This Day in History: America asserts its independence (again)
On this day in 1778, the Continental Congress approves a resolution. The American colonies were effectively asserting their independence from Great Britain—again.
The American Revolution had then been ongoing for three years.
Parliament was looking for an end to the war. It knew that an alliance between France and America was forthcoming, and it hoped to thwart the effort. Parliament thus appointed a delegation to travel to America and to negotiate with Congress. This Commission was authorized to offer the colonies the option of home rule. Parliament also repealed a number of offensive taxes.
In short? It hoped to tempt the colonies toward reconciliation.
Due to the delays in receiving news from overseas, Congress did not realize that these acts had been approved, but it had heard that they were in the works. The parliamentary measure sparked some discussion. How should America respond?
Let’s just say that Congress was pretty unimpressed.
None of the legislation acknowledged American rights. Any of the Intolerable Acts (or similar measures) could be re-enacted at a moment’s notice. Congressional members figured that Parliament’s decisions were mostly a stunt: It was a trick to get America to surrender, then Parliament could easily go back to its old ways over time.
“[T]he said bills,” a congressional committee reported, “are intended to operate upon the hopes and fears of the good people of these states, so as to create divisions among them, and a defection from the common cause . . . they are the sequel of that insidious plan, which, from the days of the stamp act down to the present time, hath involved this country in contention and bloodshed . . . there can be no doubt but they will, as heretofore, upon the first favorable occasion, again display that lust of domination which hath rent in twain the mighty empire of Britain.”
Strong language! Remember that only a few years earlier, such parliamentary measures could have prevented the Revolution altogether. But now, a few years into the war, Congress was completely unimpressed. It affirmed that Americans will not participate in “any conference or treaty with any commissioners on the part of Great Britain unless they shall, as a preliminary thereto, either withdraw their fleets and armies, or else, in positive and express terms, acknowledge the independence of the said states.”
In other words? Acknowledge American independence or forget about trying to negotiate with us!
The Carlisle Commission would arrive on American shores several weeks later.
Naturally, the intrigues of that commission are a story for another day.
John C. Fredriksen, Revolutionary War Almanac (2006)
Journals of the Continental Congress (April 22, 1778)
Letter from George Washington to Henry Laurens (April 18, 1778) (including editors’ footnotes)