Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789
The Broadside Collection can be used to create a detailed time line of the Revolutionary era and the formation of the new nation. Students can use their textbooks or other sources to create an initial time line of Revolutionary events. Students can illustrate events in their time line using documents from the collection. In the process of their research, students probably will discover supporting examples for the time line not mentioned in textbooks.
Declaring Independence: Drafting the Documents, the Library of Congress Exhibit, provides a helpful starting time line.
All age groups can comprehend the documents at some level. Younger students can understand the main arguments for independence such as no taxation without representation and the right to liberty. Older students can understand how the founding generation built their government around terms such as liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The variety of broadsides allows students to examine the intentions of our nation's founders. By studying the collection, students can learn how a government of checks and balances arose from leaders who feared tyrrany and believed in individualism, equality, and the natural rights of mankind.
Search on tyranny for text such as:
By the union of the several states they have rescued themselves from the tyranny of a powerful nation, and established constitutions on the free consent of the people, which are the admiration of the intelligent and virtuous part of mankind, and the firm support of the civil and religious rights of all who live under the shadow of their influence. But these constitutions cannot long outlive the fate of the general union.
From the broadside: Impressed with a sense of the sacred trust committed to them, and with an anxious and affectionate concern for the interest, honor and safety of their constituents, the United States in Congress assembled, have on various occasions, pointed out the dangerous situation of this nation ..." 1783.
Historical Analysis and Interpretation
Older students can be challenged to compare their interpretation of the broadsides with interpretations of the era found in textbooks and in other secondary sources. Many sources, for example, describe creation of the Constitution as a response to weaknesses of the Confederation and the need for a strong federal government. In the collection, students are exposed to the arguments of those against a strong federal government. Students can trace fear of tyranny from the crown in earlier broadsides to fear of tyranny from strong central government in later broadsides.
Search on oppose federal government to find evidence of opposition views and for text such as:
We dissent, secondly, because the powers vested in Congress by this constitution, must necessarily annihilate and absorb the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the several states, and produce from their ruins one consolidated government , which from the nature of things will be an iron handed despotism, as nothing short of the supremacy of despotic sway could connect and govern these United States under one government .
From the broadside: "The Address and reasons of dissent of the minority of the convention, of the state of Pennsylvania, to their constituents.", 1787, which contains Journals of the Conclave.
Historical Research Capabilities
This collection provides a rich source for a research project. Students will probably need secondary source accounts to provide context, but the documents alone can be used to build a detailed understanding of the era. Students can trace powerful ideas that led people to take part in a war for independence. They can consider how ideas and ideals can become a cause of war. Students can review the actions and reactions between Great Britain and the colonists that led to war. By studying the broadsides, students can compare points of view on issues such as how to treat Native Americans or how to defray war debts.
Search on finance, war, and taxation for text such as:
In the last year, some of the late city-members (in the Minority ) proposed to abolish the present system of taxation , and attempted to substitute in its place a POLL-TAX; by means of which the poorest mechanic in the State was to pay as heavy a tax, as the wealthiest citizen: for all estates, however great, were to be free from taxation .--Our heads were to have been taxed, and all alike too; whilst the rich man's property was to have been exempt!
From the broadside: "Friends, countrymen and fellow-citizens : The present crisis demands your serious attention. You are now about giving your suffrages for members of the General Assembly ..." 1787.
Historical Issue Analysis and Decision Making
Students might consider what a collection like this cannot tell about the past. They might answer questions such as, "Who is not represented in this collection?" and "Where might one find different perspectives on this era?"
Using this collection, student can analyze why the colonists wanted to fight a war for independence. Students might be asked to find evidence to answer questions such as, "How did the founding fathers create a system of government that could adjust to changing social and economic conditions?" and "What led the colonists to decide to break with Britain?"
Search on Britain for text such as:
The conduct of those serving under the King of Great-Britain hath, with some few exceptions, been diametrically opposite. They have laid waste the open country, burned the defenceless [sic] villages, and butchered the citizens of America. Their prisons have been the slaughter-houses of her soldiers, their ships of her seamen, and the severest injuries have been aggravated by the grossest insult.
From the broadside: "By the Congress of the United States of America. Manifesto : These United States, having been driven to hostilities by the oppressive and tyrannous measures of Great-Britain ... they declared themselves free and independent. ..." 1778.