Investigative Question

How do the American, French, Haitian, and Latin American revolutions compare to one another?

A transatlantic republic of letters helped spread revolutionary thinking and activism. With the American and French revolutions serving as models of republican government, former slaves in Haiti, colonial peoples in Latin America, and military and religious elites in Spain and Portugal all participated in revolutionary uprisings. 

 

Students can make meaning about these revolutions in a comparative context by addressing the question: How do the French, American, and Haitian Revolutions compare to one another? Many new leaders established constitutional governments that echoed principles from the Glorious Revolution, Enlightenment ideas embodied in the English Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and the United States Constitution. 

 

Liberal democratic principles, such as individual rights and the rule of law, replaced traditional aristocratic privileges. Students may consider how the universal ideas of the Enlightenment texts provided a political tool for disenfranchised groups to press for greater rights in liberal democracies during the modern era. Yet these revolutionary principles were applied differently in each context; in the Americas citizenship and natural rights did not apply to slaves, women, and many men who did not own property, while in Haiti, revolutionary principles translated directly to the abolition of slavery.

 Students analyze a set of eight written sources to compare the revolutions in North America, France, Haiti, and Latin America, an area many historians call the Atlantic World. There are two sources for each revolution, with the first source focusing on the reasons for wanting independence and the second source on some of the political changes made by the revolution. The set will help students understand the desires for revolution and the transfer of revolutionary ideas and fervor across borders, oceans, and continents, but it will not cover the individual causes, events, and effects of each revolution. Because of the narrow focus, the students will need contextual support through direct instruction, secondary source readings, or alternative activities to understand the revolutions more thoroughly. They should already be familiar with the major leaders, the dates, and an overview of events. Students should also be familiar with the ideas of the Enlightenment, the contrast between those ideas and old ways of thinking, and the influence of the Enlightenment on people in Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean.

This lesson is an important one for students on multiple levels. Because this lesson is early in the year, this source set and the literacy strategy included in it will help students learn how to deconstruct sentences of difficult text for greater comprehension. The set also includes a source analysis strategy, CAMPS, to help students read and compare documents as historians do. If the teacher uses this guided practice early in the year and continues these practices throughout the year, students will gain and demonstrate these real-life skills that can have a huge impact on the way they tackle difficult texts and understand documents in the future.

One common thread in all the Atlantic World revolutions is inspiration from the Enlightenment, particularly the concept of popular sovereignty (that people were the source of power for the state) and a new rhetoric of freedom and liberty, which became linked to other new ideas such as nation, independence, and equality. These ideas spread around the Atlantic World in multiple forms. Newspapers, pamphlets, and books —  published in increasing numbers and sold to a growing educated audience — have allowed historians to track the circulation of these new ideas. However, nonreaders also learned about and spread these ideas, thanks to freed and enslaved people who as sailors and port laborers moved about the Atlantic. The revolution in British colonies of North America is the subject of the first two sources, excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The third source is an excerpt from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract. The fourth source is the Declaration of the Rights of Man, written during the French Revolution, which describes the type of government the French National Assembly hoped to establish. Although France went through many different forms of government before Napoleon established a monarchy, many of the principles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man were codified into the Napoleonic Code and future French law. One of the crucial differences between the US (American) and French revolutions was the existence in France of an entrenched system of nobility and clergy with privileges. While the US Revolution was a liberal revolution, confined to political changes, the French Revolution gave rise to social upheaval. Since there were so many changes of government, so many social groups involved, and so much reporting of it across the globe, it was a source of inspiration to rebels everywhere and a source of alarm to ruling classes. It not only stressed equality but also the association of the people with the nation, a new type of state based on popular sovereignty. Source 5, a letter by Toussaint L’Overture, comes from the Haitian Revolution, where the enslaved majority used the rhetoric of freedom and revolution against their white masters to win control of Haiti. The excerpt from the Haitian Constitution of 1801 will allow students to analyze the goals of the new government of Haiti, under L’Ouverture’s control (Source 7). In South America there were often uprisings by the Indian or slave majorities, but creoles, Iberian American elites, feared the potential for a radical revolution of the lower social groups. Events in Spain, such as Napoleon’s invasion and removal of the Spanish monarchy, caused a republican moment in that state just as it had in France. Republicanism in Spain gave rise to debates about how the colonies would be represented, which led to a desire for independence among creole elites. These elites were largely successful in interpreting liberty as freedom for those who were white property owners and preservation of property rights, privileges, and the existing social order. Sources 8 and 9 are both speeches by Simón Bolivar, the first on his aspirations for a new nation-state and the second on his draft constitution for Bolivia. Like the US Revolution, the Latin American revolutions drove out the colonial powers but then transferred ruling power to colonial creole elites. Otherwise, land ownership and the structure of social hierarchy based on race remained unchanged.

