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Declaration of Independence Activities

Posted in AmGov Projects

Declaration of Independence Activities:

In many ways the Declaration of Independence is the first truly American document.  Because of its significance as literature, propaganda, political philosophy, and biographical insight into the founding fathers (particularly Jefferson) we will spend a solid week focusing on this one document.  What follows is a day by day breakdown of how we will approach this complex 18th century work.

Day 1 - The Opening Sentence: We will perform a phrase by phrase and word by word analysis of what the opening sentence actually means, with particular emphasis on commonly accepted meanings in 18th century American English.  The Opening Sentence of the Declaration is divided into 5 phrases; in class, with partners, we will translate those phrases using the Borneman 4-Letter Word Rule.  What is the Borneman 4-Letter Word Rule?  Basically, it means that when you are translating a document into modern English you cannot use any of the words which originally appear in the document which exceed 4 letters in length.  Thus if the original begins with: "When in the course of human events..."  you are not allowed to use the words "course", "human", or "events" although you may use "when", "in", "the", and "of" in your translations.  Today's goal: understand the first sentence through a careful translation.

Days 2 and 3 - The Justification: The first full paragraph gives a justification for why the signers feel they have the right to cast off the control of the Mother Country.  The first thing we need to do is translate all the words we are unfamiliar with.  Read through the paragraph and make a list of all words and phrases whose meaning is unclear.  Then, using dictionaries, find reasonable translations of those words.  Warning: many words may appear to be familiar ("effect", "ends", and "just", for example) but have meanings which are different from the way they are commonly used in speech today.  Once we have a clear understanding of the vocabulary, we will address a set of study questions followed by a discussion of whether or not we agree with the arguments for revolution used by the authors.  The two goals: (1) clarify the vocabulary used in the Declaration and (2) understand the logic and arguments of the founding rebels. 

Day 4 and 5- The Gripes Against the King: After the Justification follows a set of twenty-seven gripes, most directed against the king.  In class we will number the 27 Gripes and, with a partner, spend half an hour translating them into modern English (1 - 27 on the paper). We will first rephrase the twenty-seven arguments.  Afterwards we will assess what we feel are the top 3 gripes and the poorest 3 gripes.  Today's goal: to understand the reasons given compelling the colonists to revolt and to assess, critically, the function of reason, logic, persuasion, distortion, paranoia, and propaganda in the Declaration.

Day 5 - The Complaint Against Parliament and Summation: We will conclude by looking at the closing arguments of the founding fathers.  Today we will discuss whether or not the document is radical, what other contexts it could be applied to, and clarify any final questions on vocabulary or meaning.  Today's goal: to sum up and review the Declaration, it's style, intent, and result.

Day 6 - The Signatories: Individually, students will, at random, have been assigned a signer of the Declaration (this will be done on a pervious day).  It will be their duty to independently research and answer 10 questions about the signatories.  Some are MUCH more difficult than others, but the assignment of the names will be at random, following the order of names on the Declaration, given in alphabetical order to students in the class.  Students will also rank, on a scale of 1 - 100, the relative significance of the signatories.  We will discuss what merits "significance".  During class,  students will report on their assigned signatories.  The top 10 ranked signatories will be noted and required of the class for testing purposes.  Today's goal: to gain a deeper understanding of the personalities and significance of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence is referenced as one of the significant points of study in the California State Frameworks.  Note, particularly, points 1.3.3, 3.4.3, 5.5.3, 7.11.6, 8.1.2, 10.2.2, 11.1, 12.1.3 and California State Ed. Code 51230.  Clearly, one can view the whole of history from the perspective of leading up to this singularly momentous document.