When was the Declaration of Independence signed? “July 4, 1776.” (Are you sure?) What sentence in this eloquent document stoked the fires of intolerance and nearly led to the genocide of a proud people? How faithfully did the signers fulfill their pledge of offering “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” in support of the Declaration?
Beyond the renowned “purple passages” (“created equal,” “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and “consent of the governed”), my handout seeks to challenge students to probe into the nitty-gritty of the grievances specified in the Declaration which warranted rebellion and revolution.
The handout begins with a three-page section which has blanks for students to fill in. This exercise will bring them into confrontation with each sentence and each word of the Declaration. Difficult vocabulary and wording (such as “inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only”) and historical references (such as the Stamp and Tea acts) are explained as students work through the four-part structure of the Declaration.
They will envision Jefferson’s snarl of contempt when simply with the alliteration of the letter f he symbolically dethrones King George: “unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” And exposed to one of Jefferson’s own warts, your students will wince as he, a founding father, with rank bigotry stigmatizes Native Americans as “merciless Indian savages.”
Not part of the student handout are nine pages of notes, some of which you may wish to incorporate into your class’s discussion of the Declaration. They analyze textual matters, the controversy over when the Declaration was signed, the dilemma facing Native Americans during the Revolutionary War, and in much detail the fate of the signers: which ones sacrificed their “lives” or were stripped of their “fortunes” or forsook (or retained) their “sacred honor”?
The three-page student handout, suitable for a homework assignment or as an in-class activity, has a two-page answer key beginning on a separate page.
Prepared by Professor William Tarvin, Ph.D., who has published many articles on literature in scholarly journals.