Civic Literacy Curriculum
This curriculum guide is intended to cover questions 76, 77 and 80.
Q76: What war did the Americans fight to win independence from Britain?
A. The Civil War
B. The American Revolution
C. The French and Indian War (or Seven Year’s War)
D. King Philip’s War
Q77: Why did the colonists fight the British?
A. because they wanted to be famous
B. because they didn’t have self-government
C. because they wanted to rule over England
D. because they needed extra money
Q80: Which of the following was not an important event in the American Revolution?
A. Washington Crossing the Delaware/Battle of Trenton
B. Battle at Yorktown/British surrender at Yorktown
C. Battle of Antietam
D. Winter encampment at Valley Forge
Over the course of the 1760s and 1770s, many colonial Americans came to believe that the British government had violated many of the traditional liberties and rights of Englishmen that the colonists believed they were entitled to. The colonists further argued that their natural rights as human beings were being violated by the actions of the British government. Once it became clear the British would not honor these traditionally understood rights, the colonists decided to fight for independence from Britain.
For example, colonists believed it was unjust for Parliament to impose taxes on the colonists without their participation in Parliament—what the Americans dubbed “taxation without representation.” Similarly, and foreshadowing their commitment to federalism, colonists also argued that the far-away British Parliament had a legitimate right to control international issues but did not have authority to regulate the colonies’ local affairs (nor had it done so in the past).
Finally, British techniques to suppress the rebellion involved increasingly oppressive measures, such as stationing British army soldiers in private houses, called quartering soldiers, and closing Massachusetts’s Boston Port and stripping its local governance, all of which only strengthened claims that the British government had become tyrannical. (The colonists called these enforcement policies the “Intolerable Acts.”) The colonists protested all of these developments in several documents, such as the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress in 1774, and ultimately with the Declaration of Independence from the Second Continental Congress in 1776.
The British government offered to accommodate some of the colonists’ demands, but they still insisted they had the right to govern the colonies, regardless of the colonists’ own views about representation. Although some British government officials believed the colonists were correct in their arguments, most of Parliament and the king did not, so the colonists made the painful decision to leave the British empire and become independent.
For the Declaration of Independence to be remembered by history, however, the Patriot army had to win on the battlefield, or at least outlast the British. Among the most famous battles were the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 1775), in which American soldiers helping relieve the siege of Boston inflicted serious casualties among British soldiers before retreating; the Battle of Trenton in Christmas 1776, after George Washington led his soldiers in a daring crossing of the icy Delaware River; and the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, a massive victory and arguably the turning point in the war. The Battle of Yorktown, in which French naval forces cut off escape by the British army besieged by George Washington, marked the effective end of the war in 1781.
The history that we know today comes to us from countless sources. The facts that we have are from legal documents, newspapers, personal journals, and letters, just to name a few. This exercise will have students look at primary source materials of the Revolution to learn about the ideas that motivated the revolutionaries while also practicing analyzing sources. Students will read the journal of an American revolutionary. You might also assign them the Declaration and Resolves of 1774, an early document laying out the colonists’ objections to British policy and their view of what the government was supposed to look like—in other words, what Thacher would have thought he was fighting for.
- Provide each group with a copy of Military Journal of James Thacher’s, M.D., 1775-1776
- Shorter version
- Longer version
- Provide each group with Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress
- Provide each group with a copy of the worksheet
- Version A
- Version B
- Divide the class into pairs based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group that has mastered the material; Group C students are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
- This activity works on an individual level as well.
- Provide the students with the necessary materials: a copy of Thacher’s journal, the Declaration and Resolves, and the accompanying worksheet.
- Use the short version of the journal and Version A for classes that may struggle with reading comprehension in general or who need practice with critical-thinking skills. (In this case, you may wish to read the journal as a class or provide the students with a shorter version.)
- Use Version B for more advanced classes to help them refine their critical-thinking and analytical skills. (In this case, you may wish to use the longer version of Thacher’s journal and assign the students to read it prior to class.)
- Explain to the students that primary sources, such as journals, help historians develop a clearer understanding of what life was like during a certain era. These sources also help by providing additional details relating to different events in history.
- For this activity, the students will read excerpts from Thacher’s journal and identify the following:
- In Version A -- they will identify facts and opinions.
- In Version B -- they will identify factual events, events that may be influenced by opinion, and opinions.
- Circulate throughout the room as the students complete their worksheets to check for understanding and help as needed.
- Once the students have completed the assignment, use the discussion prompts listed on the worksheet to explore how journals (and other primary sources) can help us understand history.
The colonists were quite content to remain within the British Empire, but Parliament and the king asserted ever more control over what the colonists believed to be their own right to govern themselves through their local governments. Citing earlier examples from British constitutional history, the colonists protested. Eventually, resistance to these protests led the British government to take more aggressive actions, actions that the colonists believed extensively violated British civil liberties, and, ultimately, justified independence from the empire.
From the colonists’ point of view, the British committed many grievous violations of their liberties and rights. In the end, however, there was one major disagreement that could not be resolved: Why did the colonists fight the British? What right were they trying to secure? What were some important events in that fight?
Consider the events that led up to the revolution. What if Britain hadn’t passed the Intolerable Acts or quartered soldiers in homes? Or, more basically, if Britain had continued to leave the colonies alone in governing local issues, do you think that the American Revolution would have occurred? Why or why not? Use current and past events in history to support your answer.