- How has the Declaration of Independence inspired Americans throughout history to help the country live up to its Founding Principles?
- Students will analyze key passages from documents across U.S. history to understand how the Declaration of Independence inspired Americans’ work to achieve equality.
- Background Essay: Applying the Ideals of the Declaration of Independence
- Graphic Organizer: The Declaration of Independence and Equality in U.S. History
- Documents: The Declaration of Independence and Equality in U.S. History
- Appendix C: The Declaration of Independence, with Line Numbers
Facilitation Notes: The background essay can be completed in class as a read-aloud or for homework the day before. Students will consult Appendix A: Founding Principles and Civic Virtues Organizer and Appendix B: Being an American Unit Graphic Organizer from the first lesson in this curriculum.
Optional: Have students read the background essay.
Have students respond to the following prompt in writing: The Declaration of Independence asserts that all men are created equal. Think of an example of a time in U.S. history or the present day in which individuals were not treated equally. How do Americans work to address this?
Have students share answers with a partner and discuss the similarities and differences between their answers. Have partner groups share their answers and hold a discussion. Steer the conversation to help students realize that when inequality or injustice exists, there are individuals and groups that work to address and change this. Tell students that they will be looking at documents from politicians, individuals, and social movements that helped make the United States a more equal and just society throughout history.
- Distribute Background Essay to students. Read the title aloud with students. Ask students what a guiding star might be. Direct students to the idea that this refers to something that never moves and is a standard by which you can find your location. Ask students to think about how the Declaration could serve in this way. Preview the headers and vocabulary terms with students to predict main ideas and concepts. Read the essay aloud as a class or have students read individually (this can also be done as preparatory work for stronger readers). After reading, give students time to review the Guiding Questions. Then, lead a brief discussion on the answers.
- Distribute Graphic Organizer: The Declaration of Independence and Equality in U.S. History. Complete Part 1 as a class.
- Divide the class into pairs/small groups and assign each group one section of Documents: The Declaration of Independence and Equality in U.S. History. Students should use their assigned document to fill out the corresponding row of the graphic organizer. The first row, on the Declaration of Independence, has been completed as an example. You may wish to have pairs/groups put their information on a poster or PowerPoint slide for ease of sharing with the class. After completing their assigned sections, groups should share with the class.
- Ask students to answer the concluding questions after the organizer. Lead a brief discussion on student answers.
Assess & Reflect
- Have students design an Instagram post using #Equality. Arrange posts into a display to reflect how the Declaration of Independence has inspired Americans throughout history to help the country live up to its Founding Principles.
- Have students return to Appendix B: Being an American Unit Graphic Organizer from the first lesson in this curriculum and complete the applicable row as an exit ticket.
- Ask students to find or take pictures of scenes that illustrate the principle of equality from the Declaration of Independence in action today. Post pictures to a class site or compile into a mural or collage.
- Have students research and find an additional primary source not found in this activity that reflects the influence of the principle of equality from the Declaration of Independence. Choose a time frame that best suits your classroom (a historical movement or time period or the present day). Have students share their findings with the class.
- Have students do additional research on the historical context of the documents in this lesson. Students should target their research around questions such as:
- What was happening at the time this document was produced?
- Who wrote it?
- Who was the audience?
- What was the author’s intended purpose?
An “Apple of Gold” in a “Picture of Silver”: The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution
The Guiding Star of Equality: The Declaration of Independence and Equality in U.S. History Answer Key
Where do we go from here? Equality and Race to the present day
What work remains to fully realize the Founding principles? This playlist is a sub-set of primary sources that appear in Plainest Demands of Justice: Documents for Dialogue on the African-American Experience.
Liberty & Equality in the American Founding with Carol Berkin | BRI’s #ConstitutionDayLive
How did the Founders understand the principles of liberty and equality? Join us for Constitution Day as BRI Senior Teaching Fellow Tony Williams sits down with Professor Carol Berkin, distinguished historian, author, and expert on the American Revolution and women’s history, to explore the history of these principles during the Founding. How did the American Founding create a government and a civil society based upon the principles of liberty and equality? In what ways did the country fail to achieve the ideals and aspirations of liberty and equality for all Americans?
Abraham Lincoln and Black Freedom and Equality with Jon White | BRI Scholar Talks
What were Abraham Lincoln’s views on race and freedom and equality for Black Americans? In this episode of Scholar Talks, Jon White, associate professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University and prize-winning historian and author, joins BRI Senior Teaching Fellow Tony Williams to discuss his two books, "A House Built by Slaves: African American Visitors to the Lincoln White House" and "To Address You as My Friend: African Americans’ Letters to Abraham Lincoln." Together, they talk about Lincoln’s policies and personal relationships with African Americans during his time in office. How did Lincoln’s views shape his presidency and his relationship with African Americans?