Discussion Questions

Mr. Travis

Honors American History Discussion Questions



1. Make a list of the motives of English people who migrated to America in the 17th century. Rank the items in the list from most important to least important. Then justify your ranking.

2. What lessons do you think English colonists learned from their early Jamestown experience? focus on matters of fulfilling expectations, financial support, leadership skills, and relations with the Indians. What specfic developments illustrate that the English living in the plantation colonies tried to apply these lessons?

3. Rank the items in the following list, starting with the one that you think had the most important consequences. Then justify your ranking. finally, speculate as to what might have happened had these events not occurred: a) the cultivation of tobacco in Virginia; b) The introduction of slavery into the plantation colonies; c) The "enclosing" of croplands in England.

4. Who was at greater fault for the wars between the Jamestown settlers and the Powhattan Confederation? Defend your choice.

5. Discuss the English treatment of the Irish and its consequences to the way that Native Americans were treated?


1. What crops were important to the English colonies in the south of North America? How did the cultivation of those crops shape those colonies?

2. Why was tobacco called a poor man's crop and sugar a rich man's crop?

3. How did slavery develop in North America during colonization?

4. What features were shared by Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia? What distinguished them from one another?

5. Which Southern colony would you have preferred to migrate to if you were an Englishman: North Carolina, South Carolina, or Georgia? Explain your choice.


1. To what degree was the government of Massachusetts Bay simultaneously theocratic, democratic, oligarchic, and authoritarian?

2. Write your definition of religious fanatic. Then use this definition to argue that the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay were or were not religious fanatics.

3. State and explain your position on whether or not political authority should be used to enforce a particular view of morality. Then explain why you would or would not have been in favor of banishing Roger Williams and/or Anne Hutchinson from Massachusetts Bay.

4. Some historians have argued that Puritanism was especially suited for life in the wilderness of seventeenth-century America. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?

5. Write your interpretation of John Winthrop's comment that Massachusetts Bay was to be "as a city upon a hill" and "a beacon to mankind." In your opinion, do Americansstill hold this view of their nation's role in the world? Why or why not?


1. Which of the New England or middle colonies would you have preferred to live in? Explain your answer by discussing your selection's social, economic, political, religious, and ethnic characteristics.

2. Make a list of the motives of English people who migrated to America in the seventeenth century. Rank the items in the list from most important to least important. Then justify your ranking.

3. In your opinion, which three of the twelve colonies founded in the seventeenth century made the most significant contributions to the perennial American values of democratic self-government, educational opportunity, religious toleration, social plurality, and economic materialism. Explain your choice.


1. Compare and contrast the economies, geography and climate, mortality rates, sex ratios, and family relationships of New England and the southern colonies. In which of the two regions would you have preferred to live? Why?

2. Why did colonial masters first adopt the institution of indentured servitude rather than Indian or black slavery to meet their labor demands? Why, then, did black slavery replace indentured servitude?

3. Write your definition of racism. Then use this definition to argue that the origin of slavery in colonial America was or was not primarily the result of English racism.

4. What do you think was the main cause of Bacon's Rebellion: resentment felt by backcountry farmers, Governor Berkeley's Indian policies, or the pressure of the tobacco economy? Justify your choice.

5. Describe what you think town life contributed to the life-style of New Englanders; then consider what was the consequence of the absence of towns in the colonial South.

6. Argue either that an "American" way of life had emerged by the end of the seventeenth century or that two wholly distinct ways of life, one New England and the other southern, had emerged by the end of the seventeenth century.


1. Compare and contrast the French colonies in North America with their British and Spanish counterparts. Consider location, timing, economy, political organization and religious influences.

2. Why did the Ohio Valley become the arena of conflict between the French and British in America?

3. Write your definition of nationalism. Then use this definition to argue that the French and Indian War was or was not a nationalizing experience for colonial Americans.

