Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
History 420

Reviewing the event that led to the Constitution - the American Revolution


Introduction: Today, we begin our next unit of study in this class - Teaching the Constitution - a unit that is focused on understanding our Constitution and how to teach our founding document. The purpose of this unit is to discuss how to have a dynamic, exciting discussion about the dialog and debate among the Founding Fathers as they struggled to create a new nation between 1776 when they declared North America’s independence from Britain and 1787 when they signed the Constitution.

We have already discussed our first founding document - the Declaration of Independence. Today we are going to review the event that followed the release of the Declaration - the Revolutionary War.

Discussion Goals:

  1. To understand the assignment on teaching the Constitution.
  2. To use squeeze note taking while learning about how the Founders interpreted the words freedom and equality
  3. To review the major events leading to the American Revolution?.
  4. To learn the myths that persist about the American Revolution

Goal #1: To understand the assignment on teaching the Constitution

Goal #2: To use squeeze note taking while learning about how the Founders interpreted the words freedom and equality

Methods Discussion: We already completed the squeeze note taking on The Declaration of Independence. To complete this assignment, we are going to do a combination of group and individual work.

Be sure to keep your "Squeeze Note Taking" method activity. It will go into your Portfolio.

Goal #3: To review the major events leading to the American Revolution

Cold Call: 7th cold call on required reading - Discussion Goal #2 (and you must click on "Boston Tea Party" and read the information on this event) AND the Moyers and Weisberger article

A Chronological Understanding of the Road to Revolution and Independence

Map of Proclamation Line of 1783Proclamation of 1763 set aside the region west of crest of the Appalachians as “Indian Country.”  Lands were protected and could only be purchased with special permission of the King.  The British promised to maintain commercial posts in the interior for Indian commerce and to fortify the border in order to keep settlers out.  The Indians were pleased – the colonists were not as they had expected that French removal would automatically open the wilderness to unencumbered westward movement.

Sugar Act of 1764 lowered duty to 3 pence on foreign molasses.  (The tax had been based upon the 1733 Navigation Acts requiring 6 pence.  But bribes of 1-1/2 pence had been paid for years.  Parliament incorrectly reasoned colonists would rather pay a 3 pence “honest” tax than a 1-1/2 pence bribe.)

Quartering Act of 1764 forced the colonial assemblies to tax themselves in order to provide 10,000 new British troops with lodging.   Colonists felt troops were not there to protect them, but to keep them quiet while England robbed them of their liberties.

Stamp Act of 1765, the first direct taxation, required that many formally written or printed materials carry a tax stamp that would help pay for troops stationed in North America. The British government felt that the colonies were the primary beneficiaries of this military presence, and should pay at least a portion of the expense.  But the colonists saw this as a dangerous precedent.  The Stamp Act was repealed by Parliament in 1766.

Townshend Acts of 1767 taxed all lead, paint, paper, glass, and tea - items that were not produced in North America and that the colonists were only allowed to buy from Great Britain.  The Townshend Acts were repealed in 1770.

Suspension of Trial by Jury in 1768 occurred when the British decided to try those caught under the Sugar and Stamp Acts under Admiralty Courts without juries rather than in a jury trial of colonial peers. Trial by colonial jury was also suspended after the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770.

Tea Act of 1773 was designed to prop up the East India Company which was floundering financially and burdened with eighteen million pounds of unsold tea. This tea was to be shipped directly to the colonies, and sold at a bargain price. The direct sale of tea via British agents would undercut the business of local North American merchants. Profits now went into the East India Company, not American hands. 

Painting Boston Tea PartyBoston Tea Party of 1773 - which in 1773 was referred to as "the destruction of the tea" - was a political protest by the Sons of Liberty in Boston against the tax policy of the British government and the East India Company that controlled all the tea imported into the colonies. On December 16, after Boston officials refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor.

The Coercive/Intolerable Acts of 1774

First Continental Congress established in 1774.  Sent Declaration of Rights and Grievances to King which established colonial standard for acceptable legislation by parliament: colonists would accept acts meant to regulate "external commerce" but would not allow any "taxation, internal or external, for raising a revenue on the subjects of America, without their consent."  King's reply:  "Blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent."

Image of pre-Revolutionary American PatriotsColonies began transition from royal to patriot control in 1775 - enforced boycott of British goods, exposed those who refused, and used political pressure to force allegiance to the American patriot cause.  John Dickinson assigned to create a constitution.

