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Setting the Stage

To a large extent, the history of colonial America was defined by a struggle between European powers for control. The desire of both Great Britain and France to dominate territory in North America culminated in the French and Indian War (1754-63). This conflict began in America, but spread to Europe in 1756 where it was referred to as the Seven Years' War. Although Great Britain emerged victorious, the country was severely in debt. King George III decided to make the American colonies pay taxes on goods shipped to America such as sugar, paper, and tea as a way to raise money to help pay for the war. Colonists responded by refusing to buy British products. The King eventually repealed all taxes on British goods except tea, but colonists continued to protest. After the famous Boston Tea Party in 1773, when colonists dumped 342 chests of British tea into the harbor rather than pay taxes on it, the King sent soldiers to Boston to close the port. Other colonies sympathized with the situation in Boston and sent money, food, and supplies. Over the next several months, the relationship between the colonies and the mother country continued to deteriorate.

In September 1774, 55 delegates (men chosen to represent the majority in each colony) gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to discuss taxation and the growing rift with Great Britain. The delegates at this meeting, known as the First Continental Congress, wrote a letter to the King listing their complaints and asserting their rights as British subjects. Before adjourning, the delegates recommended that a second meeting take place in Philadelphia the following spring. The King refused to acknowledge the colonies' concerns, and by the time the Second Continental Congress convened at the Pennsylvania State House in May 1775, armed conflict had already erupted at Lexington and Concord.

The Pennsylvania State House, the building we know today as Independence Hall, witnessed the creation of the United States of America. It was in the Assembly Room of this building that members of the Second Continental Congress debated and signed the Declaration of Independence. A decade later, after securing independence by winning the Revolutionary War, delegates to the Constitutional Convention formulated the Constitution in the same room. These documents, hallmarks of democratic ideals and freedom, have not only shaped the United States, but have served as an example for numerous countries struggling for governmental change. In recognition of the role Independence Hall played in influencing governments worldwide, the United Nations inscribed the building on its list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. This designation means that Independence Hall is considered to be an important part of the world's culture and deserves to be protected now and for future generations.

 

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