4. Which of the following do you think contributed most to the British victory in the French and Indian War: the leadership of William Pitt, the aid of American colonist, or the skill of the British regulars? Feel free to cite a reason of your own. Justify your choice.

5. It is somethimes observed that the roots of future wars lie in the results of past wars. In what ways does it appear that the French and Indian War helped to cuase the American Revolutionary War?

6. Suppose that the French and won the French and Indian War. What do you think would have been the consequences for the british colonies in America in both the short and long run?


1. Explain the relationship between mercantilism, the Navigational Laws, and British efforts to create an administrative structure for their empire after 1696.

2. Both the British and the colonists were devoted to the principle of "No taxation without representation." This being true, how did both taxation and representation become major sources of controversy between the colonists and Parliament?

3. In what ways were the mercantilist policies of the British burdensome to the colonists? In what ways were they beneficial? From this comparison, draw a conclusion about the effects of mercantilism and the Navigation Laws on British-colonial up to 1763.

4. List the following in order of their importance to colonial protest: pamphlets, boycotts mob action, committees of correspondence. Justify your choices.

5. It might be said that it was the British who were revolutionaries in 1763 and the colonists who were conservative attempting to preserve the status quo. Explain.


1. What does the phrase point of no return mean to you? Identify that point in colonial-British relations between 1760 and 1776 and explain why you picked that event/date.

2. Write your definition of conspiracy. Then use this definition to argue that the colonists were or were not victims of a British conspiracy to rob them of their liberties.

3. Which of the following do you think was most responsible for the conflict between Britain and its American colonies: the ineptness of parliamentary leadership, the colonists' behavior, the high-handedness of King George III, the British mercantilist system and Navigation Laws, or the actions of British officials in the colonies? Justify your choice.

4. Givenj that the Quebec Act did not apply to the thirteen seaboard colonies, why did the act create such a stir of protest among them?

5. Create a scenario for the period 1763-76 to demonstrate that the American Revolutionary War and colonial independence from Great Britain were not inevitable.


1. What were some of the military engagements that occurred before independence was declared by the colonists and what was the outcome of each?

2. Thomas Jefferson was a slaveowner. Why, then, did he state in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal?"

3. What were Thomas Paine's views on government? How did Paine convince Americans that they should fight for independence?

4. Why was Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence so inspiring at the time and for future revolutions?

5. Who were likely to be Loyalists?What typtes of people favored Britain? How were Loyalists treated during the war?


1. What were the major military campaigns after the colonists declared independence?

2. How was French aid secured by American diplomats?

3. How did Old World tensions contribute to the success of American diplomats in securing the Treaty of Paris and its generous provisions?

4. List the three most important battles of the Revolutionary War. Justify your selections.

5. It is often argued that the British "lost" the war more than the Americans "won" it. Do you agree or disagree? Why?


1. Why didn't the leaders of the American Revolution extend their spirit of equality to the abolition of slavery and giving women the right to vote?

2. Compare and contrast the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, especially in regard to the specific powers granted by each to the national government.

3. Write your definition of democracy. Then use this definition to evaluate the Constitution as it was penned in 1787. In what ways was it a democratic document, and in what ways did it guard against democracy?

4. Had you been a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, how would you have voted on such issues as representation, taxation, regulation of commerce, and the slave trade? Why?

5. List all the reasons why the Articles of Confederation needed to be replaced in order of importance, starting with the most important reason. Justify your selection and arrangement.

6. Thomas Jefferson observed that "173 despots would surely be as oppressive as one." What was the context of his remark? What was Jefferson warning against?

7. According to the text's authors, "In some respects, the hated British Navigation Laws were more disagreeable after independence than before." What is the basis for their conclusion?

8. Assume that the Constitution had not been ratified by the state conventions. What do you think would have been the short- and long-term consequences?


1. What was to be the purpose of the National Bank? What particular functions would it perform?

2. Compare and contrast "loose" and "strict" constructionism. What is the basis of support for each position?

3. Compare and contrast the Federalists and Republicans, especially their views on democracy, government power, the economy, and foreign affairs.

