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Dr. Murray
AP U. S. History, 2008-09
STUDY QUESTIONS FOR UNIT 3: THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
Major Themes
What were the causes of the imperial crisis that developed in the 1760s? Could it have been avoided—or at
least resolved? If so, how?
In what sense was the American Revolution more than just a struggle between the colonies and the mother
country? Were there problems, conflicts, or developments within colonial society that contributed to the
outbreak of the Revolution?
To what extent did the Revolution transform the colonial world? Did the new state governments differ very
much from the old colonial governments? Did a different political culture emerge from the experience of
the Revolution? What about society itself? Were prevailing social beliefs, attitudes, and practices
fundamentally changed?
When the colonies and the mother country squared off at the beginning of the War for Independence, what
were the two sides’ advantages and disadvantages? What were the turning-points in the war? Why did the
colonists eventually win the war?
Why were many Americans unhappy with the state of affairs in the years immediately after the end of the
war? What led to the decision to develop a new, more powerful national government? In what sense was
the new national constitution a repudiation of the principles of the American Revolution? During the
ratification debates, to what extent did the two sides develop two very different conceptions of republican
society? What is the significance of the Bill of Rights?
The Imperial Crisis: Ideology and Issues (Text, Chapter 5, 81-4)
How does the story of Matthew Patten illustrate how the character of the American Revolution changed
over time? What characteristics made George III an unfortunate choice as king during the crisis of the
American Revolution? How did the young king upset the political status quo in England? What effect
might this have had upon the colonial crisis? What other factors contributed to misunderstanding between
England and the colonies? What was the English ruling classes’ position on the issue of parliamentary
sovereignty? How did it differ from the American position? How did taxation fit into the picture? How
did the Great Awakening and the writings of the Commonwealthmen contribute to the American
perspective?
Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 10-17, 32-6
Why did the colonists think that in resisting British policies, they were doing nothing more than preserving
rights that they already enjoyed? In other words, why did they see their revolution as non-revolutionary?
What radical Whig ideas did the colonists draw upon? In the years leading up to the American Revolution,
why were many colonists convinced that England was “sunk in corruption”? How had the English
constitution’s principles been corrupted? What evidence did they have that the English people themselves
had been corrupted? On what grounds did they compare England and Rome?
The Stamp Act, the Townshend Duties, the Tea Act, and the Coercive Acts, 1765-1774 (Text,
Chapter 5, 84-90)
Why was the continuing presence of British troops a problem? How did Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763)
illustrate the apparent uselessness of the troops? What was the Proclamation of 1763, and why was it a
problem? How did the Sugar Act (1764) differ from earlier trade regulations? How did the colonists
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respond to the Stamp Act (1765)? What forms did their protest take? What was the ultimate fate of the
Stamp Act? What was the Declaratory Act (1766), and why did Parliament pass it?
What were the Townshend Revenue Acts (June –July 1767)? How did the colonists respond? What were
the origins of the controversy over the “circular letter”? What were the origins and consequences of the socalled “Boston Massacre”? In the lull between the Boston Massacre and the passage of the Tea Act, how
did abuses by customs officers help keep the patriot cause alive?
Why did Parliament pass the Tea Act (1773)? On what grounds did the colonists oppose it? What were the
Coercive Acts (1774), and why did Parliament pass them? How did colonists inside and outside
Massachusetts view the passage of the Coercive Acts? What was the Quebec Act (1774), and why was it
controversial?
“The Governor of Massachusetts Bay Issues a Proclamation against Rioters, 1765” and
“Declaration of Rights, 1765,” American Passages
http://azimuth.harcourtcollege.com/history/ayers/MainAP/welcome.html
What does the Massachusetts governor’s proclamation reveal about the nature of opposition to the Stamp
Act? Was this just random violence, or does there appear to have been a plan? What seems to have been
the intention of the rioters? What were they trying to accomplish? Is it significant that the Declaration
speaks of the colonists’ “warmest sentiments of affection and duty to his majesty’s person and
government”? Can you summarize the Declaration’s argument against the legitimacy of the stamp tax?
“Introduction,” “Plan of Union,” “An Alarm to the Legislature,” and “Franklin on the Galloway
Plan,” from “What Kind of Revolution?” Constructing the American Past, Vol. I, 3rd edition, 95-103
What does Galloway propose in his “Plan of Union”? What long-term problem does it try to address?
What is Seabury’s plea to the New York colonial assembly? What does he recommend that the assembly
do? What is Franklin’s response to Galloway’s plan?
Rebellion and Independence, 1775-1776 (Garraty, Chapter 3, 97-8, Chapter 4, 103-08)
From the point of view of Lord North and the British government, how successful were the Coercive Acts?
What were the divisions of opinion at the First Continental Congress (September 1774)? Ultimately, what
did the Congress do? What was the “Continental Association”?
