Lessons on the Declaration of Independence As Part of a Unit on American Independence

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Lessons on the Declaration of Independence As Part of a Unit on American Independence

Covers British Acts and Other “Usurpations” -> Colonial Reactions -> Lexington and Concord -> Declaration of Independence -> War -> Constitution

Comments to myself are in blue. This is blue. This is not blue.

I’ll make sure that:

1. The lesson is a sequence of tasks.

2. Each task has a clear instructional function:

a. Teach something new---acquisition of facts, lists, concepts, rules, routines---a sequence

of steps rendered as declarative statements, such as a theory, or a process of reasoning,
such as deduction.
b. Review.

c. Discussion and examination: Socratic dialogue---elenchus. “What do you think of…”

“How do you know?..”

d. Applications; e.g., students compare and contrast freedom documents, such as the

Declaration of Independence vs. the French, Declaration of the Rights of Man, 1789

3. The tasks are arranged in a logical sequence in lessons:

a. Elements needed to learn something new are taught earlier and then reviewed and firmed
up before they are needed.
For example, students need to know what deductive reasoning
is in order to (a) describe the organization of the Declaration; and (b) explain why its
conclusion seems self-evident and is so powerful. So, deductive reasoning is taught
earlier than the task in which it is USED.

b. The sequence of tasks integrates knowledge into larger wholes, such as using concepts

(kinds of rhetorical devices, such as emotive words, appeal to the Deity) to analyze
a document.
4. Essential knowledge (e.g., concepts, facts, rules, a theory) is taught in a focused, explicit
. Model (my turn)—lead (do it with me)—test (your turn)

5. However, once students have essential knowledge (elements needed—such as concepts,

lists of facts, rules, routines), give students more open opportunities to USE their
(e.g., to make interpretations). Open opportunities in the sense that that there is
no exact answer. So, rather than repeating something from memory, the objective NOW is
SOUND REASONING and CLEAR PRESENTATION of your case---USING what you learned by
6. Every task that teaches new knowledge (e.g., facts, concept definitions) ends with a
test/check (terminal performance, with the objective being 100% accuracy).

7. Every lesson ends with a test/check of all new knowledge taught; a check on retention of

material taught in earlier lessons; and integration of knowledge (e.g., discussion, projects,
Socratic investigation).
I have to cover the objectives cited by the NC Standard Course of Study, but my objectives, materials, and methods of instruction will also be guided by experts. For example,

The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011. Sheldon M. Stern and Jeremy A. Stern
I will make sure to follow these guidelines.

“The strongest standards tend to:

 offer coherent chronological overviews of historical content, rather than ahistoric themes
organized into different social studies strands; So, I’ll have a timeline of events. The
timeline will show connections---how one event set the occasion for the next.

 offer a clear sequence of content across grades, revisiting the content of early grades in later

grades in a more thorough and sophisticated manner, appropriate to students’ developing
cognitive abilities;
systematically identify real (and important) people and specific events, and offer
explanations of their significance;

integrate political history with social and cultural history; We’ll examine historical origins
of the theory of government by the consent of the governed (Greece, John Locke). We’ll
show how the Constitution tried to handle differences between those who wanted a
strong central government (federalists) and those who wanted a weak central
government (anti-federalists).

 recognize historical balance and context, discussing — for example — both the rise of
political liberty and the entrenchment of slavery in America, the growing conflict between
these concepts, and the long American struggle toward greater social and political justice;
recognize America’s European origins, while also acknowledging and integrating the roles
and contributions of non-Western peoples; encourage comprehension of the past on its
own terms
, discouraging “presentism” — whereby students judge the past through the lens
of today’s values, standards, and norms — and avoiding appeals to “personal relevance”;

be presented in clear, jargon-free language, with straightforward internal organization.”

I will avoid (in fact, I will explicitly challenge) any revisionist history and political correctness in materials.
Now I’ll start planning with the Standard Course of Study and resource materials.

North Carolina high school social studies standard.

COMPETENCY GOAL 1: The learner will examine the constitutional underpinnings of United States government.


  1. 1.01 Evaluate the theories and styles of democratic government.

  2. 1.02 Analyze the philosophy and ideologies that influenced the formulation and adoption of the Constitution.

  3. 1.03 Investigate the experiences that influenced the beginnings of American government.

