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

Documents on the Page
Drafting of the Declaration of Independence
Drafting of the Declaration of Independence

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)
Massachusetts Constitution of 1780

The Committee in the picture on the right side of the page: Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Livingston, and Sherman. 1776. Copy of engraving after Alonzo Chappel

Agregateur_Poietique.gifFor more information on Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, see USI.3


For more information on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, see USI.38

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 11.31.41 AM.pngExpanding Civil Rights: Landmark Cases from PBS

Records of Rights from the National Archives documents Americans ongoing struggle to "define, attain and protect their rights."

primary_sources.PNGImportant founding documents are located in the table below


Magna Carta (Great Charter of Freedoms)

The Magna Carta secured the rights of the people, assuring them that the King would held accountable to law.
Petition of Right
Sir Edward Coke
English constitutional document sets forth liberties that the King cannot violate including non-Parliamentary taxation, forced billeting of soldiers, imprisonment without cause, and the use of martial law
Mayflower Compact
Nov. 11, 1620
Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony
Regarded as a foundation for the Constitution of the United States; Social contract for sake of survival; Established government loyal to the king.

English Bill of Rights
Limits the power of the king; free elections; freedom of speech in Parliament; prohibits cruel and unusual punishment
Massachusetts Body of Liberties
Nathaniel Ward
First legal code established by European colonists in New England; Precursor to MA general laws and constitution; "Ahead of its time" = justice, right to appeal, counsel and jury; Abolished double jeopardy and cruel punishment; Gave some rights to women, children, servants and outlawed slavery.
Treatise on Civil Government
John Locke
Provided foundation for modern forms of democracy and was a major influence on the Constitution.
Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges
William Penn
Envisioned a colony that permitted religious freedom, the consent of the people for government and protection of property rights.Freedom of worship was absolute
Virginia Declaration of Rights
George Mason
Proclaimed the inherent natural rights of man and the right of people to rebel against an inadequate government; serves as a model for the Declaration of Independence
Suffolk Reserves
Joseph Warren

Protested the Intolerable Acts/Coercive Acts of Great Britain (Suffolk Courts, MA / Boston); Urged citizens to cease paying taxes, trading with Britain and approved the assembly of a militia against the government.
Massachusetts Constitution
John Adams
Sam Adams, James Bowdoin
Model for the United States Constitution with four parts: a preamble, a declaration of rights, a description of the framework of government, and articles of amendment
Northwest Ordinance
July 13, 1787
Nathan Dane, Rufus King
Precedence for federal government sovereignty with regard to admission of new states. Prohibits slavery north of the Ohio River.
Federalist 10
Nov. 22, 1787
James Madison
Argued for Constitution and large republic in order to protect against insurrections; Large republics are better equipped to do so.
Washington's Farewell Address
George Washington
Warns against party system; Stresses importance of religion and morality; Warns against foreign alliances and an over-powerful military establishment.

Hear the Broadway play Hamilton's One Last Time, including part of the actual text of Washington's Farewell Address
Jefferson's First Inaugural Address

Thomas Jefferson
Asserted freedom of speech and religion; Mix of federal and Republican values for a wise government.
Declaration of Sentiments
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Women's version of the Declaration of Independence; Endorsed women's rights/controversial (endorsed women's suffrage).
Frederick Douglass Independence Day Speech
Frederick Douglass
In a speech entitled, "The Meaning of July 4 for the Negro," Douglass condemns American attitudes toward slavery.

Click here to see Morgan Freeman read selections from the speech
Lincoln's House Divided Speech
Abraham Lincoln
Famous speech delivered by Lincoln at the beginning of his unsuccessful Senate campaign against Stephen A. Douglas in which he declared that the country cannot remain with some states allowing slavery and other states free
Gettysburg Address
Nov. 19, 1863
Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln used the speech to focus attention on the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the concept of equality, shifting the focus from the Constitution. See Gary Wills, The Words That Remade America
Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address
March 4, 1865
Abraham Lincoln
Sought to avoid harsh treatment of South in wake of Civil War

“Photograph of a painting by Edward Percy Moran (1862-1935), showing Myles Standish, William Bradford, William Brewster and John Carver signing the Mayflower Compact in a cabin aboard the Mayflower while other Pilgrims look on.” ca.1900. The original hangs at the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, MA.

external image Mayflower_compact.jpg


lesson_plan_icon.jpgLESSON PLANS

Female_Rose.pngWomen's Suffrage from Teaching Tolerance