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Songs of the Revolution



Created by:
Sharon Musher
Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

TAH Teachers
Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District

Theme:
Revolutionary Decision

Grade Level:
6 to 8

Introduction:

Songs have often served as a forum for political protest or expression during times of unrest in American history. Protests against the Vietnam War, for example, included folk songs that promoted peace in the 1960s and 1970s, and, more recently, songs have been written expressly for September 11, 2001 by popular music artists. In addition to exploring popular sentiment during the Revolutionary period, this exercise allows students to use documents that are less frequently analyzed than newspapers or diaries to understand popular thought and expression. It also reminds students that history can be found anywhere and that an effective historian looks for history in unexpected places.



Historical Context

The following verses were actual songs sung by soldiers and lay people prior to and during the Revolutionary War. Many of them were sung as "drinking songs" at taverns or bars. They represent the sentiments of American "rebels" as well as those of Tories (loyalists, who supported the British king). It is important for students to realize that not all Americans were rebels. Many, in fact, including some in Congress, wanted to rebuild their relationship with the mother country. One could compare the Revolutionary War with the American Civil War. Many Southerners fought for the North during the Civil War, and vice versa, many native-born Americans fought on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War. It was not necessarily where they lived but what they thought the role of government should be that determined what side of a war a soldier might be on.

To make the songs easier to sing, those writing political songs frequently wrote new words to old tunes. For example, the tune of "God Save the King," the English National Anthem, is the same melody used in "America," (which later, was re-written again as "My Country 'Tis of Thee"). Though one is about America and the other England, the first verses of each song are very similar in tone. But the next three verses differ markedly from one another. The English version asks God to help the king control his enemies ("Confound there politics, frustrate their knavish tricks") while the American version blesses "the commonwealth," "Great Washington," and acclaims the independent "free states." By studying these songs, students will be introduced to a range of political opinions during the Revolutionary period, and recognize that not all colonists were rebels. Approximately two-thirds of the people living in North America were either undecided about their allegiances or remained loyal to the crown.



Themes:

political protest, mass demonstrations, popular culture, patriotism, and loyalism



Goals and Objectives:

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

1) Analyze songs of the American Revolution to gain insight into public thought and sentiment of the period.

2) Analyze a primary source to interpret meaning and historical context.

3) Create songs/verses that reflect public thought from pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary America.



Standards:


Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

Copies of each of the 8 songs (you can choose to use all 8 or select longer or shorter songs depending on students' reading level and class size. The more songs you use, the smaller each group of students will be).




Details of Activity

PART I: Analyzing a Song:

Distribute a copy of "God Save the King," both the American and the original British versions (attached as Appendix A at the end of this lesson plan). As a class, compare and contrast the ideas in both songs--how are they similar, how do they differ? It might help to organize ideas by drawing two columns on the chalkboard--one for each song.

The "American" version of this song was adapted from the original British version, which remains the United Kingdom's national anthem today. The choice of such a well-known tune probably helped singers learn the song quickly. This is a great song to sing as a class since most students in the class will already know the tune as the tune to "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (hint: if you have the time, add the lyrics from "My Country 'Tis of Thee" to this exercise and compare all three songs on the board).

PART 2: Working in Groups (15-20 min., depending on the length of the song):

Split the class into small groups and assign each of them a different song from Appendix B. Some songs are longer or more complicated than others, so you may choose to select songs based on students' ages and readings levels. Each group must complete the following requirements.

Ask groups to analyze their song. Encourage them to look up any words they don't know in the dictionary, explaining that "Old English" is different from "American" English. At the end of the group session, students should be able to answer the following questions:

1. What political position--before or against independence--do the song's writers take? Which words or lines in the song reveal the songwriters' perspective?

2. Who do you think might have sung this song? Where might they have sung it? Think about whether the images and words it uses are widely known that could be understood by most people, or are difficult words or complex ideas that might have been understood by a smaller group.

3. If this song refers to a particular event, review the introductory paragraph to the song for a brief background as to what happened then. How does the song portray the event?

4. What is the meaning of the song and how is it significant to the American Revolution?

PART 3: Extending the Story (15 min.):

Ask each group to create a last verse that complies with the rest of the song. Make sure they pay attention to the tone and the mood of the rest of the verses.

PART 4: Presentation (20-30 min. depending on number of groups):

Each group should come to the front of the class and present their final verse, collage or poster, or new song. Points should be given for preparation, creativity, participation (each member should have a part), and content.



Practice and Reinforcement

As an optional additional task, ask them to create a collage of pictures or images that represent their song, or write a song of their own about the same idea to a familiar tune (i.e. "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"). Remind them to be both creative and historically accurate.



References:

This activity is based on the educational materials of Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the Discovery Channel's teacher education resource center. More information about Carpenter's Hall can be found at: http://www.ushistory.org/carpentershall/edu/ and about the Discovery Channel at: http://school.discoveryeducation.com/lessonplans/programs/revwar1/.




Supplementary Materials
GodsavetheKingBritishandAmericanVersions.pdf

SongsoftheRevolutionSongsforClassroomAnalysis.pdf

 
 
For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here