views updated May 29 2018


Independence was a central keyword of politics in the eighteenth century. For individuals as well as the United States in 1776, independence—the ability to dictate one's own course without outside reference—was a goal that in theory was worth striving for, but in reality was difficult to attain.

the concept of independence

Personal independence was an important concept for many eighteenth-century Americans. Independence was the notion that a person was entirely free from all entangling obligations, the ability to be self-sufficient in all political, economic, and social relationships. A person free from any dependence on another, most Americans agreed, epitomized an ideal citizen, the perfect guarantor of liberty. Independence was synonymous with happiness, comfort, ease, a trouble-free life. Eventually—although not easily—the concept of individual or personal independence would become a national ideal as well; independence, in other words, became the model for Independence.

True independence, though, was built on contradiction. Although self-sufficiency was the goal, this end was highly compromised. Gendered male, the "independent" patriarch was in fact actually reliant on the labor of those in his household who were by definition dependents, including women, children, and slaves. Also, the social standing of elites depended on the consumption of an increasing variety of consumer goods, and as a result many so-called independent Americans were rarely free of debts owed to British merchants. As members of an empire ruled by a monarchy, Americans were politically dependent on the king. Although they did not view this as complete dependence—colonists insisted the relationship was reciprocal and that their allegiance was contingent on the king's ability to provide for their protection—they were still subjects of the crown.

Personal independence, then, was largely evanescent. Although the concept was consensually agreed upon as the goal for happy individuals and a healthy community, it was seldom realized. Still, aspiring Americans believed the freedom to pursue independence, as Jefferson intimated, to be a closely guarded right, one that sat at the epicenter of the imperial crisis of the 1760s and 1770s. Throughout their controversy with Great Britain, colonists protested that their ability to achieve independence was under increasing assault by an insidious and grasping imperial administration. Their reaction reflected the desire to eliminate all forms of dependence. Economic boycotts, political maneuvering to control imperial agents, and the promotion of virtue all addressed the issue of American independence.

One of the primary tactics Americans employed to protest British policies was to boycott imported goods. Seeing their purchasing power as a lever with which to pressure Parliament, American leaders administered nonimportation boycotts to varying degrees of success in response to the Stamp Act (1765), Townshend Duties (1767), and Coercive Acts (1774). Americans' concept of personal independence lay at the heart of the boycott movement. Because nonimportation naturally reduced consumption, the measure also had a side benefit of limiting debt. With the nonimportation boycott, personal independence from consumer debt suddenly became a patriotic act; personal virtue and the public display of political principles were now one and the same. Americans who protested British policies further drove home the connection between economic independence and political resistance by labeling virtuous the consumption of domestic manufactures, such as homespun clothing. Wearing a suit of clothes stitched by a person in one's own household played on many different levels of independence: it reduced the influence of British merchants; it rejected the notion that Britain could take away individual liberties; and it served as a totem that this individual was his own person not beholden to anyone.

Ideas about the dangers of dependence also fed into American concerns about the arrangement of political power in the British Empire. While they nominally declared their dependence on the crown (albeit with reserved rights), colonists worried about the independent status of the king's agents in America. Throughout the eighteenth century, imperial officials had depended on American assemblies to pay their salaries and expense accounts. This leverage, colonial leaders argued, was a vital check that safeguarded American rights. When Parliament attempted to consolidate its authority in the years after the Stamp Act, one of its most pressing concerns was the wrestling away of the ability to control the livelihood of British colonial officials. Parliament, in other words, wanted to ensure that its representatives in the colonies would be dependent on its authority only. Colonists, especially in Massachusetts, reacted in horror; they protested that if the interests of imperial agents were independent of the colonies they administered, tyranny would directly ensue, followed, inevitably, by slavery.

