Since the birth of the United States as a republic, ideas of citizenship have been tied closely to misconceptions about race and identity. This lesson uses resources from Race and Membership in American History as well as various documentary videos to explore this complicated relationship.
Many of the ideas and beliefs about race and democracy in the United States that we discuss today developed during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The intellectual movement known as the "Enlightenment" encouraged the belief in the inherent equality of all humans, while at the same time supporting distinctions and inequality among "races". This lesson considers the tension between these notions as well as the consequences of that tension.
Research the creation of the Declaration of Independence-why was the phrase "all men are created equal" included? What did it mean for the framers at the time? A well-researched response would include the following:
- Information about framers' discussions on slavery; particularly, whether references to slavery should be included in the Declaration.
- Specific connections between the Enlightenment ideas they learned in this lesson and the context for the creation of the Declaration.
- Discussion of the impact of the Declaration, and its influence on the formation of the new nation: what ideas help shape the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution? What ideas seem to be left out, or changed?
Research inequalities in your own community-are different groups treated differently? Have students focus on an area such as access to educational or health services. If there are differences in treatment, what seem to be reasons for the differences? Are there community groups that are trying to address the inequalities?