On this day in 1775, the Continental Congress drafts its rationale for taking up arms against Great Britain in the Articles of War.
In the Articles of War, written one year before the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Congress referred to “his Majesty’s most faithful subjects in these Colonies” and laid the blame for colonial discontent not on King George III, but on “attempts of the British Ministry, to carry into execution, by force of arms, several unconstitutional and oppressive acts of the British parliaments for laying taxes in America.”
By phrasing their discontent this way, Congress attempted to notify the king that American colonists were unhappy with parliamentary policy. By July 1776, the Declaration of Independence proclaimed something very different:
“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”
Congress language is critical to understanding the seismic shift that had occurred in American thought in just 12 months. Indeed, Congress insisted that Thomas Jefferson remove any language from the declaration that implicated the people of Great Britain or their elected representatives in Parliament. The fundamental grounds upon which Americans were taking up arms had shifted. The militia that had fired upon Redcoats at Lexington and Concord had been angry with Parliament, not the king, who they still trusted to desire only good for all of his subjects around the globe. This belief changed after King George refused to so much as receive the so-called Olive Branch Petition, sent to him by Congress in July 1775 in a final attempt to make him aware of the colonists grievances. Patriots had hoped that Parliament had curtailed colonial rights without the king’s full knowledge, and that the petition would cause him to come to his subjects’ defense. When George III refused to read the petition, Patriots realized that Parliament was acting with royal knowledge and support. The king became the central focus of the Americans patriotic rage when English-born radical Thomas Paine published his blistering attack on the monarchy, Common Sense, in January 1776.