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Image: The Boston Tea Party.Why the War Came

The American colonists did not embrace independence easily. Most of them were of British ancestry. They spoke English and traded mainly with Britain and other British colonies. Most shared the mother country's Protestant religious tradition. The Americans' pride in being British reached a high point in 1763, with Britain's great victory in the Seven Years War (known in America as the French and Indian War).

That victory gained Britain what had been French Canada and all territory east of the Mississippi River, including Spanish Florida. Heavily in debt as a result of the war, Britain decided to keep an army in America to secure her new possessions and looked to the colonists to help pay for it. The British parliament approved new taxes on colonial imports and for the first time imposed a direct tax-the stamp tax (1765)-on the Americans. Colonial resistance to the new taxes only stiffened parliament's insistence on its right to govern the colonists "in all cases whatsoever."

Even after fighting began at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, in April 1775, the Continental Congress petitioned King George III for redress and insisted that the colonists wanted to remain within the empire-but only as free men. The king responded by pronouncing the colonies to be in rebellion, and Congress decided it had no alternative to proclaiming independence.

On July 4,1776, it declared that the "united colonies" were henceforth "free and independent states." Fulfilling this declaration, however, required a military victory over Britain.

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