The Declaration of Independence Lesson Plan

Indictment Against King George III

  1. What were the grievances expressed in the Declaration and to what events do they relate?
  2. Which grievances directly relate to abuse of power by King George III alone, which ones are also directed toward Parliament and which are related to the King’s acts of war against the colonies and their citizens?
  3. What major changes were made from Jefferson’s first draft to the one signed by members of the Continental Congress?

The first thing Jefferson did in the Declaration was to establish that it was "necessary" to declare independence. After that, he got into the real details. The preamble concludes with the statement, "The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world."

Jefferson is spending a lot of time in the Declaration explaining all the little things that were causing his dissatisfaction. Why do you think he spent so much time complaining about all the negative stuff the King was doing to the colonists?

Search online for a sound byte or video snippet that portrays the feelings of Jefferson and the Second Continental Congress toward King George.

Below is the list of 27 complaints the Colonists had against King George III. Historians tell us that there was a British response to these accusations, written by John Lind. His response was 110 pages long. In it, he refuted many of the charges, but his words have been forgotten unlike the ideas in the Declaration of Independence.

What the Colonists say:  

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

Choose one or more of the webpages you've studied as part of this lesson that you think are relevant to the above section of the Declaration and explain why.

SKILLS: Analyze, Apply

After the French and Indian War, the Colonies were growing rapidly. Both the population and the economy were getting bigger and the colonies wanted permission by Britian to expand further west and expand laws governing a more complicated society. Even though there was no obvious harm to their interests, the governors and ministers representing England and the King himself, refused these needs.

What the Colonists say:  

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

In 1764, New York wanted to pass a law to include the Indian tribes, particularly the Six Nations, among the colonies. British Governor Colden agreed privately, but the King sent back instructions to all his governors to stop pursuing this notion until further notice. The colonists waited, but the King "utterly neglected to attend to them."

What the Colonists say:  

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

In 1774, Parliament changed the form of government in Canada (then called the "province of Quebec") from a representative government to a legislative council that would be run by the King himself. "Large districts" of English settlers there took objection to this and petitioned the King, but with no luck. At about the same time, the King was proposing a similar type of government in Massachusetts. In both cases, all appeals to the King were ignored.

What the Colonists say:  

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

Choose one or more of the webpages you've studied as part of this lesson that you think are relevant to the above section of the Declaration and explain why.

SKILLS: Analyze, Apply

Following the Boston Tea Party (December 16, 1773), Lord North issued the “Boston Port Bill” which went into effect June of 1774. It listed out many punishments on the colonists, including a ruling that their legislative body be moved from Boston to Salem. This did not make any sense to the colonists since all the public records were kept in Boston.

What the Colonists say:  

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

In January 1768, the Massachusetts assembly wrote a petition to the other colonies stating that Great Britain had no right to tax the colonies without their consent. The King’s response was to declare that when the assembly next met, they must reverse their position or be immediately dissolved. The assembly refused to reverse its position and indeed lost their right to self-govern. In 1769, the assemblies of Virginia and North Carolina were dissolved by their governors, for opposing the King’s taxes on the colonies, among other things. In 1774, when they proposed a unified meeting with representatives from all 13 colonies, nearly all assemblies were dissolved.

What the Colonists say:  

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

After they re-formed, New York's assembly voted against a provision that required them to house British soldiers. As a result, they were forbidden from creating any laws or voting. Similarly, when the Massachusetts assembly reconvened in May 1769, they were met by military guard and a cannon pointed at them.

What the Colonists say:  

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

The King sent agents to report back about the colonies. They reported about the rapid growth in wealth and population and the great influx of German immigrants. The Germans had strong principles of political freedom and their military was very respected. The King tried to prevent them from gaining any positions of power by placing barriers to prevent immigrants from owning land.

What the Colonists say:  

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

The King removed judiciary powers from the people in Massachusetts and began paying the judges himself (with profit from the duties on the colonists). He became their new boss. Most of the time, the colonists were denied a trial by jury, which was unequal treatment. A trial was one of the rights of all Englishmen, as defended in the Revolution of 1688, in England.

What the Colonists say:  

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

In 1773, Parliament passed an act that said judges’ salaries would come directly from England rather than from the local assemblies. Being loyal to whoever was signing their paycheck, the judges were ready to do the bidding of the King — not the people. In 1774, the Massachusetts Assembly asked Chief Justice Oliver if he intended to receive his salary from the King. He said he did. The Assembly declared him “obnoxious of the people of the colony.” Their real complaint, though, was with the King himself.

