As of February, 1775, Massachusetts was declared to be in a state of rebellion to the British government. Just under a year and a half later, the Thirteen Colonies jointly declared themselves independent.

This was an event that was by no means obvious or considered likely in February 1775, and John Ferling takes a deep dive into the political process that led to the Declaration of Independence in his book. It is fairly focused, keeping all the attention on the activities of the two Continental Congresses. That’s still more than enough people to be impossible to get an entire cast of characters. But he does bring in all the prominent people on both sides of the argument, and mentions the fates of many of the signers at the end.

Naturally, one of the main themes is just how events propelled Congress from a solidly reconciliationist stand (that is, most everyone just wanted this over—on their terms) to being convinced that Great Britain would never give them what was desired, and that staying in the empire would be more harmful than enjoying its trade and protection (notably from other European powers).

The book moves well, and while it often felt like to me that there was no clear picture, that is the problem with trying to trace the separate thoughts of a good number of people. Subjects are tackled in a largely chronological framework, which is essential as Ferling is trying to show the shift in opinion. The main shortcoming I see is there’s lots of attention on the extremes (those, like the Adamses who felt independence was essential from early on, or before the Revolution—and showing just where this conviction came from would have been nice, but presumably impossible—and those who steadfastly supported reconciliation), but not so much on those who truly changed their minds.

There is a good look at the apparent shift in public mood, and the political revolution that followed Congress’ advice to the colonies to move away from the pre-war colonial charters. This did a lot to shift the political climate in the state legislatures, and prompted a change in instructions to the delegates to Congress to allow for independence. I could wish for a bit more on some of those politics, though Pennsylvania’s internal struggles (the most bitter) are talked about.

Naturally, he spends some time time time on the Declaration itself, as well as the drafting of it, and the voting to adopt it. He spends a little less time on the first paragraph (which he dismisses as ‘usually forgotten’, but I remember from school) than I’d like, but of course talks about the sources for the main part of the second paragraph (which is what it largely remembered and referred to today), and gives a nice accounting of the various charges leveled at George III in it, without rehashing what is today generally a tedious list of general complaints, and talks about what they generally referred to.

I had actually picked this up a few years ago, but reading it right after Atkinson’s The British Are Coming was a good pairing as each is focused on what the other largely avoids, across much the same time period.