Massachusetts Historical Society
America's oldest historical society, founded 1791.

Lessons

Lesson for Core Concept #7: Differing Expectations

Richard Kollen, Lexington High School, MA

People from different social and economic classes had different expectations of how the growing conflict with Great Britain would impact their lives.

Activity: Presentation and Analysis of Quotations

Goals:

As a result of this lesson, students will understand that:
  • both free and enslaved African Americans adopted the language of the patriots to further their own freedoms
  • women who participated actively in the revolutionary movement had expectations of enhanced status and standards of living
  • unpropertied men hoped for improvement in their day-to-day living conditions, with more upward mobility and economic stability
  • the principles of equality suggested by the revolutionary rhetoric were not necessarily achieved until many years (or centuries) after independence was declared

Documents

Declarations of Independence

First printed version of the Declaration
In Congress, July 4, 1776. A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled.
In Congress, July 4, 1776. A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled.

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The Formation of the Committees of Correspondence

"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 ...
Boston, 1773
Circular letter signed "In behalf of our fellow slaves in this province, and by order of their committee ..."

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Other Documents

The Adams Family Papers

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March- 5 April 1776
Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 14 April 1776

Procedure:

Day One

  1. Have students read the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence.

    Ask students: Although not its intention, the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, in particular that “all men are created equal,” might encourage which powerless members of colonial society? What might these groups have wanted from the Revolution? Discuss.

  2. Divide the class in half. Assign half the class to read the slave petition (Boston, April 20th, 1773) and answer the following questions:
    1. Who is the petition addressed to?
    2. What are the petitioners asking?
    3. What inspired the request? What two definitions of slavery are at work here?
    4. What would you say was this petition’s tone?
    5. What are the long-term goals of the petitioners?
  3. The other half reads Abigail Adams’s March 31 letter and John’s response on April 14 and answers the following questions:
    1. Why does Abigail Adams bring up the subject of the expansion of women’s rights in this letter?
    2. What does she threaten that women will do if not given a fairer legal treatment? On what revolutionary principle does she base her right to rebel?
    3. What does she mean when she says "some husbands willingly give up the title Master to exchange with Friend"?
    4. What is the tone of John’s response?
    5. Which groups, according to John, also are asking for more rights? Why do you think this is happening at this time?
  4. Bring the class together and draw parallels between the ideas regarding the Revolution that are used by Abigail Adams and those used in the slave petition.
  5. Ask students: What other groups were not enjoying full rights as citizens as the Revolution began? To what extent were the promises of equality and self-government fulfilled by the Revolution for these groups? Immediately? Fifty years later? Explain that they will begin to investigate more comprehensive answers to these questions during the next class.

Day Two

  1. Divide students into groups of three. One group member will research the status of women fifty years after the Declaration of Independence was issued. The second will do the same for African Americans. The third student in each group will research the progress of voting rights for people without property. When they meet together, each group member should report on the following questions:
    • Did the subject of your research gain any rights immediately from the ideals of the Declaration and subsequent independence from Great Britain? If so, what were they?
    • To what extent did the lives of the subjects continue as they had before the revolution during the subsequent fifty years?
    • At what point in U.S. history were some or all of their aspirations realized?
  2. Have groups present as panels. Discuss the extent to which their research subjects have achieved full equality today.