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Explain the rights and the responsibilities of citizenship and describe how a democracy provides opportunities for citizens to participate in the political process through elections, political parties, and interest groups.

Topics on the Page

Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship
Citizen Participation on Juries
  • African Americans on Juries
  • Women on Juries
Core Documents of Citizenship
  • Bill of Rights
  • Constitution
  • Voting
Political Protest Movements
Advocacy and Interest Groups
Citizen Participation

Focus Question: What are the rights and responsibilities of democratic citizenship?

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  • See AP Government II.D for more on citizenship participation in political life

  • See USG.1.2 for more on citizenship, politics and government

  • See USG.3.7 for more on the evolution of political parties

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The picture to the right shows Historic American Flags in Washington, D.C. The Betsy Ross flag hangs on both ends and the classic Old Glory flag is to each side of the current 50-state version.

Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship
  • All rights are granted under the Bill of Rights and the Constitution
  • Citizens are then responsible to obey the laws, serve on juries, and vote in elections

Citizen Participation on Juries

primary_sources.PNG"Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty. Without them we have no fortification against being ridden like horses, fleeced like sheep, worked like cattle and fed and clothed like swine and hounds" (John Adams, second President of the United States).

Why was the Right to Trial by Jury so Important to the Founding Fathers? from the Georgia Civil Justice Foundation.

Sixth Amendment: Speedy Trial by an Impartial Jury (1791).

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Rotating_globe-small.gifClick here for information about the first African Americans selected to serve on a jury in Massachusetts (and in the United States) in 1860.

For more information, see Long Road to Justice: The African American Experience in Massachusetts Courts from the Massachusetts History Society.

Female_Rose.pngClick here for information about the first woman selected to serve on a jury in the United States in Wyoming in 1870.

Massachusetts_state_seal.pngBrief Description of the Massachusetts Jury System, including One-Day or One-Trial model for jury service.

Core Documents of Citizenship

Bill of Rights
  • The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the right to assemble
  • The Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear arms
  • The Third Amendment guarantees protection from quartering troops
  • The Fourth Amendment protects from unreasonable search and seizure
  • The Fifth Amendment gives the right to due process, double jeopardy (being tried for the same crime twice), self-incrimination and eminent domain
  • The Sixth Amendment gives the right to a trial by jury and the rights of the accused, the right to a speedy and public trial and counsel
  • The Seventh Amendment gives the right to a civil trial by jury
  • The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment
  • The Ninth Amendment protects rights not explicitly enumerated in the Bill of Rights
  • The Tenth Amendment gives the states rights not given to the federal government

Multimedia.png Click hereto watch a Three Minute Guide to the Bill of Rights

primary_sources.PNG Click here for free lesson plans on issues and documents relating to the Bill of Rights.

Multimedia.png Click here to watch a video from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, made for Constitution Day in 2014. It gives insight into the Bill of Rights - how it was made, arguments behind the individual amendments, and more! (Best for a high school/AP review.)

Rotating_globe-small.gif The Bill of Rights is absent on remarking on the issue of race or women's rights. See this wikipage on the development of civil liberties and civil rights by judicial interpretation.

The Constitution
  • Supreme law of the United States
  • Provides the framework for organization of the government
  • It was ratified on September 17, 1787 by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia
  • Includes amendments that give women the right to vote, abolish slavery, and limit the president to two terms in office
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  • American citizens over the age of 18 are allowed to vote.
  • They can vote in primaries to decide which candidate goes onto the main presidential election (if they are affiliated with a particular political party) and in the main election.
  • Citizens also vote for mayors, governors, and local elections for the school board and selectman as well as for congressmen and senators.

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Political Protest Movements

Women Marching for the Right to Vote in front of the White House, 1917
Women Marching for the Right to Vote in front of the White House, 1917

Participation in Political Protest Movements is another way that citizens express their voice in the American democratic system. United States History is filled with compelling examples of how protest movements have propelled political change, including the women's rights movement, the civil rights movement, and the anti-Vietnam War movement.

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Multimedia.pngProtesting the War: The Anti-Vietnam War Movement from YouTube

Advocacy and Interest Groups

These groups work to influence politics and public opinion by advocating in different ways for various issues. These methods can include protests and rallies. The issues that are lobbied for can be long-standing, large and small issues, environmental issues, or temporary issues around election time.

Some of the famous groups are the Suffragettes who fought for women's right to vote, Greenpeace, which fights for environmental consciousness, and those who take part in the pro-choice/pro-life debate.

Some of these groups have been very successful, while others accomplished little or nothing. However, they are an important way for people to express their feelings about the government.

For more on lobbying and special interest groups, see the Lobbying Database from opensecrets.org from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Citizen Responsibilities
Citizenship in a democracy requires participation, civility, patience – rights as well as responsibilities. Political scientist Benjamin Barber has noted, "Democracy is often understood as the rule of the majority, and rights are understood more and more as the private possessions of individuals. ... But this is to misunderstand both rights and democracy." For democracy to succeed, citizens must be active, not passive, because they know that the success or failure of the government is their responsibility, and no one else's.

It is certainly true that individuals exercise basic rights – such as freedom of speech, assembly, religion – but in another sense, rights, like individuals, do not function in isolation. Rights are exercised within the framework of a society, which is why rights and responsibilities are so closely connected.

Democratic government, which is elected by and accountable to its citizens, protects individual rights so that citizens in a democracy can undertake their civic obligations and responsibilities, thereby strengthening the society as a whole.
At a minimum, citizens should educate themselves about the critical issues confronting their society, if only so that they can vote intelligently. Some obligations, such as serving on juries in civil or criminal trials or in the military, may be required by law, but most are voluntary.

The essence of democratic action is the peaceful, active, freely chosen participation of its citizens in the public life of their community and nation.
  • According to scholar Diane Ravitch, "Democracy is a process, a way of living and working together. It is evolutionary, not static. It requires cooperation, compromise, and tolerance among all citizens. Making it work is hard, not easy. Freedom means responsibility, not freedom from responsibility."
  • Fulfilling this responsibility can involve active engagement in organizations or the pursuit of specific community goals; above all, fulfillment in a democracy involves a certain attitude, a willingness to believe that people who are different from you have similar rights.