The Promise and Challenge of Religious Freedom, 1655 - 1844

Religious freedom is a right guaranteed to all Americans as stated in the Bill of Rights. The documents selected illustrate the struggle to obtain and maintain religious freedom from the 1600s through the 1800s.  One document predates William Penn's arrival in the colonies with his vision for religious freedom.  The other documents suggest how this theme in American history plays out for differing groups.

Essential Questions

How does continuity and change within Pennsylvania history influence your community today?
How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to American society?

Objectives

  • Students will be able to cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary sources, connecting ideas to further understanding of the struggle to obtain religious freedom.
  • Students will be able to evaluate the constant challenges Americans faced in practicing their faith.
  • Students will be able to identify the political, social, and cultural relevance religion played in Philadelphia’s history from 1655 to 1844.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

Primary Sources

Jewish Petition to Dutch West India Company, January 1655

The Charter of Privileges, Granted by William Penn, Esq.: to the Inhabitants of Pensilvania and Territories, 1701

The Remonstrance of the Subscribers, Citizens of Philadelphia, September 5, 1777

Selected General George Cadwalader Correspondence, May 10-11, 1844

Process

  1. Introduce the subject of religious freedom. Review the role religion played in the settlement and founding of the nation (include major names, events, and vocabulary words).
  2. Have the students take notes on the author, year, title, and possible audience for each document.
  3. Assign the readings either as homework or in class.
  4. Listed below are a few questions that maybe used as review of reading comprehension, student based discussions, or incorporated into an essay.
  • What does the date of the Jewish Petition to Dutch West India Company indicate? Who were the possible owners of the territory? What did the authors of the letter hope to attain?
  • Besides William Penn's Charter, what do the remaining three letters have in common?
  • In your opinion, did the people of Philadelphia honor William Penn's Charter in 1777 and 1844? Why or why not? Explain.
  • In what ways have these documents challenged your understanding of religious freedom in Pennsylvania?

Vocabulary

The unit and lesson plan complement Preserving American Freedom, featuring fifty of the treasured documents within the vast catalog of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The documents read online will contain annotations that define and explain many key terms, figures, and organizations.

Related Resources for Students

Preserving American Freedom contains contextual essays by eminent historians that elaborate on the documents and their historical period. For this lesson,  "Liberty in Early America" and "Contradictions of Freedom in a New Nation" may be particularly helpful.