  4. 1.04 Understand the implication(s) of separation of powers as a foundation of American government.

  5. 1.05 Understand the implication(s) of federalism as a foundation of American government


My focus (for now) is on 1.01-1.03.
However, I have to improve these standards.
Improve the Curriculum Standards

  • Curriculum standard as written.

1.01 Evaluate the theories and styles of democratic government.

[“Evaluate” is unclear. Are students supposed to examine the definitions and logic of

theories, or the benefits and risks of each KIND of democracy---mass, representative,

  • Curriculum standard with improved writing: clear and concrete.

101. Students will learn the theory of government in which legitimacy rests on consent of the
governed—the theory of which is paragraph 2 of the Declaration.
Objective: students will define main concepts and state the rules-statements in sequence.

We will compare this with the French Declaration of the rights of man, which seems to lean

more towards mass democracy because of its references to The People.

  • Curriculum standard as written.
    1.02 Analyze the philosophy and ideologies that influenced the formulation and adoption of the Constitution.

[“Analyze” is unclear. Do they mean take different theories---such as Locke’s---apart and
examine the adequacy of definitions and rules? Even so, this is too ambitious for a high
school course.]

  • Curriculum standard with improved writing: clear and concrete.
    102. Students will learn the main concepts and rules (propositions) in Locke’s theory of government, which influenced the Declaration and the Constitution.]
    Objective: students will define main concepts and state the main rule-statements.

  • Curriculum standard as written.

1.03 Investigate the experiences that influenced the beginnings of American government.

[“Investigate” is not concrete. “Experiences” is vague.”]

  • Curriculum standard with improved writing: clear and concrete.
    103. Students will describe the sequence of major events from the 1750’s to 1776 (including dates, persons, social groups, and effects of events) leading to the start of the American Revolution.

The lessons have four parts.

Task 1. Review

Task 2. Challenge complacency and gain student interest by contrasting life in America with life
in totalitarian societies and police states. In other words, scare the crap out of them.

Task 3. Big idea on escalating conflict.

Task 4. Examples of provocations—various Acts imposed on the Colonies—and reactions of the
colonists that map onto the big idea. [see below]
Task 5. Review the instruction (e.g., main things taught) and state how what was taught is
relevant to next Tasks.

4. Declaration of Independence as the end of the breaking-up process and the start of the

next phase of independence---war, Constitution.
Here are some resources to supplement the textbook.



Rhetorical devices in the Declaration of Independence. http://facultyfiles.deanza.edu/gems/pesanojulie/DecofIndrhetanalysis.htm
The stylistic artistry of the Declaration of Independence

Task 1. Pre-instruction Assessment and Review
Assess and firm up pre-skills or background knowledge essential to the new material.
The facts to be taught in Task 2 will make no sense unless students know the context. Assess (and reteach if needed) contextual facts and concepts such as:

1. What is the definition of colony?

2. How many American Colonies were there?

3. Name the original 13 colonies.

4. The American colonies were colonies of what country?

5. Define monarchy, tyranny, and representative democracy.

Gain attention. The teacher gains student readiness: attention, sitting properly, materials handy.
Teacher. “Okay, everyone sitting up tall. Looking smart and handsome. Eyes on me. Here we go!”
Teacher. “Boys and girls. We’re starting a new unit—on the American Revolution. Let’s review facts and concepts.” [I will prompt all students to take out their notes cards or open their electronic document of Guided Notes for the prior unit on Colonial America]

Show slides of maps, battlefields, cities, buildings, persons, documents, muskets, cannons, militias, Redcoats.

“Colony. Think. Define colony.” [Test/check]

Class. “A group of emigrants or their descendants who settle in a distant territory but remain subject to or closely associated with the parent country.”

[Correct any errors with model (“A colony is…”); lead (“Say it with me…”); test (“Define colony.”)
Teacher. “Yes, a colony IS a group of emigrants or their descendants who settle in a distant territory but remain subject to or closely associated with the parent country.” [Verification]
Teacher. “How many original American colonies were there?”
Class. “Thirteen!”
Teacher. “Yes, you are so smart. Name them.”

[Call on different students to name the colonies. They may use notes at this early time. With review and use of the list over the course, students will eventually have it memorized.]

Teacher. “The American colonies were colonies of what other country?”
Class. “Britain.”
Teacher. “Yes, Britain. You are sharp today!” [Verification]

Task 2. Challenge Complacency And Gain Student Interest By Contrasting Life In America With Life In Totalitarian Societies And Police States.