 

This set will be useful in answering the investigative question in multiple ways. First, for each area under study students will be able to read the ideas of the leaders of these revolutions and what they intended for their nations. Next, students will analyze documents created after the revolutions began that were designed to govern the new nations. Through these documents, students will compare the revolutions and trace the ideas — both those held in common and those that were unique to each revolution — and their ultimate transformation into new governments. Sources 6, 10, and 11, portraits of revolutionary leaders, allow students to compare common features; they provide further evidence that the entire Atlantic World received news, information, and images from these revolutions.

Literacy Strategy for Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (Source 3)

California English Language Development Standards for Grades 9 – 10

B. Interpretative

6. Read closely literary and informational texts and view multimedia to determine how meaning is conveyed explicitly and implicitly through language.

8. Analyze how writers and speakers use vocabulary and other language resources for specific purposes (to explain, persuade, entertain, etc.) depending on modality, text type, purpose, audience, topic, and content area.

 

Teacher background: Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a major philosopher of Enlightenment political theory and, for his time, a skilled and dramatic writer. However, his rhetorical style will be confusing to students, especially given the dense nature of the topic. Many sentences are lengthy and employ sophisticated vocabulary. To help students understand Rousseau’s text and, more importantly, think about the historical significance of the piece, the text has been broken down into its functional parts, each part followed by questions to spur further thinking and discussion. Before the class begins this sentence deconstruction activity, you may want to refer to the Sentence Deconstruction Strategy on the Teaching California website. 

Directions

 

  1. Divide students into groups or pairs. Distribute Student Handout 10.2. Instruct students to fill in the blank spaces in the chart while reading the text, using boldface words from the text. They should complete the first four columns and then answer the questions in the fifth column.

  2. When students are finished, go over the chart as a whole class. Clarify any misunderstandings and explain where necessary. Discuss student responses to the questions in the fifth column. 

  3. Instruct student groups or pairs to read the rest of the text and underline additional key ideas that help define the concept of the social contract. They should then discuss the final question and write a group answer. 

  4. Have groups or pairs share their answers with the class. Ask them how the idea of the social contract might inspire revolution. Remind them that Rousseau’s books were printed, sold, distributed, read, and read aloud all over the Atlantic World. 



 

Student Handout 10.2: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (Source 3)

Background: Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a French philosopher who worked and wrote during the Enlightenment, before the Atlantic revolutions began. Along with John Locke, he was the creator of the concept of the social contract. He was a very popular writer whose books circulated everywhere in the Atlantic World. 

Directions: Below the text there is a sentence deconstruction chart. Using only the boldface sentences and phrases, fill in the missing words in the first four columns of the chart. Refer to the vocabulary list to find the meaning of unfamiliar words. Then discuss the questions in the fifth column.

Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer. …

Slavery

To say that a man gives himself gratuitously, is to say what is absurd and inconceivable; such an act is null and illegitimate, from the mere fact that he who does it is out of his mind. To say the same of a whole people is to suppose a people of madmen; and madness creates no right.

Even if each man could alienate himself, he could not alienate his children: they are born men and free; their liberty belongs to them, and no one but they has the right to dispose of it. … It would therefore be necessary, in order to legitimize an arbitrary government, that in every generation the people should be in a position to accept or reject it; but were this so, the government would be no longer arbitrary.

To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties. For him who renounces everything no indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man's nature; to remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality from his acts …

The Social Compact

The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before. This is the fundamental problem of which the Social Contract provides the solution.

If then we discard from the social compact what is not of its essence, we shall find that it reduces itself to the following terms — "Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole."

At once, in place of the individual personality of each contracting party, this act of association creates a moral and collective body, composed of as many members as the assembly contains votes, and receiving from this act its unity, its common identity, its life and its will. This public person, so formed by the union of all other persons formerly took the name of city, and now takes that of Republic or body politic; it is called by its members State when passive, Sovereign when active, and Power when compared with others like itself. Those who are associated in it take collectively the name of people, and severally are called citizens, as sharing in the sovereign power, and subjects, as being under the laws of the State.

Vocabulary

compact: contract

gratuitously: free of charge, without good reason

association: a group of people organized for a joint purpose

alienate: transfer ownership of property to someone else

essence: the fundamental qualities of something

arbitrary: (of power or a ruling body) unrestrained and autocratic in the use of authority

corporate: of or shared by all the members of a group

renounce: to formally give up possession of

sovereign: acting or done independently and without outside interference

severally: together, in the plural

indemnity: security or protection against a loss

Student Handout 10.2a “The Social Contract”

Connectors

Complete subject / main noun phrase

Complete verb phrase

Follow-up (objects, prepositional phrases)

Questions

 

The problem

is to find

 

 

 

 

1. What might be another word for association?

 

 

2. What is the problem that the social contract solves, according to Rousseau?

 

and in which

each, while uniting himself with all,

may still obey

 

 

This

is

the fundamental problem of which the Social Contract provides the solution.