Concepts of personal independence—whether political, economic, or social—mobilized increasing numbers of Americans to resist British policies. But the incorporation of ideas about personal or individual independence did not naturally or easily lead to calls to cut all ties with Britain. The road from independence to Independence was indeed long and tortured.

the road to independence

With the Treaty of Paris in 1763, American feelings of patriotism and attachment to the British Empire overflowed. Believing they were fully vested partners in the defeat of France, Americans saw themselves as belonging to a "Greater" Britain. Independence from Britain and the king was far from their minds at the beginning of the imperial crisis. Throughout the 1760s and 1770s, even as they protested British policies as an abridgment of their rights, American petitions continually pledged allegiance to the king. The major statements that underscored the American position, from the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 through Thomas Jefferson's Summary View of the Rights of British Colonies in 1774 to the Olive Branch Petition of 1775, each denied that the colonies desired their own independence. They begged the king to take up his role as protector and act on their behalf by reining in a runaway Parliament and ministry. While they insisted that colonial legislatures should have sovereignty over provincial laws, most revolutionaries adamantly denied that they should cut ties with the British monarchy as well.

Common Sense (1776) in large part changed this. Thomas Paine's pamphlet spoke directly to the possibilities of Independence. Paine argued that continued attachment to Britain would drag America into war, destruction, and tyranny. The first to "kill" the king, Common Sense became a literary phenomenon throughout the colonies in the early months of 1776; the forty-six page pamphlet convinced thousands of Americans that hereditary monarchy was corrupt and that an immediate declaration of national independence was in their best interest. But as powerful as the argument was, even Paine's sensational rhetoric did not spur Congress to action. Even after news reached America in early 1776 that the king had withdrawn his protection from the colonies, the question of Independence remained controversial. By the first anniversary of the Battle of Lexington of April 1775, only a few colonial assemblies had authorized their representatives to concur if Congress were to hold a vote on Independence. As of May 1776, no delegate had permission to initiate debate on the issue.

The deepening exigencies of war, however, would ultimately trump the colonists' attachment to the monarch. In the spring of 1776, war continued throughout the colonies from Canada to the Carolinas. Rumors of British efforts to supplement their invasion force with foreign mercenaries, from either Russia or the German principalities, had been rampant throughout America since the previous fall. Throughout the first two weeks of May 1776, American newspapers were filled with reports from ship captains that testified to seeing a transport fleet filled with British and German soldiers en route to New York. The simultaneous arrival of official transcripts of the king's treaties with the German states for mercenaries confirmed the reports. Congress reacted immediately. On 15 May 1776, it ordered a de facto independence by instructing every colony that had not yet done so to draft its own republican constitution. At the same time, proponents of Independence dispatched Richard Henry Lee to Virginia to secure instructions from that critical province to bring up the issue on the floor of Congress. Lee returned on 7 June with a resolution from Virginia that instructed Congress to vote on whether "these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved." Congress agreed to consider Lee's resolution and, on 11 June, appointed a committee of five delegates—John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman—to draft a declaration of independence.

After taking a three-week recess for the remainder of June, Congress debated Independence on 1 and 2 July, a huge step made only more difficult by word that the vanguard of the impending British invasion fleet had indeed arrived off New York City a few days previously, on 29 June. With twelve colonies supporting the measure (New York lacked instruction and therefore abstained), the vote for Independence passed on 2 July. Congress spent the next two days editing the language of the draft declaration of independence written by Jefferson and the other members of the "Committee of Five." On 4 July 1776, Congress approved the final version of the Declaration of Independence and sent the copy to Philadelphia printer John Dunlap for its publication. The concept of independence—the republican ideal of complete self-sufficiency—had finally come full circle. Ideas about personal independence into which the revolutionaries had tapped in order to mobilize support for resistance to British policies had become national Independence.

See alsoContinental Congresses; Declaration of Independence; Jefferson, Thomas; Paine, Thomas; Politics: Political Thought; Stamp Act and Stamp Act Congress .


Breen, T. H. The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Bushman, Richard L. King and People in Provincial Massachusetts. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

Holton, Woody. Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Lewis, Jan. The Pursuit of Happiness: Family and Values in Jefferson's Virginia. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Ragsdale, Bruce A. A Planters' Republic: The Search for Economic Independence in Revolutionary Virginia. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1996.

Rakove, Jack N. The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretative History of the Continental Congress. New York: Knopf, 1979.

Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969.