“Who wants to study a moldy old document, anyway? This Declaration of Independence.
Written by five guys wearing wigs and short pants tied at the knees? And their shirts had ruffles!!!

They didn’t have cell phones or toilets or TVs or cars or even electric lights. What did they know? I could care less?
Yeah, so what if the document they wrote solidified thousands of folks in a strong resolve finally to do WHATEVER it took to be free of British rule—including being hanged, stabbed with bayonets, blown up by cannon balls, and shot in the guts in all-out war?
Why should I spend my valuable time---when I could be texting and making friends on Facebook—learning what this document says, where the ideas came from, and how the ideas were the foundation for the U.S. Constitution?
Besides, it’s all just PAPER.
That’s what the ordinary person your age thinks and feels about those moldy times so long ago.
Just paper? Well, when a officer of a secret police force writes a warrant for your arrest, and they come for you in the middle of the night, and ship you and your family to a camp behind barbed wire out in the desert---then you’ll realize something about JUST paper.
You see, it HAS happened here, to Japanese citizens during World War II. Japan being one of the enemy nations we were fighting. Yup, rounded up and shipped off. Lost everything.
See, the issue isn’t paper. The paper is just the last link in the chain of democide---death by government. The issue is what’s going on in a society that some persons HAVE the power to take you away, and no one can or will stop them.
A few billion persons on this earth---some long dead and some survivors---would tell you NOT to take your freedom and your Constitution for granted. Yes, the Constitution is just paper. Its ONLY power is that so many of us demand that our government OBEY it or be damned. So, here’s a rule. Click on the file marked “How to be stupid” for your very own copy of THE RULE.
WHEN citizens become more concerned with their cell phones, and fun, and the theatrics of daily life, than they are concerned with the only document that guarantees their freedom, and with possible violations of the Constitutional limits on the power of government going on backstage and out of view, THEN they are well on the road to serfdom, or worse. Just like these guys.
These slides may wake you from a comfortable, complacent slumber.
“Let’s not ask lame questions such as ‘How would you like to be in a concentration camp’?” How about these questions?
1. Exactly what rights do you think you have as a human being? I don’t mean, what rights do
you think you OUGHT to have? I mean, what rights MUST you have---LOGICALLY---or else
you can’t even BE a human being?

Stimulate discussion. Even a little baby will try to stop you from smothering it. Does that suggest that the baby is prepared to do what it takes to LIVE? Can you be a human being if you don’t have the right to life? To defend yourself? To defend your family? To make a living?
BUT. Do you have the NATURAL right---as a human being---to have other persons GIVE you something, like health care or retirement money or a good job? If you think that you have the right to have other persons give something TO you, what about THEIR right to take care of themselves and to earn a living? In other words, where do YOUR claims to certain rights infringe on the NATURAL rights of others?
Discuss natural rights that logically MUST be vs. desires and demands that some persons and groups merely ASSERT are their rights. How might politicians gain favor and power by promising to SUPPLY the goods that some groups expect and demand?
2. What could happen if people thought that they get rights from the government or from
majority opinion? [Hint. That would mean that the government or that majority opinion
decides what your rights are. That could mean that what WERE your rights are taken away.
Is there any IRREVOCABLE source of rights? The Deity? Human nature itself?]
3. List the freedoms that you take for granted. Now imagine laws and rules that require you to
DO something to EARN these? Do you still have freedom (which implies autonomy)? Or do
you now have PRIVILEGES? Baaa baaa.

Officer from the Food and Drug Administration.

“Do you have a license for that garden?”
“I need a license to have a garden?”
“Yes, we can’t have unregulated food. It might be injurious. We have these new laws to
protect the general welfare. It’s in the Preamble to the Constitution.”
“I’m pretty sure the writers weren’t thinking about gardens as part of the category of things
relevant to the general welfare!”
“I don’t know what they were thinking. The law is the law.”

“Go soak your head, fascist!”

“Fine, I’m calling the police and charging you with threat of violence.”

Task 3. Big Idea: Theory of Escalating Conflict

Frame the instruction by stating the kind of new knowledge to be taught (e.g., “Here’s a big ideas that will help students organize, remember or access, and comprehend the new knowledge, and connect new with prior knowledge.
Teacher. “Get ready to learn. Here comes something hot and juicy. And I don’t a scalded cat.
Bwa hahha.