April, 1775. British colonial secretary proclaimed Massachusetts was in a state of "open rebellion" and ordered Gage to send his troops against the "rude rabble."  On April 18, Gage sent 700 soldiers to capture the colonial leaders and military supplies at Concord.  Paul Revere and two other Bostonians warned the Patriots and at dawn on April 19, the Minutemen met the British first at Lexington and then at Concord.  British casualties: 73 dead, 174 wounded, 26 missing.  It was 14 more months before the colonies formally broke with Britain.

May, 1775.  Second Continental Congress called to prepare colonies for war.  Authorized printing American paper money, created Continental Army led by Washington (which was voted in "by bare majorities" according to John Adams), wrote the Olive Branch Petition  that offered to end armed resistance if the King would withdraw troops and revoke the Intolerable Acts.  In July, the King rejected the Petition and persuaded Parliament to pass the Prohibition Act outlawing British trade with the colonies and instructing the Royal Navy to seize American ships engaged in any form of trade.

Thomas Paine published Common Sense in January 1776 - in which he called George III "the hard-hearted sullen Pharoah of England."  The pamplhet which reached hundreds of thousands of homes, stated in clear language that Americans should reject the "monarchial tyranny" of the King and the "aristocratical tyranny" of Parliament and create independent republican states.
The Patriots'prospects for victory improved in 1778 when the U.S. formed a military alliance with France, the most powerful nation on the European continent, and with Spain.  The alliance brought the Americans money, troops, and supplies, as well as changed the nature of the conflict from a colonial rebellion to an international war.  Thereafter, British forces not only confronted troops in North America, but also had to defend the West Indies and India against France and Gibralter against Spain.

The British Army surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781 - but it took diplomats two years to end the war.  Peace talks began in 1782, but the French stalled for time, hoping for a naval victory or territorial conquest.

Map of the U.S. in 1783

The Treaty of Paris signed on September 3, 1783 It formally recognized the independence of the U.S. and ended Britain's colonial empire in North American. Britain retained Canada north and west of the Great Lakes.  All land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River was ceded to the new American republic - and the British promised to withdraw its garrisons throughout the territory without attempting to secure the land rights of its Indian allies.

In the Treaty of Versailles, signed at the same time, Britain made peace with France and Spain.  The only French territorial gain was the Caribbean island of Tobago; the Spanish reacquired Florida from Britain. 

Both treaties were vague in defining the boundaries between the United States and its British and Spanish neighbors.  Thus, territorial disputes would mar relations for the next 30 years

Goal #3: To learn the myths that persist about the American Revolution

Tax Revolt Cartoon

So we have learned many of the facts of the Revolution and the Revolutionary War. But over the years, these facts have been confused with a mythological story of the war. The story goes something like this:

In 1776, all the colonists rose up to rebel against the horrible burden of unfair taxes the British had imposed upon them for over a hundred years and against the rule of a tyrannical king. During the long war that followed, American patriots united to fight the British, citizen soldiers shivered in the cold, and won the war single handedly against the most powerful army in the world. The victorious Americans immediately created a democracy and everyone lived happily ever after.

Except for the part about shivering in the cold, this story is largely mythological. But before we get into the actual myths, there are several important things to discuss about the American colonists and their relationship with the Mother Country prior to the War:

Now, to the myths:

Reality: Most of the colonial tax burden came not from Parliament, but from taxes and poll taxes assessed by their own colonial assemblies, as well as long-standing import duties on sugar, molasses and wine. The tea tax was a relic of the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767, which also placed import duties on paint, paper, lead, and glass.

Reality: Dumping the tea in the harbor was not the common rallying cry for independence; rather, the slogan “liberty and property” was the most common rallying cry, shouted at least as often as “taxation without representation.” George Washington, among many others, chided Bostonians for “their conduct in destroying tea.” Benjamin Franklin was hardly alone when he argued the East India Company should be compensated for the ruined tea.

The bottom line: It was not the destruction of tea that united Americans, but the punishments administered several months later through a series of laws called the Coercive Acts by Parliament and the Intolerable Acts by the colonists.

In short ...

Methods Discussion: A great way to assess what students learned during a class discussion is to ask them to write an Exit Slip.


  1. Write your name on a piece of paper and write "Exit Slip" under your name.
  2. Take no more than 3 minutes to write down your answer to the following question: What is the single most important point you think your students should understand about the American Revolution?
  3. Be sure to keep your "Exit Slip." It will go into your Portfolio.