Causes of the American Revolution (1607-1776)

Teacher Guide by Richard Cleggett

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Causes of the American Revolution Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Causes of the American Revolution Include:

Events and causes leading up to the American Revolution are integral to understanding the revolution as whole, including how it happened, why it happened, and why events unfolded the way they did during the revolution itself. From the development of the British colonies up to the eventual signing of the Declaration of Independence, many crucial events and developments occurred.

Causes of the American Revolution Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Development of the 13 Colonies

For this activity, students must create a grid explaining and analyzing the development and differences of British colonies in North America. Dividing their grid into three regions (New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Southern Colonies), students will research and define the means of production for each colony, and what defined each regional economy. The second half of their grid will define what was produced, and therefore, how each colony served the British Empire economically. This will serve as both a visual and comparative chart for students when reviewing the differences between regional British colonies, as well as how Britain utilized and profited off each region.

New England ColoniesIn the developing New England economies, trade and commerce were immensely important. With rising early industries, and crucial seaport trade through major cities like Boston, New England colonies became integral parts of British commerce. Foreign goods were traded including rum, spice, and slaves.Primary productions and functions of Britain's New England colonies included fisheries, international trade and commerce, and the development of industry. Farmers also increasingly became self-sufficient.
Mid-Atlantic ColoniesIn Britain's middle colonies, a mixture of farming and commerce developed. Like New England, trade through major port cities, such as New York and Philadelphia, brought in goods. Maritime businesses and fisheries flourished. In addition, profitable farms that produced crops such as wheat, barley, and rye proved profitable for the British Empire.Britain's Mid-Atlantic colonies' primary productions included profitable crops such as wheat, rye, and indigo. Their functions included serving as trade hubs and growing centers of diverse culture where German, Dutch, Scottish, and Irish immigrants all settled for new opportunities.
Southern ColoniesIn the southern colonies, cash crops were the primary economic foundations. Through slave labor, large plantations were operated and maintained, providing the colonies with major cash crops like rice, tobacco, and cotton. Because of this cash crop economy, southern colonies generally lacked industry and mercantilism, but remained crucial to the British Empire.In the Southern colonies, primary productions included growing major cash crops, i.e. rice, tobacco, cotton, and sugarcane. Their main function was to to produce raw materials for future manufacturing and trade purposes. Their economy kept the slave trade in demand.

Extended Activity

Student may research their own contemporary regional economies and make a similar chart.

  • What defines your regional economy in the 21st century?
  • What are the major factors of production, and how do they serve the greater nation as a whole?
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The French and Indian War, 1754 - 1763

The French and Indian War proved a crucial turning point in colonists' perception of the British. By fighting and eventually helping the British win the war, many colonists felt as if they had done more than enough to secure not only British control of the region, but also preserve the way of life they had built. Students can analyze and explain this event through a T-Chart that lists major events of the war, and their overall effects. This activity is aimed at giving students not only a perception of how the war was fought and won, but also its effects on the colonial attitude towards increasing British control and policy.

Effects of the French and Indian War

Britain and France claimed control over vast areas of the North American continent. Britain primarily controlled the seaboard as France looked further inland. Both countries soon began to dispute who controls where, as their colonial boundaries and claims fell into disagreement. These disagreements ultimately marked the start of the French and Indian War. In particular, British colonists undertook an unsuccessful attempt to seize a French fort at the forks of the Ohio River in 1754. Britain then began its campaign against the French and their allies for control over inland regions of North America.
Britain saw the need and opportunity to unify their colonies in their war against the Native American and French forces. They had to get the colonists to come together and defend their territory and claims as a unified front. Converging in Albany, New York, colonial leaders from several colonies met to discuss their potential unified front. Benjamin Franklin led the discussion, proposing what is known as the Albany Plan of Union for creating a council of colonial leaders to help dictate the war. It failed to gain colonial approval, and Britain faltered in the first stage of the war.
In 1758, British forces began to overwhelm the French and Native American forces. With this, the Iroquois switched their allegiance to the British, and began fighting against the French. In 1759, Britain invaded New France and captured the city of Quebec, a major turning point in the war. With the fall of Quebec and further victories, Great Britain, France, and Spain (France’s ally) met to sign the Treaty of Paris in 1763, effectively ending the French and Indian War. France agreed to surrender all of its North American claims, as well as its land east of the Mississippi. Britain had won the war and achieved its aims.
Despite the victory, the war greatly strained relations between the British and the colonists. They had fought hard, and did so in loyalty to the British Empire. Through war, they had helped the British achieve their colonial aims in defeating France. The British saw themselves as protectors of the colonists, as though colonists had not done enough. The colonists, on the other hand, were shocked at how weak the British military was. Furthermore, the colonists felt as though it was now their right to expand into the newly acquired territories and prosper. The British, however, felt differently.
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Stirrings of Rebellion: British Policy and the American Colonists' Response

