|Why do communities need governments?|
Rules and laws are central to governing on local, state, and national levels. Leaders put this system into place and are followed today by those who help ensure that it runs smoothly.
What Primary Sources Can Tell Us about Many Communities, One Nation
As citizens of the United States, Americans share loyalties among their local community, their state, and federal government. Reminders of our duties, responsibilities, and history as members of each of these groups can be found all around us.
Images of Washington Crossing the Delaware
Washington Crossing the Delaware
The oft-depicted scene of George Washington crossing the Delaware River shows a crucial moment in America’s fight for independence. It was Christmas night 1776, and General George Washington knew that he needed to do something to restore faith in the colonial army. The British had recently taken control of Boston and New York, forcing Americans to evacuate those two important cities. That night Washington led his troops in a surprise attack against the British, who had settled into winter quarters in New Jersey. To do so, they needed to cross the icy waters of the Delaware River. Taken by surprise, the British forces were defeated that evening at Trenton in a struggle that lasted all of 45 minutes. By the time it was over, 900 Hessian soldiers had been taken prisoner. Three days later this same army again defeated the British, this time in a battle at Princeton. These two victories, although minor, dramatically improved the morale of the American forces.
The March to Washington
Iconic Images in American History
The history of the American Revolution is full of images—whether entirely accurate or not— that have come to represent crucial moments in the colonial rebel’s fight for independence during the American Revolution. These images are so freighted with meaning that they have come to be iconic – they represent more about the Revolution than the actual event depicted.
Paul Revere riding to Lexington alerting the militia that the Redcoats were coming, “Molly Pitcher” bringing water to Continental soldiers at the Battle of Monmouth, Patrick Henry standing before the Second Virginia Convention proclaiming “Give me liberty or give me death!”— and, of course, George Washington crossing the icy Delaware on Christmas night, 1776 are examples of this kind of image. These moments are not the only ones in American history symbolized by iconic images like these. Others include Benjamin Franklin’s famous kite experiment during an electrical storm, Pilgrims and Native Americans taking part in the first Thanksgiving, and Francis Scott Key penning the words to our national anthem as he watched the bombing of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. In this activity, students will create their own “iconic images” related to people they are studying, past or present that play or have played a crucial role in local, state, or national government.
Create a Bulletin Board Display on “Who Helped to Make Us Free?”
1. Distribute to each student a copy of the image of Washington crossing the Delaware found on page 24 of your Primary Sources Handbook. Ask students if they know what the image shows. Explain the basic history behind it as given above. Then, if you like, distribute and have students complete on their own the worksheet on page 25 of your Primary Sources Handbook.Review the worksheet answers as a class.
2. Display for the class other images showing the same or similar scenes related to George Washington crossing the Delaware, as provided by the links above. Compare and contrast, as a group, what these images all have in common and ways in which they differ.
3. Have students help you make a list of heroes that they learned about in this unit. This list might include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Anne Hutchinson, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, Francis Bellamy, and Nelson Mandela. To this list, encourage students to add leaders, past and present, from within their own local community. Then assign individuals or teams of students to each one of these heroes.
4. Remind students of the way that the image of George Washington and his men crossing the Delaware represents an important moment with which many people associate the nation’s first President and Revolution War general. Then, mention other famous people in American history (such as those noted in the Background information above), and ask students to name a symbol or image (iconic image) they associate with each of these individuals. If you like, use the links provided to offer students an example of each of these icons.
5. After researching more about the leader that they were assigned, challenge students to identify a significant or critical moment in that person’s life. Then have students draw their own “iconic image” representative of that moment to share with the class. Use these to create a bulletin board display titled “Who Helped to Make Us Free?” If you like, use lettering for the bulletin board similar to that found on the postcard on page 24 of your Primary Sources Handbook—the page you distributed to students at the start of step #1 above. Invite students to share what they drew before pinning their artwork up on the bulletin board.
Additional Primary Sources
Chapter 9: Governing the United States
Chapter 10: Celebrating America
Image credits: a. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division: LC-D416-550; b. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division: LC-USZ62-55985 DLC