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[Detail] Illustration of the shield of Virginia, from the eighteenth century

Historical Issues Analysis and Decision Making: Analyzing Value-Laden Decisions

The Revolutionary War and Civil War periods afford numerous opportunities to examine value-laden historical decisions. The committees of correspondence that were formed in the years leading up to the Revolution considered numerous ways of dealing with the colonists’ problems with Britain. Many letters sent by various colonies' committees can be found in the Appendix to "Narrative of Events Which Occurred in Baltimore Town During the Revolutionary War," the body of which is a paper read before the Historical Society of Maryland in 1847 by Robert Purviance. A number of letters relate to the colonies' response to the British blockade of Boston Harbor in 1774 in retaliation for the Boston Tea Party. The town clerk of Boston, William Cooper, wrote to Mr. William Lux of Baltimore:

At a meeting of the freeholders and other inhabitants of the town of Boston, legally qualified and named in publick town meeting, assembled at Fanueil hall, on Friday, the 13th day of May, 1774. Voted, that it is the opinion of this town, that if the other colonies come into a joint resolution to stop all importations from Great Britain, and exportations to Great Britain, and every part of the West Indies, till the act for blocking up this harbor be repealed, the same will prove the salvation of North America and her liberties. On the other hand, if they continue their exports and imports, there is high reason to fear, that fraud, power, and the most odious oppression, will rise triumphant over right, justice, social happiness and freedom. And moreover; that this vote be forthwith transmitted by the moderator to all our sister colonies, in the name and behalf of this town.

(Page 111, "Appendix" to "Narrative of Events Which Occurred in Baltimore Town During the Revolutionary War")

After reading and discussing this and other letters from Boston, assume the roles of the "gentlemen of Baltimore" to debate whether they should agree to stop importing goods from and exporting goods to Great Britain, as requested by Boston. Following the debate, look for the document that presents the results of the meeting in Baltimore (document no. 17, pages 130, 131 and 132).

Virginia's decision to secede is another prime example of a value-laden decision. Examine this decision using documents from The Capital and the Bay. The viewpoint of those who supported secession is laid out in "Chapter IV" of "Recollections of a Lifetime" by John Goode.

  • What were the alternatives to secession?
  • What circumstances led to the decision to secede?
  • What were the short- and long-term consequences of this decision?