Dangerous Contemplation

Near the end of one of my classes in American History today, a group of my students were clearly not getting the idea of Revolution.

I was having a hard time explaining that American colonists in 1773 weren’t really sure if they liked British governance or not.  A lot of the colonists didn’t, a lot of them did, and a lot were just unsure.  But British treatment of Boston — calling out the Army and Navy to punish Boston for the losses of a private corporation — deeply rattled and unsettled New Yorkers and Georgians alike, and nearly everyone in between.

List of Reasons

So, I went with my gut instinct.  I asked them, “OK… what would cause you to decide that the existing government, in Washington DC, was no longer the legitimate government of America?  Discuss this question… I want an answer from your tables in two minutes.” And I started the countdown timer.

In two minutes, the four tables of kids had come up with the following reasons:

  1. Frivolous laws with harsh penalties that make everyone into criminals.
  2. Atrocity — conscious murder of large numbers of citizens
  3. Conspiracy with foreign governments to run the country the way the foreigners want.
  4. Conspiracy with domestic persons or organizations to run the country for private benefit.
  5. Failure to respond to invasion — foreign army inside the borders of the country, no response from government.
  6. Unresponsiveness to crisis — major catastrophe, no real effort to relieve people’s concerns or injuries, or to reduce harm.
  7. Responds only to faction — the government only answers to one small part of the country’s needs.
  8. Re-introduction of slavery = “required work for no wages”
  9. Deliberate discrimination:  conscious, obvious official persecution and violence against a large subset of the population.
There you go: Nine generic reasons why people might decide their government is not the legitimate government, and why they might turn away from the existing government to follow some other leadership.
It was only after the class had left that I realized that I’d invited them to consider and create a list of reasons that allowed them to justifiably contemplate treason.  And it was only AFTER that, that I realized that one girl said she thought that the Presidency had already gone that far, and was conspiring to respond only to faction.

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