 

"Each of us

puts

 

3. What does Rousseau mean by the “general will”?

 

4. How might people contribute their ideas to the general will?

 

5. What do people get from the Social Contract?

 

and, in our corporate capacity,

we

receive

 

At once, in place of the individual personality of each contracting party,

this act of association

creates

a moral and collective body, composed of

6. In your own words, what does this association create?

 

 

This public person,

now takes

 

7. Why do you think the association is called a public person?

 

 

it

is called by its members

 

 

Those who are associated in it

take

 

8. What are the different names that people who live within this association could be called?

 

and severally

 

are called

 

 

Summary question: In your own words, summarize what Rousseau means by the Social Compact / Contract.

 

Student Handout 10.2a “The Social Contract” — KEY

Connectors

Complete subject / main noun phrase

Complete verb phrase

Follow-up (objects, prepositional phrases)

Questions

 

The problem

is to find

a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate,

1. What might be another word for association?

Government

2. What is the problem that the social contract solves, according to Rousseau?

Finding a structure of association which will protect all of the people who live there, while also allowing each person freedom.

and in which

each, while uniting himself with all,

may still obey

himself alone, and remain as free as before.

 

This

is

the fundamental problem of which the Social Contract provides the solution.

 

"Each of us

puts

his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will,

3. What does Rousseau mean by the “general will”?

The common goals of all of the people. 

4. How might people contribute their ideas to the general will?

Through voting, petitioning, focus groups

5. What do people get from the Social Contract?

To be an inseparable part of the association and a say in the way the association works

and, in our corporate capacity,

we

receive

each member as an indivisible part of the whole."

At once, in place of the individual personality of each contracting party,

this act of association

creates

a moral and collective body, composed of as many members as the assembly contains votes, and receiving from this act its unity, its common identity, its life and its will.

6. Summarize in your own words, this association creates?

A good group with all of the people as members and voters, which gives it unity, and direction.

 

This public person,

now takes

[the name] of Republic or body politic;

7. Why do you think the association is called a public person?

It represents the public will of the people and acts as if it has a life and spirit.

 

it

is called by its members

State

 

Those who are associated in it

take

collectively the name of people,

8. What are the different names that people who live within this association could be called?

People, citizens, and subjects

and severally

 

are called

citizens, as sharing in the sovereign power, and subjects, as being under the laws of the State.

 

Summary question: In your own words, summarize what Rousseau means by the Social Compact / Contract. According to Rousseau, the Social Contract would be a government with all people following the rules of the State in exchange for every member having a say in the decisions the government makes.

Additional Primary Source Strategy

 

Student Handout 10.2b Source Analysis Chart

 

Directions

Students will use the Source Analysis Chart as a way to create a deeper understanding of the sources. They should complete the section for each source after reading and annotating it, except the last row. Students should go back and complete the Significance row after they have entered all the other information from the sources. After completing the chart for each source, students should use the evidence to answer the following questions.

1. What are the common ideas among revolutions?

2. What ideas are distinct to a particular revolution? 

3. What evidence is there that ideas were spreading from one revolution to the next?

 

 

 

Student Handout 10.2b Source Analysis Chart

Investigative Question: How do the American, French, Haitian, and Latin American revolutions compare to one another?

Title

American Declaration of Independence

American Constitution and

Bill of Rights

The Social Contract

The Declaration of the Rights of Man

Date written

 

 

 

 

Type of document

 

 

 

 

Context

What was happening at the time and place that this source was created?

 

 

 

 

Author

Who is the author? What do you know about him/her/them?

 

 

 

 

Message

What is this document about? What are its main ideas?

 

 

 

 

Purpose

What is its purpose?

 

 

 

 

Significance*

What ideas reappear in other revolutionary documents?

 

 

 

 

 

*Do after completing the above for all documents.

 

Student Handout 10.2b, page 2

Investigative Question: How do the American, French, Haitian, and Latin American revolutions compare to one another?

Title

Letter to the French Directory

The Haitian Constitution of 1801

Address at Congress of Angostura

Address to the Bolivian Constituent Congress

Date written

 

 

 

 

Type of document

 

 

 

 

Context:

What was happening at the time and place that this source was created?

 

 

 

 

Author

Who is the author? What do you know about him/her/them?

 

 

 

 

Message

What is this document about? What are its main ideas?

 

 

 

 

Purpose

What is its purpose?

 

 

 

 

Significance*

What ideas reappear in other revolutionary documents?

 

 

 

 

 

*Do after completing the above for all documents.

Student Handout 10.2b, page 3

 Interpretation:

Answer the following questions.

 

What are the common ideas among revolutions?

 

 

 

 

What ideas are distinct to a particular revolution? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What evidence is there that ideas were spreading from one revolution to the next?