Robert G. Parkinson


views updated May 23 2018



Independence in seniors is defined as the ability to live on one's own without the need for skilled medical care or supervision. It is usually defined in functional

Living arrangements of the U.S. population age 65 and over, by sex and race and Hispanic origin, 2007
Selected characteristicWith
With other
source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual
Social and Economic Supplement
Living with other relatives indicates no spouse present.
Living with nonrelatives indicates no spouse or other
relatives present.
(Illustration by GGS Information Services.
Cengage Learning, Gale. Reproduced by permission.)
Non-Hispanic white alone74.53.92.718.9
Black alone57.410.13.728.8
Asian alone83.
Hispanic (of any race)65.416.9314.7
Non-Hispanic white alone44.313.5240.3
Black alone25.
Asian alone46.830.13.120
Hispanic (of any race)38.833.42.125.8

terms; that is, independence is measured in terms of the senior's ability to carry out certain everyday activities or perform certain tasks related to personal care without assistance, as distinct from financial, emotional, or psychological independence. Many seniors, however, also think of maintaining a driver's license and part- or full-time work as important markers of independence.


Functional independence is usually assessed in terms of the senior's ability to carry out two types of everyday actions: those related to self-care, commonly called activities of daily living or ADLs; and those necessary to live independently within a community, called instrumental activities of daily living or IADLs.

Activities of daily living

The following are the activities listed as ADLs in most questionnaires used in geriatric assessments:

  • bathe
  • dress and undress
  • eat (feed oneself)
  • transfer oneself from bed to chair and back
  • maintain bowel and bladder continence
  • use the toilet

The following are the activities considered IADLs:

  • ability to use telephone
  • shopping (for other items as well as groceries)
  • food preparation
  • housekeeping (e.g., cleaning house, making beds, washing dishes)
  • doing laundry
  • using transportation (driving own car or using public transportation)
  • proper use of medications
  • money management

Checklists used to measure functional independence

There are several questionnaires or checklists that healthcare professionals use when evaluating a senior's ability to live independently. The most commonly used are the Katz ADL checklist, which has boxes for simple yes/no answers; and the Lawton IADL scale, which uses numbers to rate the senior's level of competence in these activities (e.g., can the senior plan nutritious meals and do all the cooking; can they cook a meal if supplied with the ingredients? Or does the senior need to have all meals prepared by others and served?). Another widely used scale is the Barthel index, which was first devised in 1965 and measures 10 ADLs: those included on the Katz scale plus grooming, ability to climb stairs, and ability to move on a level surface. Like the Lawton scale, the Barthel index assigns numbers to various degrees of ability to complete the activity rather than a simple yes/no rating.


As of the early 2000s, it is clear to researchers that most American seniors prefer to be independent as long as they possibly can. This preference is in part an understandable response to changes in family structure and the larger society that make it harder for extended families to take care of their senior members. Many families have members living in widely scattered parts of the United States, some of whom may move frequently. In addition, the proportion of seniors who have never married or had children is growing; these persons may have no relatives who can care for them when they can no longer care for themselves. Underlying these demographic changes, however, is a longstanding American conviction that self-sufficiency is a basic mark of a mature adult; dependency has long been regarded as a personal misfortune if not a character defect. This cultural belief may not always be expressed in words but is nonetheless influential; many people acknowledge that they dislike the thought of depending on others in their later years.

In addition to people's personal desires to remain independent as long as possible, there are several public policy reasons for encouraging them to do so. One is the aging of the U.S. population; some healthcare experts are concerned that there will be not be enough nursing homes and other long-term care facilities by 2020. In addition, a shortage of registered nurses has been a major concern to nursing home administrators since the late 1990s.

Partial independence

Independence for seniors is not an all-or-nothing matter. In the 2000s several options have emerged for seniors who need some help with housekeeping, house maintenance, or running errands but who do not require skilled nursing care. One is assisted living facilities or ALFs. These are noninstitutionalized facilities that may range in size from small cottages to larger apartment buildings resembling college dormitories. In the typical ALF, individuals have a private apartment with their own bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom, while laundry facilities and social spaces are shared. There is also usually a central kitchen and dining room for residents who prefer not to eat alone. ALFs commonly offer help with cleaning, laundry, garbage collection, and other housekeeping chores, but they do not offer round-the-clock skilled nursing or medical care.

