Independence Day Break up Activity

July 31, 2022

We've all heard that the Declaration was like a breakup letter from the colonies to Great Britain. But what makes a good break up letter? What audiences did the founders have in mind when they wrote theirs? This activity helps students think about the purpose and audience of the Declaration.

I start by asking the students to help me write a breakup letter. 
Help Me Write a Breakup Letter
I give students the following instructions:
I need your help to write a breakup letter, but not just any breakup letter. You & your soon to be ex-significant other ran in the same group of friends long before you dated. You know that your soon-to-be-ex will show this letter to your group of friends and will try to make the break-up appear to be your fault and argue that you are being unreasonable. They will try to convince the group to remain friends with them after the breakup & not you. 

Your job is to write a breakup letter to your ex, that directs your friends’ anger at your ex & not you. It should convince them to remain friends with you and to invite you to the next group outings instead of your ex. And it should convince them that the breakup was best for all parties, that there was no point to continuing this relationship that was not working. 
The Breakup Letter
  1. All good break up letters start with an introduction explaining that you’re breaking up & “why” it has come to this point.  
  2. A list of what is expected in a relationship and specific examples of the misbehavior and mistreatment that has caused the author to come to this decision. 
  3. Restate that the relationship is over & typically wrap up w/ “This is for the best.”   
Next I open a blank Word document on the projector screen and have students help me write a breakup letter. 

First we pick a gender neutral name to address our letter to. 

Then I ask them how we are going to state that we're breaking up, but kindly enough that our friends won't get upset reading it. 

Next, we need specific examples of how they failed our expectations in a relationship. Students have come up with all sorts of ideas here. But remind them that whatever it is, it has to make us look good to our group of friends. 

Finally, we restate that things are over and come up with a way to sign the letter. 
I always sign the letter as a class as "us." 
Below are some example breakup letters.
Breakup Letter #1
Breakup Letter #2
Breakup Letter #3
Next, I copy and paste the letter into a new Word document. This is mostly so I can take pictures of them later to document how it went.
Then I begin to alter the breakup later.

First, I ask the class how we should address the entity we're breaking up with. Some usually say "Britain" or "England."
I tell them that the Declaration was aimed at the same entity as Thomas Paine's Common Sense. I ask who that was. Then we address our letter to King George III.

Then, we rephrase our statement that we're breaking up into a statement declaring independence. 

Next, we have to alter those expectations and reasons we gave for wanting to break into justifications for declaring independence. The instructor may come up with these or the student can join in altering the text, which is always preferred. 
Finally, we have to sign off. This is when I change "us" to "U.S."
Below are some examples of revised breakup letters.
Revised Breakup Letter #1
Revised Breakup Letter #2
Revised Breakup Letter #3
Below is the script and slides I use to bring all the threads together at the end. 

[NOTE: I relied on the Edsitement website for some of the following content. The full URL for their site appears in Sources at the bottom of the page]. 
America was founded on the ultimate breakup letter: The Declaration of Independence.  The 2nd Continental Congress voted on July 2 to declare independence. Then, they had to justify that decision & explain it to the people they represented, to Great Britain & to the rest of the world including badly needed allies. 
The Founders who wrote the Declaration believed America was being crippled by taxes, exploited by England & Parliament, and not being treated as well as they deserved.
The Declaration of Independence: A Breakup Letter
The Declaration: “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for 1  people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another...” 
Translation: There comes a point in every relationship when two people can’t work it out and have to break up and move on, regardless of all the good times.  
The Declaration of Independence: A Breakup Letter
The Declaration: “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries & usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states... He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome & necessary for the public good.” 
Translation: “For the longest time you’ve neglected me, disrespected me, take me for  granted and try to control every aspect of my life. You no longer tell me you love me, that I’m beautiful or care about my happiness.” 
Jefferson Explains the Declaration
Jefferson argued: This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, & to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, not yet copied from any particular & previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone & spirit called for by the occasion. All it's [sic] authority rests on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, & c."
The 1st part of the Declaration justifies the decision to declare independence and offers a set of natural rights principles as the basis of a new, independent America . The middle part, by far the most controversial, details grievances against King George III. Finally, the conclusion actually declares independence.
Three Aims of the Declaration
3 aims of Declaration 
  1. Directed anger & frustration at the King (list of grievances) 
  2. Created international legitimacy for U.S. as a new nation (get foreign alliances) 
  3. Established a political right to rebellion; it justified treason under certain very specific circumstances 
The Declaration said that all men* were created equal & had equal rights. But 60 to 85% of adult white men in the colonies owned property. There was a greater proportion of voters in the colonies than anywhere in the 18th c. world.

The Declaration argued that George III had failed to protect his colonial subjects’ rights- that the King (not just Parliament) was at fault – same reasoning as Paine. Most of the Declaration is list of grievances, to prove Britain had failed to protect colonists’ liberties.
“A long train of abuses & usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism.”  
Independence – rebellion – was an extraordinary act, a last resort. It required an elaborate justification, abuses compiled, compounded, over years and years.
The Continental Congress did not consider independence for more than a year after the 1st shots were fired at Lexington & Concord. Many colonists did not embrace the decision to declare independence. This included some who believe the British had violated colonists’ basic rights, but that the violation was not enough to warrant rebellion or that the colonists could not possibly win such a rebellion 
A Group Effort
Although Jefferson gets the lion's share of historical credit, it was a group effort, including the input of B. Franklin, J. Adams, Roger Sherman, & Robert R. Livingston. In the final stage, members of the Continental Congress offered their suggestions, which were not entirely welcomed by Jefferson.
Last on Jefferson’s list of grievances in his original draft was slavery. In his longest & angriest grievance against the King, Jefferson blamed George III for slavery. 
“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery.”  
Jefferson further blamed King George for Lord Dunmore’s proclamation  
“He is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, & to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also  obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of the 1 people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”  
Jefferson’s fellow delegates struck out this last grievance almost entirely. All that is left is ‘he has excited domestic insurrections among us,’ which Franklin wrote.
Abigail Adams complained to John, “I cannot but feel sorry that some of the most manly sentiments in the declaration are expunged.”  
The Declaration of Independence was written by a slaveholder, and ever since it has been seen as a challenge Americans should make good on. It has also been used as a template for others declaring independence or asserting rights.
Three Aims of the Declaration
Some of the script including the Jefferson quote come from: 
For a copy of the slides compiled by Dr. Gunter, go to: 


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