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Colonial Experience with Government and Economics

75 min

Guiding Questions

  • How did the experience of colonists lead to an expanded interpretation of “property of every sort,” including physical possessions, rights of conscience, and more?
  • What is the relationship between one’s rights concerning physical possessions and rights of conscience?


  • Students will trace historical developments that led to expanded individual liberty in colonial America.
  • Students will evaluate the relationship between rights concerning physical property and rights of conscience.

  • Thomas Jefferson
  • justice
  • inalienable rights
  • Founders
  • Alexis de Tocqueville
  • mores
  • liberty
  • Constitution
  • property
  • George Washington
  • James Madison

Have students read the Colonial Experience with Government and Economics Essay prior to class time.

Conduct a whole-class discussion of the following questions:

  1. Why did Puritans at Plymouth Plantation decide that communal farming was unjust and how did they solve the problem?
  2. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 affirmed that civil society depended on religion and morality and authorized the government to establish and support Protestant churches. To what extent do you agree with that constitutional provision? To whom might such a system of established (government-supported) religion be an injustice?
  3. What is the difference between religious toleration and religious liberty?
  4. Why did Tocqueville conclude that religious liberty and civil liberty support one another?
  5. Summarize the arguments that Madison and Jefferson made in favor of religious liberty.

Activity 1 [15 minutes]

Provide students with the U.S. Bill of Rights and Handout A: Excerpts from the Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641). Have students work in small groups to read Handout A and underline or highlight protections that remind them of some protection in the United States Constitution and/or Bill of Rights.

Activity 2 [30 minutes]

Distribute Handout B: Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments by James Madison (1785). Guide the class as a whole to work through the first page, following the directions at the top: highlight the reasons religious freedom is fundamental according to Madison, underline the reasons Madison gives for keeping religion and government separate, and circle the reasons that Madison believed religion should not be supported by taxes.

Then divide the class into four sections and assign each of the remaining pages of Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance to a different section, continuing annotations as they have done on page 1.

After students have completed the reading and discussion in their groups, reassemble the class as a whole.

Conduct a class discussion of the critical thinking questions at the end of Handout B.

Students find a current events article related to rights of conscience or economic freedom, and write a brief summary of the article providing answers to who, what, when, where, why, how, and results questions.

Students should identify what they believe is a fundamental right that is unique to the 21st century and describe what actions they believe should be taken by the government to protect this right.

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

Rights and the Declaration of Independence

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