Grade Level: 8 and High School Title: Declaration of Independence

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Right 5: Right to Revolt

Project the quote on the board:
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Before asking questions, have the students in small groups number the different components of this statement. (Precise numberings will vary.)
In their small groups, ask the students to summarize the points. (An answer could be: People have the right to dissolve a government when it becomes destructive but only if the abuses are severe and they have attempted to make changes through a proper chain of actions. However, citizens often allow the government to overstep their bounds without taking action. They need to take steps along the way to resist government action peacefully. Furthermore, light and transient abuses do not give the citizens the right to revolt, but only a long train of abuses. They are to institute a new government that will ensure their safety, security and happiness).
Ask the students to discuss ideas on how people can change government policies prior to needing to revolt. (Vote, speak before elected officials, send letters and emails, write letters to the editor, discuss issues with friends and encourage them to email, be active in a political party, etc.)
Extension discussion: What actions did protesters during the Vietnam War take? What actions have Tea Party members taken? Did these actions involve a revolt or methods to change the government prior to a revolt? Explain your answer. (Although there was some violence used by (and against) the Vietnam protesters, people in both movements have utilized more peaceful means through picketing, speaking out, using the power of the ballot, etc.).
Distribute Activity 2. In small groups, discuss how they would complete the chart. Then, have a class discussion: How did the petition with five points relate to the Declaration of Independence? Are the items in the petition the exact equivalents of the items in the Declaration of Independence? Why or why not?


Declaration of Independence

preserve their lives by all necessary means


enjoy freedom with a minimum of governmental restraints


seek their own happiness as they see fit

pursuit of happiness

choose all policy makers (lawmakers, judges, president, governor, county officials and mayors) for the federal, state, local levels of government

consent of the governed

overthrow the government if after a series of attempts to get the government to change, the government refuses to do as the people say

revolution after a long train of abuses
Remind the students that they were asked to determine which of the items listed on the petition they agreed with and which they disagreed with.
Have the students discuss the chart showing their answers. Ask them if their views have changed or stayed the same? Explain their answers. (Answers will vary.)
Essential Questions: Have the students record their thoughts and then have the class discuss the following two questions.
Question 3: Should the right to revolt have been included in a founding document such as the Declaration of Independence? Give reasons for and against.
Question 4: How did the colonial grievances frame the conditions set forth in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence?

The teacher explains: Prior to reading the Declaration of Independence, the class discussed concerns that many colonists had with Great Britain. Work with a partner to list 3 to 4 of the grievances the colonists had. (Answers will vary.)

Have the students call out several of the grievances. Then, explain: Today the class will explore the grievances against Great Britain that Jefferson and the signers believed needed to be stated.
Have students work in groups of 3 to 4. Have them mark the grievances (paragraph 3 of the Declaration of Independence) that they feel needed to be corrected by Great Britain.
Questions to Explore: The same 3 to 4 students will continue to work in the group for the next segment. Each group receives one piece of chart paper and a marker with a different color from other groups in the classroom. The group will decide the answers to the question below together and record them on chart paper. The students put their names at the bottom of the chart paper. Please note: students are not to look up the Constitution. They are simply telling what they think should be done. At the end of the activity, the teacher will keep the chart paper by class through the discussions of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. In several weeks, they will compare their answers written today with those established by the founding fathers in the Constitution and Bill of Rights).
Activity Question to be projected for student viewing: In looking at the entire Declaration of independence, choose 10 grievances you feel gave the colonists the right to revolt AND that should be solved in the Constitution that will later be written for the United States. Write a summary of the grievance and then how to correct the grievance.
For example (and this cannot be included on the chart paper as one of the 10)--

Declaration of Independence grievance: taxation without representation

Proposed Constitutional Solution: Only officials elected by the people at the local, state and national levels can set taxes to be paid by the citizens.
Allow the students time to complete the chart paper assignment. Post the chart papers around the room.
Gallery Walk About:

Have these three symbols on the board:

  1. + (plus sign) which means that our group included this one on our paper, too. We agree

  2. - (minus sign) We did not feel it necessary to include

  3. = (equals sign) We also think this important but did not include in our list

Each group walks to a different chart paper with their specific colored marker. As they read the 10 items on each group’s chart paper, they mark each comment with one of the three symbols listed above.

Allowing one to two minutes at each paper, the teacher directs the students when it is time to move. Let the students review 3 to 5 papers and then have a seat.

Essential Question:

Have the students work in their chart group to answer the Essential Questions below.

They are to write a letter to the future government and people of the United States.

In paragraph one, the group answers question 5.

In paragraph two, the group answers question 6.

In paragraph three, the group answers question 7.

In paragraph four, the group summarizes their answers in three or more sentences.

Question 5: Great Britain had provided trade, security and a great deal of independence to the colonies. Did the grievances of the Declaration of Independence justify the colonies in declaring their independence? Why or why not?
Question 6: The colonies saw each as an independent unit. How could they be seen as one people? Should they have been seen as one people? Why or why not?
Question 7: In looking at the entire Declaration of independence, what are ten of the most important concepts that we might expect to be included in the Constitution that would be written in 1787? The students can use any of their ten from the chart paper plus other ideas they learned from other group’s chart papers.
After putting their names on the four-paragraph paper, the students turn the paper into the teacher. The teacher will grade based on their support of their statement. The answers will vary and are acceptable as long as they support their argument. These papers are intended to be short and to the point.
As the ticket out of the door, each student simply summarizes three things they learned about the Declaration of Independence.
The teacher keeps the chart papers that dealt with student suggestions for the Constitution. After the students have studied the Constitution and Bill of Rights, return the chart paper to the students. Have them mark where they found these items mentioned by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Next, the students find five more items included in the Constitution that they did not record but that were based on grievances by the colonists. Record where they are located in the Constitution/Bill of Rights, the grievance and the protection as listed in the Constitution/Bill of Rights.
OR, the students review the comments made by people to the petitions. Find three statements in the Constitution/Bill of Rights that support their viewpoints.

The teacher then leads a discussion of what the students have found.

Final questions to Explore: Have the students write down their thoughts on the following questions and then discuss as a class.

  1. Were the colonists justified in revolting against Great Britain and declaring their independence? Why or why not?

  1. The colonists signed the Declaration of Independence as one people. They established the Articles of Confederation as a confederation and then agreed upon the U.S. Constitution as a federal system of government. Could they be seen as one people? Why or why not?


John Locke’s beliefs: source:
Background for Thomas Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence:

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