The Declaration of Independence Lesson Plan

Introduction

So... What jumped out at you as you listened to Morgan Freeman (the narrator) speak? Give us three things.

SKILL: Analyze

You probably already know that The Declaration of Independence was an important document in American history. The founding fathers wrote it to declare independence from England and to show they were willing to fight for it. With this document, the signers showed England that they were unified in their beliefs about government. The drafting of the Declaration did not start the American Revolution, but it made it official. After the colonial leaders published these ideas out to the world, they could never turn back.

There are other reasons why the Declaration is so important in our collective history. Of course, its original purpose was to declare independence, but it contains other original and innovative ideas as well. The Declaration explains why the new American society will be different than anything that came before it. It shows what the mindset of the American people was at the time and what it would become as the states formed their identities. The ideas described were crucial to the formation of the American heritage. In fact, they affect how Americans think and how the American government operates today.

Even though the Declaration was the "first of its kind," it was like most historical "firsts." The ideas in it were a logical reaction to beliefs and events of the past. The changes described in the Declaration did not just come out of nowhere, they developed over a long period of time — at least a century before the Declaration was written. The many events that led up to the drafting of the Declaration included conflicts over a variety of political, economic, philosophical, religious and social issues. By the time the Revolution began, these issues had affected the colonists so much that they knew they had to take action to gain control of their government.

The development of the Declaration of Independence was a natural next step in the development of an American way of thinking. Even though it built upon activities and ideas already in place, it was an extraordinary event.

The ideas of the Declaration were revolutionary and today they are a key part of the American way of thinking. The chart below shows just how much change would be underway because of this important document.

Old Way of ThinkingNew American Way of Thinking
There is a hierarchy and natural order of certain people having a higher status than others. The king is at the top with royalty following and peasants at the bottom.All Men are created equal. No one man is superior to another.
A king or the church can decide what the laws are and what rights an individual has.Everyone, no matter who they are, is born with certain rights, including Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
People fight for what the king or church tells them to fight for.Individuals have a civic duty to defend their inalienable rights for themselves and others.
Government gets it power from a higher authorityGovernment gets its power from the people

So how did such a significant shift happen? What were the results and consequences of this new American thinking? Keep reading to find out!

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