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Personal Choices: Reasons, Rationales, and Responsibilities During the American Revolution

Created by:
Meg Sartain
Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District

Kim Cramer
Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District

History Detectives: Profiling People of the Past

Grade Level:
9 to 12


Students will be assigned primary source documents that reflect the perspectives of various individuals about war during the age of the American Revolution. They will then analyze these different viewpoints prior to the start of and during the American Revolution and compare them to current questions and decisions about the war in Iraq.

Students should expect to see that religious affiliation, personal biographies, value systems, and knowledge of the war affect decision-making both in the past and today.

Historical Context

For over a century after the founding of Jamestown, American colonists were proud to call themselves British subjects. They were protected by both the British military and mercantilist policies, the latter enabling many, if not most, to achieve relative prosperity.

However, by the mid 18th century, as the population in British North America continued to rise and diversify, individuals began a call for unification among the colonies and a consequent change in the previously symbiotic relationship that had existed between North America and Britain. As a direct consequence of the French and Indian War, Americans joined together to tackle common issues posed by outside forces: geographic restrictions, taxation without representation, and denial of civil liberties such as trial by jury.

As Parliament and King George III increasingly rebuffed colonial concerns and continued to increase efforts to control the American colonies, a fraction of the colonists turned their emotions into actions and openly resisted British rule. At the start of the American Revolution, nearly one-third of the colonists had committed to the Patriot cause, while the remainder divided between outright loyalty to the British Crown or indifference to the Revolutionary movement.


patriotism, individualism, and civic action.

Goals and Objectives:

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

1. Analyze primary source documents to learn what various individuals and/or groups thought about the role of the British government in the North American colonies.

2. Understand the difficulty in deciding on a personal course of action.

3. Comprehend the variety of personal and civic pressures encountered in the Revolutionary Era.


STANDARD 6.4.E.1 (Social Studies Skills): Discuss the social, political, and religious aspects of the American Revolution, including key decisions leading to the Revolution, efforts by Parliament and the colonies to prevent revolution, the ideas of different religious denominations, and the economic and social differences of Loyalists, Patriots, and those who remained neutral.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

Brief historical context (printed and copied for each student/or small group)

Short excerpts from various primary source documents relating to the American Revolution (listed at end of this lesson plan).

Laptop computers with internet access.

Details of Activity

Day 1

WARM UP/ENGAGEMENT(5-7 minutes): Students should spend 2-3 minutes reflecting on the following questions:

1. What are your thoughts on the current war in Iraq?

2. Should we be there or not?

3. Why? Why not?

4. What has brought you to that decision? (Students should consider their personal biographies, value systems, knowledge of the war)

The class should spend 3-4 minutes sharing their answers. Then there should be a transition to the concept of individual decision making as a civic responsibility in a democracy juxtaposed to the concept of patriotism. That should be translated to the Revolutionary Era, emphasizing the idea that the growing diversity in the colonies created a variety of personal goals and loyalties.

FIRST ACTIVITY(20-25 minutes): In order to realize the complex loyalties of the Revolutionary Era, students should meet in small groups and read assigned documents, interpret them, and then draw conclusions about the author, purpose, and perspective represented by each document. Depending on the size of the class and their ability, you can model one document, and then have the groups examine either one document or numerous documents.

SECOND ACTIVITY(15-20 minutes): As a group, students should come to some consensus as to purpose and perspective (loyalist or patriot and why) of each author and then draw conclusions as to why individuals/groups represented by these documents might choose the patriot or loyalist cause.

As a homework assignment, ask students to decide which document they most admire and why and write a paragraph to that effect citing one or more reasons for their choice.

Day 2

WARM UP/ENGAGEMENT(5 minutes): Using paragraphs written for homework as a basis, students should form homogeneous groups depending on their authors' position on the war.

FIRST ACTIVITY (20 minutes): In these small groups, students will use the internet (they need to visit at least 3 web sites and compile a list of their sources) to research background information on the actual authors of the primary source documents they most admired. These can either be revealed or deduced. Students are to answer questions including:

Who were they?

Where were they from?

What was their involvement in the American Revolution?

Why did the various authors make the choice reflected in the document provided?

SECOND ACTIVITY(20 minutes): Small groups each present their findings to entire class.

Practice and Reinforcement

***We will send to ettc to be downloaded***

For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here