Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
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.
- To understand the assignment on teaching the Constitution.
- To use squeeze note taking while learning about how the Founders interpreted the words freedom and equality
- To review the major events leading to the American Revolution?.
- To learn the myths that persist about the American Revolution
Goal #1: To understand the assignment on teaching the Constitution
- Following are the groups for the assignment:
- Group #1: Aiszellyn, Ra, Joshua, Ryan
- Group #2: Pio, Lauren, Arnold
- Group #3: Siara, Mel, Michael
- Group #4: May, Tom, Diego
- Group #5: Anna, Ari, David
- Group #6: Jesse, Will, Lacie
- Please remember that you will have the entire class period on Tuesday, October 10th to work in your groups and begin preparing for the teach-in which will occur on October 17th.
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.
- For the first part, stay in your groups and please do the following:
- Take out your one paragraph summary and your 2-3 sentence squeeae of the most important points to teach about the Declaration.
- Share your squeeze with each other and discuss how they compare and contrast.
- Pick the one squeeze that you feel most represents what your group feels is most representative of what you collectively feel are the most important points to teach about the Declaration. The person who wrote that squeeze should be prepared to share it with the class.
- For the second part, you will be working on your own. Using the Cornell note taking format, draw a line down your note taking paper. Then, I will deliver a 15 minute lecture on how Americans understood the ideas of freedom and equality as well as the boundaries of freedom and equality during the Founding era.
- While I am lecturing, each of you will do the following:
- On the right-hand side of the line, write no more than 1-2 paragraphs of notes
- At the end of the lecture/discussion, take 10 minutes to read your notes and then queeze the information you learned into 1-2 sentences on the left-hand side of the line.
- Add to the left-hand side of the line any questions you have after writing your summaries and squeeze.
- Be prepared to ask any remaining questions when we meet together as a group. Then we will discuss whether or not this is a good method for taking notes.
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
Proclamation 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.
Boston 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
Boston Port Act - Ships could not load or unload in any Boston port until Boston fully compensated the East India Company and the customs service for tea damaged at the Boston Tea Party in 1773.
Massachusetts Government Act - Annulled Massachusetts’ colonial charter and gave the King power - previously held by the Governor - to appoint the Governor’s Council. Town meeting activities were severely limited. The colonists outside Massachusetts feared that their governments could now also be changed by the legislative fiat of Parliament.
Administration of Justice Act - The Massachusetts governor could move trials of accused royal officials to another colony or even to Great Britain if he believed the official could not get a fair trial in Massachusetts. Although the act stipulated that witnesses would be paid for their travel expenses, in practice few colonists could afford to leave their work and cross the ocean to testify in a trial.
Quartering Act - Troops would continue to be quartered in all colonies at public expense - not only in public and unoccupied buildings, but in private homes as well.
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."
Colonies 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
April - Congress opened American trade
to all nations, except Britain, and instructed colonies to create official
June - the staunch Loyalists and anti-independence moderates
withdrew from the Continental Congress, leaving the Patriots completely
in charge and unchallenged. Congress then appointed a committee,
led by Jefferson, which drafted the Declaration of Independence, stating
that the King had "a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all
having a direct object of the establishment of an absolute tyranny over
these states." "Injuries" included dissolving colonial government,
con-trolling judges by limiting trial by jury, sending armies of occupation,
cutting off colonial trade with other parts of the world, and taxing without
colonial consent. Declaration adopted July 4th. War begins!
During the first two years of the war, Britain mounted large-scale offensives
against the Continental army commanded by George Washington and defeated
the rebel forces in nearly every battle.
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
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.
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
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
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:
- First, the British - like the French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish - were empire builders and created imperial policy designed to enrich and empower the hub of their empire, what Americans would call the Mother Country.
- You should also remember that empires were built around mercantilism - the belief that for a nation to be self sufficient they had to exploit resources - primarily gold and silver - and produce something other nations wanted so that wealth would flow into its treasuries.
- To become wealthy, European nations conquered lands and created colonies - where new, marketable raw materials and precious metals were discovered and where staple agricultural products were produced to feed the Mother Country.
- From the beginning, then, the colonies existed for the sake of England - it was the logic of this imperial era.
