Kirsten Rooks, social studies and English teacher, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Students will understand the following:
1. Written expressions of opinion, published in newspapers, go back in this country to the American Revolution.
2. An effective letter to an editor follows a prescribed course and avoids fallacies of reasoning.
For this lesson, you will need:
Samples of contemporary letters to an editor
1. Share with students several examples of letters to the editor. Include samples from local newspapers and national newspapers.
2. Inform students that at this point in their study of the American Revolution, they are going to express their opinions about how the war is going and a desired outcome. They are going to write letters to the editor of 18th-century newspapers. The letter must make clear
- where the writer is from—the American colonies or Britain;
- the writer's sympathies—loyalist (that is, faithful to the crown) or patriot (that is, favoring the American cause)—and support for that position; and
- the newspaper's sympathies—loyalist or patriot.
3. Review with your students the fundamentals of writing a letter to an editor (or of writing an editorial):
- Tell the reader specifically what you are writing in response to—usually, to an article, an editorial, or a column previously published in the newspaper.
- Announce your position.
- Give evidence in support of your position, making sure that the details you include are relevant, fair, and reliable.
- Appeal to both a reader's logic and a reader's emotions.
- Acknowledge that the newspaper and some readers may hold an opinion different from yours. Show why your position is superior to theirs; in other words, show what's wrong with their position.
- When appropriate, conclude your letter with a call for action by the readership.
4. Help students select an issue appropriate for a 1780 letter to the editor. Possibilities include the following:
- John Paul Jones's exploits at sea
- Benedict Arnold's behavior
- Guerilla warfare by patriots in the South
5. After students draft their letters to the editor, have them exchange letters with a partner for peer evaluation. Direct students to check each other's letters for the following problems:
- Insufficient support
- Unclear organization
- Overstatement or hyperbole
- Fallacies of reasoning (such as either-or thinking, red herring, attacking the person instead of the position)
6. Give students an opportunity to revise their drafts before handing them in to you.
Adaptations for Older Students:
Challenge students to find reproduced letters to the editor published in the colonies and in England in 1780. They should analyze those letters before starting their own letters.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: 1. Discuss what tactics, if any, the Americans could have used to bring the Native Americans to their side of the war. Do you think this could have changed the colonists' relationship with the Native Americans in the years following the war?
2. Benedict Arnold went from being "The Hero of Saratoga" to one of the most infamous traitors in U.S. history. What personal characteristics and events in his life led to his decision to turn against the United States and help the British?
3. Analyze what makes a strategic position in war. Consider the location of cities, trade and communication routes, the availability of food and other supplies, and the ability to defend the position or retreat if necessary.
4. In this segment, we see two examples of breaches in the traditional "treatment sanctioned by civilized warfare." One occurs when British Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton kills every one of American Colonel Buford's surrendering men instead of taking them prisoner. The other occurs when smaller bands of guerilla fighters called partisans attacked the British by sneaking up on them instead of confronting them on an open field.
Debate whether it makes sense for armies to comply with rules of warfare, or is the ultimate goal of warfare to win at all costs, and therefore rules should not apply? If there are to be rules, what areas should they cover: treatment of prisoners and civilians, methods of fighting, and treatment of and reparations to the enemy after the peace treaty is signed?
5. The Southern states had a significant number of loyalists, colonists whose loyalty lay with the king and government of England rather than with an independent American government. Discuss why some colonists would be willing to fight to be independent while others would be willing to fight to remain as British subjects.
6. In the Revolutionary War, the British army had many advantages over the American army: more and better-trained troops, a powerful navy, and a wealthier government to supply the troops with ammunition and supplies. However, the Americans won the war. Analyze the advantages that the Americans did have that made this victory possible. Think not only of the tangible advantages but of the emotional ones as well.
EVALUATION: You can evaluate students' letters using the following three-point rubric:
Three points:clearly states a timely position; offers significant support for the position; articulately acknowledges but undercuts opposing views; ends with a call for action if appropriate; error-free writing
Two points:adequately states a timely position; offers some support for the position; insufficiently acknowledges or insufficiently undercuts opposing views; ends with a call for action if appropriate; some errors in writing
One point:position not adequately stated; does not include sufficient support for the position; does not acknowledge and deal with opposing views; omits necessary call for action; many errors in writing
You can have students contribute to the assessment rubric by determining a minimum number of pieces of support for the position.