What problems did the Second Continental Congress (May 1775) have to address? What had changed
since the meeting of the First Continental Congress the previous September? Why did the Battle of Bunker
Hill make it less likely that either side would back down? Why did it take so long for Congress to declare
independence? What two events in January 1776 pushed the colonists toward independence? What role
did Paine’s “Common Sense” play in the debate about whether to pursue independence? What are the two
parts of Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence”? Given that its ideas were hardly original, why is the
“Declaration” historically significant?
Thomas Paine, ‘Common Sense’ and Thomas Jefferson, ‘The Declaration of Independence,’ from
“What Kind of Revolution?” Constructing the American Past, Vol. I, 3rd edition, 103-07, 111-14
What are Paine’s views on the origins of government? What is his opinion of monarchy? What are his
views on the English Constitution? According to Paine, what are the arguments in favor of remaining
within the British Empire? What are Paine’s reasons for separating? According to Paine, what is the role
of America in world history? According to Jefferson, what are the origins of government? What function
does government serve? What may men do if their government no longer serves the purpose for which it
was intended? Given that Parliament was most responsible for the conflict with the colonies, why do both
“Common Sense” and the “Declaration of Independence” focus on the evils of monarchy?
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The War for Independence (Garraty, Chapter 4, 108-118)
What were the two sides’ advantages and disadvantages at the beginning of the War for Independence?
Why did the British military, with its superior resources, decide to evacuate Massachusetts after the Battle
of Bunker Hill? Why did they ultimately move operations to New York? How divided were the colonists?
Approximately what percentage were Loyalists? What did the battles in and around New York City in
August 1776 reveal about the Patriots’ weaknesses? What was the significance of the battles of Trenton
(December 26, 1776) and Princeton (January 3, 1777)? What were the British trying to accomplish in the
summer and fall of 1777 in New York? Why did they fail? What was the significance of the American
victory at Saratoga in October 1777? How did the British respond to Saratoga and the likelihood of a
Franco-American alliance? Why did the Americans reject the British offer? How did French assistance
transform the War for Independence? Why did the British move their focus from the Middle Colonies to
the South in 1778-79? How successful were they? What mistakes did Clinton and Cornwallis make? How
do you explain the American victory at Yorktown in October 1781? What factors complicated the process
of arriving at a peace treaty? What were the provisions of the peace treaty ending the War for
Independence (1783)? How successful were the American negotiators? How does Garraty account for
their extraordinary success?
‘By his Excelllency,’ ‘Letter,’ and ‘By the Representatives’, from “What Kind of Revolution?”
Constructing the American Past, Vol. 1, 3rd edition, 109-11
What was the intention of Lord Dunmore’s proclamation? Which slaves did it affect? What arguments
does the letter from the Virginia Gazette use to persuade slaves not to take up Lord Dunmore’s offer? Are
they persuasive? What was the response of the Virginia colonial assembly to Lord Dunmore’s
proclamation?
The Limits of the Republican Revolution (Text, Chapter 6, 102-07)
After the War for Independence, what was the attitude of the average American toward the Revolution—
and toward America? What was the range of opinion about the relative value of “order” and “liberty”?
How did the Revolution change American attitudes toward privilege and equality? How did it change
attitudes toward the connection between church and state? What impact did the Revolution have upon
African-Americans? What impact did it have upon women?
‘‘Notes on the State of Virginia’, ‘Letter from Benjamin Banneker’, and ‘Reply of Thomas Jefferson’
from “What Kind of Revolution?” Constructing the American Past, Vol. 1, 3rd edition, 115-19
What is Jefferson’s evidence for his “suspicion” that blacks are naturally inferior to whites? What
arguments does Banneker put forward to support black equality? What is Jefferson’s response?
Republicanism in Practice: State and National Constitution-Making (Text, Chapter 6, 107-12)
What political assumptions did most Americans share as they set out to write state constitutions? What
rights were included in the various declarations of rights prepared by the individual states? In general,
what did the authors of the state constitutions do to the powers of the governor? How did this reflect
prevailing republican beliefs? Why did some states create unicameral legislatures? Why did most states
stick with bicameral legislatures? What important innovation did Massachusetts introduce? How was the
Massachusetts constitution distinctive? Why were many colonists increasingly worried that there might be
too much liberty in American society?
What were the main features of the Articles of Confederation? What was the “general republican
conviction” that underlay the Articles? Why was the disposition of the western territory so controversial?
How was the controversy resolved? What important principle was established in the process? What was
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the major achievement of Congress under the Articles? What long-running problem did this achievement
address? What exactly did the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 do?
“An Excess of Democracy”: Power, Corruption, and the Search for Order (Text, Chapter 6, 112-15)
Why was there so much economic dissatisfaction in the mid-1780s? How did the Confederation contribute
to economic problems? Who were the “nationalists”? Why did they support the doomed Impost of 1781?
How did the Newburgh Conspiracy fit into the mood of dissatisfaction that prevailed in the mid-1780s?
How did developments in the area of foreign affairs further illustrate the weaknesses of the Confederation?
