Revolution, Paradox & Music

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Learning Objects (14)

Direct access to links:

American Revolutionary War (History)
Explore the Timeline of the American Revolution (Mount Vernon)
Revolutionary War Battles (Mount Vernon)
Myths of the American Revolution (Smithsonian)
Thomas Jefferson: Liberty & Slavery (Monticello)
Declaration of Independence (History)
Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence (PBS)
Creating the Declaration of Independence – Slavery (Library of Congress)
William Lee (enslaved valet to George Washington) (Mount Vernon)
George Washington & Slavery (Mount Vernon)
George Washington & Native Americans (Mount Vernon)
Thomas Jefferson & Native Americans (Monticello)
US Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps (Library of Congress)
Music in the Early American Republic (Organization of American Historians)


Slavery and Freedom – The American Paradox. As American Patriots mounted an insurrection against British Rule, they were led by slave owners. While the Continental Congress declared the right of liberty for some – it was not for all, including slaves, recognition of rights of Native Americans and women. Some of our nation’s leaders and founders, however, supported the abolition of slavery but at the “appropriate” time. Slaves were promised by Britain freedom if they fought for the British Crown but the British lost the war. Imagine how history would have unfolded had the United States lost the Revolutionary War and been under the rule of His Majesty, King George III. The lands belonging to the Native Americans were but another story.

Throughout this tumultuous time in our nation’s history, the rhythm of music could be heard: Native American, sacred, immigrant, military, and political. It marked the time of day, called men to their death, soothed sorrows, and reflected joy. Music held the fabric of a young nation together.

The American Revolution

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American Revolutionary War

The Revolutionary War was an insurrection by American Patriots in the 13 colonies to British rule, resulting in American independence. For more than a decade before the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, tensions had been building between colonists and the British authorities. Skirmishes between British troops and colonial militiamen in Lexington and Concord in April 1775 kicked off the armed conflict, and by the following summer, the rebels were waging a full-scale war for their independence.


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Explore the Timeline of the American Revolution

George Washington was appointed commander of the Continental Army in 1775. Despite having little practical experience in managing large, conventional armies, Washington proved to be a capable and resilient leader of the American military forces during the Revolutionary War. His leadership and fortitude held the American military together long enough to secure victory at Yorktown and independence for his new nation in 1781.

Revolutionary War Battles

While there were over 230 skirmishes and battles fought during the American Revolution, explore the 17 battles at which General Washington was present.


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Myths of the American Revolution

We think we know the Revolutionary War. After all, the American Revolution and the war that accompanied it not only determined the nation we would become but also continue to define who we are. The Declaration of Independence, the Midnight Ride, Valley Forge—the whole glorious chronicle of the colonists’ rebellion against tyranny is in the American DNA.


The Paradox of Liberty

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Thomas Jefferson: Liberty & Slavery

Thomas Jefferson helped to create a new nation based on individual freedom and self-government.  His words in the Declaration of Independence expressed the aspirations of the new nation. But the Declaration did not extend “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” to African Americans, indentured servants, or women.


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Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence was the first formal statement by a nation’s people asserting their right to choose their own government. In mid-June 1776, a five-man committee including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin was tasked with drafting a formal statement of the colonies’ intentions. The Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence—written largely by Jefferson—in Philadelphia on July 4, a date now celebrated as the birth of American independence.


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Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence

Although the issue of slavery was widely debated — both the chattel slavery of Africans in America and the civil slavery that fired patriot rhetoric — it is conspicuously absent from the final version of the Declaration. Yet in his rough draft, Jefferson railed against King George III for creating and sustaining the slave trade, describing it as “a cruel war against human nature.”


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Creating the Declaration of Independence – Slavery

Influenced by the European Enlightenment, many Americans, including Thomas Jefferson, James Otis, and James Madison, did not believe that slavery could be abolished outright, but they planned to cause it to eventually wither away. The first step would be to end the importation of slaves.


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William (Billy) Lee

William Lee, an enslaved valet, served with Washington throughout the Revolutionary War. Spending more than seven years in close proximity during the intensity of war seems to have made Washington and Lee’s relationship especially close. The former’s views on slavery shifted significantly during the war, and he emerged with a new found abhorrence of slavery and a commitment to neither buy nor sell slaves and to avoid separating enslaved families. Many factors likely influenced Washington’s evolution, but his close relationship with William Lee may have helped him understand more fully the humanity of those he enslaved.

George Washington & Slavery

While he never publicly led the effort to abolish slavery, Washington did try to lead by setting an example. In his will, written several months before his death in December 1799, Washington left directions for the emancipation after Martha Washington’s death, of all the slaves who belonged to him.

George Washington & Native Americans

George Washington had a complicated relationship with Native Americans. Throughout his life, Washington negotiated with and served alongside native peoples, fought against others, and sought their land for his own prosperity. By the time of his presidency, Washington and many of his contemporaries had come to believe that Native Americans had no choice but to assimilate into American society or face extinction. He also spoke of wanting to create policies based on “principles of Justice and humanity” towards native nations but the stability of the young republic and its citizens was his clear priority.


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Thomas Jefferson & Native Americans

Over time and in varying circumstances, Jefferson viewed Native Americans as subjects of intellectual curiosity or saw them in political terms as enemies in war or partners in peace. Jefferson’s long public career during a formative time period allowed him to shape the relations between the United States and the various Indian nations in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and beyond.


A Young Nation Infused with Music

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US Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps

This concert by the United States Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, held on the steps of the Library of Congress Jefferson Building, paints a series of pictures from the life of a continental soldier musician. The United States Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps traces its lineage back to George Washington’s original continental army and serves as official escort to President of the United States. From the days of the American revolution through the 19th century, fifes, drums and bugles were vital to military order and discipline. Field musicians were used to issue commands during battle and to regulate the duty day, signaling when to rise, when to eat, and when the day ends.

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Organization of American Historians

Music in the Early American Republic

Early American ears pulsed, lips hummed, and feet shuffled to the multitude of sounds infusing life’s rhythms. During the earliest decades of the nation, virtually everyone heard, made, and moved to music. In an age before broadly accessible commercial entertainment, where one’s routine labors begged for distracting relief, song and dance enlivened life’s tedium. Music filled an important social niche in the publically lived do-it-yourself world of early America.


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Ontology Tags Arts & Entertainment: (1) Authorship & Composition – Social Issues through Art & Literature (2) Mirror of Society – Music as a Form of Communication | Conflict & Defense: Terrorism, Wars & Conflict – Through History | Government & Politics: Political Structure Shifts – Distinguishing Forms of Government | Law in Society: (1) Borders & Boundaries – (a) Indigenous & Cultural Property (b) Property & Land Rights (2) Constitutional Challenges – (a) Interpretations (b) Rights & Protections (3) Reach of Government Powers – Legal History, Traditions & Systems (4) Security & Defense-related Law – Treaties & International Agreements | Societies: (1) Stamping Out Human Suffering – Personal Freedom (2) Inhabiting Our World – Civilizations (3) Uncovering Social Issues – (a) Democratization (b) Patriotism (c) Taxation

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