On this day in 1775, one day after restating their fidelity to King George III and wishing him “a long and prosperous reign” in the Olive Branch Petition, Congress sets “forth the causes and necessity of their taking up arms” against British authority in the American colonies. The declaration also proclaimed their preference “to die free men rather than live as slaves.”
As in the Olive Branch Petition, Congress never impugned the motives of the British king. Instead, they protested, “The large strides of late taken by the legislature of Great Britain toward establishing over these colonies their absolute rule…” Congress provided a history of colonial relations in which the king served as the sole governmental connection between the mother country and colonies, until, in their eyes, the victory against France in the Seven Years’ War caused Britain’s “new ministry finding all the foes of Britain subdued” to fall upon “the unfortunate idea of subduing her friends also.” According to the declaration, the king’s role remained constant, but “parliament then for the first time assumed a power of unbounded legislation over the colonies of America,” which resulted in the bloodletting at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.
At this point, Congress assumed that if the king could merely be made to understand what Parliament and his ministers had done, he would rectify the situation and return the colonists to their rightful place as fully equal members of the British empire. When the king sided with Parliament, however, Congress moved beyond a Declaration of Arms to a Declaration of Independence.