How Little Massachusetts Towns Helped A Country Declare Independence

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The Revolutionary War began April 19, 1775 with the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.

That’s a gap of 442 days.

What took so long?

Well, many people in America, including prominent people who supported the Patriot cause, disagreed with declaring independence. Some wanted a negotiated settlement with Great Britain.

(Among cinematic presentations, incidentally, the 2008 miniseries John Adams has the best. Here’s a snippet.  And another.)

What changed?

Circumstances, certainly. King George III and his government unwisely demanded impossible terms.

But also the American people.

As time wore on, the “instructions” that delegates to the Second Continental Congress received from their colonial assemblies back home changed. That’s in part because of the instructions that local communities gave their colonial representatives.

The people had had enough.

Examples abound around here. During the late spring and early summer of 1776, at the invitation of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, many towns in the then-colony voted on “their Sentiments whether to support a Declaration of Independency of the United Colonies on Great-Britain, to be made by Congress.”

It’s as if little towns were being asked to adopt their own Declaration of Independence.

And that’s what many did. Among them:  Watertown (May 20), Holliston (May 20), Westborough (May 24), Waltham (May 27), Marlborough (May 28), Sudbury (June 10), Newton (June 17), Hopkinton (June 17), Weston (June 18), Stow (July 1).

Does that seem funny?

It did to one historian writing 162 years ago.

“It would create a smile, at this day, for a town of a few hundred inhabitants to pass upon vast questions of national concernment,” wrote Charles Hudson in his 1862 book History of the Town of Marlborough, Massachusetts.

But in 1776, he noted, that’s what “our public men” wanted to know.

Those votes in tiny communities sent a message, that Massachusetts was on board with independence. Several other colonies agreed. And the ones that didn’t, eventually came along.

All of which led to this scene.

Change — whether for good or ill — isn’t usually sudden. It most often occurs gradually, with little decisions and actions by individuals that other people see and consider, and possibly adopt.

Don’t imagine you have no influence.

The things you say in public, either in writing or at some event, are heard. And if they seem authoritative or wise or just correct, they may have more of an effect than you know.


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