|Lesson 2: THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE: AN ANALYTICAL VIEW|
Gain a first-hand understanding of the conditions faced by Washington's Continental Army, and explore how Washington was able to hold his troops together.
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The Declaration of Independence
Perhaps no document in history has undergone as much scrutiny as the Declaration of Independence. In this formal statement announcing the severed ties between the thirteen colonies and Great Britain, Thomas Jefferson wrote essentially of a new theory of government, in which the government itself was expected and required to protect “natural rights” of citizens.
Since Thomas Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration, many groups have interpreted the document to mean different ideas, and frequently, the Declaration has been used to justify other political and social movements. While the Declaration is an important historic document and incorporates many of America’s most basic beliefs, it has no effect of law in 21st Century America.
In this lesson, students will question the importance of the Declaration of Independence, its meaning during the time of the Revolution and its impact today.
Related Resources for the Lesson
In this lesson, students will use the following resources:
This lesson addresses the following national content standards established by the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) (http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/).
• Understands the creation of the Declaration of Independence (e.g., historical antecedents that contributed to the document and individuals who struggled for independence)
• Knows the essential ideas of American constitutional government that are expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and other writings (e.g., the Constitution is a higher law that authorizes a government of limited powers; the Preamble to the Constitution states the purposes of government such as to form a more perfect union, establish justice, provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare)
Strategy for the Lesson
The teacher may elect to begin this lesson by having students discuss what they see as the advantages and disadvantages of declaring independence from Britain. The teacher might open this discussion by noting that the Continental Congress did not consider independence for more than a year after the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. Ask students to speculate or discuss what other options were being considered to reconcile the colonists with the British.
The teacher should write student responses (or designate a student as the “secretary”) regarding the advantages and disadvantages of independence on the chalkboard or on an overhead transparency.
Suggested answers include:
Once the students have finished brainstorming, the teacher and class should overview the immediate situation and conditions that prompted colonists to declare independence, either through the textbook or using the Liberty! Web site. The teacher should remind students that the idea of independence was not necessarily embraced by all colonists, and that while many believed the British had violated the colonists’ basic rights, the violation was not enough to warrant a rebellion.
Students may also wish to research some of the issues or questions brought up by Thomas Paine in Common Sense during their brainstorming.
Next, the teacher should either direct students to access the Declaration of Independence online or distribute copies in handout form. Once students have their copies, it is suggested that the teacher help students divide the Declaration into three basic parts and define those terms.
Those parts include:
1. The preamble: A preamble is a preliminary statement, especially the introduction to a formal document that serves to explain its purpose. In this instance, Jefferson used the preamble to discuss the basic rights of man. It has since become the most famous part of the document.
The Preamble of the Declaration runs from Jefferson’s opening of the Declaration to the words, “To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”
Note: Jefferson derived many of his ideas for the preamble from the Virginia Declaration of Rights written by his friend George Mason as well as from his own draft preamble to the Virginia Constitution, which in turn were based upon Locke but much more “radical”.
2. A list of grievances against King George III: A grievance is
a. An actual or supposed circumstance regarded as just cause for complaint
b. A complaint or protestation based on such a circumstance
The list of grievances runs from “He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” to “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
Note: In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson listed several complaints against King George, in which he hoped to lay the foundation for the case supporting independence.
3. A formal declaration of war, in which the colonists pledged their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.”
The formal declaration includes the rest of the document.
Next, the teacher should distribute the question sheets to the class. Allow sufficient time for students to complete the questions. Once students have completed the questions, the teacher should evaluate them according to the depth of answer desired, the amount of time allowed for the assignment as well as any other criteria established by the teacher, such as spelling and grammar.
1. Ask students to evaluate other political documents in regard to the influence of the Declaration on their creation. Two documents that students might evaluate include:
a. French “Declaration of Rights of Man” (http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/rightsof.htm), written in 1789
b. Seneca Falls Conference “Declaration of Sentiments” (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/Senecafalls.html), written in 1848
2. Ask students to compare these documents with the Declaration (the teacher may wish to substitute other documents if they are available) and in chart form, show specific instances where the authors of these documents borrowed from Jefferson.
3. Have students compare the final draft of the Declaration of Independence with Locke’s writing and George Mason’s documents.
Independence Day Here are 10 Independence Day writing prompts you can use to ring in the holiday with your classroom or your own personal journal. If you enjoyed these prompts, buy the entire collection of 1,000 Writing Prompts for Holidays on Amazon.
Writing Prompts #5
981. While many people love to watch and listen to exploding fireworks on Independence Day, some take a quieter approach by attending patriotic classical music concerts. Which would you rather experience on July 4th and why?
982. On the 4th of July, competitive eaters from around the world try to eat as many hot dogs as they can in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York. Why do you think hot dog eating has become a competitive sport? Do you think it's gross or cool and why?
983. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson said that all people have the right to the pursuit of happiness. What do you think that means? How have you pursued happiness and why?984. Imagine that your family held the largest local fireworks display in your neighborhood. How would you gather the fireworks together and what would people think of your family's patriotic and explosive actions? Why?
985. John Hancock became famous for being the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence. What do you think you might become famous for? Why?
986. Why do you think barbecues are so popular on ID4? If you could replace barbecue with another type of food during the holiday, what would it be and why?
987. The American Revolutionary War was difficult, and at several points it looked like we might lose the battle. How would the United States be different if it was never able to gain its independence? Why?
988. Even though the Declaration of Independence asserted that all people were created equal, there are continuing issues of inequality in the United States. What do you think it will take for people to actually be treated equally? When might such equality be achieved and why?
989. Describe a conversation between Thomas Jefferson and a colonist who was opposed to independence in 1776. How would Jefferson counteract the colonist's argument? Would Jefferson prevail at convincing the colonist? Why or why not?990. Imagine that you have found one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence in your attic. How did such an important document end up in your house? What will you do with it and why?
Did you enjoy these Independence Day writing prompts? Buy a book full of holiday writing prompts today!
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Written by Bryan Cohen
Bryan Cohen is the author of more than 30 books, many of which focus on creative writing and blasting through that pesky writer's block. His books have sold more than 20,000 copies. You can find him on Google+ and Facebook.