In 1776 the American Declaration of Independence reaches London.
On the 22nd of March 1765 Britain begins the ‘Stamp Tax’ in America, which puts a tax on any official document, Newspapers and playing cards. The controversial tax was introduced to raise the money towards the 10,000 troops placed in the American frontier to defend and protect the colonies. The Seven Years War (1756-1763) and ‘French and Indian War (1754-1763) had only ended and Tensions still ran high between Great Britain and France. Other taxes in Britain’s colonies had been introduced by their elected representatives, but this tax had been introduced directly from Britain and not approved by an American legislator. This was seen as an insult to the Americans, as well as many Britain’s, and it implied that Americans were merely subjects with fewer rights than Britain’s at home.
Former Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder gave a speech in Parliament in defence of America and their rights as equal citizens “This Kingdom has no right to lay a tax upon the colonies. They are the subjects of the kingdom equally entitled with yourselves to all the natural rights of mankind and the peculiar privileges of Englishmen. The Americans are the sons not the bastards of England.”
The King also made his opposition to the tax known and within a year on the 18th of March 1776 it was repealed. The introduction of the stamp tax is considered to be the start of the political arm of the American Revolution. Although the tax was repealed the damage had been done and the colonists began many more acts of political defiance to resist all taxation they deemed illegal. This included the Tea Act of 1773 which reduced the price of tax added to tea produced by the British East India Company giving them the monopoly over the American Tea trade. The colonists threw the tea into the Boston port, an act of defiance that would become known as the “Boston Tea Party”.
On the 19th of April 1775 the military arm of the American Revolution began known as the ‘American Revolutionary War’ or the ‘American War of Independence’. The first incident that initiated the war took place on in Lexington when British troops were ordered to travel to concord and take the Patriots military stores there. While the British troops headed out on their mission, a Patriot line of communication, made from men on horse back, sent word to Patriot forces of the impending raid. As 700 British troops, under the command of Major Pitcairn, moved through the town green in Lexington, they were met with 77 minutemen (elite mobile infantry of the American militia) under the command of Captain John Parker. Pitcairn ordered the American force to disperse and initially they obeyed. But just as the confrontation seemed over a single shot was fired which would start the American War of Independence and bring four nations into conflict with Britain. That single shot has been referred too as ‘the shot that was heard across the world’ and as soon as it was fired (both sides blamed the other), the British and American forces opened fire on one another. With the small rebellion subdued the British troops continued to concord to complete their mission. But patriot forces in Concord were even greater and well prepared. They had already removed the stash of military hardware and up to 400 patriot troops met with the British and forced them to retreat back to Boston. The British lost 273 men compared to the patriot’s 95 men killed and this victory to the patriots spurred on many more to join and fight the British.
A Continental Congress was formed and chose a committee to create a Declaration of Independence and on the 4th of July 1774 the declaration was adopted by 12 colonies of the 13 original colonies of the United States of America. New York, the 13th colony, would adopt the declaration on the 19th July.
By the 10th of August the Declaration reached London and the government of Great Britain. The British Government immediately denounced the value of the declaration whose signatories, and original author Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves. How could they preach that “all men are created equal” and continue to treat humans as possessions.
A pamphlet was commissioned entitled “Answer to the American Congress” and written by John Lind. The pamphlet went further, accusing one of the main reasons behind the declaration was the fear that the growing anti-slavery movement in Britain would spread to America and not about "Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" or that they truly believe that “all men are created equal” as suggested.
The anti-slave movement in Great Britain really broke ground with the verdict of the “Somerset Case 1772”. Lord Mansfield declared that there was no law that permitted slavery in Britain, and no law that supported it. The result of this judgement made people question that if any slave stepped foot on British soil then could they no longer be considered a slave and therefore slavery throughout the British Empire may also be unlawful. The slave trade was eventually banned throughout the empire in 1807 and slavery itself in 1833 but many other acts against slavery took place throughout the Empire including Lord Dunmore’s Emancipation Proclamation created on the 7th of December 1775. Lord Dunmore called on all slaves of patriots to rise up and join his forces and in doing so they would win their freedom. Many slaves did indeed escape their masters, both loyalist and patriot alike, and in 1776 three hundred slaves did win their freedom. But Lord Dunmore had an additional motive. As with Lincolns Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Dunmore knew that an uprising of slaves would play into the hands of the Royalists.
When Lind wrote the pamphlet he claimed that the line "has incited domestic insurrections among us…" in the declaration was in relation to Dunmore’s Proclamation against slavery.
During the American Revolutionary War many of the slaves fought on both sides but the majority fought on the side of the British after King George III promised their freedom. Many thousands of slaves were indeed freed by the British before the war ended.