Teacher. “The big idea is this: The Colonies had a close relationship with Britain for over a

century. But by the 1750's conflicts developed between the Colonies and the

government of Britain. These conflicts went to the heart of the relationship.

The conflicts had to do with control by Britain and independence from Britain.”
“What did the conflicts have to do with?” [check]
Class. “Control by Britain.” “Independence from Britain.”
Teacher. “Yes, the conflict was about control by Britain and independence from Britain.”


“How can we understand the conflicts? How did the conflicts result in war and

independence? Here's a big idea.”

“It's a model of conflict that escalates, or gets worse. From words, to public protests in

the streets, to destruction of property, to isolated shooting, and finally to battles."

[Put diagram on the board---a proposition map]

A Model of Escalating Conflict as Each Group Reacts to the Actions of the Other Group
Action of one group  Reaction of the  Counter-reaction

in an antagonistic other group in of the first group;

relationship; for an antagonistic e.g., British

example, British relationship; e.g., soldiers shoot

require Colonists Colonists taunt Colonists (Boston

to house British British soldiers; Massacre).

soldiers (The merchants boycott

Quartering Act). British goods.

Increasing Violence

“At some point the violence escalates in intensity, and spreads so far, that it can’t be contained in the existing relationship. Then the relationship itself comes to be questioned, and is finally rejected, and then annihilated. Just like a nasty divorce!”

“So, as we learn different facts, think of the big idea about the cycle of British

oppression, colonial opposition, and increasing British oppression.”
Task 4. Examples of provocations—various Acts imposed on the Colonies—and reactions of the colonists that map onto the big idea. [see Task 3 above]


  • Given dates and asked, “What happened on this date?” students answer correctly within 10 seconds.”

  • When asked “State (one, two, three, etc) things for which this (person, group) is known,” students answer correctly within 20 seconds.

  • When asked, “State the immediate effects of (an event, such as the Stamp Act),” students answer correctly within 20 seconds.

The acquisition set of facts (below) will be used throughout this unit of the course, on the American Revolution. The facts will be presented in historical sequence.

I’ll make a text copy of this for students. I’ll also put it on Powerpoint.

Students will read these. I’ll focus on (and they will learn) the most important ones.
Timelines of Facts. Examples of Provocations.

1751 - The Currency Act is passed by the English Parliament, banning the issuing of paper money by the New England colonies.

1755 - In February, English General Edward Braddock arrives in Virginia with two regiments of English troops.

1764 - The Sugar Act is passed by the English Parliament. It required the colonies to pay taxes on sugar, coffee, and fabrics.

1764 - In May, at a town meeting in Boston, James Otis raises the issue of taxation without representation and urges a united response to the recent acts imposed by England.

1765 - In March, the Stamp Act is passed by the English Parliament imposing the first direct tax on the American colonies; taxed all printed paper.

1765 - Also in March, the Quartering Act requires colonists to house British troops and supply them with food.

1765 - In July, the Sons of Liberty, an underground organization opposed to the Stamp Act, is formed in a number of colonial towns. Its members use violence and intimidation to eventually force all of the British stamp agents to resign and also stop many American merchants from ordering British trade goods.

March 5, 1770 - The Boston Massacre occurs as a mob harasses British soldiers who then fire their muskets pointblank into the crowd, killing three instantly, mortally wounding two others and injuring six.

1773 - In March, the Virginia House of Burgesses appoints an eleven member committee of correspondence to communicate with the other colonies regarding common complaints against the British. Members of that committee include, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee. Virginia is followed a few months later by New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and South Carolina.

1773 - May 10, the Tea Act takes effect. It maintains a three penny per pound import tax on tea arriving in the colonies, which had already been in effect for six years. It also gives the near bankrupt British East India Company a virtual tea monopoly by allowing it to sell directly to colonial agents, bypassing any middlemen, thus underselling American merchants.

December 16, 1773 - The Boston Tea Party occurs as colonial activists disguise themselves as Mohawk Indians then board the ships and dump all 342 containers of tea into the harbor.

