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March to Declaration

After the British Parliament passed the Sugar Act (1764) and the Stamp Act (1765), many colonists sought means to break from the tyranny of British rule and expand individual rights. The dramatic political and social shift played out in the pamphlet wars that fueled the American Revolution and shaped the early republic. Pamphlet literature informed the political conversation, and it is estimated that more than 1,500 titles were published between 1763 and 1783.

Popular pamphlets such as James Otis’s Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved (1764), John Dickinson’s Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1767), and Common Sense (1776) by Thomas Paine exerted tremendous influence. Easily printed and distributed, pamphlets played a dramatic role in fomenting and spreading rebellion. Many went through multiple editions; others were republished in their entirety in newspapers. Patriots created loosely organized circulating societies as a means to gather, read, and forward important publications.

At the core of the printed arguments were the notions of the right to self-government and the value of a republic over a monarchy. Thomas Jefferson’s 1774 A Summary View of Rights of British America declared clearly that because of the king’s tyrannical rule, the contract with the colonies had been broken. Thomas Paine soon followed with his pamphlet that stated the American people, by their own virtue, were entitled to their own republic. The revolution in American thought, captured in print, was underway; and the rebellion was soon to follow.
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