HIS322 Documentary Analysis Assignment
J. Patrick Mullins

Department of History and Politics
History 322 Colonial and Revolutionary America (Fall 2008)


Reading and discussing books and documents provide only the beginnings of understanding; formulating one’s thoughts in writing is critical to achieving a sound and lasting grasp of any new knowledge. For each of the four primary-source document you will read outside of class, you will answer a multi-part question to help you identify and grapple with the key issues or arguments presented by the document.

You will answer the question in the form of a mini-essay called a Documentary Analysis (DA). As with any essay, you should write in complete sentences rather than bullet points, and you should answer each part of the question in a separate paragraph. You may find it appropriate to quote key sentences or phrases from the document, but lengthy quotations are not appropriate. Each DA must be 2-3 pages in length, typed and stapled, doubled spaced, with 10 or 12 point font, and 1 inch margins all around.

Each of your 4 DAs counts for 5 points of your final course grade. Your DA’s grade will be penalized for any attempts to inflate its page length artificially with large font or large margins or other gimmicks. For full credit, a paper copy of each Documentary Analysis must be submitted at the end of the class meeting in which it is due. Please see the following section of the syllabus for the four questions each of your DAs will answer.


Documentary Analysis # 1: James Otis, “The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved” (Greene, pp. 28-33)

According to Otis, what is the source and purpose of political power? What rights do the Colonists have, and from what sources do they derive those rights? What does Otis think of Parliament and the British Constitution? Why would taxation by Parliament violate the rights of the Colonists? According to Otis, how should the Colonists respond to parliamentary taxation?

Documentary Analysis # 2: Thomas Jefferson, “A Summary View of the Rights of British-America” (Greene, pp. 227-238)

According to Jefferson, what rightful authority does the king have over the Colonies? What rightful authority does Parliament have over the Colonies? What rights do the Colonists have, and from what sources do they derive those rights? Why does Jefferson address the history of ancient Britain and early America? According to Jefferson, what should the king, Parliament, and colonists do to end the crisis of 1774?

Documentary Analysis # 3: Thomas Paine, “Common Sense” (Greene, pp. 270-283)

According to Paine, what is the source and purpose of government? What does he think of the British Constitution? What are Paine’s arguments against hereditary monarchy? What are his arguments against reconciliation with Britain and in favor of American independence?

Documentary Analysis #4: John Adams, “Thoughts on Government” (Greene, pp. 306-311)

According to Adams, what is the purpose of government? What general form of government does he think is best suited to fulfill that purpose? What are the disadvantages of a single legislative assembly? How does Adams think power should be divided within the government, and by what specific constitutional forms is liberty best preserved?

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