1774 - In March, an angry English Parliament passes the first of a series of Coercive Acts (called Intolerable Acts by Americans) in response to the rebellion in Massachusetts. The Boston Port Bill effectively shuts down all commercial shipping in Boston harbor until Massachusetts pays the taxes owed on the tea dumped in the harbor and also reimburses the East India Company for the loss of the tea.

1774 - September 5 to October 26, the First Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia with 56 delegates, representing every colony, except Georgia. Attendants include Patrick Henry, George Washington, Sam Adams and John Hancock.

1775 - In April, Massachusetts Governor Gage is ordered to enforce the Coercive Acts and suppress "open rebellion" among the colonists by all necessary force.

April 18, 1775 - General Gage orders 700 British soldiers to Concord to destroy the colonists' weapons depot.

That night, Paul Revere and William Dawes are sent from Boston to warn colonists. Revere reaches Lexington about midnight and warns Sam Adams and John Hancock who are hiding out there.

At dawn on April 19 about 70 armed Massachusetts militiamen stand face to face on Lexington Green with the British advance guard. An unordered 'shot heard around the world' begins the American Revolution. A volley of British rifle fire followed by a charge with bayonets leaves eight Americans dead and ten wounded. The British regroup and head for the depot in Concord, destroying the colonists' weapons and supplies. At the North Bridge in Concord, a British platoon is attacked by militiamen, with 14 casualties.

British forces then begin a long retreat from Lexington back to Boston and are harassed and shot at all along the way by farmers and rebels and suffer over 250 casualties. News of the events at Lexington and Concord spreads like wildfire throughout the Colonies.

April 23, 1775 - The Provincial Congress in Massachusetts orders 13,600 American soldiers to be mobilized. Colonial volunteers from all over New England assemble and head for Boston, then establish camps around the city and begin a year long siege of British-held Boston.

May 10, 1775 - The Second Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia, with John Hancock elected as its president. On May 15, the Congress places the colonies in a state of defense. On June 15, the Congress unanimously votes to appoint George Washington general and commander-in-chief of the new Continental Army.

June 17, 1775 - The first major fight between British and American troops occurs at Boston in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

July 6, 1775 - The Continental Congress issues a Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms detailing the colonists' reasons for fighting the British and states the Americans are "resolved to die free men rather than live as slaves."

May 10, 1776 - The Continental Congress authorizes each of the 13 colonies to form local (provincial) governments.

June-July, 1776 - A massive British war fleet arrives in New York Harbor consisting of 30 battleships with 1200 cannon, 30,000 soldiers, 10,000 sailors, and 300 supply ships, under the command of General William Howe and his brother Admiral Lord Richard Howe.

June-July, 1776 - On June 7, Richard Henry Lee, a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, presents a formal resolution calling for America to declare its independence from Britain. Congress decides to postpone its decision on this until July. On June 11, Congress appoints a committee to draft a declaration of independence. Committee members are Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Livingston and Roger Sherman. Jefferson is chosen by the committee to prepare the first draft of the declaration, which he completes in one day. July 4, 1776 - United States Declaration of Independence

Teacher. “Look at the timeline, Patriots. Get ready to learn some facts.”

Teacher. “First fact. In 1751, the Currency Act was passed by the English Parliament. It banned the issuing of paper money by the New England colonies.” [model]

“Again, in 1751, the Currency Act was passed by the English Parliament. It banned the issuing of paper money by the New England colonies. This meant that the colonies had to use British money, and British banks, and British banking rules.”
Lead students through the application of the new information. USE LEAD ONLY IF STUDENTS NEED THIS.
Give an immediate acquisition test/check to determine whether students learned the new information.
Teacher. “When was the Currency Act passed?”

Class. “1751.”

Teacher. “What did it do?”
Class. “Banned the New England colonies issuing paper money.”
Teacher. “Think of our big idea…… Would the Currency act be considered oppressive to the
Class. “Yes.”
Teacher. “How would the Currency Act be considered oppressive, Jerry?”
Jerry. “It meant that even their currency was controlled by Britain.”
Teacher. “Yes, it meant their currency was controlled by Britain. Excellent thinking.”
Teacher. “Next fact…” [Repeat exactly the same procedure, with much the same wording,
on the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, and the Quartering Act----see the acquisition
set in the timeline, above.]

Correct any errors and/or firm weak knowledge, using the procedure: model, lead, test/check, restart/back-up, retest.
For example:
Teacher. “When was the Currency Act passed?”

