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Teaching Guide: Exploring Shays’ Rebellion

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Shays' Rebellion, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Using the 1884 illustration, explain how the Shaysites are depicted in comparison to the law-makers. What are some ways the illustrator’s choices, such as character detail and perspective, reinforce differences? How does this drawing tap into broader ideas about the government and its roles that were at the heart of the rebellion?
  2. Why do you think an act prohibiting rebels from serving on a jury was of particular importance? In what ways does this act reflect the broader issues of the rebellion?
  3. Compare the excerpts from Minot’s book and from the address of the general court. How does each describe the debt crisis? Where is the blame for the crisis placed? Is there a call to action? If so, what?
  4. How did the Shaysites’ rebellion and their motives for rebellion impact the creation of the Constitution? Use the items in this set to illustrate your answer.

Classroom activities

Have students craft a brief address (similar to the statements in Minot’s book and the address of the general court) either supporting or opposing the rebellion, from the perspective of a common citizen or a member of the Massachusetts elite. What arguments could students make to appeal to Massachusetts residents? What other ideas might residents have about the roles and responsibilities of the government? Of citizens? Students can use the other items in this set to help illustrate their statement.

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