THE BIRTH OF A GREAT NATION
 WHILE these things were happening in the north the British had been
forced to march away from Boston.
At first Washington could do little but keep his army before the
town, for he had no siege guns with which to bombard it. Nor had
he any desire to destroy the town." Burn it," said some, "if that
is the only way of driving out the British." Even John Hancock to
whom a great part of Boston belonged advised this. "Burn Boston,"
he said, "and make John Hancock a beggar, if the public good requires
it." But Washington did not attempt to burn it.
After the taking of Ticonderoga and Crown Point however he got guns.
For many of the cannon taken at these forts were put on sledges
and dragged over the snow to Boston. It was Colonel Henry Knox
who carried out this feat. He was a stout young man with a lovely
smile and jolly fat laugh, who greatly enjoyed a joke. He had been
a bookseller before the war turned him into a soldier. And now as
he felled trees, and made sledges, and encouraged his men over the
long rough way he hugely enjoyed the joke of bringing British guns
to bombard the British out of Boston.
When Washington got these guns he quietly one night took possession
of Dorchester Heights, which commanded both Boston town and harbour.
So quick had been his action that it seemed to General Howe, the
British commander, as if the fortifications on Dorchester Heights
had been the work of magic. But magic or no magic they were,
saw, a real and formidable danger. With siege guns frowning above
both town and harbour it was no longer possible to hold Boston. So
hastily embarking his troops General Howe sailed away to Halifax
in Nova Scotia, and Boston was left in peace for the rest of the
By this time there had been fighting in the south as well as in New
England. For King George had taken it into his stubborn head that
it would be a good plan to attack the southern colonies in spite of
the fact that the war in the north was already more that he could
manage. Sir Peter Parker, therefore, was sent out from England with
a fleet of about fifty ships, and Lord Cornwallis with two thousand
men, to attack Charleston in South Carolina. Howe was also ordered
to send some soldiers southward, and although he could ill spare
them from Boston he sent General Sir Henry Clinton with a small
According to arrangement the troops from Boston and England were
to attack together with the loyalists of the south and the friendly
Indians. But everything was bungled. The fleet, the land force,
the loyalists and the Indians all seemed to be pulling different
ways, and attacked at different times. The assault on Charleston
was a miserable failure, and to the delight of the colonists the
whole British force sailed away to join Howe in the north, and for
more than two years there was no fighting in the southern colonies.
The commander of the colonists in Charleston was General Charles
Lee. He was not really an American at all, but an Englishman, a
soldier of fortune and adventure. He had wandered about the world,
fighting in many lands, and had been in Braddock's army when it
was defeated. He never became an American at heart like some other
Englishmen who fought on their side. He cared little for them, he
cared as little for the cause in which they were fighting, merely
seeing in it a chance of making himself
 famous, and he had a very
poor opinion of their fighting qualities. He was a tall, spare man
with a hollow-cheeked, ugly face, and a disagreeable manner. He
had a great opinion of himself, and boasted to such purpose that
the Americans believed him to be a military genius. And in this
first tussle with the British in the south he did so well that
their belief in him seemed justified. He seemed to the people a hero
and a genius rolled in one. In all the war after he did nothing to
uphold the fame he gained at Charleston.
South as well as north had now had a taste of war. South as well as
north had seen the British sail away, foiled. Every royal governor
had by this time been driven from his post, and for six months
and more the colonies had practically ruled themselves. What then,
said many, was the use of talking any more about allegiance to the
mother country? It was time, they said, to announce to all the world
that the colonies of America were a free and independent nation.
There was much grave discussion in Congress and throughout the
country. Some patriots, even those who longed most ardently to see
America a free country, thought that it was too soon to make the
claim. Among those was Patrick Henry who had already ranged himself
so passionately on the side of freedom. "The struggle is only
beginning," he said, "and we are not yet united. Wait till we are
united. Wait until we have won our freedom, then let us proclaim
But by degrees all those who hesitated were won over, and on the
4th of July, 1776, the colonies declared themselves to be free.
Many meetings were held in what has since been called Independence
Hall at Philadelphia. Much discussion there was, but at length the
solemn declaration was drawn up. "We, the Representatives of the
United States of America," so it ran, "in General Congress assembled,
 to the supreme judge of the world for the rectitude of
our intention, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good
people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these
united colonies are, and of right ought to be, Free and Independent
States." These are but a few words of the long, gravely worded
declaration which was drawn up by Thomas Jefferson, and which is
familiar to every American to this day.
John Hancock was President of Congress at this time, and he was
the first to sign the declaration. Large, and clear, and all across
the page the signature runs, showing, as it were, the calm mind and
firm judgment which guided the hand that wrote. It was not until
a few days later that it was signed by the other members.
It was on the 4th of July that Congress agreed to the declaration,
and so that day has ever since been kept as a national holiday. It
was the birthday of the United States as a Nation. But it was not
until a few days later that the Declaration was read to the people
of Philadelphia from Independence Hall. It was greeted with cheers
and shouts of delight. The old bell upon the tower pealed joyfully,
and swift riders mounted and rode to bear the news in all directions.
The next day it was read at the head of each brigade of the army,
and was greeted with loud cheers.
This Declaration of Independence was a bold deed, it might almost
seem a rash one. For the British army was still in the land, and
the Americans by no means always victorious. But the very fact of
the boldness of the deed made them feel that they must be brave
and steadfast, and that having claimed freedom they must win it.
The Declaration drew the colonies together as nothing else had done,
and even those who had thought the deed too rash came to see that
it had been wise.