What the Colonists say:  

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

Choose one or more of the webpages you've studied as part of this lesson that you think are relevant to the above section of the Declaration and explain why.

SKILLS: Analyze, Apply

The Stamp Act, in 1765, placed officers in every port to collect revenues. In 1766, the British added additional officers called Collectors of the Customs. In 1767, a board of commissioners was established without the colonists’ approval. The colonists paid the high salaries of these men. In 1768, Admiralty and Vice-Admiralty courts were established.

What the Colonists say:  

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

After the French and Indian War, England left regular troops in the colonies and required the colonists to pay taxes and provide homes for them. There was no military need to do this. The independent spirit of the colonies was becoming a threat to England. In reality, England was attempting to tax the colonies without their consent. When the people of Massachusetts began to rebel against British power, the King taught them a lesson by stationing an army in its capital.

What the Colonists say:  

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

The King ordered that the colonists had to obey the authority of the British commander in chief (General Gage, at the time) and his generals.

What the Colonists say:  

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

In July 1767, the King established his own Board of Trade to enforce the revenue laws in the colonies. Between this move and the military powers given to the English commanders, the colonies were aware that the power of their assemblies was gradually being taken away.

What the Colonists say:  

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

At the beginning of 1775, Parliament sent 10,000 soldiers to the colonies to be placed in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and other seaports.

What the Colonists say:  

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

In 1768, in Annapolis, some soldiers killed several citizens. In their trial, though, they were acquitted. In 1771, Governor Tryon of North Carolina fired upon an assembly of residents who had complaints they wanted brought to the court. He ended up killing several of them. The soldiers were arraigned for murder and also acquitted.

What the Colonists say:  

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

England tried to make sure that the colonists trade only with Great Britain. In 1764, England took steps to destroy trade with Spanish and French colonies in America, which the colonists had long enjoyed (although in violation of the old Navigation Act).

What the Colonists say:  

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

After the French and Indian War was over, England worked to raise additional funds to replenish the treasury. The Navigation Act imposed taxes early on, and then came the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, and finally, the Declaratory Act. In 1767, taxes were placed on glass, paper, paint colors, and tea. Because of the colonists’ complaints, the British got rid of all taxes except the one on tea. This led to the Boston Tea Party. There are many others, but these examples will suffice.

What the Colonists say:  

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

The British formed a Court of Admiralty in America, bypassing the usual legal system. So, instead of being tried a jury of their peers, colonists were sent to a single judge who was hired by the Crown.

What the Colonists say:  

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

On April, 1774, England introduced “A bill for the impartial administration of justice in the cases of persons questioned for any acts done by them in the execution of the laws, or for the suppression of riots and tumults in the province of Massachusetts Bay, in New England.” In this bill, the Governor or the Lieutenant Governor could order colonists to be taken to another colony or to Great Britain for trial.

What the Colonists say:  

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

Parliament passed a bill that gave more support to French Catholics in Quebec and expanded its borders to include land desired by other colonies. They did this for a reason. With growing tensions, the English needed a safe place to mass their troops in case of open rebellion, and making friends with the neighboring colonies was the easiest way.

What the Colonists say:  

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

The Boston Port Bill of March, 1774 altered the Constitution of Massachusetts and even gave the King the right to choose the members of the Council. He would then have complete control over the selection and removal of all judges and the ability to appoint sheriffs. This act also eliminated the practice of town meetings and also the election of jurors. This act was even described as “exorbitant usurpation” by some members of Parliament.

What the Colonists say:  

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

This was yet another complaint about the Boston Port Bill of March, 1774 (see above).

What the Colonists say:  

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
What the Colonists say:  

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
What the Colonists say:  

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

Choose one or more of the webpages you've studied as part of this lesson that you think are relevant to the above section of the Declaration and explain why.

SKILLS: Analyze, Apply


He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
What the Colonists say:  

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
What the Colonists say:  

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.


  1. What were the grievances expressed in the Declaration and to what events do they relate?
  2. Which grievances directly relate to abuse of power by King George III alone, which ones are also directed toward Parliament and which are related to the King’s acts of war against the colonies and their citizens?
  3. What major changes were made from Jefferson’s first draft to the one signed by members of the Continental Congress?
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