- Second, the colonists understood that in exchange for their loyalty and obedience, the citizens of the British colonies would enjoy the protection of the British army and navy and the Constitutional guarantees of the "rights of Englishmen." And in order to insure that the colonies served the Mother Country, England had several rules – rules that were typical of other imperial powers:
- Colonies were forbidden to trade with the enemy - or they had to pay heavy import taxes if they did.
- Colonies were forbidden to ship goods or produce in enemy ships.
- Colonies were forbidden to engage in manufacturing activities that competed with citizens of the Mother Country.
- Colonies were forbidden to create laws or institutions that ran counter to the laws and institutional structures of England.
- Third, England built its empire in North America on the cheap. The King was never willing to finance the settlement or operating costs of the colonies. Instead, the King left this to corporations, wealthy patrons, and dissident religious groups. The consequences were enormous:
- By the 18th century, the cost of running each colony fell squarely upon the residents who were taxed by their local representative assemblies - assemblies made up of colonists like themselves.
- From the building of roads, to the dredging of harbors, to the royal governor’s salary - the daily costs of the colonies was paid by local taxation rather than the British treasury. Everyone paid taxes levied by their local authorities.
- So cheap was the British government that it failed to enforce its own trade regulations. Indeed, England preferred to look the other way at customs and smuggling infractions in a policy known as "benign neglect."
- Fourth, a strong tradition of representative government evolved in the absence of strong British leadership. Thus, Americans had a great deal of political and economic freedom.
Now, to the myths:
- Myth #1: The Boston Tea Party was a colonial revolt against taxation. We all know that on December 16, 1773, several dozen men dressed up as Mohawk Indians and cut open 340 chests of tea belonging to the East India Company and dumped the contents in Boston’s harbor.
- Revolutionary Era Americans, though, didn’t celebrate the event. This might seem strange, since they were certainly the celebrating sort.
They staged festive ceremonies to commemorate anniversaries - the first Stamp Act protest, the Act’s repeal, the Boston Massacre, the Declaration of Independence - but the "action against tea" or the "destruction of the tea" (as they variously called it) went unheralded in public ritual.
- For a half century, Americans shunned the tale, and certainly did not call it a Tea Party. At first, they didn’t dare. Anyone who had anything to do with the event could face prosecution, or at least a lawsuit. Privately, some people knew who was behind those Indian disguises, but publicly, nobody spoke a word.
- Moreover, many of those who had opposed imperial policies viewed the destruction of tea as an act of vandalism that put the Revolution in a bad light.
- Americans also downplayed the tea action because of its devastating impact. That single act precipitated a harsh retaliation from the British, which in turn led to a long and ugly war.
So what was the Boston Tea Party and does it have any relationship to the current Tea Party Movement? To answer the question, we are going to examine realities:
Reality: The dispute was a protest against huge corporate tax cuts for the British East India Company; it was not about a tax decrease for the colonists.
- In 1772, the East India Company was hard hit by the collapse of speculative banking schemes throughout Europe, and its stock tumbled. Goods accumulated in warehouses, unsold, and Company directors lobbied the British government for laws that would make it easy for them to put their small business competitors out of business.
- Most of the members of the British government and royalty (including the king) were stockholders in the East India Company, so it was easy to get laws passed in its interests. Among the Company's biggest problems were colonial entrepreneurs, who ran their own small ships to bring tea and other goods directly into America without routing them through Britain or through the Company.
- Members of Parliament — like American congressmen today — staged committee hearings in which they grandstanded against greedy company officials, who had returned from India with huge fortunes and declared large dividends despite the company’s overwhelming debts. Meanwhile, they tried to figure out how to get the company, and the empire, out of the mess.
- As MPs debated the advisability of a government takeover, they also discussed schemes for unloading the company’s 18 million pounds of surplus of tea. The European market was already saturated, but the American market was not. In theory, the East India Company could sell many tons of tea there if taxes on the shipments were lowered.
- Under the 1773 Tea Act, the East India Company could deliver its product straight to American consumers, untouched by middlemen and almost untaxed, save for a modest American import duty. This corporate tax cut threatened to decimate small colonial tea shops by helping the East India Company.
