A Great Leap

“I am not a Virginian, but an American.”

Patrick Henry, delegate to the First Continental Congress, 1774

The colonists’ grievances against British authority led them to organize together across the colonies. In turn, that organization gradually built a sense of connection to others who shared common ideas and demonstrated common commitments. As the dispute intensified, patriots slowly disconnected from British authorities and their own Loyalist neighbors. In 1776 their experience of shared resistance led them to embrace a new political identity.

“Premiere Assemblée du Congrès” (First Meeting of the Continental Congress), 1782

“Premiere Assemblée du Congrès” (First Meeting of the Continental Congress), 1782

Common Sense


Pamphlet, "Common Sense," 1776

Thomas Paine’s argument against monarchy and hereditary privilege—and for American independence—first appeared anonymously in Philadelphia in January 1776. It was so popular that twenty-five print editions appeared within a year.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

Engraving by William Sharp, 1794

Courtesy of Library of Congress

The Power of the People

Massachusetts judge appointment certificate

Massachusetts officials used this preprinted form to appoint William Silvester a justice of the peace in 1776. They crossed out the authority of George III and replaced it with the authority of “the Government and People of Massachusetts-Bay.”