American Portraits

No Man Is Above the Law: Mark Felt, Watergate, and Responsibility

In this lesson, students will learn about Mark Felt and his role in the Watergate scandal. They will explore how Mark Felt lived up to the responsibility he believed he had to uphold the rule of law and analyze how they can better live up to responsibilities in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Civic Virtue image

Civic Virtue

A set of actions and habits necessary for the safe, effective, and mutually beneficial participation in a society.

Freedom of Speech image

Freedom of Speech

The freedom to express one's opinions without interference from the the government is critical to the maintenance of liberty within a free society.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Liberty image

Liberty

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

Rule of Law image

Rule of Law

Government and citizens all abide by the same laws regardless of political power. Those laws respect individual rights, are transparently enacted, are justly applied, and are stable.

Narrative

In early 1972, President Nixon organized a group known as The Committee for the Re-Election of the President (known as CREEP). CREEP had two main goals: to raise money for Nixon’s campaign and to undermine the campaign of the Democratic Party nominee. In the summer of 1972, CREEP member G. Gordon Liddy proposed a plan to break into the Democratic Campaign Headquarters at the Watergate office building in Washington, DC. Once inside, the burglars would steal campaign documents and install devices that would allow CREEP to eavesdrop on phone calls made from the office. Five burglars, led by James McCord, broke into the Watergate office building on the night of June 16, 1972, but the plan failed when the group was arrested by a security guard….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How does Mark Felt’s example help you better understand responsibilities you have in your own life?

Virtue Defined

Responsibility is accountability to myself and others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about Mark Felt and his role in the Watergate scandal. They will explore how Mark Felt lived up to the responsibility he believed he had to uphold the rule of law and analyze how they can better live up to responsibilities in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze Mark Felt’s actions during the Watergate scandal.
  • Students will understand how responsibility played a role in Mark Felt coming forward.
  • Students will apply this knowledge to better understand responsibilities in their own lives and how they can act upon them.

Background

In the summer of 1972, President Richard Nixon was facing a challenging re-election campaign. He had won the presidency in 1968, but only by a very narrow margin. Early polls put Nixon behind several likely democratic challengers.

At the same time, Mark Felt was the assistant director of the FBI, second in command to acting FBI director Pat Gray. Felt had made has career in law enforcement by uncovering German and Russian spies and imprisoning mafia members. Events in June 1972 would forever connect the president and the law enforcement agent.

Vocabulary

  • Undermine
  • Unravel
  • Executive Privilege
  • Impeachment
  • Pardon
  • Alias

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who was Mark Felt?
  • What was Mark Felt’s role in the Watergate scandal?
  • What do Mark Felt’s actions say about his identity?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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