A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

For Teachers » Core Concepts

CONCEPT 1

The rights and responsibilities of British subjects living in America were the focus of intensive debate and conflict in the years leading up to the Revolution.

How does a person—or a nation—balance a desire for freedom from authority with a need for the privileges provided by that authority?

In 1764 British subjects living in America gloried in possessing the rights of Englishmen. But as time went on, they increasingly differed with their English brethren over the application of those rights, which in turn led them to a new understanding of their relationship with the mother country. It is important that students understand how shifting events and circumstances led Americans to deepen their commitment to preserving the fundamental human rights they cherished.

    GOALS:

    As a result of using this website, students will understand that...
  • people on both sides of the Atlantic were keenly aware that colonists had rights and responsibilities living in the British Empire
  • there is a difference between a right and a responsibility
  • these concepts were subject to interpretation
  • the debates and conflicts took many forms

    OBJECTIVES:

    Students demonstrate their understanding of this concept by...
  • identifying pertinent documents:
    • finding at least two documents from the Coming of the American Revolution website
    • explaining how they illustrate this goal
  • interpreting the documents
    • conducting a Document Analysis (see Document Analysis Worksheet)
    • answering Questions to Consider (writing and discussion prompts) at bottom of each document description
  • investigating the significance and interconnections of the documents
    • following one or more of the Further Exploration research assignments and project suggestions at bottom of each document description
    • drawing conclusions backed by evidence from documents and introductory essays
  • answering the following Framing Questions (drawn directly from the stated Goals above) based on those conclusions and that evidence collected from the documents:
    • In what ways did people on both sides of the Atlantic show their understanding of the rights and responsibilities of the colonists?
    • What is the difference between a right and a responsibility?
    • How were these concepts subject to interpretation?
    • What forms did the debates and conflicts take?

Documents

The Sugar Act

"We … declare our just expectations"
Boston, May 28. At a Meeting of the Freeholders ...
"Boston, May 28. At a Meeting of the Freeholders ..."
Article from page 2 of The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter, Number 3145, 31 May 1764.

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The "exclusive Right of the People"
Letter from Thomas Cushing to Jasper Mauduit, 17 November 1764
Letter from Thomas Cushing to Jasper Mauduit, 17 November 1764

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The Stamp Act

"Reprinting" Virginia’s Resolves
From the Newport Mercury. Newport, June 24. Extract of a Letter from Gentleman in Philadelphia ...
"From the Newport Mercury. Newport, June 24. Extract of a Letter from Gentleman in Philadelphia ..."
Article from page 2 of The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, Number 535, 1 July 1765

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A Call for a Unified Response
From the Providence Gazette Extraordinary. The following is said to be a copy of the Resolutions of the Congress held at New-York ...
"From the Providence Gazette Extraordinary. The following is said to be a copy of the Resolutions of the Congress held at New-York ..."
Article from page 3 of The Massachusetts Gazette, number 0, 20 March 1766

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The Art of Persuasion
From the New-York Gazette of Nov. 7. To the Printer ...
"From the New-York Gazette of Nov. 7. To the Printer ..."
Article from page 1 of The Boston Post-Boy & Advertiser, Number 431, 18 November 1765.

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Prosperity the End; Protectionism the Means
Letter from James Murray to John Murray (letterbook copy), 13 November 1765
Letter from James Murray to John Murray (letterbook copy), 13 November 1765

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The Formation of the Sons of Liberty

The Badge of Slavery
Boston, February 24. Last Week was taken up ...
"Boston, February 24. Last Week was taken up ..."
Article from page 3 of The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, number 569, 24 February 1766

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"Certain Mutual and Reciprocal Agreements"
Letter from the Sons of Liberty to John Adams, 5 February 1766
Letter from the Sons of Liberty to John Adams, 5 February 1766

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The Townshend Acts

Franklin, of Philadelphia
The Examination of Doctor Franklin, before an August Assembly, relating to the Repeal of the Stamp-Act, &c.
The Examination of Doctor Franklin, before an August Assembly, relating to the Repeal of the Stamp-Act, &c.
[Boston: reprinted by Edes and Gill, 1766?]

