GCCCD Liberty & Freedom Ideals During the American Revolution Essay

PSA #4: The USA Revolutionary War 


Use the lecture, readings, and videos to help you understand the historical context (the time and place of these events) of the primary sources, but base your prompt answer/argument and the bulk of your paper on information found in the required primary sources.
• Make sure to cite the primary sources using in-text citations, (Doc 1) for the letters between John and Abigail Adams and (Doc 2) for Slave Petition for Freedom to the Massachusetts Legislature and (Doc 3) for The Right of Free Suffrage.

Consider the following questions when you are writing your essay. Who wrote the primary source and how did their social location (race, class, gender, sexuality, etc.) influence their writing and the argument they made in the primary source. There is always an argument of some kind in primary sources; some are more obvious than others.

The USA Revolutionary War

  • Prompt: Were the ideals of the Enlightenment, Liberty and Freedom, kept with the founding of the new nation?

Required Primary Sources:

  • Doc 1: Letter Correspondence between Abigail Adams and John Adams

The following correspondence is between Abigail Adams and her husband John Adams, future president of the USA. 

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, March 31, 1776

I long to hear that you have declared independence. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.

If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation. That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute; but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend.

Why, then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity? Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex [servants of men]; regard us then as beings placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being [God] make use of that power only for our happiness.

Letter of Response from John Adams to Abigail Adams, April 14, 1776

As to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bonds of government everywhere; that children and apprentices were disobedient; that schools and colleges were grown turbulent; that Indians slighted their guardians, and Negros [slaves] grew insolent to their masters. But your letter was the first intimation that another tribe [women], more numerous and powerful than all the rest, were grown discontented.

Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems. Although they are in full force, you know they are little more than theory. We dare not exert our power in its full latitude. We are obliged to go fair and softly, and, in practice, you know we are the subjects. We have only the name of masters, and rather than give up this, which would completely subject us to the despotism of the petticoat [women]…

Doc 2: Slave Petition for Freedom to the Massachusetts Legislature, 1777

The following petition is from a group of Black slaves who under the advisement of an abolitionist lawyer sought to use the rhetoric of liberty to request their freedom.

To The Honorable Council & House of Representatives for the State of Massachusetts Bay in General Court assembled, Jan. 13, 1777.

The petition of a great number of blacks detained in a state of slavery in the bowels of a free and Christian country, humbly show that your petitioners understand that they have in common with all other men a natural and unalienable right to that freedom which the Great Parent of the Universe [God] has bestowed equally on all mankind and which they have never forfeited by any compact or agreement whatever be sold like a beast of burden [draft animal] and like them, condemned to slavery for life among a people professing the mild religion of Jesus [Christians], a people not insensible of the secrets of rational being, nor without spirit to resent the unjust endeavors of others [England] to reduce them to a state of bondage and subjection. Your honor [does not] need to be informed that a life of slavery, like that of your petitioners, deprived of every social privilege, of everything requisite to render life tolerable, is far worse than nonexistence [death]. 

Doc 3: The Right of Free Suffrage, 1776, From the Maryland Gazette by The Watchman

The mysterious “Watchman” wrote this article in the Maryland Gazette when news spread that only white male property owners would be allowed to vote and poor white farmers and merchants who did not own land/property would not be allowed to vote. 

The last [Congressional] convention resolved, that a convention be elected for the express purpose of forming a new government, by the authority of the people only, and enacting and ordering all things for the preservation, safety, and general weal of this colony. Unfortunately in the same sitting, they passed a resolve restricting the right of voting, thereby excluding nearly half of the members of this state [from] enjoyment of their inherent right of free suffrage

Is it not an insult to common sense to say that a government can be formed by the authority of the people only, when near half of them are excluded from any share in the election of the convention which is to form the government? This inequality of representation, contained in the resolve, cannot be justified on any principle. Every freeman must stand amazed at it. It struck at the grandest right of a freeman…The ultimate end of all freedom is the enjoyment of a free suffrage. A constitution formed without this important right of free voting being preserved to the people, would be despotic…

For a people governed contrary to their inclination, or by persons to whom they have given no commission for that purpose, are, in the properest sense of the phrase, an enslaved people, if ever there was an enslaved people. That a part of the people should engross the power of electing legislators for the whole community is the grossest injustice that can be imagined… Let, therefore, all hateful distinctions cease, and elections [be] made open and by the free suffrage of the people stand good and valid…And let a government be established, where equal liberty can be enjoyed, the interest of the people promoted, and the cause of America maintained.

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