Closer Readings Commentary

EDSITEment's 4th of July: Protest, Revolution, and Independence

A collage of American Revolutionary War images. Clockwise from top left: Battle of Bunker Hill, Death of Montgomery at Quebec, Battle of Cowpens, "Moonlight Battle"
Photo caption

A collage of American Revolutionary War images. Clockwise from top left: Battle of Bunker Hill, Death of Montgomery at Quebec, Battle of Cowpens, "Moonlight Battle"

“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people…”

—John Adams, Feb. 13, 1818

“All eyes are opened, or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born ,with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of [the 4th of July] forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them. ...”

—Thomas Jefferson, June 24, 1826

“The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history—the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny… to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

—Frederick Douglass, “What To the Slave is the Fourth of July?”, July 5, 1852

"It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the mother land; but something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. (Great applause.) It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. (Cheers.) This is the sentiment embodied in that Declaration of Independence."

—Abraham Lincoln, "Speech at Independence Hall," February 22, 1861

A complete listing of our lessons on the causes, the course and the consequences of the American Revolution and Independence.

On this Page:

African Americans in the Revolution and Beyond

African-American Communities in the North Before the Civil War—Fully one-third of Patriot soldiers at the Battle of Bunker Hill were African Americans. Census data also reveal that there were slaves and free Blacks living in the North in 1790 and after. What do we know about African-American communities in the North in the years after the American Revolution?

After the American Revolution: Free African Americans in the North—About one-third of Patriot soldiers at the Battle of Bunker Hill were African Americans. Census data also reveal that there were slaves and free Blacks living in the North in 1790 and later years. What were the experiences of African-American individuals in the North in the years between the American Revolution and the Civil War?

Taking Up Arms and the Challenge of Slavery in the Revolutionary Era—Was the American Revolution inevitable? This lesson is designed to help students understand the transition to armed resistance and the contradiction in the Americans’ rhetoric about slavery through the examination of a series of documents. While it is designed to be conducted over a several-day period, teachers with time constraints can choose to utilize only one of the documents to illustrate the patriots’ responses to the actions of the British.

Frederick Douglass: What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?—In his greatest speech, Frederick Douglass asks what place a slave has in the celebration of American Independence? His complex answer comes in three parts: praise for the founders and their principles, denunication of the hypocrisy of contemporary  Americans, and a concluding statement of his reasons for optimism about the elimination of slavery in the future. 

Colonial Protests

The Boston Tea Party: Costume Optional?—By exploring historical accounts of events surrounding the Boston Tea Party, students learn about the sources and methods that historians use to reconstruct what happened in the past.

Boycotting Baubles of Britain—This lesson looks at the changes in 17th century British colonial policies and the American resistance through the topic of tea, clothing, and other British goods. Students analyze and interpret key historical artifacts as well as visual and textual sources that shed light on how commodities such as tea became important symbols of personal and political identity during the years leading up to the formal Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Colonial Broadsides and the American Revolution—Drawing on the resources of the Library of Congress's Printed Ephemera Collection, this lesson helps students experience the news as the colonists heard it: by means of broadsides, notices written on disposable, single sheets of paper that addressed virtually every aspect of the American Revolution.

Colonial Broadsides: A Student-Created Play—In this lesson, student groups create a short, simple play based on their study of broadsides written just before the American Revolution. By analyzing the attitudes and political positions are revealed in the broadsides, students learn about the sequence of events that led to the Revolution.

Common Sense: The Rhetoric of Popular Democracy—In 1776 Tom Paine, an obscure immigrant, published a small pamphlet that ignited independence in America by shifting the political landscape of the patriot movement from reform within the British imperial system to independence from it. This lesson looks at Paine and at some of the ideas presented in Common Sense, such as national unity, natural rights, the illegitimacy of the monarchy and of hereditary aristocracy, and the necessity for independence and the revolutionary struggle.

Voices of the American Revolution—This lesson helps students "hear" some of the diverse colonial voices that, in the course of time and under the pressure of novel ideas and events, contributed to the American Revolution. Students analyze a variety of primary documents illustrating the diversity of religious, political, social, and economic motives behind competing perspectives on questions of independence and rebellion.

Declaration of Independence

Declare the Causes: The Declaration of Independence—Help your students see the development of the Declaration as both an historical process and a writing process through the use of role play and creative writing.

The Declaration of Independence: “An Expression of the American Mind”—This lesson plan looks at the major ideas in the Declaration of Independence, their origins, the Americans’ key grievances against the King and Parliament, their assertion of sovereignty, and the Declaration’s process of revision. Upon completion of the lesson, students will be familiar with the document’s origins, and the influences that produced Jefferson’s “expression of the American mind.”

The Argument of the Declaration of Independence—Long before the first shot was fired, the American Revolution began as a series of written complaints to colonial governors and representatives in England over the rights of the colonists.

Founders

Benjamin Franklin's Many “Hats”—Ben Franklin, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution was also a philanthropist, a community leader, patriot, and Founding Father. This lesson plan exemplifies all our new country fought for in the Revolutionary War: individualism, democracy, community, patriotism, scientific inquiry and invention, and the rights of “We the People.”

Jefferson vs. Franklin: Revolutionary Philosophers—Explore the philosophical contributions that Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson made to the movement for American independence. The lesson introduces students to some of the important precursor documents, such as Franklin's Albany Plan of 1754 and Jefferson's Draft of the Virginia Constitution, that led to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

What Made George Washington a Good Military Leader?—Curriculum Unit overview. What combination of experience, strategy, and personal characteristics enabled Washington to succeed as a military leader? In this unit, students will read the Continental Congress's resolutions granting powers to General Washington; analyze some of Washington's wartime orders, dispatches, and correspondence in terms of his mission and the characteristics of a good general

Religion

Religion in 18th Century America—The traditional religions of Great Britain’s North American colonies had difficulty maintaining their holds over the growing population. This did not, however, result in a wholesale decline in religiosity among Americans. In fact, the most significant religious development of 18th century America took place along the frontier, in the form of the Great Awakening. This curriculum unit will, through the use of primary documents, introduce students to the First Great Awakening, as well as to the ways in which religious-based arguments were used both in support of and against the American Revolution.

Revolutionary War

The American War for Independence—Curriculum Unit overview. The decision of Britain's North American colonies to rebel against the Mother Country was an extremely risky one. In this unit, consisting of three lesson plans, students will learn about the diplomatic and military aspects of the American War for Independence.

Midnight Ride of Paul Revere—Fact, Fiction, and Artistic License—An interdisciplinary lesson focusing on Paul Revere's Midnight Ride. While many students know this historical event, this lesson allows them to explore the true story of Paul Revere and his journey through primary source readings as well as to compare artist Grant Wood's and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's interpretations of it.

Why Do We Remember Revere? Paul Revere's Ride in History and Literature—After an overview of the events surrounding Paul Revere's famous ride, this lesson challenges students to think about the reasons for that fame. Using both primary and secondhand accounts, students compare the account of Revere's ride in Longfellow's famous poem with actual historical events, in order to answer the question: why does Revere's ride occupy such a prominent place in the American consciousness?

The Native Americans' Role in the American Revolution: Choosing Sides—Native American groups had to choose the loyalist or patriot cause—or somehow maintain a neutral stance during the Revolutionary War. Students will analyze maps, treaties, congressional records, first-hand accounts, and correspondence to determine the different roles assumed by Native Americans in the American Revolution and understand why the various groups formed the alliances they did.