Freedom: It's Your Revolution


Level:
High school
Subject: U.S. history
Time: One class period
Preparation: Have class view "Who Rules" (Freedom, Act 1, 10:06) Before you watch the "Freedom" Act, give your class the background to the scene at the Raleigh Tavern and ask them to role-play how they think Jefferson and his colleagues would have acted. Use the cast and scene that follows:


The Committees of Correspondence -- Raleigh Tavern

Time: March 12, 1773

Place: A private room in the Raleigh Tavern, a popular meeting place for the most wealthy and influential leaders of Virginia.

People: Five members of the House of Burgesses, Virginia's colonial legislature.
  • Patrick Henry: Popular colonial leader whose speaking skills earned him the title, "The Tongue of the Revolution."
  • Thomas Jefferson: Author of several popularly read documents that protest British rule.
  • Richard Henry Lee: Well-respected leader who has organized resistance against restrictive British laws.
  • Francis Lightfoot Lee: Usually quiet and soft-spoken, but fiercely loyal to his brother, Richard Henry.
  • Dabney Carr: A rising star in Virginia politics, better known for his marriage to Thomas Jefferson's sister.

A secret meeting: Virginia has received the news that because of the burning of a British revenue schooner (the Gaspée), colonists in Rhode Island are going to be transferred to England for trial. For a long time, colonists were accustomed to trials conducted by their colonial peers. After working so hard to get rid of the stamp tax (a British tax on documents, including newspapers) and the Townsend tea taxes, colonists were unsettled but unsure about what to do.

In the past: Previous colonial protests have not been as violent as the Gaspée incident. Instead, most have involved writing strong letters to the King or refusing to buy English products.

Decision: What should they do? Do they dare make an outright protest? If you'd been at that secret meeting, what would you have decided to do next?

Then show the class "Who Rules" and continue the discussion with the information below:

From our vantage point, the American War of Independence -- and the victory over Britain -- look inevitable. But to Virginia's Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Richard Henry Lee, who enjoyed wealth, position, and the rights of English citizens, the revolution was the culmination of years of debate and decision-making.

How did the situation look to Thomas Jefferson in 1773? In the scene in the Raleigh Tavern, we watch five leaders take a step closer to independence ... and treason.

Or, you might ask your students to play the roles of a variety of American colonials reacting to the Gaspée incident. Include Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams (agitator, organizer of the Sons of Liberty who "sniffed tyranny on every breeze"), Thomas Paine, John Adams (the future president and Boston lawyer who defended the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre case), a pacifist Quaker businessman, and a Loyalist landowner. With the evidence of the Boston "Massacre," the seizure of John Hancock's ship, Liberty, and the Gaspée incident, ask students to discuss what steps they should take. Remind them of the rewards of loyalty to the most powerful empire on earth and the risks of rebellion against such a power.

Douglas E. Miller
Fremont High School,
Sunnyvale, Calif.



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