Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
A More Perfect Union

Understanding Primary Sources:
Spread the News!: July 4, 1776

Objective: Students plan and publish newspapers that inform the American colonists of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
3-4 hours over 4-5 days

Building Background:
The Declaration of Independence did more than state the reasons why the thirteen states were withdrawing from a political union with Great Britain. It also identified the fundamental premises on which the United States was to stand: "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights," and that "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." However, the bulk of the document is made up of a list of the king's tyrannical acts. This list was necessary to demonstrate that disloyalty to the throne was an acceptable idea because the king had, by his acts, betrayed his own people.

What To Do:

1. Discuss with students how dramatic the break between the colonies and Great Britain must have been. Remind them that the rebellion against King George III was not unanimously approved of by the people. The idea of giving up loyalty to a monarch was not an easy one for many people to accept. Therefore, the signing of the Declaration of Independence was a dramatic and revolutionary act.

2. Ask students how they think news of signing might have reached all parts of the colonies. Students should recall that networks of patriots who passed on important information, such as the Committees of Correspondence, already existed. Word of mouth, letters, and town criers were other means of spreading the news.

3. Tell students that they are going to take on the important role of publishing a newspaper to inform the American colonists of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the significance of that event. The lead article in the newspaper should describe (or paraphrase) the specifics points listed in the Declaration.

4. Distribute copies of the Spread the News! worksheet, and review it with students. Students should use national and local newspapers as models for their own papers, adapting those layouts to the size of the paper they will be using.

5. Divide students into editorial teams, each one of which should include writers, an editor, and at least one artist. Each team should create its own newspaper. Suggest that students use the library and other sources to research the events of the time before planning their stories.

Have students publish and distribute their newspapers. Bring the editorial teams together to discuss what they learned in the process of preparing the newspapers. Encourage them to share any insights about how people lived in the 1770s.


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