Make available to students a map that shows each side's position in 1780. If such a map is not available, use any 18th-century map; with help from students, mark each side's position with pushpins. Use red pushpins for the British positions and blue for the American. Then challenge students to take the role of a British general. What locations would the general target for his next attack? Why?
Some sources present British Lieutenant Banastre Tarleton as a leader who killed surrendering American soldiers instead of taking them prisoner; other sources do not make this point. Similarly, some sources blame American General Horatio Gates for abandoning his men in the middle of battle at Camden, South Carolina; other sources are not as outspoken about Gates. Discuss with students the importance of always being a critical reader of history rather than automatically trusting an author to be complete and unbiased in reporting history. Move on to contemplate what a reader should do when coming across conflicting accounts.
SUGGESTED READINGS: The Spirit of '76: the Story of the American Revolution as Told by Participants
Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris, editors, Da Capo Press, 1995
An excellent complement to the segment's themes of how the Revolution affected families at home, as well as the bloody nature of the battles. This work reinforces the importance of oral history in history studies.
The Littlest Vaquero: Texas' First Cowboys and How They Helped Win the American Revolution
Maurine Liles, Eakin Press, 1996
Younger (middle school) readers will enjoy a fictionalized account of an early cowboy's involvement in the Revolution. Book Review Digest's summary says: "Relates the story of a young vaquero (the first Texas cowboy) on a cattle drive to supply Longhorn cattle to troops in Louisiana fighting the American Revolution."
Finishing Becca: A Story about Peggy Shippen and Benedict Arnold
Ann Rinaldi, Harcourt Brace, 1994
This fictionalized work in the publisher's "American Colonies" series is summarized by the Indiana University Library Catalogthis way: "14-year-old Becca takes a position as a maid in a wealthy Philadelphia Quaker home and witnesses the events that lead to General Benedict Arnold's betrayal of the American forces during the Revolutionary War."
WEB LINKS: Black History: NH's “Colored Patriots” of the Revolution; Women's History: NH Women in the Revolution
In 1855, William H. Nell wrote a book recognizing the role of African-Americans during the American Revolution. This site offers excerpts and information from that book Colored Patriots of the Revolution. A separate page offers information about women.
The Role of Women in American History: Early America
Begin with African-American poet Phillis Wheatley, and proceed with Betsy Ross, Abigail Adams, and Molly Pitcher. Learn how women in New York actually lost the vote, then use the links to ask experts questions about it.
Understands that scarcity of productive resources requires choices that generate opportunity costs.
Understands that scarcity of resources necessitates choice at both the personal and the societal levels.
Understands how physical systems affect human systems.
Knows the ways in which human systems develop in response to conditions in the physical environment (e.g., patterns of land use, economic livelihoods, architectural styles of buildings, building materials, flows of traffic, recreation activities).
Knows the ways people take aspects of the environment into account when deciding on locations for human activities (e.g., early American industrial development along streams and rivers at the fall line to take advantage of water-generated power).
Understands the causes of the American Revolution, the ideas and interests involved in shaping the revolutionary movement, and reasons for the American victory.
Understands how political, ideological, and religious ideas joined economic interests to bring about the "shot heard round the world" (e.g., leaders of resistance to imperial policy; the English tax on the colonists to help pay for the Seven Years War; the interests and positions of different economic groups, such as northern merchants, southern rice and tobacco planters, yeoman farmers, and urban artisans).
Understands the strategic elements of the Revolutionary War (e.g., how the Americans won the war against superior British resources, American and British military leaders, major military campaigns).
Understands the social, political, and religious aspects of the American Revolution (e.g., decisions leading to crisis of revolution; efforts by Parliament and colonies to prevent revolution; ideas of different religions; economic and social differences of loyalists, patriots, and neutrals).
Understands the major political and strategic factors that led to the American victory in the Revolutionary War (e.g., the importance of the Battle of Saratoga, the use of guerilla and conventional warfare, the importance of King's Mountain in defining the war).
Understands the social and economic impact of the Revolutionary War (e.g., problems of financing the war, wartime inflation, hoarding, and profiteering; personal impact and economic hardship on families involved in the war).
Understands contributions of European nations during the American Revolution and how their involvement influenced the outcome and aftermath (e.g., the assistance of France and Spain in the war, how self-interests of France and Spain differed from those of the United States after the war, the effect of American diplomatic initiatives and the contributions of the European military leaders on the outcome of the war).
Understands the impact of the American Revolution on politics, economy, and society.
Understands how the ideals of the American Revolution influenced the goals of various groups of people during and after the war (e.g., African-Americans, Native Americans, loyalists, women, young people).