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Lesson for Core Concept #5: Encouraging Resistance

Victor Henningsen, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA

Between 1763 and 1776, individuals encouraged other individuals, towns encouraged other towns and colonies encouraged other colonies to join in united resistance to Britain.

A Document-Based Teaching Unit

This is a three-to-four day unit for high school students, designed to help them understand how resistance to Parliamentary policies spread from individuals, to groups, to towns, and eventually to entire colonies.

Day One: Individual Resistance

Documents to be read prior to class:

Non-Consumption and Non-importation

“Save your Money, and save your Country”
Messi'rs Green & Russell. Please to insert the following, and you'll oblige one of your constant Readers.
"Messi'rs Green & Russell. Please to insert the following, and you'll oblige one of your constant Readers."
Article from page 2 of The Boston Post-Boy & Advertiser, Number 553, 16 November 1767

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“Address to the Ladies”
Address to the Ladies
"Address to the Ladies"
Verse from page 3 of The Boston Post-Boy & Advertiser, Number 535, 16 November 1767

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Documents to be reviewed at the end of class:

The Townshend Acts

"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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A Bloody Massacre
The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regiment
The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regiment

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In-class work:

Students will have read both documents and answered the Questions to Consider posted on the website.

In-class discussion to focus, first, on the basics of document analysis, using the Document Analysis Worksheet.

Things to emphasize in class discussion:

How are the individuals seeking to get others to change their behavior? What might we anticipate as an acceptable outcome? What resistance do the authors seem to anticipate and how do they respond to it? Once those addressed change their behavior (if they do), what further developments might we anticipate (e.g. might there be a “ripple effect”?).

At the end of class, teacher might (if there’s time) read aloud the first paragraph of “Ladies of the first quality” and ask the class if this is the sort of behavior hoped-for in the two documents. If there’s time, the teacher might also show Paul Revere’s engraving of the “Bloody Massacre” and encourage discussion of this new form of encouragement (individual to an entire population, visual rather than verbal) and speculate on the intended message, how it might be received, and what behaviors it might incite.

This can also wait until the opening of the next class.

Day Two: The complexities of inciting resistance

Documents to be read prior to class:

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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See pages 30-35 of the transcription.

"Saviors of America"
Letter from Thomas Young to Hugh Hughes, 21 December 1772
Letter from Thomas Young to Hugh Hughes, 21 December 1772

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"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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In-class work:

Students will have read all documents and answered the Questions to Consider.

The “Letter of Correspondence” may be dealt with in short order by placing it in the context of the moment and speculating on possible responses it might have received. If the class has examined earlier documents, such as the Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress (1765), this document provides an opportunity to examine a shift from encouraging others to protest Parliamentary action to encouraging others to resist that action.

The bulk of the discussion should focus on the Young-Hughes letter which reveals the complicated nature of rallying support for a cause. Young complains that New York has not supported Boston in its time of need; he reflects on the difficulties of changing public opinion; notes the particular difficulty under which Boston labors; explains why Boston is different from (better than?) other colonies; admits that Boston’s recent response to Parliamentary action has been less than perfect; and, once again, exhorts his New York friend (and, by implication, the entire colony) to renewed effort in the cause of resistance to Parliament. It will take students some time to figure it out, but it is highly instructive in detailing on a personal level the difficult nature of persuading people to change their behavior.

The Circular letter is an easier document to understand. As a letter from the Virginia Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Committee of Correspondence, which is transmitting it to committees of correspondence throughout Massachusetts, it shows broadening resistance to Parliament and the increasing unanimity of colonial opinion. This letter is an excellent example of the kind of inter-colonial bonding that Samuel Adams and others had in mind when they wrote the “Letter of Correspondence” with which we began the class.

Note: This discussion may well spill over into another class period and teachers should be flexible.

Day Three: Encouraging Inter-colonial resistance

Documents to be read prior to class:

The First Continental Congress

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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The Second Continental Congress

Join the American Cause!
Philadelphia, June 14. In Congress, May 26, 1775. To the Oppressed Inhabitants of Canada.
"Philadelphia, June 14. In Congress, May 26, 1775. To the Oppressed Inhabitants of Canada."
Article from page 2 of The New-England Chronicle: or, The Essex Gazette, Volume VII, Number 361, 22-29 June 1775

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In-class work:

Students will have read both documents and answered the Questions to Consider.

Discussion should focus on the Suffolk Resolves. If students do not understand what conventions were, the teacher will have to explain their antecedents in British political history (bodies of representatives of a county or region elected to influence political policy outside of the legally constituted frame of government) and explain their emergence in Massachusetts in 1774. Having done so, it is possible to analyze the Suffolk Resolves on several levels. They were clearly meant as communications to other towns in the Commonwealth and made specific recommendations for immediate action and for particular kinds of behavior. At the same time they were clearly intended for two other audiences: the other colonies and the First Continental Congress, then gathering in Philadelphia. Students should be encouraged to examine the wording of the various resolutions with great care. The local audience craved action; the more distant audiences perhaps weren’t as enthusiastic and, if they were to be persuaded to join the cause, the document must be phrased carefully. Students might speculate about how much the language of the Resolves influenced the decision of the Continental Congress to approve them in 1774. In other words, how much did Congress respond to what was said, and how much did it respond to the way in which it was said?

Shifting to Congress’s appeal to “the oppressed inhabitants of Canada,” students might be asked to look back on the progressive widening of resistance to Parliamentary actions that had developed since 1765. How hard was it to get others to join the cause? What forms of action – individual, collective, both – had proven most effective in pulling others into a united resistance? And, as we look ahead beyond 1776, just how “united” were American colonists as they declared their independence from Great Britain?

Further Analysis:

It might be possible to complete this unit by having students write an essay analyzing the Declaration of Independence not as a statement of departure from the jurisdiction of the mother country, but as an effort to persuade fellow colonists (those either actively opposed to independence, or those seeking to remain neutral) to join in resistance to the Crown.