Justice in America

Class Length: 2-4 class meetings


Students will be able to:

1. Compose a one-page response explaining their understanding of “justice.”

2. Use and analyze primary sources for evidence of intent and purpose.

3. Apply their understanding of justice to various hypothetical situations.

4. Apply the concept of “justice” to early American dissatisfaction to British rule.


- Image of “Lady Justice” (cited reference #1)

- The Pledge of Allegiance (cited reference #2)

- The Bill of Rights – Sixth Amendment (cited reference #4)

- Excerpts from The Declaration of Independence (cited reference #5)

- The Preamble to the Constitution (cited reference #6)

- Quotes on Justice (cited reference 9)

- Overhead projector


Students are given a list of quotes about “justice.” Ask students to respond to the following prompt in a quick write: “What does it mean for a society to be just?” After students have completed this work, facilitate a guided discussion.

Use this discussion to generate a list of ideas on the board. Then help students determine whether their ideas math with the ideals of justice established by the founders of the U.S. government.

Divide students into five groups. Then distribute one excerpt from a primary document, referenced below, to each group. In addition, distribute accompanying questions to each group. In groups students will discuss the meaning of “justice” as it is intended in the document, and answer the accompanying questions on a separate piece of paper.

Questions about Justice

From Primary Sources

The Declaration of Independence:

The Virginia Declaration of Rights:

The Preamble to the Constitution:

The Pledge of Allegiance:

The Bill of Rights – Sixth Amendment (discussion can include the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments and the kinds of rights the Founding Fathers wanted to protect):

After students have completed this group work, ask each group to present their answers to the class. Facilitate a discussion on the meaning of justice, according to these primary sources.

Now ask students to imagine that they were living in the British in the 1770s. Was their community just? Why/why not? Do students think that it’s possible that different people had different perspectives on this question? Why/why not?

Students will imagine they are one of the founding fathers sleeping in his bed. Consider reading the following script: “You have a vivid dream influenced by the primary source documents about independence from Britain. You wake up in the middle of the night from your dream and record it in your journal. Write the record of your dream. Consider the following:

- Was your dream a nightmare or pleasant?

- Of the documents noted, which influenced your dream the most? How?

- What other people were in your dream, and how did you interact with them? If you were alone, analyze how that symbolizes your mindset about independence.

Students will now take the role of dream interpreter. Students will place their dream records in a bag, and pick at random a dream (not their own) to analyze and pinpoint pertinent themes. Students will share their interpretation of the dream they chose with the writer.

Through this activity, students critique each other’s work. Dream interpreters should determine whether or not the dreamer correctly understood the primary source document to which he/she refers.


(2007). Image of lady justice. Neustra Voice: La Mera Verdad. Targeted Communications.

Retrieved October 24th, 2007 from http://nuestravoice.com/?m=200703

Dalka, M., Streufert, D. Ed. (2005). The pledge of allegiance. Retrieved October 24th, 2007 from


Halsall, P. Ed. (1998). William penn (1644-1718): Some fruits of solitude in reflections and

maxims, 1682. Internet Modern History Sourcebook, Fordham University. Retrieved October 24th, 2007 from http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1682penn-solitude.html

Keefer, S. (2006). The significance of the bill of rights: How ten amendments solidified our

nation. The Official Site of the Bill of Rights. Retrieved October 24th, 2007 from http://www.billofrights.com/

Kindig, T. (1995). The Declaration of Independence: When in the course of human events….

U.S. History.org: We Hold These Truths. Retrieved October 17th, 2007 from http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/

Mount, S. Ed. (2007). The preamble. The U.S. Constitution Online. Retrieved October 17th, 2007

from http://www.usConstitution.net/xconst_preamble.html

Murphy, G. (1996). Virginia Declaration of rights. The Avalon Project at Yale Law School.

Retrieved October 24th, 2007 from http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/virginia.htm

National Constitution Center (2007). Justice in america. Explore the Constitution: Educational

Resources. Retrieved October 24th, 2007 from


ThinkExist.com (2006). Justice quotes. ThinkExist.com: You Think, therefore You Exist.

Retrieved Novemember 2nd, 2007 from


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