Another trend is called aging in place in the United States and aging at home in Canada. Aging in place is an approach that allows seniors to remain in their own homes while making use of local products and services to help with ADLs and IADLs as their needs change. There are now aging in place consultants—building professionals who can assess the senior's home and install guardrails and other safety devices, remove safety hazards, improve lighting, and replace old appliances with so-called smart appliances that make it easier for individuals to remain in their present house. Aging in place is gaining in popularity; one AARP survey found that more than 80 percent of seniors would prefer to stay in their present home rather than move to some other kind of residence.


Continuing to drive a car is important to many seniors for practical as well as psychological reasons. Most seniors do not live within walking distance of all the stores, doctors' offices, friends' homes, churches, or other places they may need or want to visit. In addition, a driver's license functions as a basic form of identification in the United States. The decision to give up driving is a painful one for many seniors, with men typically waiting longer than women to surrender their licenses. One study reported in 2007 that the majority of seniors living in the community continued to drive as long as they remained in their own homes, although many began to limit their driving to daytime only or to routes close to home with which they were familiar.


Activities of daily living (ADLs) —Activities considered necessary for adequate self-care.

Aging in place —Not having to move from one's present home to secure needed support services as one grows older and one's needs change; also called aging at home.

Assisted living facility (ALF) —A form of housing for seniors that offers central dining, supervision, and some help with ADLs but does not provide round-the-clock nursing care or medical services.

Barthel index —An instrument commonly used to assess a senior's ability to carry out 10 ADLs without assistance.

Functional independence —The ability to carry out or perform actions or activities necessary for everyday life without assistance.

Geriatric assessment —A comprehensive evaluation of an elderly person's physical health, functional ability, cognitive function, mental health, and social situation.

Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) —Activities necessary for independent living within one's community.


Although many people think of seniors as retirees, more and more seniors are choosing to work at least part-time after they reach 65. For some, continuing to hold a job is a financial necessity; for others, their work is something they enjoy and do not want to give up. The ability to keep working depends on a number of factors: the type of work involved (physical labor, mental work, or a combination of both); its location (home office or workplace outside the home); whether it involves interacting with the public; and whether it involves being part of a group or team or can be done solo. For example, a senior who is self-employed as a writer or artist with a home office or studio may well be able to continue working longer than a senior who must commute to a workplace or work at a physically demanding job.



Beers, Mark H., M. D., and Thomas V. Jones, MD. Merck Manual of Geriatrics, 3rd ed., Chapter 4, “Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment.” Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck, 2005.

Mace, Nancy L., and Peter V. Rabins. The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss in Later Life, 4th ed. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.


Alley, D., P. Liebig, J. Pynoos, et al. “Creating Elder Friendly Communities: Preparations for an Aging Society.” Journal of Gerontological Social Work 49 (January/February 2007): 1–18.

Cheek, P., L. Nikpour, and H. D. Nowlin. “Aging Well with Smart Technology.” Nursing Administration Quarterly 29 (October/December 2005): 329–338.

Marek, K. D., L. Popejoy, G. Petroski, et al. “Clinical Outcomes of Aging in Place.” Nursing Research 54 (May/June 2005): 202–211.

Unsworth, C. A., Y. Wells, C. Browning, et al. “To Continue, Modify, or Relinquish Driving: Findings from a Longitudinal Study of Healthy Ageing.” Gerontology 53 (November 21, 2007): 423–431.


Barthel Index. [cited March 28, 2008]”>

Katz ADL Scale and Lawton IADL Scale. [cited March 28, 2008]”>


Administration on Aging (AoA), One Massachusetts Ave., Washington, DC, 20201, (202) 619-0724, [email protected],

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 601 E St. NW, Washington, DC, 20049, (800) OUR-AARP (687-2277),

National Aging in Place Council (NAIPC), 1400 Sixteenth St. NW, Suite 420, Washington, DC, 20036, (202) 939-1784, (202) 265-4435, [email protected],

Rebecca J. Frey Ph.D.


views updated May 23 2018


INDEPENDENCE. On 2 July 1776, the Continental Congress voted to sever all connections with the British Empire. Two days later, the delegates debated, revised, and finally approved the Declaration of Independence drafted by Thomas Jefferson. These actions were the climax to a decade of controversy that began when Parliament attempted to impose taxes on the American colonists with the Revenue Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765. Americans opposed these measures for various reasons, including a general aversion to taxation in any form. But the basic dispute was a constitutional one. Could Parliament enact legislation binding the American colonies "in all cases whatsoever," as its Declaratory Act of 1766 asserted? Americans argued that they could only be governed by their own legislative assemblies, not a distant Parliament to which they sent no members. But if the colonies were exempt from its jurisdiction, how could they remain part of the larger empire within which Parliament was the supreme source of law?

