You Know Your Rights. Right?

About this Lesson

Target Student Group: 10th Grade, Government Class

Lesson Context: This lesson gives students an in-depth look into the rights specifically enumerated by the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments to the Constitution. In the previous lesson, students were introduced to the Articles of the Constitution, setting the stage for the criticisms put forth by the Anti-Federalists that the people’s rights were not explicitly enumerated in the body of the document. In this lesson, students will examine examples of opposing viewpoints regarding the inclusion of enumerated rights in the Constitution as well as the actual the text of the Bill of Rights.

Primary Source Documents

If the documents are difficult to read on this webpage, please click on the “Source” links to view the docs in their original online locations.

Document 1: Excerpt from the Federalist Papers: “Federalist No. 84, ” Written by Alexander Hamilton in 1788 Source

“Certain General and Miscellaneous Objections to the Constitution Considered and Answered” From McLEAN’S Edition, New York. 1788. Author: Alexander Hamilton

Guiding Questions for Document 1:

  1. What is the author’s perspective?
  2. Is this document reliable?
  3. Why was this document written?
  4. What claims does the author make?

Document 2: Excerpt from a Letter to James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 20 December 1781 Source

“To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 20 December 1787,” Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of James Madison, vol. 10, 27 May 1787–3 March 1788, ed. Robert A. Rutland, Charles F. Hobson, William M. E. Rachal, and Frederika J. Teute. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977, pp. 335–339.]
  1. What is this author’s perspective?
  2. What is the author’s purpose in writing this letter?
  3. What evidence does the author use to support their claim?
  4. How does this document agree or disagree with Document 1?

Document 3: The Bill of Rights, Printed Copy Source

The Bill of Rights; Enclosures, 1/20/2001 – 1/20/2009; Collection GWB-OPCPSC: Records of the Office of Presidential Correspondence – Presidential Student Correspondence (George W. Bush Administration); George W. Bush Library, Dallas, TX. [Online Version,, November 2, 2020]

Guiding Questions for Document 3:

  1. Why was this document written?
  2. How might the circumstances in which the document was created affect its content?
  3. How does this document express the same or different viewpoints as the previous two documents?

Teacher’s Guide:

Document 1:

  1. Students should describe the author’s perspective as “federalist” or in support of the ratification of the Constitution without a Bill of Rights.
  2. Students should state that this document is reliable. Although it was submitted anonymously to a newspaper, students’ background knowledge about Alexander Hamilton and his role both in the Constitutional Convention and later in the US government should inform their decision about the reliability of this source.
  3. The reason it was written was to rally support for the ratification of the Constitution in response to concerns that it lacks a Bill of Rights. Student responses should include something that addresses the ultimate purpose being to advocate against the inclusion of a Bill of Rights.
  4. The major claim that students should note is that Hamilton, the author, argues not only that a Bill of Rights is not necessary, but that it would actually be dangerous to include because tyrants might use this to limit citizens’ right to only those enumerated specifically. Other claims about the Constitution’s power being upheld by the people or the existing clarity of rights in the Constitution are also acceptable answers.

Document 2:

  1. The author’s perspective is that the Constitution must include a Bill of Rights although others have suggested it is not necessary.
  2. Students’ background knowledge from the previous lesson includes the knowledge that James Madison was the writer of the Constitution. Students should use this fact to inform their answer, which should reflect Jefferson’s desire to convince Madison to add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution.
  3. Students should include pieces of evidence from Jefferson’s argument such as: the enumeration that all rights not specifically given to the government are given to citizens is not a strong enough claim to protect individual rights, no uniformity amongst the states to guarantee certain rights without a Bill of Rights, people are inherently entitled to a Bill of Rights against any government.
  4. This document directly disagrees with Document 1 because it strongly states that a Bill of Rights is necessary and beneficial for the people whereas Document 1 says a Bill of Rights is unnecessary and even dangerous for the people.

