Declarers of Independence: Who were those guys?

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The  Declaration of Independence contains extremely important American ideals and helped create the modern world we live in today, but the words did not write themselves.  Who were the folks who wrote it and what do we need to know about them?

This lesson had two parts:

Part 1: The Signers – Small groups/pairs of students will use a table of information about the signers to answer questions & discuss.  They should discover that the signers were all men, mostly wealthy, mostly of English/European descent and mostly older.   Are all men created equal?

Part 2: Deleted Scenes– Students/pairs will read a paragraph that was in Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration that was cut out of the final document.  Students will grapple with the fact that Jefferson owned slaves, yet condemned it in this draft of the Declaration.  My 9th grade students’ responses to the homework questions were sophisticated and enlightening.

Positives: It is a good way to promote critical thinking and get students to think about the ambiguity of history.  The Declaration of Independence isn’t perfect, nor were the people who wrote it, but it doesn’t mean we should discount it completely.  Exploring this gray area is an important part of growing up and understanding the world.

Negatives: For some, this might seem like an attack on the Founding Fathers.  I don’t mean it to be.  I do believe it is important for students to think about authorship and feel comfortable digging deeper into history.

The worksheets I used can be found below.

Part I: The Signers

Name:                                                                                                  Early US History

The people who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776

Use this chart to help you answer the questions on the next page.

Delegate’s Name Colony Occupation Date of Birth
George Read Delaware Lawyer Sept. 8, 1733
Caesar Rodney Delaware Judge Oct. 7, 1728
Thomas McKean Delaware Lawyer/soldier March 19, 1734
George Clymer Pennsylvania Merchant March 16, 1739
Robert Morris Pennsylvania Merchant Jan. 20, 1734
Benjamin Rush Pennsylvania Physician Dec. 24, 1745
James Smith Pennsylvania Lawyer 1719
George Taylor Pennsylvania Master Ironsmith 1716
Benjamin Franklin Pennsylvania Printer, Scientist Jan. 17, 1706
John Morton Pennsylvania Judge 1724
George Ross Pennsylvania Judge May 10, 1730
James Wilson Pennsylvania Lawyer, Judge Sept. 14, 1742
James Adams Massachusetts Lawyer Oct. 30, 1735
John Hancock Massachusetts Merchant Jan. 12, 1737
Elbridge Gerry Massachusetts Merchant Jul. 17, 1744
Samuel Adams Massachusetts Brewer/Politician Sept. 27, 1722
Robert Treat Paine Massachusetts Judge March 11, 1731
Josiah Bartlett New Hampshire Physician/Judge Nov. 21, 1729
Matthew Thornton New Hampshire Physician 1714
William Whipple New Hampshire Merchant, Judge Jan. 14, 1730
Stephen Hopkins Rhode Island Lawyer, Educator March 7, 1707
William Ellery Rhode Island Lawyer, Judge Dec. 22, 1727
Lewis Morris New York Farmer/Politician April 8, 1726
Francis Lewis New York Merchant March, 1713
Philip Livingston New York Merchant Jan. 15, 1716
William Floyd New York Soldier/Politician Dec. 17, 1734
Button Gwinnett Georgia Merchant 1732
George Walton Georgia Lawyer/Judge 1741
Lyman Hall Georgia Physician April 12, 1724
Richard Henry Lee Virginia Plantation Owner Jan. 20, 1732
Carter Braxton Virginia Plantation Owner Sept. 10, 1736
Thomas Jefferson Virginia Lawyer April 14, 1743
Francis L. Lee Virginia Plantation Owner Oct. 14, 1734
Benjamin Harrison Virginia Plantation Owner April 5, 1726
George Wythe Virginia Lawyer/Educator 1726
Thomas Nelson Jr. Virginia Plantation Owner Dec. 26, 1738
William Hooper N. Carolina Lawyer June 28, 1742
John Penn N. Carolina Lawyer May 17, 1741
Joseph Hewes N. Carolina Merchant Jan. 23, 1730
Edward Rutledge S. Carolina Lawyer Nov. 23, 1749
Arthur Middleton S. Carolina Politician June 26, 1742
Thomas Lynch Jr. S. Carolina Lawyer Aug. 5, 1749
Thomas Heyward Jr S. Carolina Lawyer July 28, 1746
Abraham Clark New Jersey Lawyer/Sheriff Feb. 15, 1725
Francis Hopkinson New Jersey Lawyer/Judge Sept. 21, 1737
John Witherspoon New Jersey Clergyman/Educator Feb. 15, 1723
John Hart New Jersey Farmer/Politician 1713
Richard Stockton New Jersey Lawyer Oct. 1, 1730
Samuel Huntington Connecticut Lawyer July 3, 1731
William Williams Connecticut Merchant April 23, 1731
Roger Sherman Connecticut Cobbler/Lawyer April 18, 1721
Oliver Wolcott Connecticut Soldier/Judge Dec. 1, 1726
Charles Carroll Maryland Lawyer Sept. 18, 1737
Thomas Stone Maryland Lawyer 1743
Samuel Chase Maryland Judge April 17, 1741
William Paca Maryland Judge Oct. 31, 1740

Use this chart to help you answer these questions.

  1. What kinds of people signed the Declaration of Independence?  (think about their age, jobs, social class and gender)
  2. What kinds of people didn’t sign the Declaration of Independence?  (think about their age, jobs, social class and gender)

Part II: Deleted Scenes

What they left out of the Declaration of Independence:

This section was written by Thomas Jefferson in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence.  It was part of the list of grievances—the things the king did wrong.  It was removed by the urging of delegates from the Southern Colonies.

1) What is this section describing?

2) Why do you think the Southern Colonists want to cut out this part of the document?

3) When Thomas Jefferson wrote his autobiography, he included the original draft of the Declaration of Independence with this section still in it.  Why do you think he did that?

Declaration of Independence Homework

Historians have been debating this question for generations.  Thomas Jefferson wrote in the opening of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and he also wrote that passage we read that criticized slavery (which was later removed by other members of congress).  At the same time, though, he owned dozens of slaves.

How do you think Jefferson was able to write those words, and yet also own other human beings?

Explain your answer to this question in at least 1 paragraph.

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