The Bill of Rights and The Founders

Provides an introduction and overview of the Bill of Rights, including the Founders’ understanding of the “rights of Englishmen,” British law, and natural rights philosophy. This unit also examines the Federalist and Anti-Federalist debate about a bill of rights.

What Are the Origins of the Bill of Rights?

Clock 60 minutes

In this lesson, students will explore the events and philosophies from British and colonial history that shaped the Founders’ ideas about natural rights as well as the rights of Englishmen. They will also see how these rights affect all of our daily lives in a free society.

Founding Principles

Inalienable / Natural Rights image

Inalienable / Natural Rights

Freedoms which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.

Liberty image

Liberty

Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, the government does not have the authority to limit freedom.

Limited Government image

Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

Majority Rule / Minority Rights image

Majority Rule / Minority Rights

Laws may be made with the consent of the majority but only to the point where they do not infringe on the inalienable rights of the minority.

Overview

The Founders saw themselves as heirs to a legacy of freedom stretching back at least to the Magna Carta. Events and philosophies from British and colonial history shaped the Founders’ ideas about natural rights as well as the rights of Englishmen. These rights affect all of our daily lives in a free society.

Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand the ideas of the rights of Englishmen and natural rights, and identify similarities between historical statements about their rights and those rights’ current applications.
  • Consider personal responsibilities and methods to protect individual rights, and understand how the colonial experience affected the development of the Bill of Rights.
  • Analyze how the history behind English rights and the concept of natural rights influenced the American Revolution and the notion of just government.
  • Evaluate the significance of individual rights in their daily lives.

Materials

  • Handout A: Rights Attitude Inventory
  • Handout B: Background Essay – The Origins of the Bill of Rights
  • Handout C: Foundations of Our Rights
  • Handout D: Founding Documents and Philosophies

Standards

  • NCHS (5-12): Era III, Standards 1A, 1B, 3A, 3B
  • CCE (9-12): IIA1, IID1, VB1, VD1
  • NCSS: Strands 6 and 10

Background 10 min. (day before)

  1. Give students Handout A: Rights Attitude Inventory. Ask students to decide whether they think the rights listed are very important or not very important and fill out the left column. Have them leave the right column blank.
  2. Have students read Handout B: Background Essay – The Origins of the Bill of Rights.

Warm-up 20 min.

  1. Ask students which right they thought was most important before reading Handout B. Keep a tally of which rights students thought were most important.
  2. Discuss Handout B with the class. Ask students whether their views on which rights are most important have changed after the reading and have them complete the right column on Handout A. Tally which rights students thought were most important after the reading.

Activities 30 min.

  1. As a class, fill in Handout C: Foundations of Our Rights. Ask for student volunteers to suggest responses to fill in the checks on the chart.
  2. Distribute Handout D: Founding Documents and Philosophies. Student pairs should discuss and answer the questions on Handout D.
  3. Bring the class back together and go over Handout D as a large group.

Homework

  1. Have students ask a parent or guardian which right he or she thinks is most important and why. Have students present their parents’ responses to the class.
  2. Have students write a short paragraph (5-7 sentences) explaining which right they think is most important.
  3. Have students imagine a world where a certain right or many rights are not protected. Have students draw a picture or write a short paragraph about what the world would be like without those rights.

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