The United States officially became a country on July 4, 1776, which makes it 243 years old as of July 4, 2019. The country formed when the 13 colonies decided to break free from the British Empire and create their own sovereign nation. They did this by approving and signing the Declaration of Independence.
About the Declaration of Independence
Delegates from the 13 colonies met in Philadelphia as the Second Continental Congress. They chose Thomas Jefferson from the Virginia colony to write the Declaration of Independence. He wrote the first draft in 17 days. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman helped him make the final draft.
A majority of Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The colonies had officially declared their independence from the British Empire. John Hancock was the first of the Founding Fathers to sign the document on that day. Most of the remaining delegates signed it on August 2, 1776.
The Declaration of Independence is now considered one of the most important documents in United States history. A total of 56 delegates endorsed the Declaration of Independence. Two of the signers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, went on to become president of the United States.
What About the United States Constitution?
People often confuse the Declaration of Independence with the United States Constitution. This document was adopted on September 17, 1787, as the rule of law for the new country. The original rule of law, the Articles of Confederation, was deemed unsatisfactory because the document limited the government’s power. In 1787, representatives from the states met in Philadelphia to draft the new constitution.
The Original 13 Colonies
The United States formed from 13 original colonies. They were:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
At the time of independence, about 2.5 million European and African settlers lived in the colonies.
The Boston Massacre
One of the most important events that led to the founding of the United States was the Boston Massacre. Colonists already had anti-British feelings due to occupation by British soldiers and heavy taxation from the British Empire. On March 5, 1770, colonists began throwing snowballs, sticks and stones at British soldiers on King Street in Boston. What started as a small fight turned into a bloody brawl. Eventually, more soldiers joined in and fired their guns into the crowd. They killed and wounded several colonists. This event made the colonists even angrier with British rule.
The Boston Tea Party
Another important event that led to the founding of the United States was the Boston Tea Party. The British Empire taxed the colonies frequently to help pay off its own debts, and one of those taxes was on tea. On December 16, 1773, colonists decided to take their anger out over “taxation without representation” in the form of a political protest. The British East India Company had imported 342 chests of tea to Boston, but the disgruntled colonists dumped the cases of tea into the Boston Harbor. The colonists also boycotted the tea company over what they felt was an unfair tax and smuggled in Dutch tea instead.
The American Revolutionary War
Eventually, these events led to the American Revolutionary War, which took place between 1775 and 1783. It began as a war between the colonies and the British Empire. In 1778, France offered to help the colonies to victory. In 1781, at Yorktown, Virginia, the British soldiers surrendered, though some continued to fight for the next two years. The British Empire kept troops stationed in Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina, and New York until 1783.
The Expanding United States
Once the colonists declared their independence and the British Empire admitted defeat and removed its troops, the new country — the United States of America — was able to expand. It started in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. France sold the land that ran from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border to the United States for $15 million. By 1840, 17 million people lived in the country, and more states were added every few years.