Chapter 8 Grade Five – United States History and Geography: Making a New Nation Introduction

How did the middle colonies differ from New England and the southern colonies?

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How did the middle colonies differ from New England and the southern colonies? The colonies of Maryland, New Amsterdam, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware provided havens for a wide variety of ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups, including English, Dutch, Swedish, German, Irish, Scottish, Catholic, and Jewish settlers. Mapping activities can reveal to students the diversity of these colonies. In identifying the religious, national, and political origins of the colonies, students discover that Catholics established Maryland as a political and religious refuge but became outnumbered by Protestants in search of free land. In Pennsylvania, William Penn founded a Quaker colony that practiced religious tolerance and representative government. Quakers believed that divine truth was revealed not only through the Bible but also through an “inner light” within each human being, regardless of social status, educational attainment, or gender. Quakers believed that women could take a leading role as preachers of religious truth; many of their contemporaries saw this perspective as ridiculous and dangerous.

Industrious farmers, fur traders, skilled craftspersons, indentured servants, slaves, merchants, bankers, shipbuilders, and overseas traders made Pennsylvania prosperous. Fertile soil and mild climate enabled the middle colonies to thrive and led to the development of New York and Philadelphia as busy seaports. As opposed to the generally homogenous colonies to the south and north, the middle colonies developed as more diverse and urban trading centers. It was here – especially in the aftermath of the Seven Years War (1754-1763) – that the ideas of the American Revolution were seeded; colonists began to discuss similarities that they shared with one another while noting differences between themselves and the British. Excerpts from Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, his annual Poor Richard’s Almanac, and his story “The Whistle” as well as Margaret Cousins’s Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia give students a sense of these times.

The Road to War

  • Why did colonists start to rebel against Great Britain?

  • Who were the Patriots? And what were their grievances?

  • What were the goals of the Declaration of Independence?

The events leading to the Revolutionary War may be presented as a dramatic story, but should continually emphasize contingency; it was not until 1776 that colonists united in their declaration of independence. In the years leading up to the American Revolution, most colonists always imagined themselves as British and sought to resolve disputes with the British Empire peacefully. With this in mind, students can investigate the following: Why did colonists start to rebel against Great Britain?

The British efforts to exert more power over the colonies were met with spirited resistance from the American colonists. King George and British legislators felt that the French and Indian War had been fought to protect the colonists. They also believed that the conflict had drained the British treasury and that the colonists should be taxed to cover the costs of the war. Parliament’s efforts to assert imperial sovereignty over the colonies and impose taxes because of the debts incurred during the French and Indian War, fueled a growing dissatisfaction with Parliament among colonists, particularly among those who firmly believed that only the colonial assemblies were empowered to raise taxes. Students should become familiar with the Stamp Act of 1765 and the colonists’ outrage toward it; the Townshend Acts that again stirred protest and led to the Boston Massacre; the formation of the Sons of Liberty; the tax on tea that provoked the Boston Tea Party; and the Coercive Acts, designed in part to punish colonists for their destruction of tea. Despite these struggles, many colonists still perceived themselves as fully British, but resistance against British rule grew, culminating in the convening of the first Continental Congress of 1774 and the Committees of Correspondence, which established communication between the colonies and forged a new national identity based on opposing British policies. Students can connect these events together by addressing this question: Who were the Patriots? And what were their grievances?

In discussing the conflict, students can read excerpts from speeches in the Parliament by William Pitt and Edmund Burke, whose pleas for modera­tion were ignored. Students learn that a third of the colonists remained loyal to King George III and many others were undecided. For example, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania argued against independence and promoted reconciliation. He maintained that independence would lead to chaos. Philadelphia merchant Thomas Clifford complained: “Independence would assuredly prove unprofitable.” He feared that France and Spain would become predators upon the colonies without British protection.

Students study Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, published in January 1776. Paine galvanized support for independence by persuasively arguing that America needed to break free from a government that violated the natural rights of its citizens. “We have it in our power, to begin the world over again… the birthday of a new world is at hand,” Paine promised. Paine also argued for unification of the colonies and for a historically-unstable system of representative government. Over 120,000 copies of Common Sense sold within its first few months of publication.

Paine’s arguments became the foundation of the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson. Students should consider the following question: What were the goals of the Declaration of Independence? Influenced by leading Enlightenment thinkers as well as other revolutionaries, the Declaration of Independence listed grievances against King George, outlined a social contract between the government and the governed, and declared independence from Great Britain. Teachers should help students read and understand the Declaration, given its importance to American history and its relevance today. Although written in the eighteenth century, its discussion of natural rights and the relationship between the governed and the government became pillars of American democracy. To focus student attention on these important concepts, teachers can engage students in structured group projects to consider the implications of selected quotes from the document, including, “created equal,” “inalienable rights,” and “consent of the governed.” In an essay or presentation, students might explain one or two of the major ideas expressed in Declaration of Independence to illustrate the connections to the Enlightenment, or conversely, to investigate how the document condemned Great Britain.

