- Students will read and discuss the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Sentiments.
- Students will discuss how the rights of the colonists and women were being violated.
- Students will discuss and write about their own personal rights and how their rights are neglected or violated.
- Have students read the American Declaration of Independence and discuss the events that led to the Declaration. Here is some background information:
"Taxation without representation is tyranny." This phrase is generally attributed to James Otis about 1761. It reflected the resentment of American colonists at being taxed by a British Parliament to which they had elected no representatives, and it became an anti-British slogan before the American Revolution.
Colonial political theorists asserted that taxation without representation was tyranny. The teachings of 18th-century French philosophers and continental writers on law (such as Emmerich de Vattel), as well as the theories of John Locke, were implicit in the colonial arguments based on the theory of natural rights. The colonials claimed that Parliament had the sovereign power to legislate in the interest of the entire British Empire, but that it could only tax those actually represented in Parliament.
Official acts that colonists considered infringements upon their rights had previously led to the Stamp Act Congress (1765) and to the First Continental Congress (1774), but these were predominantly conservative assemblies that sought redress from the crown and reconciliation, not independence. The overtures of the First Continental Congress in 1774 came to nothing, discontent grew, and the armed skirmishes at Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775) developed into the American Revolution. Many members of the Second Continental Congress of Philadelphia followed the leadership of John Hancock, John Adams, and Samuel Adams in demanding independence.
The delegates of the First Continental Congress from Virginia and North Carolina were in fact specifically instructed on independence. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee called for a resolution of independence. On June 11, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman were instructed to draft such a declaration; the actual writing was entrusted to Jefferson. The first draft was revised by Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson before it was sent to Congress, where it was again changed. That final draft was adopted on July 4, 1776, and Independence Day has been the chief American patriotic holiday ever since. It is interesting to note, however, that the July 4 document is merely a fuller statement justifying the resolution of independence adopted by Congress on July 2, 1776.
The Declaration is an indictment of George III for willfully infringing upon the colonials' rights in order to establish an “absolute Tyranny” over the colonies. The document states that colonial patience had achieved nothing and that therefore the colonists found themselves forced to declare their independence.
- Review the Declaration of Independence with students, and have them identify the specific arguments for independence. For example, the king "called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures." The king also "dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people."
- Have students read the Declaration of Sentiments and discuss the forces that led Stanton to write it. Here is some background information:
Women traditionally had been regarded as inferior to men both physically and intellectually. Both law and theology had ordered their subjection. Women could not possess property in their own names, engage in business, or control the disposal of their children or even of their own persons. Although Mary Astell and others had pleaded earlier for larger opportunities for women, the first feminist document was Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). During the French Revolution, women's republican clubs demanded that liberty, equality, and fraternity be applied regardless of sex, but this movement was extinguished for the time by the Code Napoleon. In North America, although Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren pressed for the inclusion of women's emancipation in the Constitution, the feminist movement really dates from 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Coffin Mott, and others in a women's convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y., issued a declaration of independence for women, demanding full legal equality, full educational and commercial opportunity, equal compensation, the right to collect wages, and the right to vote.
- Review the Declaration of Sentiments with students. How is this document similar to the Declaration of Independence? Why did these women feel their rights were being violated?
- Discuss with students ways that their rights are violated, in the same vein as the two declarations read. Who has sovereignty over their lives? Are they taxed without being represented? Did they know that, before 1971, Americans had to be 21 in order to vote?
- Students write a personal Declaration of Independence, in the manner that the Declaration of Independence is written.