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.

Freedom Statue, U.S. Capitol. Photo Andreas Praefcke
Freedom Statue, U.S. Capitol. Photo Andreas Praefcke

Topics on the Page
Law and Order
Rights of Individuals
Popular Sovereignty
Representative Democracy

Multimedia.pngFreedom in the 50 States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedomfrom the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in 2011 ranks the American states on their public policies that affect individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal sphere.

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  • See Grade 5.8 for information on how political ideas from ancient Greece developed in the American colonies.

  • See US Government 2.3 for more on social contract theory and the rule of law.

  • For more on challenges to freedom in the modern world, see United States HistoryII.30

The Declaration of Independence Declaration_of_Independence.jpg

  • The United States Declaration of Independence is a statement taken on by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 announcing that the thirteen American colonies were independent states and no longer a part of the British Empire.
    • The document was written mainly by Thomas Jefferson. It was a justification as to why Congress had voted independence from Great Britain by listing colonial grievances against King George III.
      • The Declaration stated that the colonies had certain natural rights which included the right to have a revolution. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." (U.S. Declaration of Ind.)

lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan "An Expression of the American Mind" that focuses on the values instilled in the Declaration of Independence

Multimedia.pngFor a lesson on "What You Might Not Know about the Declaration of Independence," watch this TEDed video


The Constitution of the United States contains a preamble and seven articles that describe the way the government is structured and how it operates. The first three articles establish the three branches of government and their powers: Legislative (Congress), Executive (office of the President,) and Judicial (Federal court system). A system of checks and balances prevents any one of these separate powers from becoming dominant. Articles four through seven describe the relationship of the states to the Federal Government, establish the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, and define the amendment and ratification processes. (National Archives, "The Constitution: What Does It Say?")

  • American Constitutionalism is political thought and action that aims at preventing such things as tyranny, guaranteeing rights and the liberty of the people.
    • Constitutionalism refers to certain political conduct that aims in conformity with a constitution.
      • The ideas, attitudes, and structure of behavior of American Constitutionalism elaborates on the principle that the power and authority of the government comes from The People also known as the
  • The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution can be accessed at our National Archives.

Multimedia.pngTo watch a Crash Course Government and Politics video on the Constitution, click here

lessonplan.jpgLesson Plans for all grave levels on Constitution Day (September, 17th)

See United States History I.9 for more on the Bill of Rights.

Perhaps the three most important amendments to the US Constitution are the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.
  • In summary, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th guarantees equal protection under the law for all citizens of the United States, and the 15th enfranchised (extended the vote to) African American males.
    • These three amendments deal directly with many of the principles dealt with in this page and the ongoing redefinition of those principles in American jurisprudence and society.

For more on the 13th-15th Amendments and the history surrounding them, see section C of United States History I.41.


Scales of Justice
Scales of Justice

The basic ideal is to render every man his due.
  • [Justice] is the conformity of our actions and our will to the law. In the most extensive sense of the word, it differs little from virtue... But justice being in itself a part of virtue, is confined to things simply good or evil, and consists in a man's taking such a proportion of them as he ought.
  • Justice is either distributive or commutative.
    • Distributive justice is that virtue whose object is to distribute rewards and punishments to each one according to his merits, observing a just proportion by comparing one person or fact with another, so that neither equal persons have unequal things, nor unequal persons things equal.
      • Commutative justice is that virtue whose object it is to render to every one what belongs to him, as nearly as may be, or that which governs contracts. To render commutative justice, the judge must make an equality between the parties, that no one may be a gainer by another person's loss.
  • Exterior justice is the object of jurisprudence; interior justice is the object of morality.
  • According to the Frederician code... justice consists simply in letting every one enjoy the rights which he has acquired in virtue of the laws. And as this definition includes all the other rules of right, there is properly but one single general rule of right, namely, Give every one his own.

Excerpted From: A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.

lessonplan.jpgTo access lesson plans for all grade levels on the concept of justice, visit this website and to access a lesson plan to engage secondary school students in the concept of justice, click here.

multicultural.pngTo engage students to think critically about justice in the United States, use this lesson plan from the New York Times on the Criminal Justice System


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"Generally, an ideal of uniformity in treatment or status by those in a position to affect either. Acknowledgment of the right to equality often must be coerced from the advantaged by the disadvantaged. Equality of opportunity was the founding creed of U.S. society, but equality among all peoples and between the sexes has proved easier to legislate than to achieve in practice. - Source

lessonplan.jpgClick here to access lesson plans on equality and equity for all grade levels.

