp, [1766]. Engraving. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (009.00.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca-15709]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj10

American Opposition to Anglican Bishop

Reports that the Church of England (Anglican), the established church, was going to appoint a bishop in America stoked fears of increased and oppressive government limitations on religious freedoms. In this political cartoon, angry American colonists chase a British bishop aboard a ship labeled “Hillsborough” for the British Colonial Secretary, Wills Hill, Earl of Hillsborough (1718–1793), and then use long poles to push the ship away from the dock.

An Attempt to Land a Bishop in America.” Cartoon in the British Political Register, 1768. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (010.00.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca-13637]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj11

Americans Protest the Stamp Act

At the suggestion of the Massachusetts Assembly, delegates from nine of the thirteen American colonies met in New York in October 1765, to protest the imposition by the British Parliament of a “stamp tax” on paper, legal documents, and other commodities, limits on trial by jury, and increased powers of the vice-admiralty courts. Only six delegates, including Williams Samuel Johnson (1727–1819) from Connecticut, agreed to draft a petition to the King based on this Declaration of Rights.

William Samuel Johnson. “Declaration of Rights and Grievance,” October 19, 1765. Manuscript. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (10.01.00) [Digital ID# us0010_01]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj12

Back to Top

The Right to Rebel

Thomas Jefferson’s Summary View of the Rights of British America declared America’s right to rebel against an oppressive and despotic government and heralded the arrival of an independent America. Jefferson’s pamphlet was originally drafted as instructions for Virginia’s delegates to the Continental Congress in 1774.

Thomas Jefferson. A Summary View of the Rights of British America. Williamsburg: Clementina Rind, 1774. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (17.00.04) [Digital ID# us0017_2; additional pages: us0017, us0017_1, us0017_3, us0017_4, us0017_5, us0017_6, us0017_7]

Read the transcript

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj13

Continental Congress Seeks to Resolve Grievances

In the fall of 1774, the Continental Congress prepared this petition to King George III stating the grievances of the American provinces and asking for the King’s help in seeking solutions. King George refused to accept the petition, which was signed by fifty-one delegates to the First Continental Congress.

Petition of the Continental Congress to King George III, October 26, 1774. Manuscript document in the hand of Timothy Matlack. Benjamin Franklin Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (018.00.03) [Digital ID# us0018p3, us0018p4, us0018, us0018_1, us0018_2]

Read the transcript

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj14

Causes and Necessity for Rebellion

The “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms” puts forth the reasons for America’s rebellion that were raised in the 1775 congressional declaration. Although the final manifesto stressed a hope for the restoration of peace, Thomas Jefferson’s draft was a “Spirited Manifesto,” according to John Adams (1735–1826). The spirited and creative qualities of Jefferson’s writing helped secure his selection as chair of the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Thomas Jefferson. “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms,”1775. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (19.00.02) [Digital ID # us0019_3a, us0019_01p1, us0019b, us0019a, us0019_1a, us0019_1b, us0019_2aus0019_2b, us0019_3b]

Read the transcript

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj15

A Political Satire on French Alliance

A rebus, in which pictures represent words, was a favorite amusement in the eighteenth century. [Britannia toe] Amer[eye]ca (Britannia to America) is the first of a pair of political satires concerning Britain’s last attempt to end the Revolution through diplomatic means by sending to Philadelphia an unsuccessful delegation known as the “Carlisle Peace Commissioners.”

The rebus portrays Britannia as a mother urging her daughter who is planning to marry a Frenchman to jilt him and stop rebelling, a reference to the American alliance with France.

[Britannia toe] Amer[eye]ca. [London: Mary Darly, May 6, 1778.] Hand-colored etching. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (20.1) [Digital ID# ppmsca-17533]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj16

Another Political Satire on French Alliance

A rebus, in which pictures represent words, was a favorite amusement in the eighteenth century. [America toe] her [miss]taken [moth]er (America to her mistaken mother) is the second of a pair of political satires in which Britain asks America to reconsider her alliance with France by accepting an offer of peace from the Carlisle Commissioners sent by Britain. America, depicted as an Indian woman holding an American flag, rejects Britain's attempts.

[America toe] her [miss]taken [moth]er. [London: Mary Darly, May 11, 1778]. Hand-colored etching. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (020.02.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca-19160]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj17

Bloodied British Capture “Bunker’s Hill”

British forces dislodged the Americans from Bunker’s or Breed’s Hill in Charlestown, near Boston, Massachusetts, on June 17, 1775. Just two days earlier the Continental Congress had taken charge of the American army at Boston and appointed George Washington commander-in-chief of America’s armed forces.