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"you will have much to do"
Letter from Thomas Whately to John Temple, 2 May 1767
Letter from Thomas Whately to John Temple, 2 May 1767

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"the cause of one is the cause of all"
Letters From a Farmer in Pennsylvania, to the inhabitants of the British colonies ...
"Letters From a Farmer in Pennsylvania, to the inhabitants of the British colonies ..."
Article (Letter 1) from pages 1-2 of The Boston Chronicle, Volume 1, Number 1, 21 December 1767

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"a dangerous innovation"
From the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the inhabitants of the British Colonies ...
"From the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the inhabitants of the British Colonies ..."
Article (Letter 2) from pages 9-11 of the Supplement to the Boston Chronicle, Volume 1, Number 1, 21 December 1767

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"Ladies of the first quality"
We hear that there was held two or three evenings ago, an assembly of Ladies ...
"We hear that there was held two or three evenings ago, an assembly of Ladies ..."
Article from page 2 of The Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary, Number 3351, 24 December 1767

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"to a sister colony"
A Circulatory Letter, directed to the Speakers of the respective Houses of Representatives and Burgesses on this Continent ... February 11, 1768
"A Circulatory Letter, directed to the Speakers of the respective Houses of Representatives and Burgesses on this Continent ... February 11, 1768"
Published letter from the Journals of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, Boston: Green and Russell, [1767-1768]

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"Deprived of the Councils of a General Assembly"
Boston, September 14, 1768. Gentlemen, You are already too well acquainted with the melancholly [sic] and very alarming circumstances to which this province, as well as America in general, is now reduced ...
Boston, September 14, 1768. Gentlemen, You are already too well acquainted with the melancholly [sic] and very alarming circumstances to which this province, as well as America in general, is now reduced ...

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Non-Consumption and Non-importation

Merchants vote: block English trade!
John Rowe diary 5, 4 March 1768, pages 717-718
John Rowe diary 5, 4 March 1768, pages 717-718

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The Formation of the Committees of Correspondence

The Boston Pamphlet
The Votes and Proceedings of the Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, in Town Meeting Assembled
The Votes and Proceedings of the Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, in Town Meeting Assembled

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"Pervert the Judgment of Men"
The following is one of the Petitions to the Selectmen of this Town ...
"The following is one of the Petitions to the Selectmen of this Town ..."
Article from page 2 of The Boston-Gazette and Country Journal, Number 918, 26 October 1772

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The "patriotic Province of Virginia"
Boston, April 9, 1773: Sir, The Committee of Correspondence of this Town have received the following intelligence ...
Boston, April 9, 1773: Sir, The Committee of Correspondence of this Town have received the following intelligence ...

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"divine spirit of freedom"
Boston, April 20th, 1773. Sir, The efforts made by the legislative [sic] of this province ...
Boston, April 20th, 1773. Sir, The efforts made by the legislative [sic] of this province ...

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"impending evil"
In consequence of a conference with the committees of correspondence in the vicinity of Boston, November 23, 1773 ...
In consequence of a conference with the committees of correspondence in the vicinity of Boston, November 23, 1773 ...

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The Boston Tea Party

"You Are ... Political Bombadiers"
The following was dispersed in Hand Bills among the worthy Citizens of Philadelphia ...
"The following was dispersed in Hand Bills among the worthy Citizens of Philadelphia ..."
Article from page 2 of The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, Number 968, 25 October 1773

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The First Continental Congress

Spirited Debates
Speaking with One Voice
At a Meeting of the Delegates of every Town and District in the County of Suffolk ...
"At a Meeting of the Delegates of every Town and District in the County of Suffolk ..."
Article from page 1 of the Supplement to the Massachusets-Gazette, 15 September 1774

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"Your own Salvation … Depends upon Yourselves
"To the People of Great Britain ..." and "To the Inhabitants of the Colonies ..."
From the Extracts from the votes and proceedings of the American Continental Congress: held at Philadelphia on the 5th of September 1774. Published by order of the Congress.
Philadelphia: Printed by William and Thomas Bradford, 1774.

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"A System formed to enslave America"
Friday, October 14, 1774. The Congress came into the following Resolutions
"Friday, October 14, 1774. The Congress came into the following Resolutions"
From Extracts from the votes and proceedings of the American Continental Congress: held at Philadelphia on the 5th of September 1774. Published by order of the Congress.
Philadelphia: Printed by William and Thomas Bradford, 1774.

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Colonists Rally around Congress
A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress ...
A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress ...

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The Second Continental Congress

A Spirited Manifesto
A Declaration by the Representatives of the United Colonies of North-America, Now Met in General Congress at Philadelphia
A Declaration by the Representatives of the United Colonies of North-America, Now Met in General Congress at Philadelphia

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