Debate – American Revolution

When we examine the past, we must place ourselves in the right frame of mind.  It is impossible to adequately understand an historical event using a 21st century mind-set. As an example, when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, they discovered a vacated village. The land “hath been planted with corn three or four years ago, and there is a very sweet brook runs under the hillside.”[1]  Bolstered by their religious conviction, these early settlers firmly believed that God had set them here, and cleared the land for their taking.  We know today, that Native-Americans did not have the necessary immunities to fight-off European diseases and died in great numbers.  In Europe, these same diseases had existed for centuries, and had become endemic.   Fishermen, and traders, had long plied the waters of the New England coast, and passed these diseases to the local inhabitants.

Now take a moment and place yourself in the mind of the local people.  If you were a Native-American, you saw your people dying in great numbers, yet Europeans remained healthy.  There are a number of scenarios that could have developed here, but in most cases, what do you think Native-Americans must have thought of this situation?  If you placed yourself in their situation, does it not stand to reason that you would begin to think that your “spirits” had failed you, and perhaps the God of the settlers protected them?  Based on our assumptions, we would think that as a result, Native-Americans, then, converted in large numbers. What is necessary is a clear understanding of early-contact Native-American culture. For indigenous Americans, it centered on spiritual power.  Power could be increased through addition, not subtraction.  Instead of giving-up their ancient spiritual practices, they instead, simply added the Christian God.

What we gain, by examining the past through a lens focused on that point in history, is a deeper understanding of the dynamics at play, and empathy for all participants. Today, some things are just unacceptable. We cringe at the thought of slavery, child labor, no rights for women, and segregation, to name a few, but they all existed at one point in time.  More remarkably, a strong justification existed for each of these that prevailed to the point where they proved to be generally accepted.  Of the fifty-five delegates to the US Constitutional Convention, 49 percent owned slaves.  “The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.”[2]  Despite these words, Thomas Jefferson held slaves until his death, and even had a slave woman as his mistress.

[1] William Bradford in Mourt’s Relation: A journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, London, 1622.

[2] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (Philadelphia; Matthew Carey, 1794), Query XVIII, pp. 236-237.

You have been divided into three groups.

For this discussion, Group A will be arguing FOR independence.  You must assume the role of either a colonial politician in Virginia or Massachusetts, a merchant who sells wine or tobacco, a New England farmer, a shop owner in Boston, New York or Philadelphia OR a Southern plantation owner in North or South Carolina.  Please state in your initial discussion which person you are portraying.  Do not portray the role of an indentured servant or slave.  Be creative.

Group B are loyalists and are arguing AGAINST independence from the King of England.  See above for roles that you may take.   God save the King!

Group C are “interested neutral parties” and will represent the nations of Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland or etc.  Your role will be to represent one of those nations (assigned by your instructor) as its ambassador to the Continental Congress AND the Court of St. James (the king).  It is your job, to the best of your ability, to prevent war.

No…you are not allowed to change sides.