American Revolution Propaganda Illustration

American Revolution Propaganda for Kids and Teachers

 

What is Propaganda? And why do we care?

Propaganda designers have been putting messages into television commercials, news programs, magazine ads, and other things we read and see for years. These messages have been carefully designed to influence our opinions, emotions, attitudes and behavior. Their purpose is to persuade us to believe in something or to do something. These messages have been designed to benefit someone, and that someone may not be you!

It's not as easy as you might think to spot hidden messages. Propaganda does not rely on pictures or words. Sound, scent, color and design can carry many hidden messages. Propaganda designers know you are on your guard. To get around your guard, they don't put one message into a piece of propaganda - they put lots of messages into each piece! The more you know about propaganda techniques and how they work, the less likely it is that someone will sneak something by you!

Is everything we see and hear propaganda? No, it is not. The word propaganda refers to any technique that attempts to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of a group in order to benefit the sponsor. The techniques of propaganda are used every day, in the military, in the media, in advertising, in politics, and in all sorts of human relationships.

To protect yourself against the techniques of propaganda, three good questions to ask yourself are:

  1. Who does this benefit?
  2. Why did they do that?
  3. According to whom?

Is Propaganda always negative?  Propaganda does not have anything to do with negative or positive. It's a technique. The word propaganda refers to anything that attempts to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes or behavior of a group in order to benefit the sponsor.

What is reverse propaganda? People sometimes use the term "reverse propaganda."  This phrase implies that some propaganda is negative (bad) and some - reverse propaganda - is positive (good.) But propaganda is not negative or positive. No matter what you call it, it's still propaganda, and its purpose is unchanged. The purpose of propaganda is to persuade (in order to benefit the sponsor.) 

The Use of Propaganda During the American Revolution

There is nothing new about the use of propaganda to sway public opinion. Here's a recruiting poster used in 1779 during the American Revolution to help recruit Southerners to the Patriot cause.

Recruiting Poster: 1779

MEN OF SOUTH CAROLINA!

Victory is in our grasp. The hated Redcoats are on the run! Our cause is just, and our army is invincible. You must be a part of our glorious victory over those dirty Brits. Be every boys' idol! Be a man among men! Be a hero to the ladies! JOIN UP TODAY!

Those who do not join us are cowards, and they will get what they deserve. Their mothers will weep to have gived birth to such sickly yellow worms!

BE AWARE: the Britist cannot face us in the battlefield, so they have planted spies among us to undermine our efforts. Pay attention to what your neighbors say because the easiest way to identify these traiterous rats is to see who stays home when the men of Carolina march out to expel the arrogant invaders. The success of our righteous casue depends on you patriotic citizens of South Carolina!

ONWARD TO VICTORY!

  • What adjectives does this poster use to describe the British?

  • According to the poster, what will happen to you if you DO join the Patriots?

  • What will happen to you if you DO NOT join the Patriots?

  • What else does this poster say to attempt to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes or behavior of Southerners to the Patriot cause?

  • Why was it important to recruit Southerners to the Patriot cause in 1779? (For the answer, see: War in the South for Kids)

Examples of pro-independence propaganda during the Revolution - the Stamp Act, the Boston Massacre, and more

More examples: American Revolutionary Posters (powerpoint)

How do you get people to join your cause? Propaganda lesson plan for teachers (Donn)

Revolutionary Era Cartoons

GAME - Continental Cartoons

America's First Political Cartoon - Benjamin Franklin's cartoon Join, or Die