Of all the events in American history which have become enshrouded in myth, the American Revolution may well lead the list. Leading actors in its events have become dehumanized, emotionless marble gods spouting platitudes regarding life and liberty, instead of the anxious men who feared for the safety of their family and fortunes which they placed at risk. Many of them were heavily in debt to British merchants and factors; all of them were regarded as criminals by the British government, some from activities before the Revolution such as smuggling. Their motivations were as varied as their circumstances.
The Revolution was a mass of contradictions. It began with a minor skirmish in Massachusetts, it didn’t end until it became a global war. The main author of the Declaration of Independence blamed the British king for the practice of slavery he himself espoused. The majority of Americans did not actively support the Revolution, roughly one third openly opposed it, as did most North Americans living in Canada. The Revolutionary War is said to have begun on Lexington Green on April 19, 1775, a belief which ignores many acts against the British Crown which occurred earlier, including armed insurrection in New Hampshire, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Some towns declared themselves independent of the British Empire more than a year before it was debated in Congress.
Here are ten things which you may not know about the American Revolution and the people who fought to separate themselves and their posterity from the British Empire.
Several States declared independence before July 1776
Following the battles of Lexington and Concord several colonies dispatched troops to support the newly formed militia army camped outside of Cambridge Massachusetts. These colonies also took action to dissolve their existing government and establish a new rule of law within their borders. In January, 1776, delegates meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, adopted a new state constitution, which established the colony as an independent state.
Before the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia decided the issue of national independence, Virginia, New Jersey, and South Carolina had declared themselves to be independent states by overthrowing the charters by which they had been governed and establishing written constitutions which declared them to be independent states, governed by local laws. All of them required the ownership of property to vote.
Several of the state constitutions which preceded the Declaration of Independence included a state-established religion, as had existed under British law. Virginia and Massachusetts, the two states whose representatives led the cause of independence in the Continental Congress, both required adherence to the state religion in their state constitutions of 1776.
The earliest debates over suffrage began at the state level, with most states establishing strict voting requirements based on manhood and property ownership, while others, such as Pennsylvania, were more liberal in allowing the franchise. New Jersey granted the right to vote to women under the circumstances of widowhood and property ownership. It was a step which would be retracted more than two decades later.
By the time the Continental Congress took up the momentous issue of independence, most of the former colonies had already been operating as free and independent states, under self-proclaimed laws and self-elected legislatures and governors. Many of the delegates to the Continental Congress were there as designees of these already de facto independent governments.