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Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

45 min

Students will:

  • appreciate Adams’s role as a leader in the American opposition to British tyranny.
  • understand Adams’s hopes for the new American government.
  • identify rhetorical strategies and their goals.
  • compare historical methods of persuasion to modern examples.
  • analyze Adams’s methods of persuasion for the Revolutionary cause.

Ask students to read Handout A—Samuel Adams (1722–1803) and answer the Reading Comprehension Questions.

  1. Review answers to homework questions.
  2. Conduct a whole-class discussion to answer the Critical Thinking Questions.
  3. Ask a student to summarize the historical significance of Samuel Adams.

Samuel Adams could be called the “Father of the American Revolution.” He formed the Sons of Liberty, organized the Boston Tea Party, and mobilized independence efforts in Massachusetts and other colonies. He signed the Declaration of Independence, helped write the Articles of Confederation, and served as governor of Massachusetts.

  1. Before class, copy and cut out enough of the loaded word/phrases cards so that there are approximately double the number of cards as students in the class.
  2. Divide students into groups of four and give each group eight “loaded word” cards and a dictionary.
  3. Ask students to define the terms and then put the words into categories based on their intended effect on the audience. Students should decide on their own categories by discussing how each term or phrase makes them feel.

    Suggested categories: Designed to provoke anger; to elicit sympathy; to produce indignation; to motivate action; to create feelings of unity and solidarity.

  4. When students have finished, ask a spokesperson from each group to report their words and categories to the class. Write the chosen categories on the board.
  5. Distribute Handout B—Vocabulary and Context Questions and Handout C—In His Own Words: Samuel Adams and Resistance to Tyranny.
  6. Still working in their groups, have students read Handout C and complete Handout B.
  7. Once everyone has finished, ask students to underline examples of individual word choices and phrases Adams uses to rouse his audience’s emotions.
  8. Put a transparency of Handout C on the overhead, and have each group in turn report one example of emotionally charged speech. Underline the example on the overhead for the class.
  9. Continue with all groups until all examples have been reported.

Reconvene the class and ask students if they believe Adams’s writing achieved his goal of stirring his audience’s emotions. (Compare to the student-chosen categories written on the board from the activity.) Why or why not? Ask the class to brainstorm instances in their own lives in which they could encounter emotionally charged rhetoric. Is it important to be aware of the techniques speakers and writers use?

Suggested examples of emotionally charged speech: Announcers talking before a sporting event; politicians on the campaign trail; lawmakers convincing citizens of the need for a certain policy; activists protesting a law or an organization; union members calling for a strike; friends imposing peer pressure to those who do not want to follow the crowd.

  1. Have students choose a topic that is important to them and write their own “Circular Letter” to spur others to action, using at least four of the loaded words and phrases from the class activity. They should underline the other terms and techniques they use specifically to arouse emotion.
  2. Samuel Adams was a strong advocate of private virtue and self-denial for the common good. Have students keep a journal for twenty-four hours, making note of each time they deny themselves an immediate desire for the sake of others. Have them address their findings in a personal narrative, in which they also address the question: Do you believe our society encourages self-denial for the common good? Why or why not?

Have students read at least two famous speeches from various periods of American history: students may choose Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech to the citizens of Virginia; Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech; Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech, or others of similar caliber. What rhetorical strategies are used most often? How have these techniques to arouse emotion changed, and how have they remained the same? Speeches can be found using the links below.

Patrick Henry <>.
Martin Luther King, Jr. <>.
Ronald Reagan <>.

Student Handouts

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