4. Write your definition of democracy. Then use this definition to argue that Jefferson or Hamilton was the better spokesperson for democratic government in the 1790s.

5. How would you have voted on funding, assumption, the National Bank, and protective tariffs in Hamilton's program? Explain why you would advocate strict or loose constructionism.

6. In which party, Federalist or Republican, would you have been most comfortable? Why?

7. Describe what you think would be Hamilton's assessment of government in the United States today? Describe what you think Jefferson's assessment would be.

8. The text's authors claim that "it was fortunate for the Republic that the Federalists had the helm (control of the government) for a time." Do you agree? Why or why not?

9. What was the importance of the Whiskey Rebellion?


1.  What are the causes, events and results of the War of 1812?

2.  Why might it be argued that the British at the end of the War of 1812 held the upper hand, but were not able to impose their will?

3.  If the Peace of Ghent was a durable but unsatisfactory peace, who how its unsatisfactory terms accounted for its durability.

4.  Why can the War of 1812 be called the second war for diplomatic, political and economic independence?

5.  Why has the War of 1812 been regarded as more important for its long-range results than for the results that had to do with the avowed aims of the War Hawks?

6.  Why were the New England federalists so bitterly opposed to fighting England in the War of 1812? Why would they have preferred France?

7.. Why was the basic military strategy of the United States in invading Canada in 1812 and 1813 unsound?

8.  If the outcome of the War of 1812 was such a great disappointment to Americans, why was the Treaty of Ghent greeted with such acclaim?


1. Why were internal improvements a controversial issue in the decade following the War of 1812

2. Why was the West the region most seized with the spirit of nationalism following the War of 1812?

3. How might John Quincy Adam's behavior in the Florida Purchase treaty and Monroe Doctrine earn him the title "lone-wolf nationalists?"

4. Write the definition of isolationism. Then use this definition to argue that the Monroe Doctrine was or was not an isolationist doctrine.

5. Rank the following in the order of what you see as their importance in shaping America's legal system: McCulloch v. Maryland, Gibbons v. Ogden, Fletcher v. Peck, Dartmouth College v. Woodward, Cohens v. Virginia. Justify your rankings.

6. Which of the following made the most important contributions to American nationalism after the War of 1812: John Marshall, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams,? Justify your selection.

7. The text's authors claim that the Era of Good Feelings is "something of a misnomer" for the decade following the War of 1812. Do you agree? Why or why not?

8. During the Missouri debates, Thomas Jefferson expressed the fear that that "question, like a firebell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror." Why? What was at stake in the Missouri debate that generated such profound concern?

9. The text's authors crown John Marshall as "the foremost of the Molding Fathers," whereas a contemporary newspaper editorial condemned him as "a man whose political doctrines led him always...to strengthen government at the expense of the people." Which point of view do you think has the most substance? Why?

10. Which do you think was the most significant event of the decade following the Treaty of Ghent: panic of 1819, McCulloch v. Maryland, Florida Purchase Treaty, Missouri Compromise, Monroe Doctrine? Justify your selection.


1.  With what justification could the Southerners claim by 1828 that a high tariff on manufactured goods was an indirect tax on them to support Northern manufacturers?

2.  Argue both sides of the proposition that the spoils system, as Jackson employed it, was justified.

3.  Why does the Webster-Hayne debate rank as one of the great forensic duels of American History? Who won it?

4.  It has been said that Peggy Eaton's petticoat caused the Civil War. Explain.

5.  Why did both Webster and Calhoun reverse their positions on the tariff between 1816 and 1828? Should statesmen be consistent?

6.  Would you agree with the charges of Jackson's foes that the Kitchen Cabinet was unconstitutional? Explain.

7.  What is wrong with the statement that Jackson was a typical product of both the frontier and the New Democracy?

8.  Explain why John Quincy Adams, who was experienced in foreign affairs, failed in handling foreign affairs while President.

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