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Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions . . . too plainly proof a deliberate systematical plan of reducing us to slavery. . . . Let no act be passed by any one legislature, which may infringe on the rights and liberties of another.
- Thomas Jefferson, 1774,
from A Summary View of the Rights of British America*
How do you think freedom was defined in 1776? As students watch the program, have them look for examples of how race, class, and gender influenced individual rights and freedoms. Did all Europeans support the idea of independence?
Who was considered an "American" before the Revolutionary War? As students watch the program, ask them to take notes on how an American identity began to be formed during and after the Revolution.
As students watch the program, have them compare the opportunities that existed for Venture Smith to those that were available to George Washington. How were they similar? How were they different?
What was "freedom fever"? How did it affect Europeans and Africans in the colonies? Why were some not inspired by "freedom fever"?
What opportunities for freedom did the Revolutionary War offer? Who could take advantage of those opportunities? Who couldn't? Why? Why was it so difficult for Washington to maintain a colonial army?
In what ways were the lives of Venture Smith and George Washington connected? What do their lives teach us about our shared history?
After the Revolutionary War, was everyone in the former British colonies considered an American? Why or why not?
While less than a quarter of the white population owned slaves, slaveholding created an economy that fueled nearly every industry in North America. Organize students into teams to research an industry that existed in 18th-century America. Each team should answer the following questions about their industry:
Have the teams chart their research and present their findings. As a class, conclude by discussing the following questions: Who profited from slavery? Who was dependent on slavery? Why?
- What jobs were generated by each of these industries?
- Who held these jobs?
- How were these industries connected to slavery?
Read the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence aloud. Ask students to imagine themselves as an African American, Native American, or poor white -- man or woman -- who is hearing it for the first time in 1776. Have them write an "authentic" response (based on their research about what life would have been like then) in the form of a speech, letter, or diary entry. You might also invite students to develop and deliver an oral response. (Students may want to tape record their presentations first in order to critique and revise as needed.)
* quoted in The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Adrienne Koch and William Peden (new York: The Modern Library, 1944), 299-310.
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