"Equal Rights for Everybody."  Artwork on Wikimedia Commons by Sigurdas.
"Equal Rights for Everybody." Artwork on Wikimedia Commons by Sigurdas.

200pxrainbow flag.svg.pngMunicipal Equality Index from Human Rights Campaign examines the laws, policies, and services of municipalities and rates them on the basis of their inclusivity of LGBT people who live and work in those communities.
  • Study examined if communities prohibited discrimination against LGBT people in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
    • Also looked at whether same-sex marriages or civil partnerships are legal in the community.
  • Study ask whether a local government has a human rights commission, strong anti-bullying laws, and offers benefits to same-sex partners of city employees as well as whether its police department is responsive to LGBT issues.
    • Looked at state capitals, large cities, hometown of state's flagship public university, and communities with a high percentage of same-sex couples.

masscities.pngBoston and Cambridge Massachusetts received perfect scores of 100.

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 11.31.41 AM.pngFor more on ongoing issues of equality (in this case, the right of gay marriage), see Government 5.7

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"The highest form of Education is tolerance." - Helen Keller

"A fair, objective, and permissive attitude towards those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc that differ from ones own. Freedom of bigotry." -Source

"The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others." -Source

lessonplan.jpgClick here for a Constitution Day lesson plan on teaching tolerance after 9/11 using America's fundamental values

multicultural.pngTo analyze the impact of the Trump Presidency on Tolerance in schools, read this study from "Teaching Tolerance: A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center."

Law and Order

"State of society where vast majority of population respects the rule of law, and where the law enforcement agencies observe laws that limit their powers. Maintaining law and order implies firm dealing with occurrences of theft, violence, and disturbance of peace, and rapid enforcement of penalties imposed under criminal law. -Source

From Wallace to Trump: The Evolution of Law and Order, FiveThirtyEight blog (March 13, 2017)

Is Trump's Call for Law and Order a Coded Racial Message, NPR (July 28, 2016)

See US Government 1.5 for more on the rule of law.

Rights of Individuals

"All persons are free by nature and are equal in their inherent and inalienable rights. Among these rights are the enjoyment of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the acquiring and possessing of property. These rights cannot endure unless the people recognize their corresponding obligations and responsibilities." -Source

primary_sources.PNGExplore the Bill of Rights online at our National Archives

The right to privacy is one of the most important and controversial rights in American jurisprudence.
  • See the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law page on the Right of Privacy, its history, pertinent constitutional amendments, and court cases.
  • Be sure to explore the links at the bottom of the page for further reading on issues related to the right of privacy such as the right to an abortion, gay rights, the right to marry, and constitutional protection of the home.

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The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect.

It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.

It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual. -Source

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Patriotism is the act of or mindset towards expressing loyalty to one's country. It generally pertains to an outward action or an inward feeling of fondness or admiration towards said nation.
  • However, in the words of Senator J. William Fullbright in 1966: "To criticize one's country is to do it a service and pay it a compliment. It is a service because it may spur the country to do better than it is doing; it is a compliment because it evidences a belief that the country can do better than it is doing... Criticism, in short, is more than a right; it is an act of patriotism , a higher form of patriotism."

Image to the right is a World War I poster urging Americans to start Victory Gardens as an expression of patriotism

lessonplan.jpgTo read more about teaching critical thinking and dissent as a form of patriotism, read this article from wbur.

See this on PBS website, really cool activity with thematic based on patriotism.

Popular Sovereignty

This is the belief that the nation-state exists at and bending to the will of the people it governs.
  • Definition: The doctrine that sovereign power is vested in the people and that those chosen to govern, as trustees of such power, must exercise it in conformity with the general will.

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See United States History I.14 for more on popular sovereignty.

Learn about how the concept of Popular Sovereignty plays a role in the power and authority of the government

Representative Democracy

This is a type of government, as represented by the United States government, where citizens of the nation elect representatives to govern the nation. Unlike direct democracy, citizens do not usually directly vote on laws, and instead, elect members of congress and senate to vote directly on proposed laws. -Source

lessonplan.jpgTo access resources for teaching students about democracy, click here and for a specific activity oriented lesson plan on teaching students about different kinds of government, click here