From an early point, observers in both countries worried that the dispute might end with the colonies seeking independence. Imperial officials had long fretted over the autonomy that the colonies enjoyed and the loose control the empire exerted. The British victory in the Seven Years' War (1756–1763) exacerbated those fears by removing the threat to colonial expansion posed by French control of Canada. Americans felt deep attachment to Britain and to the prosperity and security they enjoyed within the empire. Yet colonial legislatures repeatedly quarreled with royal governors and other imperial officials.

There is, however, little evidence that Americans actively sought independence. Through 1774, the colonists affirmed that their goal was the restoration of the rights they had previously enjoyed. Under the prevailing imperial policy of "salutary neglect," British authority rested lightly on Americans. Laws regulating daily life were enacted by the colonists' own assemblies. Within the empire, Americans accepted the framework for commerce laid down by successive navigation acts that Parliament had adopted beginning in 1651. Although they often violated specific regulations, the navigation system worked to the mutual advantage of both Britain and its colonies.

The Stamp Act and Townshend Acts

The adoption of the Stamp Act threw these understandings into crisis. Americans first objected that they were not bound by the acts of a legislature in which they were unrepresented. The British government responded that Americans were "virtually represented" in Parliament. When that claim proved unavailing, it further argued that Parliament was the sovereign source of law within the larger polity of which the colonies were indisputably a part. Because sovereignty was regarded as an absolute, unitary power, American arguments about representation would have to yield to the ultimate authority of Parliament.

In 1767, Parliament enacted the Townshend duties, exploiting a distinction some colonists had made between "internal" taxes like the Stamp Act and "external" duties on imported goods. Prompted by John Dickinson's influential Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer (1767–1768), Americans replied that duties clearly levied as taxes were constitutionally unacceptable. A few writers suggested that the colonies were completely independent of Parliament, but still bound to the British Empire through their historic link to the crown.

This debate largely subsided after Parliament repealed the Townshend duties in March 1770, leaving only a duty on tea as a symbolic statement of its authority. In most colonies, politics reverted to normal and the harmony of the empire seemed restored.

The Tea Tax, the Coercive Acts, and the Continental Congress

In Massachusetts, however, a fresh controversy erupted between the royal governor, Thomas Hutchinson, and his detractors, led by Samuel Adams of Boston, after it was learned that Hutchinson and the provincial judges were to receive royal salaries, rendering them politically independent of the legislature. The debate ultimately led to a full-blown discussion of the constitutional rights of Americans and the constitutional powers of Parliament. It also disposed Hutchinson to enforce the new Tea Act that Parliament enacted in 1773. Rather than allow the dutied tea to land, as Hutchinson insisted it must, the Boston radicals dumped it into the town harbor. In response, Parliament enacted the Coercive Acts of 1774, closing the port of Boston, altering the provincial charter granted by the crown, and providing legal protection for British officials accused of crimes against Americans.

In town and county meetings, the American population mobilized to protest these measures, which demonstrated what allowing Parliament to legislate "in all cases whatsoever" could mean. Deputies from every colony but Georgia gathered in a Continental Congress at Philadelphia in September, and agreed to a program of opposition combining a commercial boycott of Britain with a demand that Parliament repeal its offensive legislation. In response to the British military occupation of Boston, Congress instructed the people of Massachusetts to take only defensive measures, but when the delegates adjourned in October, they understood that hostilities might erupt before they reconvened in May.

Armed Conflict and the Failure of Reconciliation

When war broke out at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts during April 1775, a second Congress reviewed the American position but did not flinch, organizing the Continental Army that it named George Washington to command. Congress sent a new petition seeking redress to the crown, but the latter did not modify the positions it had taken in 1774. For its part, the government of Lord North, firmly backed by King George III, was committed to a policy of repression, believing that a decisive show of force would convince the Americans to retreat. New parliamentary acts declared the colonies in a state of rebellion and subjected their commerce to seizure.