The bottom line: For Americans, the fundamental issue was self-governance - whoever levied taxes got to call the shots, including how to spend the money. Parliament insisted on taxing colonists to support and control the colonial administration. Colonists countered that they were more than willing to tax - and rule - themselves. No more "taxation without representation" was their rallying cry, not "down with high taxes."
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.
- At three pence per pound, the tax on tea was barely felt by American consumers, who also had access to the smuggled competition.
- Still, the tea tax had symbolic importance of the growing rift in colonial society. Common folk might enjoy a sip or two of tea, but participating in the ritual of teatime—with an elaborate array of fancy crockery and silver utensils—was prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of Americans. So calls for a continued boycott of tea dovetailed nicely with lower-class resentments.
- Moreover, the consumption of tea was deemed suspect, even sinful, to a large segment on the American public. “That bainfull weed,” as Abigail Adams called it, was an artificial stimulant, what we would call today a recreational drug. One concerned partriot writer, in a Virginia newspaper, claimed that ever since tea had been introduced into western society, “our race is dwindled and become puny, weak, and disordered to such a degree, that were it to prevail a century more we should be reduced to mere pigmies.”
- Pointing to his medical expertise, Boston’s Dr. Thomas Young declared authoritatively that tea was not just a “pernicious drug,” as some assumed, but a “slow poison, and has the corrosive effect upon those who handle it. I have left it off since it became political poison, and have since gained in firmness of constitution. My substitute is camomile flowers.”
The bottom line: Tea drinking was something the colonists enjoyed, but not equally. Common folk enjoyed tea, but were not involved in the upper class ritual of tea drinking with elaborate tea trays and utensils.
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.
- 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.
- Parliament closed the port of Boston and revoked the Massachusetts Charter, denying citizens the rights they had enjoyed for a century-and-one-half.
- The goal of the Coercive Acts was to isolate radicals in Massachusetts, but instead the 13 colonies formed the Continental Congress and agreed to mount a general boycott of British goods.
- In the 1820s, Americans a new generation of chroniclers toned down the truly revolutionary aspects of the action against tea and played up the carnival atmosphere. More than 50 years after the event was over, the event was informally christened the Boston Tea Party.
In short ...
- The Boston Tea Party occurred in response to a corporate tax break that lowered the price of tea in America.
- It was not a “party” conducted in a carnival atmosphere – it was an illegal act of vandalism committed against property owners.
- It did not unite all Americans – many of whom were repulsed by the property crime; it was the Coercive/Intolerable Acts that finally united enough Americans to support the war effort.
Myth #2: The rule of King George III was tyrannical.
It is important to deconstruct the word "tyranny" for students so they can understand both the Declaration of Independence
and early colonial thought. But this myth can easily be debunked by using several pieces of evidence.
- In the years before the Revolutionary War, we have learned that the colonists rebelled against the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, and the Townsend Acts. But
- Did the British government retaliate? Only mildly. When Americans protested, the British responded by either revising or repealing the hated acts.
- Did they arrest the ringleaders of resistance? No.
- Did they close down the newspapers that carried diatribes and learned discourses against British policies? No.
- Did they restructure the colonial governments? No.
- Did they arrest the men who met in illegal political bodies such as the Stamp Act Congress and the Continental Congress, or declare them ineligible to serve in local offices? No.
- Instead, their response was to ignore petitions, refuse to engage in negotiations or discussions - and to generally display a bewilderment at the colonists' failure to understand how an empire worked. Not until thousands of dollars worth of property was destroyed in Boston harbor did the government retaliate.
- With our 21st Century minds, it is amazing to reflect upon how patient and tolerant British officials remained over the turbulent 1760s and 70s.
- It was not until 1775, when British troops marched toward Lexington and Concord, that orders were given to arrest the two men considered to be prime ringleaders of rebellion, Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
- Patrick Henry was not arrested for declaring "give me liberty or give me death."
- Common Sense was not confiscated nor was the press that printed it shut down.
Understanding the reality - King George acted not as a tyrant, but rather as an imperial ruler who was struggling to hold his empire together. This more factual rendition does not detract from the story, but rather can enrich it by emphasizing that the colonists, despite having strong social, economic, and political ties with the Mother Country, fervently desired independence and did not need the excuse of combating tyranny to do so.
