In the United States, the Fourth of July is time to launch some fireworks and eat some hot dogs in celebration of American independence. But in 1776, when news reached Britain of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the atmosphere was anything but celebratory.
A look through letters from the period, now held in the archives of the U.K.’s Nottingham University, shows that British people were divided about the outbreak of war with what was then their colony—over how bad it was, whose fault it was and what to do about it
Before the Americans officially declared independence, the British were worried about what King George’s response to the unrest there would be. After all, the Declaration of Independence was not the beginning of the American Revolution; the riot-provoking Stamp Act was passed in 1765, the Boston Tea Party took place in 1773 and the famous “shot heard ’round the world” that is seen as the start of the war was fired in 1775.
One 1775 letter from a group of merchants and …
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