Grade 12 Elective: American Government


The Nature of Citizenship, Politics, and Government

Students will identify, define, compare, and contrast ideas regarding the nature of government, politics, and civic life, and explain how these ideas have influenced contemporary political and legal systems. They will also explain the importance of government, politics, and civic engagement in a democratic republic, and demonstrate how citizens participate in civic and political life in their own communities.

USG.1.1 Distinguish among civic, political, and private life.


USG.1.2 Define the terms citizenship, politics, and government, and give examples of how political solutions to public policy problems are generated through interactions of citizens and civil associations with their government.

USG.1.3 Describe the purposes and functions of government.

USG.1.4 Define and provide examples of different forms of government, including direct democracy, representative democracy, republic, monarchy, oligarchy, and autocracy.

USG.1.5 Explain how the rule of law, embodied in a constitution, limits government to protect the rights of individuals.

USG.1.6 Explain how a constitutional democracy provides majority rule with equal protection for the rights of individuals, including those in the minority, through limited government and the rule of law.

USG.1.7 Distinguish limited from unlimited government, and provide examples of each type of government.

USG.1.8 Explain how civil society contributes to the maintenance of limited government in a representative democracy or democratic republic such as the United States.

USG.1.9 Examine fundamental documents in the American political tradition to identify key ideas regarding limited government and individual rights.

Examples: Magna Carta (1215), Mayflower Compact (1620), Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641), English Bill of Rights (1689), Locke’s Treatises of Civil Government (1690), Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges (1701), Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), Declaration of Independence (1776), United States Constitution (1787), Bill of Rights (1791), and the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.

magna_carta.jpg United_States_Bill_of_Rights.jpg

USG.1.10 Explain the part of Article IV, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, which says, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in the Union a Republican form of Government….”

Foundations of Government in the United States

Students will identify and define ideas at the core of government and politics in the United States, interpret founding-era documents and events associated with the core ideas, and explain how commitment to these foundational ideas constitutes a common American history and civic identity. They will also analyze issues about the meaning and application of these core ideas to government, politics, and civic life, and demonstrate how citizens use these foundational ideas in civic and political life.

USG.2.1 Trace the colonial, revolutionary, and founding-era experiences and events that led to the writing, ratification, and implementation of the United States Constitution (1787) and Bill of Rights (1791).


USG.2.2 Analyze and interpret central ideas on government, individual rights, and the common good in founding documents of the United States.

Examples: The Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Massachusetts Constitution (1780), the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786), the Northwest Ordinance (1787), the United States Constitution (1787), selected Federalist Papers such as numbers 1, 9, 10, 39, 51, and 78 (1787–1788), the Bill of Rights (1791), President Washington’s Farewell Address (1796), and President Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address (1801)

USG.2.3 Identify and explain elements of the social contract and natural rights theories in United States founding-era documents.

USG.2.4 Define and provide examples of foundational ideas of American government, including popular sovereignty, constitutionalism, republicanism, federalism, and individual rights, which are embedded in founding-era documents.

USG.2.5 Explain how a shared American civic identity is embodied in founding-era documents and in core documents of subsequent periods of United States history.

Examples: The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions (1848), Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (1863) and Second Inaugural Address (1865), Theodore Roosevelt’s “The New Nationalism” speech (1910), Woodrow Wilson’s “Peace Without Victory” speech (1917), Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech (1941), John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address (1961), Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Letter from Birmingham City Jail (1963), and selected opinions in landmark decisions of the United States Supreme Court such as Justice Robert Jackson’s opinion for the Court in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943) and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ dissenting opinion in the case of Abrams v. United States (1919)

USG.2.6 Define and provide examples of fundamental principles and values of American political and civic life, including liberty, the common good, justice, equality, tolerance, law and order, rights of individuals, diversity, civic unity, patriotism, constitutionalism, popular sovereignty, and representative democracy.

USG.2.7 Identify and explain historical and contemporary efforts to narrow discrepancies between foundational ideas and values of American democracy and realities of American political and civic life.

USG.2.8 Evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues concerning foundational ideas or values in tension or conflict.

USG.2.9 Compare and contrast ideas on government of the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists during their debates on ratification of the U.S. Constitution (1787–1788).

USG.2.10 Analyze and explain ideas about liberty, equality, and justice in American society using documents such as in Reverend Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech and //Letter from a Birmingham Jail// (1963) and compare King's ideas to those in such founding-era documents as the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights (1780) and the Federalist Papers (1788).

Purposes, Principles, and Institutions of Government in the United States of America

Students will explain how purposes, principles, and institutions of government for the American people are established in the United States Constitution and reflected in the Massachusetts Constitution. They will also describe the structures and functions of American constitutional government at national, state, and local levels, and practice skills of citizenship in relationship to their constitutional government.

USG.3.1 Compare and contrast governments that are unitary, confederate, and federal.

USG.3.2 Identify and describe provisions of the United States Constitution and the Massachusetts Constitution that define and distribute powers and authority of the federal or state government.


USG.3.3 Explain the constitutional principles of federalism, separation of powers among three branches of government, the system of checks and balances, republican government or representative democracy, and popular sovereignty. Provide examples of these principles in the governments of the United States and the state of Massachusetts.

USG.3.4 Explain the functions of the courts of law in the governments of the United States and the state of Massachusetts with emphasis on the principles of judicial review and an independent judiciary.

USG.3.5 Distinguish among the enumerated and implied powers in the United States Constitution and the Massachusetts Constitution.

USG.3.6 Explain the functions of departments or agencies of the executive branch in the governments of the United States and the state of Massachusetts.

USG.3.7 Trace the evolution of political parties in the American governmental system, and analyze their functions in elections and government at national and state levels of the federal system.

USG.3.8 Explain the legal, fiscal, and operational relationships between state and local governments in Massachusetts.