Grade Five Classroom Example: Road to Revolution Unit

Students in Ms. Cheek’s fifth grade class have just analyzed several paintings that depict events from the American Revolution. Students worked in pairs to note their observations of details in the paintings, make inferences, and list their questions. The students infer from the battle scene that some type of war was going on and that it was in the past by the type of clothing and weapons that are depicted. Questions include: What is going on? Who is fighting? What does it look like they are fighting for? When did this happen? Ms. Cheek asks the students to discuss what causes wars and people to fight and she charts their answers.

Ms. Cheek shares the titles of the paintings and dramatically asks, “How did this Revolutionary War happen? What could have possibly occurred that made the colonists want to revolt against their king and country? She then lets the students know they will be investigating to find out the answer to the questions: What led up to the Revolutionary War? What events, people, or ideas were the most important in convincing people to revolt and go to war?

To develop the big picture, students are assigned in pairs to research events, people, and ideas (for example, the Stamp Act, Boston Massacre, the Townsend Acts, the Sons of Liberty, Thomas Paine and the ideas expressed in Common Sense) that led up the war and create a timeline card that summarizes the event and tell why it is important. The students start by utilizing the index in their textbook to locate information about their assigned topic, then they read and take notes from the textbook on a graphic organizer. Ms. Cheek has created a research center with a number of informational books at a variety of reading levels and several computers with quality, kid-friendly websites bookmarked. The students are instructed to use a minimum of two informational sources and to synthesize these sources to create a summary. The students revise and edit their summaries before creating a large timeline card with the date and an illustration.

Once the timeline cards are completed, they are placed on a large timeline in the front of the classroom. Students present their card, telling about their event and why it was important, while the other students take notes to create a smaller, foldable timeline for their research notebook. Students are encouraged to complete their individual timelines when they have time over the next few days. After Ms. Cheek and the students discuss their preliminary ideas in relation to their unit questions, she tells the students that they are going to continue their investigation by digging a bit deeper into some of the events, ideas, and people on their timeline.

Over the next few weeks, Ms. Cheek guides the students as they study these events, ideas, and people in more detail by analyzing primary sources, secondary sources, and read children’s books including informational books and historical fiction. The students participate in a simulation, taking on the character and perspective that reflect different points of views and different social classes including loyalist and patriot, gentry, middling sort, and slaves. The students then participate in a debate about whether to revolt after researching their point of view. During these activities and smaller investigations, Ms. Cheek and students regularly return to the class timeline and their big investigative question and discuss their ideas with new evidence from their studies which they have recorded in their research notebooks.

The students culminate the unit with a performance task which requires students to write a claim-based essay. The students are asked to evaluate all of the information they have learned in their notebook and on their timeline and choose five to six events, people, or ideas that they think were the most important in convincing people to revolt and go to war. After individually choosing their events and preparing for a discussion, students get together in small groups and discuss their ideas and their evidence. Students are then given a chance to revise their ideas before using a graphic organizer to write a draft of their essay. Students then are given time to revise and edit their essays before creating a final draft.

CA HSS Standards: 5.6

CA HSS Analysis Skills (K-5): Chronological and Spatial Thinking 1, Historical Interpretation 1, 3

CA CCSS for ELA/Literacy: RI.5.2, RI.5.3, RI.5.6, RI.5.9, W.5.2, W.5.5, W.5.7, W.5.9b, SL.5.1, SL.5.4

CA ELD Standards: ELD.PI.5.1, 3, 6a, 10b, 11a; ELD.PII.5.2b

The American Revolution

  • How did the American Revolution start?

  • How was the war fought differently depending on where the battles took place and who was fighting?

  • How were natives, free blacks, and slaves important in the conduct of the war?

Students can begin investigating the roots of war by exploring this question: How did the American Revolution start? As the war began with the clashes at Lexington and Concord, the second Continental Congress met in 1775 to begin administering and coordinating the war effort, as well to establish revolutionary governments within the colonies. A veteran of the Seven Years’ War, George Washington commanded the Continental Army and fought key battles at Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Valley Forge, and Yorktown. His task was unique in that he was charged with removing the British while fighting a defensive war. Students can immerse themselves in the major events in the Revolution, including the battles of Bunker Hill and Saratoga and Patrick Henry’s appeal to his fellow legislators to support the fight. In their study of the war, students consider the rebels’ alliance with France, the “…single most important diplomatic success of the colonists ….” (US Department of State). Although the French shared a common enemy with the colonists, having lost to Britain in the Seven Years War and their own North American territory through the Treaty of Paris of 1863, they were initially reluctant to support the American colonists in their fight against the British. In an appeal led by Benjamin Franklin, the rebels ultimately secured significant support from France, in the form of loans, arms and ammunition, uniforms and other supplies, as well as military troops and naval support. This support was integral in the colonists’ defeat of the British at Yorktown in 1781.

