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Liberty for All: Voices from the Revolution

In this activity students read short excerpts of documents that show how the expectations of women, African Americans, and working white men were raised by the rhetoric of liberty during the American Revolution. Students write petitions to the Continental Congress from one of the three group's perspectives, explaining how their group responded to the Revolution and outlining how their group should be treated under the new Constitution. This activity includes multiple learning supports that can help ESL/ELL students, special education students, or low readers.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze primary sources to determine how revolutionary ideals of liberty, independence, and equality inspired and transformed different groups in society.  

  • Students will describe the contributions of ordinary men and women to the American Revolution, which included military service, crowd action, and consumer boycotts.  

  • Students will practice reading historical documents and summarizing the main points.  

Instructions

Step 1: Project and/or hand out the Declaration of Independence worksheet. Read out loud the original version's first paragraph. Then tell students that they are going to break down the text by reading shorter, modernized passages that they will examine together. Ask a student volunteer to read aloud each passage at least once. Then, as a group, try to summarize the main idea of the passage. (Depending on the reading levels of students, they can read and summarize the passages in pairs or small groups, rather than a whole group.) 

Step 2: As a group, discuss the following questions with students and have them jot down the class's response (or allow students to work individually or in small groups to answer the questions, before leading a class discussion):

  • How might this statement have inspired less powerful members of colonial society (including African Americans, women, and white workingmen)?  

  • What might these groups have wanted from the Revolution?  

Step 3:  Divide class into small groups of two or three students, and assign each group one of the following historical perspectives: African Americans, women, white workingmen.  

Step 4:  Give each small group the two historical documents that correspond to their historical perspective.  Students should work in their groups to decode the documents. 

NOTE: In the attached worksheets, each document is broken down into separate sentences with space in the right-hand column where students can write down the main idea of each sentence. If the teacher would like students to work with longer edits or more complex language, use the full documents listed in the materials.  

African Americans' documents:

  • Slaves Petition the Massachusetts Legislature 

  • A Revolutionary Veteran Describes African-American Soldiers 

Women's documents:

  • Colonial Women Spin for Liberty (with text supports)

  • Abigail Adams Reminds John Adams to "Remember the Ladies" 

White workingmen's documents: 

  • A Revolutionary Veteran Describes His Experience

  • A Radical Patriot Urges "Common Sense and a Plain Understanding" in the Pennsylvania Constitution 

Step 5: After decoding the documents, each group should complete the front side of the Petition Worksheet, which will help them think about their assigned historical perspective in terms of actions, point of view, and concerns.  

Step 6:  Tell the students that on the back side of the Petition Worksheet, each group is to write a petition to the 1787 Constitutional Convention that:

  • Explains the group's response to the American Revolution (i.e., what they thought and did)

  • Argues how members of the group should be treated under the new Constitution

Review the assessment criteria listed below with the class:

  • The petition clearly summarizes the main ideas contained in the documents.

  • The petition effectively incorporates at least two facts from the documents.

  • The petition demonstrates an understanding of how workingmen/women/African Americans contributed to the American Revolution by using at least one example from the documents.

  • The petition demonstrates an understanding of how workingmen/women/African Americans used revolutionary ideas about liberty to argue for their own equality by using at least one example from the documents.  

Step 7: Ask for volunteers to share their petitions with the rest of the class.  Make sure to get at least one from each of the three historical perspectives.  

Activity Extension

Choose one document that represents a different historical perspective (African Americans, women, white workingmen) than the one the student was assigned in class. Write a paragraph that compares the experiences and viewpoints expressed in the document with those expressed in the documents of the student's original group.

Historical Context

The "Founding Fathers"—men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams—were not the only actors in the dramatic events of the Revolutionary era. Rather, the winning of independence and the creation of the American nation resulted from years of struggle during which ordinary men and women, as well as the Founding Fathers, played a central role. Ordinary Americans contributed labor, skills, and in some cases, their lives to the colonial fight for liberty against Great Britain. In doing so, they were transformed by the American Revolution and, after the war, continued to seek out the ideals of liberty, independence, and equality for themselves.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2008.
Creator |

American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning


Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Liberty for All: Voices from the Revolution,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed July 21, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1437.

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