Monday, September 8, 2014

Lesson Ideas: Political Independence in the American Colonies

In my recent post about how to plan a unit on the Colonial Era, I mentioned the usefulness of foreshadowing. Even if you are beginning your course with the American Revolution, you still need to provide some background as to why the colonists revolted against British rule.

So here are some ideas for a lesson you might entitle something like, “Political Autonomy, the Rights of Englishmen and the American Colonies.” Or perhaps something like this: “The Rise of American Independence before Independence.”

First, the big or essential questions. These are the questions that drive the lesson.
1. What do we mean by self-government? By representative govt? By democracy?
2. In what way(s) were the colonists already getting used to running things on their own before the Revolution?
3. In what way did the inefficiency of the British government contribute to start of the Revolution?
4. When we say the colonists enjoyed, “the rights of Englishmen,” what did they mean? (i.e. did they only mean men? And what rights were they talking about?)
5. In what ways was English government “representative”? (Because we know that one of the things that led to the Revolution was colonists argument that there should be “no taxation without representation.”

Teaching Ideas:

1.  Try displaying this image as a way for students to see the difference between self-government and democracy. The correct answer is A, as in self-government means the people decide what kind of government they want. It may be democracy, but it also might be something else (as we found out the hard way in Vietnam).

2.  Have students read these documents. One is an excerpt from the English Bill of Rights. It is useful for pointing out the power of Parliament vis-a-vis the King following the Revolution of 1688.  And the second is a secondary source about the importance of New England Town Meeting. The third is an amusing little excerpt from Edmund S. Morgan’s The Birth of Republic that demonstrates how the inefficiency of the British government over the colonies led to a certain amount of independence, long before the Revolution. This 3rd one is also useful for explaining the concept of salutary neglect.

If you try any of these ideas, please let me know how they worked. How did you tweak it?

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