Using a timeline, students will analyze and explain events and actions taken by the British, as well as reactions and actions taken by the colonists in response to British policy.

Students, however, may use their resources (textbooks or laptops) to identify and explain any additional acts and actions than those shown in the storyboard below. This activity will allow students to analyze, and put in order, events that further led to British and colonial tensions, as well as ideas that fueled the eventual fight for independence. Students can also utilize their storyboard along with their classmates to further expand their mastery of events.

Example Events

The Proclamation Act of 1763

Issued by King George III after the French and Indian War, this act restrained colonists from venturing west of the Appalachian Mountains. Colonists saw it as a restriction on their liberties since they fought and died to win that land.

The Quartering Act of 1765

The Quartering Act of 1765 was seen as a grave intrusion on colonial life. The act declared that colonists must house, feed, and tend to British soldiers at any time. Moreover, they had to do so with their own precious supplies.

The Stamp Act of 1765-66 and Its Repeal

The Stamp Act of 1765 taxed all legal documents, including everyday notices, and even newspapers! By boycotting British goods and the act itself, the colonists eventually forced King George III to repeal the act in 1766, a small victory for the colonists.

The Boston Massacre of 1770

Five people were killed and several others injured in a skirmish between colonists and British soldiers on March 5th, 1770. The 'massacre' sparked further violent unrest and marks a major change in tensions between British soldiers and the citizens of Massachusetts.

The Tea Act and Boston Tea Party of 1773

The Tea Act of 1773 effectively monopolized Britain's control on the tea trade and tea prices in the colonies. In protest, dozens of colonists, disguised as Native Americans, stormed British ships and destroyed thousands of pounds of tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor.

First Continental Congress of 1774

Fifty-six delegates met in Philadelphia, PA to formally oppose British policy and call for the formation of militia for protection. Notable members included Samuel Adams, George Washington, and John Hancock.

Extended Activity

Analyze the Bill of Rights listed in the United States Constitution. In a T Chart, have students draw connections between acts and actions taken by the British and how they are reflected in the Bill of Rights that we still have today.

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Major Figures of the American Revolution

By using a traditional storyboard, this activity will allow students to analyze and organize the major figures who played key roles throughout the American Revolution. Students select 4-8 figures from a condensed list of leaders of the Revolution. They then will research their basic biographical information and what role they ultimately held. This will also highlight their significance as our nation's Founding Fathers.

This activity's flexibility makes it easy and comprehensive. Teachers can select their own figures, and include however many figures they want their students to research from a select few leaders, to a broad range of contributors. Research should be completed through textbooks and any available technology.

Major Figures of the American Revolution

Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams is considered by many as the most influential figure in the early parts of the American Revolution. By aiding rebellions and protests, Samuel Adams proved to be vital.

George Washington

George Washington led the American forces as the Commander of the Colonial armies. A planter from Virginia, Washington would become the hero and icon of the Revolution. He would go on to serve as America’s first president.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson served as a major political and intellectual leader of the American Revolution. He was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. He would also go on to serve as our third president.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin served the revolution in many different ways. He was an ambassador to France and a key figure in creating documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Paris.