Myth #3: All Americans united in a patriotic defense of independence.
Did all Americans - north and south, white, Indian, slave, female and male, rich and poor - greet the Declaration of Independence
with uniform enthusiasm?
- As John Adams famously said "one third supported the war, one third opposed it, and one third had no opinion."
- But it is far more likely - according to Revolutionary War historian Carol Berkin - that at the beginning of the struggle, more than one third of the colonists hoped desperately to remain neutral in a battle between England and rebellious Americans.
Their assumption was that, no matter who was in power, they would have to pay taxes - so why risk their lives over who that would be?
- In fact, in 1779, there were more Americans fighting with the British than with Washington: 21 regiments of Loyalists consisting of between 6500-8000 men, compared with Washington's field army of 3488.
- About 100,000 Loyalists fled America when the war broke out. The vast majority lost all their property and were not able to return after the war.
- Many a farmer equipped his home with two flags, the British and the American, and prepared to raise the appropriate one as an army marched by.
As the war progressed many of these neutral colonists did join the American cause, but this, several historians have shown (John Shy and Charles Royster), was not an ideological or political choice: the British army behaved so badly everywhere it went, looting, raping, destroying, that it literally drove many colonists into the revolutionary camp.
Understanding the reality - Not all British colonists embraced Independence and the Revolution. This more factual rendition does not detract from the story, but rather tells us that Americans have always chosen their own course as individuals. In so doing, some chose to support the British and some chose to support the American revolutionaries - and those choices and the privilege to make them are what continues to make America a unique nation.
Myth #4: Americans won the war single handedly.
Did we really win the war without any help? In reality, Americans armed themselves and outfitted their troops with money borrowed from France, Holland and Spain.
In particular, the entrance of France into the war dramatically influenced the war and its outcome:
- The recognition of the United States by France transformed a rebellion into a war of national liberation.
- The entrance of France into the war forced the English to fight on two fronts rather than one.
- The French navy provided the vital strategic and tactical support for the American effort. The 37 French ships-of-the-line played a crucial role in trapping the 8700-strong British army and winning the fight.
- At Yorktown, Frenchmen outnumbered Americans almost three to one. Washington had 11,000 men engaged in the battle, while the French had at least 29,000 soldiers and sailors.
Understanding the reality - While the French, Dutch, and Spanish contributed arms and money to the American cause, the French intervention helped us win the war. This more factual rendition does not detract from the story, but rather adds a global dimension to the struggle and it requires us to remember that winning wars usually requires the help of allies.
Myth #5: The victorious Americans immediately created a democracy
So did the Founders support and/or create a democracy upon winning the war?
No, because a democracy would have appalled all but the most radical of the revolutionary leadership. To men like John Adams, Ben Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, democracy equated to "mob rule." Indeed, Jefferson wrote "A democracy is nothing more than mob rule where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine." Instead, the Founders created a republic.
- A democracy is governed by the majority; if a majority wants to vote in a dictator, it may. A republic is governed by elected representatives who are bound by charters which define and limit governmental responsibilities and powers; the charter itself, as well as the willingness of the people to abide by it is what keeps people free.
- Remember, these were men of the 18th century not the 21st. They believed that an active political voice was a privilege not a right; it belonged only to adult white males who had "a stake in society" and that stake was property.
- Their logic was simple: only a citizen who had something to lose could be counted on to have a political voice by voting for candidates, making or administering laws, or solving disputes responsibly and without destructive whim or passions.
Thus, what they really created was a democratic republic whereby the majority of Americans elect representatives who must govern us via the definitions and limitations in the U.S. Constitution.
Understanding the reality - The Founders created a republic, not a democracy. This more factual rendition does not detract from the story, but rather tells us that the framers of our government were men of the late 18th Century and as men of their time, they created the groundwork for the ongoing, evolutionary struggle to create a more democratic form of government in which all Americans could participate.
Methods Discussion: A great way to assess what students learned during a class discussion is to ask them to write an Exit Slip.
- Write your name on a piece of paper and write "Exit Slip" under your name.
- 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?
- Be sure to keep your "Exit Slip." It will go into your Portfolio.