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

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.

  • See 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 USII.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 titled "An Expression of the American Mind" that focuses on the values instilled in the Declaration of Independence

Lesson on Declaration of Independence


  • 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 Popular Sovereignty
Many of these individual rights are guaranteed by the primary_sources.PNG Bill of Rights.
For more on the history of the Bill of Rights, click here.

Lessons on Constitution Day

external image Agregateur_Poietique.gifSee USI.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.

external image Agregateur_Poietique.gifFor more on the 13th-15th Amendments and the history surrounding them, see section C of USI.41.

  • See USII.25 for more on the Civil Rights movement in the 20th century.


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.


"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. Social or religious inequality is deeply ingrained in some cultures and thus difficult to overcome (see caste). Government efforts to achieve economic equality include enhancing opportunities through tax policy, subsidized training and education, redistributing wealth or resources, and preferential treatment of those historically treated unequally (see affirmative action). See also civil rights movement; feminism; gay rights movement; human rights; Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

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


200pxrainbow flag.svg.png2013 Municipal 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.
  • massseal.gifBoston and Cambridge Massachusetts received perfect scores of 100.

For more on ongoing issues of equality (in this case, the right of gay marriage), see these articles:

The Economist
Multimedia.pngPBS Newshour

The Huffington Post Blog

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


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


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

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. See also rule of law."


external image Agregateur_Poietique.gifSee 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."


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.


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.



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.

Saw 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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external image Agregateur_Poietique.gifSee USI.14 for more on popular sovereignty.

Representative Democracy

This is a type of government, such as the United States, where citizens of the nation elect representatives to govern the nation. Unlike direct democracy, citizens do not usually directly vote on laws.