Students can expand their understanding of the development of the American Revolution by considering the following question: How was the war fought differently depending on where the battles took place and who was fighting? In addition to the conventional style of warfare conducted by the Continental Army, much of the fighting in the colonies was done by local militias that spontaneously took up their own arms and engaged in battles with the British Regulars, known as Red Coats. In this context, each side courted alliances from American Indians who knew the terrain. Most American Indians ultimately sided with the British; during the Revolution, approximately 1,500 Iroquois fought with British soldiers. The American Indians had the potential for losing vast amounts of land if the colonists won. This fear proved to be prophetic with the passage of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and, nearly a half century later, with the “Trail of Tears,” the forceful removal and relocation of American Indians from their homelands. To better understand what was at stake for various members of colonial society, students might consider the investigative question: Who fought at Yorktown and why were they there? This enables students to understand the interests that other nations and foreign individuals had in the outcome of the war.

To understand the diversity of experiences during the war, students should address the following question: How were natives, free blacks, slaves, and women important in the conduct of the war? Students also examine the issues at stake for free blacks and slaves, as well as that group’s contributions to the war. Thousands of black men fought on both sides of the war. In Virginia, the royal governor Lord Dunmore promised freedom to slaves who fought for the British cause, and in the closing days of the war, he upheld his promise. For many black people, in and out of bondage, the Revolutionary War allowed a vision of liberty that was not fully attained. Over several years following the war, the northern states abolished slavery, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 banned slavery from the new territories north of the Ohio River. The antislavery movement did not, however, abolish slavery in the South, where nine out of ten American slaves lived.

In the spring of 1776, Abigail Adams asked John Adams to “remember the Ladies,” as he and other statesmen contemplated establishing a new nation and delineating the rights of citizens. To understand the role women played in the Revolutionary War, students should examine the Daughters of Liberty, the experiences of women who directly supported the war effort, the unique challenges and opportunities slave women faced, and the changing role of women. The contributions of women traveling with troops included nursing, cooking, laundering, and cleaning. Teachers guide students in discussing the effects of the revolutionary struggle on women by comparing women’s pre- and post-war status. Students can learn about cause and effect by exploring how the Revolutionary War established important roles for mothers, often called Republican Motherhood, which imparted upon women an important civic duty of educating and raising their children to inherit the republican form of government and demonstrating their proper roles in civic life.

Even if people did not actively engage in battle, the Revolution forced all individuals living in the colonies to endure extreme economic and personal hardship. Wartime inflation and laws that prohibited the hoarding of goods deprived most families of materials they had been accustomed to purchasing or consuming. To gain a fuller understanding of the era and how the war was experienced on the ground, students can examine the contributions of Abigail Adams, Deborah Sampson, Mercy Otis Warren, Nathan Hale, Phillis Wheatley, Mary Ludlow, and Benedict Arnold. By focusing their studies on an individual that was touched by the Revolution, students can more fully explore one perspective, view primary sources related to him/her, investigate change over time, and make claims of historical significance about how people changed because of the war.

Through the principles set forth in Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence, many Americans realized for the first time the contradiction between the ideals of natural rights and representative government on the one hand and slavery on the other hand. To deepen their understanding of this period, students can read biographies of leaders such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin; they might also read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Concord Hymn,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1863 “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and historical fiction such as Esther Forbes’s Johnny Tremain, Patricia Clapp’s I’m Deborah Sampson: A Soldier in the War of the Revolution, James L. Collier’s My Brother Sam Is Dead, Russell Freedman’s Washington at Valley Forge, Rosalyn Schanzer’s George vs. George: The American Revolution as Seen from Both Sides, Trinka Hakes Noble’s The Scarlett Stockings Spy, and Kay Winter’s Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak.

The Development and Significance of the U. S. Constitution

  • What were the Articles of Confederation and why did it ultimately fail?

  • How did the Constitutional Convention attempt to balance the interests of all of the states?

  • What was the purpose of the preamble to the Constitution?

  • What was The Great Compromise? And how did the Constitution get ratified with the inclusion of the Bill of Rights?

