Unit 0: Rules, Procedures & Themes

Unit 1: Belief Systems

Foundations of American Government

Writing Prompts

The Need for Authority

The Need for Authority

Class Length: 1-2 Class Meetings


Students will be able to:

1. Critically analyze past events and ideas and apply them to their lives today.

2. Identify how a government resolves complicated societal problems.

3. Read and discuss the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Sentiments .

4. Determine how the rights of the colonists and women were being violated.

5. Create their own personal rights and how their rights are neglected or violated.


- Information on Natural laws and rights (cited reference #1)

- Copies of the ~~?(cited reference #2)

- Copies of the ?(cited reference #3)

- John Locke’s Two Treaties of Civil Government (1690) (cited reference #4)


Students will consider the following phrase and questions: “No Taxation without Representation.”

- Why should the government even have the right to tax citizens?

- What does the word “representation” mean?

- What does it mean for a government to actually “govern?”

- What does it mean for a government to have legitimate authority?

Students will read the American Declaration of Independence and discuss the events that led to the Declaration.

The teacher will introduce pertinent information and terms:

o Natural Rights: a.k.a. basic rights, basic elements that respect the lives of individuals (freedom, liberty, property, happiness)

o Philosopher: a scholar who pursues the ideas of knowledge

o Government: a system run by representatives that organizes a society, creates laws, and serves the needs of a society/nation

o Absolute Power: taking away basic rights

o State of nature: a lawless state

o Consent: given permission, an acknowledged understanding

o Social compact or Social contract: following certain laws and ideas in exchange for protection.

Students will answer journal prompt with a one-page written response:

- Think of a right you believe all people should have. For example, you probably believe that everybody has the right not to be attacked, not have their things stolen, and have equal access to oxygen. The media would argue that such rights are basic rights to all citizens. Explain how you think your basic rights can be protected.

The teacher will engage the students in a guided discuss of natural rights as they were defined and discussed by the Founding Fathers. Teaching can refer to Natural Law and Natural Rights by James A. Donald.

Teacher will distribute text, John Locke’s Two Treaties of Civil Government (1690) and his philosophies on natural laws.

Students will be divided into groups, take the role of philosopher, and consider the following:

- Imagine there were no rules in your life, in your classroom, in your home.

1. What advantages and disadvantages do you see from such a lawless state?

2. What sort of rights would people have? What might happen to people’s


3. What changes in society would you see? How would that change your present, everyday, law-full life? Students should consider the Peanut Butter and Jelly exercise from Lesson: The Need for Laws.

Students will compare their answers with their background knowledge on lawless societies and natural law (Teacher should refer to previous lessons, The Need for Government—A Cinematic and Literary Perspective and The Need for Laws, John Locke text, and compare the major themes of Locke’s Two Treaties. Students will answer the following questions:

1. What is the purpose of government according to the natural rights philosophers?

2. According to the natural rights philosophers, where does government get the right to govern?

3. Define social compact. Explain its strengths and weaknesses in forming a government.

4. Why were the American colonists so concerned with rights?

5. What are essential rights all people should have?

Review the Declaration of Independence with students, and have them identify the specific arguments for independence. Students will match the Declaration’s key points with John Locke’s the main arguments.

Students will place themselves in the shoes of King George III and write a response to the Declaration of Independence. Students will consider:

1. How serious is the tone of the Declaration?

2. How should the King react to Colonists?

1. The distance between the Great Britain and the American colonies.

2. The power of the King’s army and the strength of the Colonists.

3. Citing the key points in the Declaration and critically addressing them.

Have students read the Declaration of Sentiments and discuss the forces that led Elizabeth Cady Stanton to write it.

Review the Declaration of Sentiments with students and respond to the following ideas:

1. How is this document similar to the Declaration of Independence? Create a chart that compares and contrasts the two documents.

2. Why did these women feel their rights were being violated?

3. Compare the violation of these women’s rights with how the Colonists felt.

Discuss with students ways that their rights are violated, in the same vein as the two Declarations read.

1. Who has sovereignty over their lives?

2. Are they taxed without being represented?

  1. Did they know that, before 1971, Americans had to be 21 in order to vote?

Students write a one-page response as to the main reasons why the Colonists wished to detach themselves from British rules. Students will consider the type of society the Founding Father’s imagined.


Donald, J.A. (2007). Natural laws and natural rights. James's Liberty File Collection

Index. Retrieved November 10th, 2007 from

Mount, S. Ed. (2007). The declaration of independence. The U.S. Constitution Online.

Retrieved October 15th, 2007 from ?

Pearson Education Inc. (2007). Declaration of sentiments. Women’s History Month.

Retrieved October 15th, 2007 from ?

Roland, J. (2002). Two treaties of civil government (1690). Liberty Library. Retrieved


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