USG.3.9 Explain the formal process of how a bill becomes a law and define the terms initiative and referendum.

USG.3.10 Explain the difference between a town and a city form of government in Massachusetts, including the difference between a representative and an open-town meeting.


USG.3.11 Compare core documents associated with the protection of individual rights, including the Bill of Rights, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Article I of the Massachusetts Constitution.

USG.3.12 Use a variety of sources, including newspapers and internet web sites, to identify current state and local legislative issues and examine the influence on the legislative process of political parties, interest groups, grass roots organizations, lobbyists, public opinion, the news media, and individual voters.

USG.3.13 Analyze and evaluate decisions by the United States Supreme Court about the constitutional principles of separation of powers and checks and balances in such landmark cases as Marbury v. Madison (1803), Baker v. Carr (1962), United States v. Nixon (1974), City of Boerne, Texas v. Flores (1997), and Clinton v. City of New York (1998).

USG.3.14 Analyze and evaluate decisions by the United States Supreme Court about the constitutional principle of federalism in cases such as McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), Texas v. White (1869), and Alden v. Maine (1999).

The Relationship of the United States to Other Nations in World Affairs

Students will analyze the interactions between the United States and other nations and evaluate the role of the United States in world affairs.

USG.4.1 Describe how the world is divided politically, and give examples of the ways nation states interact, including trade, tourism, diplomacy, treaties and agreements, and military action.

USG.4.2 Analyze reasons for conflict among nation states, such as competition for resources and territory, differences in system of government, and religious or ethnic conflicts.

USG.4.3 Identify and explain powers that the United States Constitution gives to the President and Congress in the area of foreign affairs.


USG.4.4 Describe the tools used to carry out United States foreign policy.

Examples: Diplomacy, economic aid, military aid, humanitarian aid, treaties, sanctions, and military intervention.

USG.4.5 Examine the different forces that influence U.S. foreign policy, including business and labor organizations, interest groups, public opinion, and ethnic and religious organizations.

USG.4.6 Differentiate among various governmental and nongovernmental international organizations, and describe their purposes and functions.

Examples: Major governmental international organizations include the North American Treaty Organization (NATO), the World Court, and the Organization of American States (OAS). The International Red Cross and the Catholic Relief Services are examples of nongovernmental organizations.


USG.4.7 Explain and evaluate participation by the United States government in international organizations.

Example: The United Nations

USG.4.8 Use a variety of sources, including newspapers, magazines, and the internet to identify significant world political, demographic, and environmental developments. Analyze ways that these developments may affect United States foreign policy in specific regions of the world.

USG.4.9 Evaluate, take, and defend a position about whether or not the United States should promote the spread of democracy throughout the world, or in certain parts of the world, or not at all.

Roles of Citizens in the United States

Students will explain the idea of citizenship in the United States, describe the roles of United States citizens, and identify and explain the rights and responsibilities of United States citizens. They will also examine civic dispositions conducive to the maintenance and improvement of civil society and government, and describe and demonstrate how citizens can participate responsibly and effectively in the civic and political life of the United States.

USG.5.1 Explain the meaning and responsibilities of citizenship in the United States and Massachusetts.

USG.5.2 Describe roles of citizens in Massachusetts and the United States, including voting in public elections, participating in voluntary associations to promote the common good, and participating in political activities to influence public policy decisions of government.


USG.5.3 Describe how citizens can monitor and influence local, state, and national government as individuals and members of interest groups.

USG.5.4 Research the platforms of political parties and candidates for state or local government and explain how citizens in the United States participate in public elections as voters and supporters of candidates for public office.

USG.5.5 Identify and explain the meaning and importance of civic dispositions or virtues that contribute to the preservation and improvement of civil society and government.

USG.5.6 Identify specific ways for individuals to serve their communities and participate responsibly in civil society and the political process at local, state, and national levels of government.

USG.5.7 Analyze and evaluate decisions about rights of individuals in landmark cases of the United States Supreme Court such as Whitney v. California (1927), Stromberg v. California (1931), Near v. Minnesota (1931), Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), Texas v. Johnson (1989), and Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997).

USG.5.8 Analyze the arguments that evaluate the functions and values of voluntary participation by citizens in the civil associations that constitute civil society.

Examples: Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, Volume I (1835) and Volume II (1839).


USG.5.9 Together with other students, identify a significant public policy issue in the community, gather information about that issue, fairly evaluate the various points of view and competing interests, examine ways of participating in the decision making process about the issue, and draft a position paper on how the issue should be resolved.

USG.5.10 Practice civic skills and dispositions by participating in activities such as simulated public hearings, mock trials, and debates.

Image IDs from left to right:

1. United States Constitution, from the Minnesota Judicial Branch web page, "Recognizing Constitution Day".
2. American flag, from Flickr user Tim Pearce, Los Gatos, "American flag old glory on flagpole flying".
3. American patriotism, from Flickr user, "Young patriot".
4. Magna Carta, from Wikimedia Commons, "Magna Carta".
5. Bill of Rights, from Wikimedia Commons, "United States Bill of Rights".
6. Fife and drum from the Revolutionary War, from Wikimedia Commons, "Yankee doodle 1776".
7. Gettysburg Address, from Wikimedia Commons, "Nicolaycopy".
8. Massachusetts state seal, from Wikimedia Commons, "Massachusetts state seal".
9. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, from Wikimedia Commons, "Governor Patrick".
10. Congress in session, from Wikimedia Commons, "State of the Union".
11. United Nations Building, from Wikimedia Commons, "The United Nations Building".
12. voting box, From Flickr user JeffClavier, "Voting booth for the French Presidential Election".
13. Alexis de Tocqueville, from Wikimedia Commons, "Alexis de Tocqueville".