Lesson 7: Independence


Activity 1: Moving Toward Independence

Materials: The Declaration of Independence and Other Great Documents of American History, 1775-1865 by John Grafton, ed.
As resistance to British taxation and authority grew and violence erupted, the idea of American independence gained popularity. This idea did not appear in a vacuum, however. There were numerous cultural currents that helped pave the way for widespread acceptance of the radical notion that the colonies could reject British rule and become their own nation. Both religious and secular speakers had strong influence over the people who heard their speeches or read printed versions of them in broadsides or newspapers. In this activity, you'll explore the impact of either religious revival sermons or secular speakers in greater detail. Ask a parent which option you should complete.
In this activity, your child will consider the impact of either religious revivals or secular speeches on colonists' ideas about their relationships to the Crown and the possibility of independence. In the first option, your child will read online content from the Library of Congress about the First Great Awakening and consider the impact of that religious movement on people's ideas about independence. He will then discuss these connections between religious and political views with you. This option may be of interest to students with a strong interest in religion or for students who enjoy discussing content rather than writing about it. In Option 2, your child will read Patrick Henry's famous speech "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!" and choose a section of the speech to reenact.

Option 1: Religion and Independence

The First Great Awakening in American religion took place in the early to mid 1700s. Ministers inspired by George Whitfield and others emphasized a personal conversion experience among Christian believers in revivals in which families and communities came together to hear traveling preachers give fiery and emotional sermons. These ministers focused on the potential wrath of an all-powerful God and the personal experience of religious conversion and suggested, in opposition to Catholic teachings, that church authorities had limited power to condemn or save individual sinners.

Such speakers had a tremendous impact on religion in America. This emphasis on all Christians who had undergone a rebirth of the spirit being equal in the eyes of God, and on the personal, individual experience of faith instead of powerful institutions and old hierarchies (organized systems of church officials) were two important cultural shifts that took place in the generation prior to the Revolution. Many scholars believe that changing religious ideas brought about by the First Great Awakening may have influenced political ideas as well — believers who were willing to cast aside the traditions of powerful church hierarchies may have been prepared to also cast aside the tradition of having a powerful king. Those who were inspired by the idea of a personal conversion in which all Christians had equal access to salvation may have also been inspired by the idea of a country in which all men were believed to be created equal.
Web Link
Web Link
Now, imagine that you are a young person living in one of the colonies in the 1760s or early 1770s. Your family has attended many revival meetings, and your parents have abandoned the Anglican Church to join one of the new denominations that emphasizes a personal conversion experience. Your minister focuses on the experience of the heart and on the personal nature of one's faith. He frequently criticizes the leaders of other local churches as being without sufficient religious feeling and being too focused on the power of the church instead of on the power of God. How do you think your religious views and the kinds of things you hear in church influence your views on the British government's taxation and the growing opposition to British authority?

Your parent will have some questions to discuss with you.
In this activity, your child will read a bit about the First Great Awakening and then have a discussion with you. Because religion and politics are both highly personal topics and each family is likely to have different views on those issues, we've chosen to organize this particular activity option as a discussion with a parent instead of a written activity. Talk through the following questions with your child — you may find this information about the influence of the First Great Awakening on the Revolution helpful to read before your discussion:
Web Link

Questions to Discuss

  • What was the First Great Awakening? (Your child should understand that the First Great Awakening was a revival of religious feeling that emphasized the personal conversion experience. It often involved revivals with traveling preachers and focused on the individual and God as opposed to powerful church structures.)
  • Why do you think people were drawn to the First Great Awakening? (Answers will vary, but your child may point to the emotionally powerful sermons that were given or the social nature of revival meetings or the idea that individuals could be saved through a personal experience of conversion.)
  • How do you think these religious ideas might have influenced people's decisions to support the Revolution? (As the article by Christine Heyrman [see link above] indicates, people who had undergone religious conversion had already had to cast aside older ideas and institutions in favor of new ones. Doing this in a faith setting may have made it easier to do something similar politically. Many people had rejected their previous churches, religious leaders, and doctrines to follow the newer ideas about religion that they heard at revival meetings and were following their hearts about their faith. This, too, may have prepared people to stand up to political institutions and support a new form of government.)
  • Do you see evidence of people's ideas about religion emphasizing their political views today? How so? (Answers will vary.)
  • Do your own religious views inform your political views in important ways? (Answers will vary. This may be a useful opportunity to talk about your own views about politics and religion with your child or to share your own thoughts on the proper relationship [if any] between faith and government.)

Option 2: Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

The speeches of powerful orators could have a tremendous impact on those who heard them. Patrick Henry, a lawyer and member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, gave a stirring speech in favor of arming the Virginia militia in March of 1775, before shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. This speech is credited as influencing not only the Virginia Revolutionary Committee but also colonists who heard about or read a printed version of Henry's emotional speech.

In this activity, you will read Henry's speech, the first document in The Declaration of Independence and Other Great Documents of American History, 1775-1865 (John Grafton, ed.). As you read, think about the impact Henry's words might have had on people listening. Choose the paragraph that you think is the most powerful from it and practice reading the paragraph with emotion. After you feel comfortable delivering the text as a speech, perform a dramatic reading for a parent.
In this activity, your child will read Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech, select the paragraph he finds most powerful, and deliver it as a dramatic reading. Talk to your child about why he chose that particular paragraph and what he thought was powerful or important about it. Also ask him what he thinks people hearing the whole speech might have thought afterward.

Activity 2: Revising the Declaration of Independence

Materials: The Declaration of Independence and Other Great Documents of American History, 1775-1865 by John Grafton, ed., highlighter pen or a red marker, crayon, or colored pencil
Like any important piece of writing, the Declaration of Independence was revised and edited during the writing process. In this activity, you'll have the chance to see how Jefferson originally drafted the text and what changes Congress made to the document.

Visit the following website and use the print command in your browser to print out the webpage (you do not need to print the first page, which just has the title and an image). The printout includes a blank white margin that you can use to take notes as you read.

Text with a strikethrough line indicates parts that Jefferson originally wrote but Congress deleted. Text in italics enclosed in brackets show parts that Congress later added. Choose 3-5 sections that contain some of the biggest revisions and suggest 2-3 edits that you would have made (such as adding deleted text back in or removing text that Congress added). You can use highlighters or colored pencils to mark your preferences or take notes in the white margin. Then complete the "Editing the Declaration of Independence" activity page.

NOTE: As you work, it may be helpful to refer to the final version of the document in The Declaration of Independence and Other Great Documents of American History, 1775-1865.
Web Link
In this activity, your child will use an online resource to view editorial changes made to the Declaration of Independence. He will print out the document and choose 3-5 sections that were significantly revised from Jefferson's original draft and suggest 2-3 edits that he would have made (such as adding deleted text back in or removing text that Congress added). He will then complete an activity page describing the reasons for some of the changes he made to the text and his thoughts on the importance of the editing process for this document. Answers will vary.

Activity 3: Timeline of U.S. History

Materials: scissors, tape or glue, timeline and timeline cards
In this activity, you'll add cards #30-31 to your timeline.
In this activity, your child will add cards #30-31 to his timeline.