Prospects for reconciliation dwindled with every passing month and independence became increasingly a matter of timing. Many Americans still resisted taking the final step of renouncing allegiance to the king. Even in Congress, moderates desperately hoped that Britain would send commissioners authorized to conduct serious negotiations. But the publication in January 1776 of Thomas Paine's electrifying pamphlet Common Sense made independence a legitimate subject of debate. In the spring, local meetings started to endorse the idea, as did the provincial convention of Virginia in May. Reports that Britain had begun contracting for Hessian mercenaries confirmed that the government was uninterested in negotiations.

In mid-May, Congress adopted a resolution authorizing the provincial conventions to establish new legal governments, resting on popular consent, to replace the old colonial governments that drew their authority from the crown. Three weeks later, it appointed committees to draft articles of confederation, a plan for foreign treaties, and a declaration of independence. A handful of delegates, led by John Dickinson, urged greater patience, but when the decisive vote came, Congress and the bulk of the politically active population supported the break with Britain. Seven years passed before their desires were secured.


Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Enlarged ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992. Immensely influential.

Christie, Ian R., and Benjamin W. Labaree. Empire or Independence, 1760–1776: A British-American Dialogue on the Coming of the American Revolution. New York: Norton, 1976. Balanced and shrewd assessment from both sides of the Atlantic.

Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf, 1997. Provocative study of the decision and the document.

Rakove, Jack N. The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress. New York: Knopf, 1979.


See alsoCommittees of Correspondence ; Common Sense ; Continental Congress ; Declaration of Independence ; Revolution, American: Political and Military History .


views updated May 23 2018


INDEPENDENCE. There is much conflicting evidence as to when colonists came to the conclusion that political independence from Britain might be desirable. As early as 1701 the Board of Trade thought that the American thirst for independence was notorious. Trying to calm British fears, Benjamin Franklin in a pamphlet published in London in 1763 asserted that the Americans would probably never claim independence. Few Americans before 1763 desired independence. Thereafter, the anger provoked by ill-considered British imperial policies contributed significantly to their growing inclination to contemplate such a step. An unidentified Frenchman traveling through the colonies at the height of the Stamp Act crisis in 1765 reported that "no nation was better calculated for independence, the people were disposed to it, and there was nothing they talked of more" (American Historical Review, p. 84). In 1768 the German soldier Johann De Kalb, traveling from the Carolinas to New England, observed that "all the people here are imbued with such a spirit of independence and even license, that if all the provinces can be united under a common representation, an independent state will certainly come forth in time" (ANB). But in 1768 Samuel Adams was undoubtedly in the minority in thinking of independence as a political objective. The idea certainly began to grow in the five years preceding the war, but Rhode Island regiments reporting for the siege of Boston spoke of themselves as being "in his Majesty's service," and Congress in its "Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms" (6 July 1775) said: "We have not raised armies with the ambitious design of separating from Great Britain and establishing independent states" (Jensen, p. 842).

There was no general drift by the colonies toward the idea of independence until near the close of 1775. People recognized that the steps already taken to manage and maintain the war effort, including establishing new state governments, amounted to something very much like practical independence. Southerners were particularly incensed by the efforts of Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, to raise armed units of runaway slaves. Edward Rutledge of South Carolina wrote home from Philadelphia on 8 December 1775 with some hard questions:

What are the sentiments of the English nation? Are the people of that country determined to force us into independence?… Do they expect that after our towns have been destroyed, our liberties repeatedly invaded, our women and children driven from their habitations,… our slaves emancipated for the express purpose of massacring their masters, can they, I say, after all their injuries, expect that we shall return to our former connection with a forgiving and cordial disposition? (Smith, p. 463)

Still, in late 1775 the idea of separation was so radical that delegates to Congress delicately approached the problem of how they could lead the people toward an acceptance of independence. Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense was published on 10 January 1776 and quickly and widely read thereafter, jolted the political system with his matter-of-fact advocacy of independence. The publication of Common Sense probably did more than any other single event to clarify thinking on the issue. The North Carolina convention had the distinction of being the first of the ad hoc, extralegal political bodies that now governed the colonies to give official sanction to the call for independence when, on 12 April 1776, it authorized its delegates to join others in Congress who might advocate such a movement. On 4 May the Rhode Island Assembly publicly announced its independence, the first colony to do so. The first colony to instruct its delegates to Congress to take the initiative on this matter was Virginia (15 May 1776), and on 7 June Richard Henry Lee moved a resolution "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States" (Jensen, p. 867). John Adams seconded the motion, and played an important role in building the congressional consensus that produced the Declaration of Independence.