John Lodge (d. 1798). View of the Attack on Bunker’s Hill, with the burning of Charles Town, June 17, 1775. Engraved from a drawing by Mr. Millar. Etching. London: 1783. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (20.03.00) [Digital ID# cph.3a11212]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj18

“Join, or Die”

Benjamin Franklin published this woodcut depicting America as a snake severed into various provinces. Franklin hoped to persuade Americans to unite their governments under his “Albany Plan” of national union to protect themselves from the French and their Native American allies. During the American Revolution the snake became a symbol of patriotic unity with the motto: “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Benjamin Franklin. Woodcut from the Pennsylvania Gazette. Philadelphia: May 9, 1754. Serial and Government Publications Division Library of Congress (002.02.00) [Digital ID# bf0002p2]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj19

Back to Top

British Parliament Passes a Tax on the Colonists

When the French and Indian War ended in 1763, Great Britain sought to reassert its authority over the American colonies and recoup some of the money expended in defending its American colonies by passing the Sugar Act (1764) and a Stamp Act (1765) to levy internal taxes on sugar products, paper products, and legal documents in the American colonies. Under the rallying cry of “No taxation without representation,” Americans resisted (sometimes violently) these attempts to violate what they claimed were their natural and constitutional rights as freemen.

An Act for Granting Certain Stamp Duties. London: 1765. Peter Force Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (007.04.00) [Digital ID# us0007_04]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj20

Franklin Claims Opposition to Stamp Act

Critics of Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), Pennsylvania’s agent in London, claimed that he had supported the Stamp Act and even that he had solicited the position of Stamp Collector for friends. In this letter he asserts his opposition to the Stamp Act, but urges Americans to make the best of it. The Stamp Act was passed in 1765, according to Franklin, because England wanted to squash American claims of independence. However, the Stamp Act only inflamed American opposition to British rule and forced Franklin to seek its repeal.

Letter from Benjamin Franklin to Charles Thomson, July 11, 1765. Manuscript. Charles Thomson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (008.03.00) [Digital ID# us0008_03p1]

Read the transcript

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj21

Franklin Flip-Flops on Stamp Act

Although Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), Pennsylvania’s agent in London, had briefly supported the Stamp Act—even soliciting the position of stamp collector for friends—he quickly switched to the opposition after hearing of the angry response in Pennsylvania. Publicly rejoicing in the repeal in this letter to Charles Thomson (1729–1824), Franklin attributed America’s success in obtaining the repeal “to what the Profane would call Luck & the Pious Providence.”

Letter from Benjamin Franklin to Charles Thomson, September 27, 1766. Manuscript. Charles Thomson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (008.02.00) [Digital ID# us0008_02]

Read the transcript

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj22

Philadelphia on the Eve of the Revolution

Philadelphia, site of both Continental Congresses, was one of the most urban, advanced cities in America in the eighteenth century. During the winter of 1777–1778, it was occupied by the British under General William Howe. The British enjoyed their stay immensely, while Washington’s army suffered near starvation at Valley Forge. This engraving is one of the few authentic portraits of an American city before the Revolution.

Thomas Jefferys, after George Heap. An East Prospect of the City of Philadelphia. Etching. London: Thomas Jefferys, ca. 1768. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (002.03.00) [Digital ID# pga.01698]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj23

Repeal Celebrated in Boston

Illuminated obelisks, made of oiled paper stretched on a wooden frame and lit from within by candles, were often created as centerpieces of celebrations such as those the repeal of Stamp Act inspired. American activist and engraver Paul Revere (1735–1818) apparently helped design the illuminated obelisk erected on Boston Common, which explains why he was able to offer a copperplate engraving of it on the night it was presented. Decorated with patriotic imagery and portraits of English statesmen who aided the American cause, the obelisk was destroyed by fire hours after it was erected. This engraving is the only surviving visual record of this important but ephemeral form of communication in revolutionary America.

Paul Revere. A View of the Obelisk Erected under Liberty-tree in Boston on the Rejoicings for the Repeal of the Stamp Act 1766. Etching with watercolor. Boston: 1766, restrike printed after 1836. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (009.02.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca.05479]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj24

Repeal of Stamp Act

Through oratory, diplomacy, physical intimidation, and civil disobedience, Americans and English sympathizers convinced Parliament that the Stamp Act was ill advised. It was repealed in March 1766, but news of the repeal reached colonial cities only in May. Boston residents received the information on May 16, 1766, with the arrival of a ship owned by a leading New England merchant and American patriot, John Hancock (1737–1793).

Glorious News. Boston, Friday 11 O’Clock, 16th May 1766. This instant arrived here the Brig Harrison, belonging to John Hancock. Boston: 1766. Broadside. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (007.05.00) [Digital ID# us0007_05]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj25

The Horse “America” Throwing George III

In 1779 in the midst of the American Revolution, this British caricature depicted America as a bucking horse and George III, King of Great Britain, as the rider being thrown. At this point in the struggle the United States had declared its independence, captured a large British army at Saratoga, and signed a treaty of alliance with France. Many British leaders had begun to voice their fears that Britain could not defeat the United States and force it back into its colonial status.

The Horse America Throwing His Master. Westminster: Wm. White, August 1779. Etching. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (005.03.00) [Digital ID# cph 3g05286]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/revolution-of-the-mind.html#obj26

Back to top

Return to Creating the Declaration of Independence List Next Section: Battle Joined

Sections: Creating the Declaration of Independence | Creating the United States Constitution | Creating the Bill of Rights