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Protest in Early America Discovery Cart

The American Revolution transformed how people around the world thought about protest. You may have heard of the most dramatic protest events of the 1760s and 1770s, like the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre. But throughout the Revolutionary era, Americans of all sorts pioneered new forms of protest and debated what kinds of protests were legitimate. They questioned not just what people were protesting but also who was protesting and how they went about it.

With the ratification of the Constitution, protest became not a dangerous last resort but rather a core American right enshrined in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which guarantees citizens the rights of assembly, speech, and petition. Americans still debate when it is acceptable to engage in a protest, what qualifies as a necessary one, and even what to call specific acts of protest.

With this discovery cart, learn how early Americans used boycotts, printed propaganda, violence, and public demonstrations to advocate for various causes, and consider the similarities and differences between the 18th century through to today.

"45" Shirt Buckle

Protest in Early America Discovery Cart 45 Shirt Buckle

This reproduction shirt buckle features the number "45" as a tribute to English politician John Wilkes. In the 45th issue of his newspaper, The North Briton, Wilkes sharply criticized King George III's speech at the 1763 opening of Parliament. The King immediately had Wilkes arrested. When the charges were dismissed and Wilkes was restored to his seat, the number "45" became a symbol of radical politics.

Tea Cannister

Protest in Early America Discovery Cart Tea Cannister

This tin cannister was for carrying loose-leaf Bohea tea, a type of Chinese tea that was popular during the Revolutionary era. This type of tea was in the chests that were broken open and thrown into the Boston Harbor on Dec. 16, 1773 in protest of the Tea Act in an event that's now known as the Boston Tea Party.

Liberty Tree Fragment

Protest in Early America Discovery Cart Liberty Tree Fragment

This fragment of wood is from the last surviving Liberty Tree, which stood in Annapolis, Maryland, until 1999 and was salvaged after the tree was blown down during Hurricane Floyd. It was one of the numerous Liberty Trees that American colonists used as symbols and gathering places in the 1760s and 1770s.

Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

Protest in Early America Discovery Cart Book of Phillis Wheatley Poems

This is a reproduction of the signed first edition book of poetry written by Phillis Wheatley, the first such book published by an African American woman. Wheatley was born in Africa, but was captured as a young girl, brought to America in 1761, and enslaved to the Wheatley family. She used her pen to show white colonists that enslaved African Americans had souls and minds equal to anyone and therefore deserved liberty.

Pocketbook & Coins

Protest in Early America Discovery Cart Pocketbook and Coins

As the chief consumers of household goods, women held the power of the purse. When Americans looked for peaceful ways to protest British taxes, women began boycotting British goods. Not only did they make decisions as consumers, but many began producing "homespun" alternatives to imports to put economic pressure on Britain.

The Protest in Early America discovery cart debuted over Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend to engage online and onsite visitors in conversations about the history of protest in America, the influence of events of the Revolutionary era on American protests, the connections between historical protests and those of the 20th and 21st century, and the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

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Image 091120 Phillis Wheatley Poems Book Collection Phillis Wheatley Poems
Gift of Dr. Marion T. Lane 

Phillis Wheatley's Poetry

This original copy of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, published in 1773, was written by Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American author.
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Image 011321 Liberty Tree Photo Credit Bluecadet 0

Virtual Museum Tour

Explore the Museum of the American Revolution’s Virtual Museum Tour to immerse yourself in the history of the nation's founding through 360-degree panoramic images, high-resolution images of objects and artifacts, and a guided audio tour.
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Can't make it to the Museum or to our Old City neighborhood in Philadelphia? Check out our growing selection of digital resources to visit from anywhere.
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