Declaring Independence: The Difficult Decision That Created America

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Duration 01:05:43

George Washington University

Denver Brunsman is Associate Professor of History at George Washington University. He is a co-author of several textbooks, including Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People and Leading Change: George Washington and Establishing the Presidency. Professor Brunsman’s many honors include the Trachtenberg Prize for Teaching Excellence and induction into the George Washington University Academy of Distinguished Teachers.



Today, it is easy to take America’s independence for granted, but the decision to separate from Great Britain was anything but easy and inevitable. To celebrate the nation’s 245th birthday this July 4th week, join Professor Denver Brunsman of George Washington University as he shares the latest insights from the academy on the American decision for independence. Scholars currently emphasize the British identity of the American colonists, which made declaring independence an anguished and slow process. Without the spread of war between the British army and American colonists–and some perfectly timed “common sense” from Thomas Paine– we just might be celebrating the “near miss” of 1776, rather than the birth of the United States.


Discussion Questions:

1. In recent years, scholars have emphasized various events and contingent causes of American independence­–especially the early war with Britain–more than more ideological causes (like liberty and freedom). In what ways does this change how we view and understand the American Revolution?

2. According to the current literature on the American Revolution, the American colonists were becoming more culturally British in the generations before the Revolution (an idea known as Anglicization). This idea seems counterintuitive in light of American independence. How can the British identity of the colonists help to explain why they resisted the policies of the British government in the 1760s and 1770s, until they ultimately declared independence?

3. On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress approved Richard Henry Lee’s motion for American independence. Why, then, did the Congress feel it was necessary to have a Declaration of Independence? What were the domestic and international purposes of the Declaration?

4. In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson included a grievance that blamed King George III and the British Empire for the Atlantic Slave Trade and the institution of slavery. The Second Continental Congress removed the grievance in the final version of the Declaration. Would American history have turned out any different if the grievance about slavery had been left in the Declaration? If so, how?





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Lyn Rosen


This lecture brought to mind so many things I learned in high school but haven’t really thought about for years and also added a lot of context and background information which was so very interesting. And it also upset some ideas that seem to be taken for true about this time but are in fact not! Dr. Brunsman did a wonderful job and I found it to be a very worthwhile hour!

1 year ago
Deborah Bhagwandin

Declaring Independence

Very interesting lecture which reminded me of the sacrifice our “founding fathers” paid for our freedom in the USA. I appreciated the depth of insight that the professor shared as it caused me to rethink some of the long held “stories” I have heard about the American Revolution as well as the King of Britain at that time. Thank-you!

8 months ago
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