Class. “1751” “1715” “1761” “Yesterday?” “Your mother.”

Teacher. “The Currency Act was passed in 1751.” [Model]

“When was the Currency Act Passed?” [Test/check]

Class. “1751.”
Teacher. “Yes, 1751. Now you’ve got it!”
Delayed acquisition test using examples worked on from the acquisition set.

Call on the group as a whole and then individual students. Correct all errors.

Teacher. “Now show me how smart you are. You can use your notes this time. Here we go.”

“The Sugar Act. Date?”

Class. “1764. “

Teacher “Correct. What did the Sugar Act involve?”
Class. “Colonies had to pay tax on sugar.” “And fabrics.” “And coffee.”
Teacher. “Yes, taxed on sugar, fabrics, and coffee.” [Verification]
“Tell me about the Stamp Act. Date?”
Class. “1765.”
Teacher. “1765. Correct. What kind of act?”
Class. “A tax.” “Tax on printed paper.”
Teacher. “Examples of printed paper?”
Class. “Newspapers.” “Documents.”
Teacher. “You guys are so smart!” Next. The Quartering Act?”
Class. “1765.” “Colonists had to house British soldiers.”
Teacher. “Did the colonists like this?”
Class. “No. Oppression.” “Took away privacy.”
Teacher. “You are solid on your facts!”

Task 5. Review the instruction (e.g., main things taught) and state how what was taught is relevant to next Tasks.
Teacher. “We just looked at four actions of the British government that the colonists saw as

oppressive. The Currency, Sugar, Stamp, and Quartering Acts. Our diagram of

increasing conflict says that the colonists are going to react to these acts. Round
and round goes the cycle of escalating conflict. Eventually, we get to what’s
called the end game
. What?”

Class. “End game.”

Teacher. “End game. It’s the last few moves before it’s over. What are the last few
moves? What did the rebels store in Concord?”
Class. “Guns and gun powder.”
Teacher. “How did the British respond this?”
Class. “Sent troops to Lexington and Concord.”
Teacher. “What happened?”
Class. “Gun fight on Lexington Green and then at the Bridge in Concord.”
Teacher. “Then what happened?”
[Continue to Richard Henry Lee’s call for a resolution in the Continental Congress to declare independence.]
Declaration of Independence. Objectives Relevant to Curriculum Standards
After students read and discuss the Declaration of Independence, they

1. State the origins of the theory of government---John Locke.

2. Explain the importance of the Declaration in the history of independence from

3. Describe the deductive argument in the Declaration, including the theory of

democratic government, the facts of British rule, and the conclusion.

4. Identify and explain the importance of rhetorical devices, such a invoking the

Creator as the source of unalienable rights, presenting the colonies as one people,
the cadence in the litany of abuses.
Task 6. Declaration of Independence: Introduction

Review events covered in Tasks 2-3, leading up to the Declaration
Teacher: “Boys and girls, let’s review. So, I will name an event and you will tell me its
date, what happened, and how the colonists responded. Ready?...”


Task 7. Now show how the Declaration was a response to the earlier events AND helped to spark later events.
Teacher: “Look at our diagram of escalating conflict. Each action of the British provoked a
reaction from the Colonists, leading to even more harsh imposition from the British.
Eventually, the conflict went to a new level---violence. The Colonists prepared for
war by storing arms in Concord and the British responded by marching on Lexington
and Concord. The militias all over New England came to Massachusetts to fight. At
that point, it was clear to many colonists that the relationship with Britain was
intolerable and could not be improved. In other words, it was OVER. Now the
task was to do tow things: One. ANNOUNCE this fact to potential allies,
such as the French. TWO. Stir the colonists to take the next step---establish
a new government. What were the two tasks?” [check]

“Look near the end of our timeline. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposes a

resolution at a meeting of the Second Continental Congress.”

June 7, 1776

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.

That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

“On June 11, the Second Continental Congress Established a Committee of five to draft a

declaration of independence.”

Roger Ben Thomas John Robert
Sherman Franklin Jefferson Adams Livingston


“Lee’s resolution was adopted on July 2, and the final version of the Declaration was

adopted on July 4.”

Task 8. Explain the importance of the Declaration.

“Class. The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important documents in American history—indeed, in all of world history. How so?

