On the front page of the July 10, 1776 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette readers were presented with the Declaration of Independence. Most likely, it would have been read out loud to a crowd on the steps of a tavern or store. It must have been profound moment for some to hear “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  Later on that same page, the reader would come to an advertisement:  “TEN DOLLARS REWARD. Run from the Subscriber…a dark mulatto slave named HARRY.” The idea of equality was not a truth for everybody.  In this lesson, students grapple with this truth about our country’s founding principle and consider the ramifications for our country today.

Grade Level: 5 – 12

Topics: Declaration of Independence, Slavery

Historical Thinking Skills: Sourcing and Evidence, Continuity and Change

Background Knowledge

Review the Declaration of Independence. Ask students to think about what it means to be equal.  Use the Value Tensions handout to guide discussion.

Analyzing Primary Sources

Provide students with this annotated copy of the Pennsylvania Gazette (or the original front page) and the worksheet.

Students do a close-read and analysis of the newspaper, summarizing the two highlighted sections and discussing the value tensions of freedom and equality. Spend some time with the runaway advertisement and Harry’s story, humanizing him and connecting him to this political world. His act of running away was a political act.

Students could go further and research what the words “all men are created equal” meant to the framers.

Students could also go further and learn more about the enslaved people owned by Thomas Jefferson.

Summative Assessment

Have students find a recent news story that highlights the tensions between freedom and equality today.

Hold a discussion about how these tensions of freedom and equality resonate from July 4, 1776 to today.

Creating the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence and Its Legacy

Kenneth C. Davis: In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and FIVE BLACK LIVES