To what extent was republican ideology itself to blame for the nation’s problems in the mid-1780s? What
role did James Madison play in the process of rethinking republican ideas? Why did Madison reject the
theories of Montesquieu? Why did Shays’ Rebellion (1786) in Massachusetts help convince many
Americans that constitutional change was essential?
Gordon S. Wood, "Vices of the System" (excerpts), Chapter X, The Creation of the
American Republic, 1776-1787, 409-413, 425-429
Why were many Americans—especially “nationalists” like James Madison—becoming dissatisfied with
the state legislatures? Was the problem one of too much liberty—that is, licentiousness or anarchy—or was
it one of popular despotism (i.e., the people acting tyrannically through their legislatures)? Or was it both?
Why did these concerns involve a major revision of republican theory? Why were many social
conservatives actually relieved by Shay’s Rebellion in 1787? Why was their relief short-lived? If the
typical response to these problems was to demand more virtue, what instruments were available for
teaching more virtue? What does Wood mean when he refers to the “evangelical scheme” and the “legal
scheme”? Which point-of-view was becoming more popular in the 1780’s?
Richard Hofstadter, "The Founding Fathers: An Age of Realism," The American Political Tradition,
5-21
According to Hofstadter, how did the Founding Fathers at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in
1787 view man? How did they view “democracy”? To what extent had their views of man and democracy
changed since the heyday of revolutionary enthusiasm in the late 1770s? Had they completely given up
their classical republican values? Are these men who would have wished that the Newburgh conspiracy
had succeeded? Given that most of the Founding Fathers believed that man was “an unchangeable creature
of self-interest” and thus incapable of virtue, how was social order to be maintained? What three
“constitutional devices” did they advocate? In the final analysis, what do you think of the Founding
Fathers’ attitudes toward democracy and property?
The Constitutional Convention (Text, Chapter 6, 115-19)
What were the main features of Madison’s “Virginia Plan”? Why was it so important that it, rather than the
“New Jersey Plan,” became the basis for discussion? What issues nearly wrecked the Convention? How
were they solved (at least temporarily) in the so-called “Great Compromise”? How was the secondary
problem of the slave trade “solved”? How did the executive branch of the Constitution reflect a retreat
from the democratic beliefs of the 1770s? What procedure for ratification did the delegates construct?
Why were Gouverneur Morris’s last-minute wording changes so important?
The Ratification Debate and The Bill of Rights (Text, Chapter 6, 119-23)
During the ratification debates, how did the ideas and arguments of the Antifederalists differ from those of
the Federalists? To what extent did supporters of the new constitution differ from opponents with regard to
social class, region, occupation, etc.? Why was the Bill of Rights included in the new constitution, despite
lack of enthusiasm among Federalists? What rights did it protect?
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"Madison Defends the New Constitution," American Spirit, Vol. 1, 143-46
To what extent does Madison's language in the first paragraph reflect a crisis in republican faith? Does
Madison really exhaust the possibilities for removing the causes of factions? Can you think of any other
ways? (Refer here to the second excerpt from Gordon Wood's book.) Would you describe Madison's
attitude here as idealistic or realistic? According to Madison, which is more dangerous: a faction that
consists of a majority or a faction that consists of a minority? What is the historical background to
Madison's preoccupation with the threat of a majority faction? (Refer to Gordon Wood here.) Since no one
in the ratification debate has suggested establishing a "pure democracy," why does Madison bother
discussing democracies at all? (The first sentence of the last paragraph on p. 145 should help you figure it
out.) What are the "two great points of difference" between a democracy and a republic? According to
Madison, what is the best type of republic? How would Clinton respond to Madison's discussion of the
second "point of difference" between a democracy and a republic? On what points would they agree? On
what points would they disagree?
George Clinton, Letters of Cato, III, 189-192
Why, according to Clinton, will the national legislature under the proposed constitution "be like a house
divided against itself"? What reasons does the French political philosopher Montesquieu have for insisting
that a republic must be small? Is the public good more easily served in a small republic or a large republic?
Is a dangerous clash of interests more likely in a small republic or a large republic? To which traditional
Whig fear does Clinton appeal on p.192?
Joseph J. Ellis, Founding Brothers, “The Silence” (Chapter 3), 88-96
Please note: the main focus of this chapter is the 1790 session of Congress, but the section that you are
reading here concerns the debate at the constitutional convention in 1787.
Why, in the early years of the American Revolution, did it appear that slavery was a dying institution?
Why, according to Ellis, was this an illusion? At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, what was
the position of the northern delegates? What was the southern (or “Deep Southern”) position? Ultimately,
what position did the Constitution take? Why was the document so evasive on the matter of slavery and its
future? According to Ellis, how was this same evasiveness reflected in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787
(one of the last acts of the old Congress)? How was it reflected in the agreement on the slave
trade/interstate commerce issue at the Philadelphia convention? Based on the debates in the state
ratification conventions, were northerners and southerners truly devoted to compromise on the slavery
issue? Why does Ellis say that on the slavery issue, Virginia “talked northern but thought southern”?