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Origins of American Government • Roots of U.S. Government
Classroom Activities

Objective: Explain how philosophical ideas were influential in the writing of the Declaration of Independence.

Key Questions:

  • Identify the three most important ways Enlightenment thinkers influenced American government.
  • How are the British system of government and the British violation of promises to the colonists central to the formation of the new American government?

Notes on Implementation:

  • Students can present their marketing campaigns in writing, via an oral presentation, or using multimedia
  • To further support students, extract specific portions of the primary source documents listed in the resources
  • You may want to look contemporary marketing campaigns together as examples

Student Activity: Students can access the below activity in the Origins of American Government Topic Center within the American Government database.

Student Activity:

The colonists would unite against Great Britain under the Articles of Confederation, win independence, and replace the Articles with the U.S. Constitution. Throughout these developments, they drew inspiration from a number of sources, including their experience with King George III, Athenian democracy, British common law, the Enlightenment, and such philosophers as Thomas Paine and John Locke. In Paine's pamphlet, Common Sense (1776), he links the monarchy to war and oppression and questions whether or not monarchs should hand power down through their heirs; in other words, if hereditary succession is the best way to govern. Locke, whose version of social contract theory influenced the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, wrote about the power of reason and about fundamental rights of life, liberty, and property. Paine and Locke were key influencers on the colonists regarding the concepts of the Declaration of Independence.

In this activity, you will use the ideas of Paine and Locke to market the Declaration of Independence to colonists.


Imagine that you've been hired to market the Declaration of Independence to the people living in the colonies.

  • Review the above resources and highlight or make note of where the Declaration of Independence utilizes Paine and/or Locke's ideas
  • List the problems faced by colonists that are addressed by these points
  • Use these ideas to build a marketing campaign that includes a slogan, one-paragraph description, and relevant image(s) from the database to persuade colonists to agree that the Declaration of Independence is necessary

Key Understandings:

  • Philosophical thought often influences a society's form of government
  • New political systems are shaped by emulating and opposing older systems of government

Possible Answers for Activity:

Students' marketing campaigns should address the following concepts from the writings of Thomas Paine and John Locke:

  • Rights of citizens are limited by monarchies and hereditary rule
  • A government operates with the consent of the governed, therefore it must act in the best interests of the people
  • Colonists felt the English government was no longer acting in their best interest, therefore it was justified in being overthrown
  • Declaration of Independence emphasizes the equality of human rights; governments must protect "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" of its citizens


MLA Citation

"Roots of U.S. Government." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2020, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/Content/2174263?cid=257. Accessed 18 Feb. 2020.

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