“The Declaration presented in simple terms a theory of democratic rule (rule by and for the People) in which the role of government is to secure the natural rights of the people. When government no longer secures these natural rights, it is the right of the people to abolish the government. This theory is certainly quite different from the theory of authoritarian rule (under which people have lived for thousands of years), in which rulers have absolute power of life, death, and freedom; citizens are mere subjects of the ruler; and the ruler or ruling class defines and grants (and may take away) the rights of the citizens.

“The Declaration united in common cause those colonists who wanted to separate from Britain—the government over the colonies. This group was called Whigs or Patriots. The Declaration also helped to solidify the very large group of colonists who remained “Englishmen” and who wanted to remain loyal subjects of the British crown. This group was called Loyalists or Tories.


“The theory of democratic rule remains one of the core sets of beliefs of Americans today.

“The Declaration (signed on July 4, 1776) was like a spark that called Patriots to arms. In April, 1775, the British marched on the town of Lexington and then Concord, Massachusetts, looking for weapons that the colonial militias had stashed. The battles in these towns were the first of what would become a War of Independence. But until the Declaration was written, the colonial militias were not fighting against British rule itself. They were fighting British soldiers who were trying to kill them. The Declaration transformed these battles into a war for freedom.”


Pre-teach deductive argument. The Declaration is organized as a deductive argument. This makes the conclusion (It’s time for revolution) compelling. Deduction is too complex to teach at the same time students are reading the Declaration.

“Class, the Declaration is a very persuasive document. This is so for several reasons. First, it is organized as a valid deductive argument. A deductive argument has three parts.
[Put on board]

1. Major premise, or rule-relationship.

2. Minor premise, or facts or evidence.

3. Conclusion deduced from the first two premises.

For instance,

1. Major premise, or Rule-relationship. All beings are mortal.

2. Minor premise, facts or evidence. Eric Clapton is a being.

3. Conclusion deduced from the first Therefore, Eric Clapton is two premises. mortal. Sad, but that’s how it is.

“The conclusion follows NECESSARILY from the two premises. If your mind works properly, you simply know the conclusion is true.

“Here’s another deductive argument.

1. Major premise, or Rule-relationship. If a cat is frightened, it will hiss and bare its fangs.

2. Minor premise, facts or evidence. Missy (the cat) is frightened.

3. Conclusion deduced from the first Therefore, Missy will hiss two premises. and bare her fangs.

“Now, here is the deductive argument in the Declaration.

1. Major premise, or Rule-relationship. If a government no longer secures the natural, God- given “unalienable rights” of the People, the People have the right and the duty to dissolve that government.

2. Minor premise, facts or evidence. The British government of King George no longer secures the natural rights of the People. In fact, his government tramples on those rights.

3. Conclusion deduced from the first Therefore, the colonies two premises. have the Right and duty to dissolve their relationship (of government) with Britain.

“Imagine Patriots reading the Declaration. It starts with the democratic theory of government (the major premise). Then it presents facts (the minor premise)–-instances of how the government of Britain is trampling the rights of the People. And it ends with the conclusion: Therefore, we have the right and duty to abolish our relationship of government with Britain. So, as we read the Declaration, I want you to look for the deductive argument. Where does Jefferson present the major premise about the right of revolution? Where does he present the facts? Where is the conclusion?

“A second reason that the Declaration is persuasive is that it uses strong language. There are no maybes about it. The rights of the People do not depend on anything. The rights are part of human nature. The People are “endowed” with rights by their Creator. The rights of the People come from The Creator, not from something as changeable as society. And revolution is not merely something that colonists have a right to do. It is something they MUST do.
The colonies are not merely a number of separate states. They are “one people.” You can almost see Patriots who have just heard the
Declaration read in a town hall meeting or in a public square saying, “That’s IT! Where’s my musket?”

Pre-teach important new words. [Make sure students repeat the definitions and write them in their note books.]

  • Laws of Nature and of Nature's God. Patterns in Nature that are absolute and universal, and derive from God.

  • Truths. Statements that describe conditions that are universally the case. In contrast to opinion, mere belief, and speculation.

  • Created equal. Brought into being by God and sharing many of the same human qualities.

  • Unalienable Rights. Rights that cannot be taken away. Rights that are part of the nature of humanity.

  • Pursuit of Happiness. Activity aimed at well-being, fulfillment. Not merely pleasure seeking.

  • Consent of the governed. The government derives its power not by force but by agreement from the citizens.

