Civic Literacy Curriculum
Question 4: The U.S. Constitution starts with the words “We the People.” What does “We the People” refer to?
The U.S. Constitution starts with the words “We the People.” What does “We the People” refer to?
A. Self-government, popular sovereignty, and consent of the governed
B. The President's subjects and followers
C. The signers of the Constitution only
D. Elected officials only
It is always a good idea to start at the beginning. In this case, we begin with three simple words: We the People, the first three words in the U. S. Constitution. They are a reminder to all that this is a government built by the people, for the people. They are a guide, reminding every generation of Americans that it is the people who govern, not a king, queen or aristocracy.
Expanding upon the ideas of self-government and “the consent of the governed” found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution begins with “We the People,” announcing our commitment to keeping ultimate political power in the hands of the people, before outlining the structures its authors designed to implement those objectives.
This activity offers students the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of the Constitution and the ways in which it created the government that we know today. For this assignment, the students will look at the two different types of government, specifically monarchies and republics. They will be asked to focus not only on the differences but also on the similarities.
- Divide students into groups of 3-4, mixing support, core, and enrichment students.
- Print a copy of the Monarchies vs. Republics handout for each student.
- Print a copy of the worksheet that the students will use to compare and contrast a republic to a monarchy.
- A rubric is available if this is a graded activity.
The Teaching Materials for this exercise include a rubric.
- Students can work alone or in pairs for this activity. If using pairs, group by ability. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group who have mastered the material and are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
- Provide each group with the appropriate handout and worksheet.
- Provide the students with approximately 15-20 minutes to read and complete the activity.
- Encourage students to make notes on the handout as they read.
- When complete, review as a class and list the similarities and differences on the board, which will help reinforce the concepts for all of the students.
Below are two discussion prompts that can be used by teachers in a classroom setting.
- The first discussion prompt will be one that is designed to support students that are not really understanding the content in a way that would help them to answer the test question.
- The second discussion prompt will be one that is designed to further student understanding of the content by making real-world connections, including connections to current events and historical events. As your class progresses through American history, feel free to return to this question as a review exercise or a summative long-form question at the end of the term.
Technically, the Founding Fathers did not create the new nation from scratch. Because they were well-educated men, they took lessons from history and philosophy. In terms of history, it should be recognized that democracy was first theorized and practiced by the Greeks. Others, such as the Romans and the Dutch, developed this idea into a republic in which citizens voted some of their peers to fill government offices, usually within the rules of a constitution. The idea that the governed should have a voice in their government was attractive to the Founding Fathers, many of whom were also schooled in philosophy and familiar with the concepts of natural law. Natural law holds that there are certain core natural rights inherent in personhood. As the Declaration of Independence explains, among these rights it is that each individual is “created equal” in the sense of having an equal right to consent to participate in government—the consent of the governed. Moreover, the colonists’ experience with local government within the British empire had shown them that this was no mere theory but workable in practice.
How would life be different under a democratic republic of self-government than under a monarchy?
Creating anything new can be intimidating. For the Founding Fathers, creating a new form of government was probably more than a little nerve-wracking. To build this new government, they took lessons from history and philosophy. Why do you think they did this rather than come up with something 100% original? Why was it important to study and learn from what was done by others in the past?