Such conservative delegates as John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and even Edward Rutledge remained cautious about independence, overwhelmed by the peril of fighting a war and pessimistic about the future. Dickinson said, "I fear the virtue of Americans. Resentment of the injuries offered to their country may irritate them to counsels and to actions that may be detrimental to the cause they would dye to advance" (Smith, pp. 352-353). Other delegates of proven courage and patriotism, among them Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, John Jay of New York, George Read of Delaware, James Duane of New York, and Benjamin Harrison of Virginia, also believed that independence was premature. According to Carter Braxton of Virginia (14 April 1776), independence "is in truth a delusive bait which men inconsiderably catch at without knowing the hook to which it is affixed. It is an object to be wished for by every American, when it can be obtained with safety and honor" (Smith, p. 522).

SEE ALSO De Kalb, Johann; Declaration of Independence; Paine, Thomas.


American Historical Association. The American Historical Review. Vol. 27. New York, 1921–1922.

Bailyn, Bernard. The Origins of American Politics. New York: Knopf, 1968.

―――――――. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967.

Becker, Carl L. The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas. Rev. ed. New York: Knopf, 1942.

Bumstead, John M. "'Things in the Womb of Time': Ideas of American Independence, 1633–1763." William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, 31 (1974): 533-564.

Jensen, Merrill, ed. English Historical Documents, Volume IX: American Colonial Documents to 1776. David C. Douglas, general editor. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955.

Knollenberg, Bernard. Origin of the American Revolution, 1759–1766. Edited by Bernard W. Sheehan. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 2002.

Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf, 1997.

Smith, Paul H., et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. Vol. 2: August 1774–August 1775. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1976.

―――――――. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. Vol. 3: January 1-May 15, 1776. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1978.

―――――――. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. Vol. 4: May 16-August 15, 1776. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979.

                              revised by Harold E. Selesky


views updated May 21 2018

362. Independence

  1. Bastille Day July 14; French national holiday celebrating the fall of the Bastille prison (1789). [Fr. Hist.: NCE, 245]
  2. Declaration of Independence by delegates of the American Thirteen Colonies announcing U.S. independence from Great Britain (1776). [Am. Hist.: NCE, 733]
  3. Huggins, Henry self-reliant boy; earns money for toys. [Childrens Lit.: Henry Huggins ]
  4. Independence Day Fourth of July; U.S. patriotic holiday celebrating the Declaration of Independence. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 990]
  5. Maine often thought of as the state of independent Yankees. [Pop. Culture: Misc.]
  6. Mugwumps Republican party members who voted independently. [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 337]
  7. Quebec Canadas French-speaking province has often attempted to attain independence from rest of country. [Canadian Hist.: NCE, 2555]
  8. Tree of Liberty symbolic post or tree hung with flags and other devices and crowned with the liberty cap. [Misc.: Brewer Dictionary, 911]
  9. white oak indicates self-sufficiency. [Flower Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 178]


views updated May 21 2018

independence Independence Day another term for Fourth of July.
Independence Hall a building in Philadelphia where the US Declaration of Independence was proclaimed and outside which the Liberty Bell is kept.


views updated May 23 2018


One of the essential attributes of a state under international law is external sovereignty—that is, the right to exercise freely the full range of power a state possesses under international law. Recognition of a state as independent necessarily implies that the recognizing states have no legal authority over the independent state. The status of a fully independent state should be contrasted with that of dependent or vassal states, where a superior state has the legal authority to impose its will over the subject, or inferior, state.


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in·de·pend·ence / ˌindəˈpendəns/ • n. the fact or state of being independent: Argentina gained independence from Spain in 1816 | I've always valued my independence.


views updated May 18 2018

In·de·pend·ence / ˌindəˈpendəns/ a historic city in northwestern Missouri, east of Kansas City; pop. 113,288.


views updated May 21 2018


See Models; Science and Religion, Models and Relations; Science and Religion, Methodologies

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