  • Absolute despotism. Authoritarian rule in which rulers can do, and will do, what they please.

  • Absolute Tyranny. Same as absolute despotism.

Show the origins of the big ideas (theory of democratic government) that will be found in the Declaration. The theory of democratic government comes from John Locke and other political philosophers. http://www.crf- usa.org/Foundation_docs/Foundation_lesson_declaration.htm

Focused Instruction
The class should read small amounts of text—sometimes only one sentence if it contains an important concept (unalienable right) or rule. The teacher reminds students of definitions that were pre-taught. The teacher also defines easier concepts as portions of text are read. For example, “The course of human events means history.” [The teacher’s comments are in brackets and italics.]

The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

[Read the first paragraph, Susan.] When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
[Let’s take that line by line…. Start again.]

When in the Course of human events, [That means history.] it becomes necessary [Not a choice. Necessary. So right from the start you know that this document is going to end with something that has to happen.] for one people to dissolve the political bands [Government. The relation between government and the people.] which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth [Other nations], the separate and equal station [That is, to be a member of the nations of the earth] to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them [So, being a separate and equal nation—not dependent on or controlled by another nation—is a law of nature. Pretty strong when you base your claim on God.], a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. [In other words, if you are going to severe a political relationship so that you can become a separate and equal nation, you need to explain yourself. And that is what the document does next.]

[Next sentence, Tony.] We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

[Let’s do that line again. Self-evident means obvious. No explanation needed. Unalienable means can’t be taken away. It’s part of being human. Created equal means that all men---humans—are the same in their basic need for freedom. Summarize. What self-evident truths?…. Where do these unalienable rights come from?.... If they come from God, does that mean that fighting to keep your rights would be doing God’s work? How does this add power to the argument for revolution?...]

--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

[So, what is the role of government?... Where do governments get their power?... Notice that it says “just powers.” Not coercive force, but power that is fair, legitimate, and valid…]

--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.

[Destructive of what ends?... Abolish or alter what?... Notice when he says that the new or altered government will lay on principles and that its powers will be organized? What does this mean? Principles might mean, for example, consent of the governed, or acceptance of the idea that all human beings have unalienable rights. The organization of powers means how the government will be run (for example, three branches that share power) and the relationships between citizens and government, in which, for example, citizens elect representative and president. So the Declaration anticipates the sort of government that the writers had in mind.]

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.

[Read that again…. He’s saying that people resist change even when conditions are pretty awful.]

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.

[But now Jefferson says that it is right and duty of the People to throw of their government. Why?... State this as a rule. When…., then… Let’s summarize the big ideas so far about democratic government. Do people have unalienable rights?... What are they?.... What is the purpose of government?... What if government no longer secures the unalienable rights of the People who consent to that government?.... So, this is the major premise of the deductive argument. When the government no longer secures the unalienable rights of the People, the People have the right and duty to abolish it or alter it. Now Jefferson’s job is to present evidence that the British government in fact is not securing the unalienable rights of the People.]

—Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

[He it goes. Now we are into the minor premise of the argument: the evidence. Listen to the cadence.]

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. [In other words, the King will not agree to laws that support life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.]

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. [In other words, the King would pass certain laws only if the colonists gave up more power.]

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. [In other words, he is preventing the colonists from objecting to the tyranny of the King.]

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers. [In other words, the King will not allow the colonies to develop their own courts so as to protect their rights.]

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislatures. [This violates the big idea about rule with the consent of the governed.]

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

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.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. [It’s bad enough that the King has violated the only just basis for government—securing the rights of the People. But the King won’t even respond to requests that he improve his conduct.]

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends. [This is a powerful paragraph. Many colonists considered themselves Englishmen. Jefferson is saying that the colonies have appealed to their English brothers, but have been ignored. Therefore, their English brothers are in part just as guilty of tyranny as the King. And, if they want to be enemies, that will happen. In other words, Jefferson is creating distance between Britain and the United States.]

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

[Well, that is the conclusion of the argument. Let’s restate the argument….
Notice what the signers pledge….They list three things. What do you think was the most important thing they pledged?...]

The signers of the Declaration represented the new states as follows:

New Hampshire

Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton


John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island

Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery


Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York

William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey

Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark


Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross


Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean


Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton


George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina

William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina

Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton


Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
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