Paine argued that independence, which was the American “destiny,” would allow America to trade freely with other nations for guns and ammunition and win foreign aid from British enemies. Finally, Paine stated, independence would give Americans the chance to create a better society—one free from tyranny, with equal social and economic opportunities for all. Common Sense sold nearly 500,000 copies and was widely applauded. It helped to overcome many colonists’ doubts about separating from Britain. Reading Check Draw Conclusions Do you think that the Olive Branch Petition was too little too late? Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense helped to overcome many colonists’ doubts about separating from Britain. Module 3 116
In April 1776 George Washington wrote, “I find Common Sense is working a powerful change in the minds of many men.” DECLARING INDEPENDENCE By early summer 1776, events pushed the wavering Continental Congress toward a decision. North Carolina had declared itself independent. A majority of Virginians told their delegates that they favored independence. At last the Congress urged each colony to form its own government. On June 7 Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee moved that “these United Colonies are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent States.” While talks on this fateful motion were under way, the Congress appointed a committee to prepare a formal declaration that would explain the reasons for the colonies’ actions. Virginia lawyer Thomas Jefferson , known for his broad knowledge and skillfully crafted prose, was chosen to express the committee’s points. Jefferson’s masterful Declaration of Independence drew on the con- cepts of the English philosopher John Locke. Locke maintained that peo- ple enjoy “natural rights” to life, liberty, and property. Jefferson described these rights as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” In keeping with Locke’s ideas, Jefferson then declared that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed”—that is, from the people. This right of consent gave the people the right “to alter or to abolish” any government that threatened their unalienable rights and to install a government that would uphold these principles. On the basis of this reasoning, the American colo- nies declared their independence from Britain. The Declaration listed the numerous ways in which the British king had violated the “unalienable rights” of the Americans. The Declaration states flatly that “all men are created equal.” When this phrase was written, it expressed the common belief that free citizens were political equals. It did not claim that all people had the same abilities or ought to have equal wealth. It was not meant to embrace women, Native Ameri- cans, and African American slaves—a large number of Americans. However, Jefferson’s words presented ideals that would later help these groups challenge traditional attitudes.
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