Students can start their exploration of the new government by examining the question: What were the Articles of Confederation and why did it ultimately fail? The Articles of Confederation were the first attempt to create a federal government for the thirteen autonomous states that had freed themselves from British rule. The Articles provided a governing structure for the United States during the Revolutionary War, but quickly proved to be inadequate for the needs of the new nation. The Articles, which were finally ratified by all thirteen states in 1781, enabled the new country to fight the Revolutionary War, negotiate with foreign powers, and expand to the west. However, the Articles established a weak central government, one that lacked an executive branch and a national judiciary. Under the Articles, Congress also couldn’t regulate commerce or even force the individual states to contribute to the national treasury. Given the absence of a strong central government and as a result, its inability to respond to domestic crises, such as Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts and enforce a coherent and united foreign policy, national leaders began to call for a new governmental structure.

By the spring of 1787, plans were underway to revise the Articles of Confederation. While there was general agreement about the failure of the Articles, the debate over the size and scope of the federal government remained. James Madison played an influential role in planning the Constitutional Convention and setting its agenda. Between May and September of 1787, fifty-five delegates met in Philadelphia to draft the U. S. Constitution. Students learn about the delegates to better understand the conflicts and compromises that were ultimately embedded in the new Constitution. Although these delegates were geographically dispersed and held different ideas about government, they shared personal traits and common characteristics that set them apart from other white men with the franchise. The majority, mainly born in the colonies, fought in the war; forty-one served in the Continental Congress. Although some, such as Benjamin Franklin, were self-taught, most were relatively well educated. Most were wealthy and owned slaves. As a brief activity to survey the framers of the Constitution, students can collect biographical information about each man (including education, geographic area, personal wealth, slave ownership status, and economic wealth).

Students can connect their studies of the Constitutional Convention by investigating the following question: How did the Constitutional Convention attempt to balance the interests of all of the states? With an understanding of the framers’ perspectives, students can participate in mock Constitutional conventions to consider the document’s major compromises. In the Great Compromise, the framers divided the federal government’s legislative power between two houses, one which represented all states equally and another in which state population accounted for state representatives. The framers also agreed with the 3/5 compromise, that three-fifths of the slave population would be counted in determining states’ representation in the national legislature and for imposing property taxes. Lastly, the Northwest Ordinance codified the process for admitting new states.

Grade Five Classroom Example: The Preamble

(Integrated ELA/Literacy and Early U.S. History)

In Ms. Brouhard’s fifth grade class, students have been studying the founding of the Republic. Students will now focus closely on the Preamble to the Constitution. Through a close reading of two drafts of the Preamble, students can further develop their ability to compare and contrast arguments and make their own and historical interpretations. In answering the lesson focus question, What was the purpose of the Preamble? students prepare to learn about the rights and responsibilities detailed in the Constitution and the purpose for its structure of government.

After introducing the focus question, What was the purpose of the Preamble? Ms. Brouhard distributes two different copies of the Preamble, one written in August of 1787, and the other, the final, approved by the Framers the following month. Students first read both versions independently, annotating any differences between the two drafts. In pairs, students next discuss any changes they noticed between the first and final draft and then speculate about the reasons for those changes.

The students then complete a guided sentence deconstruction activity, which is designed to help students see how words and phrases are combined to make meaning and convey information. Students sort the text of the draft Preamble into four categories: 1) prepositional phrases that illustrate time and relationship; 2) nouns and adjectives that show the students the subject of a sentence; 3) action words, such as verbs and adverbs, to highlight the action taking place; and 4) nouns and adjectives that show who or what is receiving the action.

Prep/Time Marker



Object of Action

We the People of the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia

do ordain, declare, and establish

the following Constitution

for the government of ourselves and our posterity.

Next they do the same sort of the final Preamble.

Prep/Time Marker



Object of Action

We, the people of the United States of America

in order

to form

a more Perfect Union




domestic tranquility


the general welfare

and secure

the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity

do ordain and establish

this Constitution

for the United States of America.

Through this close analysis and follow up structured discussion activity, Ms. Brouhard helps students understand the idea that the people of the United States created a government to protect that the personal and national interests of the people for themselves and future generations.

Next, Ms. Brouhard prepares her students for writing and reinforces new learning by providing them with a structured paraphrase practice using the two Preamble drafts and their sentence deconstruction notes.

After substantial analysis of the two Preambles and practice paraphrasing their meaning, students then read turned to the focus question, What was the purpose of the Preamble? Ms. Brouhard first guides her students through a deconstruction of the question to make sure they all understand the task at hand, and then, using sentence frames, she will show them how to use evidence gleaned from the primary sources in order to make their own interpretations.

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