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REBELLION: 1775-1776

Thomas Jefferson, manuscript draft of the Declaration of Independence, June 1776

What we call the American Revolution became a revolution by virtue of the Patriots' victory in 1781. Until then, it was a rebellion—factions fighting each other with words and weapons. In this Theme we follow the American rebellion as it turned into outright war in 1775 and 1776. Sections 1-4 consider the civil war between Patriots and Loyalists in the north, south, and backcountry. Section 5 views the struggles of religious pacifist groups as they sought tolerance as conscientious objectors to war. Section 6 examines the debate over slavery at a time when white men, including slaveholders, were declaring that "all men are created equal." Sections 7-8 focus on the critical year of 1776 when many colonists abandoned hope for reconciliation with Britain and embraced the goal of independence. We examine two documents that exerted inestimable influence in achieving this transition in 1776—Common Sense by Thomas Paine, and the official statement of rebellion, the Declaration of Independence.

Sections in REBELLION

Each section presents primary resources, introductory notes, classroom discussion questions, and supplemental links.

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  1. Loyalists I: Civil War
  2. Loyalists II: "Traitor!"
  3. Loyalists III: Join—or Else
  4. Loyalists IV: Backcountry
  5. The Pacifists
  6. The Enslaved
  7. Common Sense?
  8. Declaring Independence

Framing Questions

  • What rebellions and "civil wars" occurred within the colonies as war approached in the mid 1770s?
  • How did colonists express and debate their differing opinions?
  • How did they deal with political opponents?
  • What caused the moderate voice to fade from the political arena?
  • What led Americans to support or oppose the ultimate goal of independence?

Banner Image: Original Declaration of Independence, parchment, 1776 (detail); on exhibit in the Rotunda of the National Archives, Washington, DC. Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Block Image: Thomas Jefferson, manuscript draft of the Declaration of Independence, June 1776, p. 1 (detail). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.