John Hancock

Born in Braintree, MA, John Hancock helped fund early rebellions against British policy. Later, he would be known for his large signature on the Declaration of Independence, and would eventually become the first governor of Massachusetts.

John Adams

John Adams was a key political and intellectual leader from Massachusetts. By aiding in foreign policy and domestic issues, Adams would go on to become the second President of the United States.

Extended Activity

Have students actively engage in a round-robin activity. Select specific figures for each student to research (3-5 for each) and have them create a storyboard on those figures. With a separate graphic organizer, have students use other students' storyboards and research to put together a larger, more comprehensive list of figures. This enables them to focus on and master 3-5 figures, but also ultimately research and look at every other figure the teacher may choose. Furthermore, it makes students responsible for ‘teaching’ the class about their figures. Students may also present their figures to the class if there is time.

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The Declaration of Independence

For this activity, students will analyze and explain the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This activity is a good way to wrap up the causes and effects of events leading up to the American Revolution. Although it does take place in the midst of the revolution, it encapsulates the major ideas, problems, and tensions between colonists and the British, while also providing context for how the American colonies finally and fully separated from Britain. Furthermore, the activity will allow students to analyze a major primary source, the Declaration of Independence!

Students will complete a 5Ws storyboard organizer (Who, What, When, Where, and Why) to explain and break down the important details of the Declaration of Independence. This will provide a clear context of what the document means, the basics of its signing, and what the document's key messages are. Furthermore, it allows students to be creative when making their storyboards, as they can design what they believed the signing of this major American document looked like.

The Declaration of Independence was created and signed by 55 delegates from all 13 colonies. Written by Thomas Jefferson, it was also signed by major figures like Samuel Adams and John Hancock.

The Declaration of Independence is the official document that colonial representatives used to declare independence from Great Britain. It served as a concrete statement of independence, and officially marks the United States as its own nation.

The Declaration of Independence was signed in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The hall still stands today and acts as a museum.

The Declaration of Independence was officially signed on July 4th, 1776, which we now look to as the birthdate of our nation. However, the document itself took months to write and perfect.

The Declaration of Independence was written to declare the separation of the colonies from British rule. It was also used to outline grievances against the crown and what the founders believed were their inalienable rights.

Extended Activity

Have students read and analyze 5-10 specific grievances located within the Declaration of Independence. Give them the actual text, but then have them break it down into their own words. First, they should examine words they see as most important to the document's key messages. Then, have them put the text into their own ‘modern-day' words on a storyboard with a visualization. This will allow the teacher to see who understands the messages, and to get a sense of what vocabulary the students know and understand.

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Preface to the American Revolution

The thirteen colonies included New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. While colonists did not find an abundance of gold, other raw materials, such as furs, lumber, tobacco, and iron, allowed them to establish permanent settlements. Most settlements began as economic ventures or places of religious tolerance.

The North American colonies primarily served distinct, but similar functions. Great Britain, a small island country, did not have access to all of the resources available in the colonies. The different economic activities of each colonial region were crucial to the success, and wealth, of the British Empire.

Other nations, primarily France, also vied for economic control of the region. By fighting the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Britain, at last, gained full, undisputed control of North America’s eastern coast. The consequent dealings of the British with the colonists and a growing desire for self-governance served as seeds of revolution.

The American colonists begin to mount organized resistance to the British Empire in response to high taxation, violence, and oppression. Through boycotts, protest, and pure will, the colonists eventually found themselves completely at odds with Britain, deciding that the only course of action to declare full independence from their mother country. With the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the American colonists readied to defend themselves and their ideas in a difficult fight for freedom.

Essential Questions for Causes and Events Leading to the American Revolution

  1. How did the colonies serve Great Britain economically? In terms of global power?
  2. How was the French and Indian War a turning point in British control over the North American colonies? Why was it such a crucial moment in developing ideas of independence for the colonists?
  3. What major events and actions further separated colonists from their British counterparts, and served as catalysts for their eventual fight for independence?
  4. How did the signing of the Declaration of Independence serve as the final and undisputed statement of independence of the American colonies from Great Britain?

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