A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

For Teachers » Core Concepts

CONCEPT 8

History is a process involving a series of decisions that could have had different outcomes, not a set of preordained events that simply unfolded over time.

What if things had gone differently?

Perhaps the most difficult thing for students of history to understand is that things didn’t have to happen the way they did. Suppose the Virginia Stamp Act Resolves had been reported in a different manner in colonial newspapers? What if Paul Revere had painted a different picture in his engraving of the Boston Massacre? Suppose the first Continental Congress had approved Joseph Galloway’s “Plan of Union”? What if no one had fired a shot on Lexington Green on 19 April 1775? How might events have been different? Would independence have occurred?

    GOALS:

    As a result of using this website, students will understand that...
  • individual and group decisions affect the course of history
  • decisions are both affected by and in turn affect decisions made by others
  • neither decisions nor outcomes are inevitable; they could have been made differently with different results

    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:
    • Choosing two or three of the fifteen topics, demonstrate how decisions affected subsequent events
    • Choosing two or three of the fifteen topics, demonstrate how decisions were shaped by previous decisions and how they shaped decisions that followed
    • Taking any of the decisions cited above, explain a different choice that could have been made and describe the possible effects or events that might have resulted from that choice

Documents

The Stamp Act

A Tax not too Burdensome
Letter from Thomas Whately to John Temple, 14 August 1764
Letter from Thomas Whately to John Temple, 14 August 1764

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An Effigy Swings and a House Crumbles
Letter from Cyrus Baldwin to Loammi Baldwin, 15 August 1765
Letter from Cyrus Baldwin to Loammi Baldwin, 15 August 1765

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The Formation of the Sons of Liberty

"Conducted to the General Satisfaction of the Publick"
Letter from Henry Bass to Samuel P. Savage, 19 December 1765
Letter from Henry Bass to Samuel P. Savage, 19 December 1765

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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.

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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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Non-importation is dead
Extract of a Letter from London, dated July 27, 1770.
"Extract of a Letter from London, dated July 27, 1770."
Article from page 3 of The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, Number 810, 15 October 1770

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The Boston Massacre

A Tumultuous Week in Boston
Boston, March 12. The Town of Boston affords a recent and melancholy Demonstration ...
"Boston, March 12. The Town of Boston affords a recent and melancholy Demonstration ..."
Article from pages 2-3 of The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, Number 779, 12 March 1770

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Preston Speaks Out
Case of Capt. Thomas Preston of the 29th Regiment.
"Case of Capt. Thomas Preston of the 29th Regiment."
Article from pages 1 and 2 of the Supplement to the Boston Evening-Post, Number 1813, 25 June 1770

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Tories Strike First
A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England
A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England

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A Sinister Plot?
A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston...
A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston...

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The Formation of the Committees of Correspondence

In Boston's Footsteps
Letter from Samuel Adams to James Warren, 27 November 1772
Letter from Samuel Adams to James Warren, 27 November 1772

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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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The Boston Tea Party

An Intrepid Exertion of Popular Power

Coercive Acts

"commotions and insurrections"
An Act to Block up Boston Harbour
An Act to Block up Boston Harbour

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"I would have done what I could"
Letter from Thomas Hutchinson to James Murray, 23 July 1774
Letter from Thomas Hutchinson to James Murray, 23 July 1774

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Lexington and Concord

Sketches of the Countryside
General Gage's Instructions, of 22d February 1775
General Gage's Instructions, of 22d February 1775

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Testimony of the Midnight Rider
Paul Revere's deposition, fair copy, circa 1775
Paul Revere's deposition, fair copy, circa 1775

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"Thus this Unfortunate Affair has happened"
A Circumstantial Account of an Attack that happened on the 19th of April 1775, on his Majesty's Troops ...
A Circumstantial Account of an Attack that happened on the 19th of April 1775, on his Majesty's Troops ...

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The Militia Pleads Innocent
A Narrative, of the Excursion and Ravages of the King's Troops Under the Command of General Gage, on the nineteenth of April, 1775: Together with the Depositions ...
A Narrative, of the Excursion and Ravages of the King's Troops Under the Command of General Gage, on the nineteenth of April, 1775: Together with the Depositions ...

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The Second Continental Congress

"the die Is cast"
Letter (draft) from Abigail Adams to Mercy Otis Warren, [3] February 1775
Letter (draft) from Abigail Adams to Mercy Otis Warren, [3] February 1775

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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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Marshalling the Troops
Rules and Articles, for the Better Government of the Troops Raised ...
Rules and Articles, for the Better Government of the Troops Raised ...

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Issued in Defense of American Liberty
Philadelphia. In Congress, Thursday, June 22, 1775.
"Philadelphia. In Congress, Thursday, June 22, 1775."
Article from page 1 of The New-England Chronicle: or, The Essex Gazette, Volume VIII, Number 381, 9-16 November 1775

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An "intricate and complicated subject"
Letter from John Adams to James Warren, 7 October 1775
Letter from John Adams to James Warren, 7 October 1775

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The Battle of Bunker Hill

"Masters of these heights"
A Plan of the Battle, on Bunkers Hill
A Plan of the Battle, on Bunkers Hill

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"orders to march"
Letter from William Prescott to John Adams, 25 August 1775
Letter from William Prescott to John Adams, 25 August 1775

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"the arrows of death"
Letter from Peter Brown to Sarah Brown, 25 June 1775
Letter from Peter Brown to Sarah Brown, 25 June 1775

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Washington Takes Command of the Continental Army

"Chief of all Forced Rais’d"
Letter from John Hancock to Artemas Ward, 22 June 1775
Letter from John Hancock to Artemas Ward, 22 June 1775

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How to Feed 20,372 Men
Minutes of a conference, held by the delegates of the honble Continental Congress with General Washington, 18-22 October 1775
Minutes of a conference, held by the delegates of the honble Continental Congress with General Washington, 18-22 October 1775

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Declarations of Independence

In His Own Words
A Clean Copy
"Posterity will triumph"