Document 3:

  1. This document was written in response to the debate established in Docs 1 and 2. The Bill of Rights was written to appease anti-federalists who would not ratify the Constitution without the specific enumeration of the people’s rights.
  2. Students might choose to connect specific amendments to their historical context (i.e. Amendment 3 was created due to forced housing of British troops during the Revolution) or students could describe the overall context of the Revolutionary War and Federalist vs. Antifederalist debate.
  3. Document 3 supports Document 2 because it is the realization of the goals established in Doc 2. Its creation opposes Document 1.

Pacific Northwest Chinese Migrants in the Late 19th Century

Target Audience:

This could be done as a case study in any high school U.S. history class. It is a niche time, location and demographic but it is very emblematic of the struggle of hyphenated-Americans and U.S. migrant communities throughout history. If you make connection to the big picture issues of nativism and comparisons to other migrant groups, this can be a impactful lesson. This lesson has an added weight and meaning for students in the Pacific Northwest.

Lesson Context:

In fall of 1885, in the wake of the Chinese Expulsion Act, a mob composed of several hundred men expelled the Chinese community of Tacoma, Washington. The small population of the Chinese-American’s that lived in the northern waterfront of Tacoma, in an area called ‘Little Canton’, were forced south on trains headed toward Portland. A majority of them ended up in Portland and faced similar nativist acts of hatred and prejudice.

Historical Document 1 – The Chinese Expulsion Act
Close Reading Prompts: What were the motives and reasons behind such an a Act? What language does the author use to ‘other’ or dehumanize these Chinese-Americans. What are some of the most punitive and absurd rules set forth in the document?

Historical Document 2 – The Chinese Reconciliation Park
Close Reading Prompts: Before 1991, what had been done to reconcile with Tacoma’s troubled past with Chinese-Americans? What is the purpose of this article? Who is the target audience for this article and where might this information be found?

Historical Document 3 – Excerpt of Essay on Chinese Americans in Oregon
Close Reading Prompts: Why was the experience so different for Cantonese residents in Portland as apposed to Cantonese residents in other west coast American cities? What prejudices did Portland Chinese-Americans experience in the 20th century? Who wrote this and what is there connection to the history?

Teacher’s guide:
Source 1:
I would expect students to talk about jobs and land usage. I think they would essentially lay out the manifestation of nativist thought. For the second question they would go on to describe the words the administration used to make Chinese-Americans seem less than human. For example, in Section 3 they use the verb ‘reshipped’ to describe the migration of Chinese-Americans. The last question is more open ended but I think stripping these migrants of the use of their native language as it outlines in Section 4 is absurdly punitive.
Source 2:
With question one, I am hoping students realize that nothing was done in terms of reconciliation or reparations for over 100 years. The purpose of this article is mostly to inform park goers of this history and what is being done to reconcile. It’s less a history of the event and more of an outline of what will be done to fix this forgotten history. The target audience would be people that stumble upon the Chinese Reconciliation Park and wonder about its history and what can be done for reparations. This information would ideally be posted at the park to inform visitors.
Source 3:
As it says in the second paragraph, the migrants weren’t walled off in the same way Cantonese migrants were walled off in other cities. They later experienced prejudicial discrimination in housing, jobs, commercial opportunities, education, and medical and social services. The author is an Asian-American scholar and professor at UC Berkeley who lived in Portland named Douglas Lee.

Featured Image:
They are 27 of the men who forced the Chinese-Americans out of Tacoma.

L’état, c’est moi – Absolutism and the State

Target Student Group: I will be using these some of these sources in my tenth grade World History classes.

Lesson context – My students are currently studying the age of Absolutist European monarchies. During the past week, students have learned the context of significant absolutist rulers in France, England, and Russia and completed a compare and contrast activity. This week, students will engage in a review of key ideas from the unit and complete an ABC book of Absolutism. This lesson will serve as a review of why some governments would pursue an absolutist ideology.

The four main content areas we will address include:  (1) understand the concept of absolutism (2) compare and contrast absolutism in France, Russia, and England, (3) articulate the role of absolutist policies in European expansion and colonization, (4) compare and contrast pros and cons of different government types.

Document 1 – Source: Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, 1513
…For all men in general this observation may be made: they are ungrateful, fickle, and deceitful, eager to avoid dangers, and avid for gain, and while you are useful to them they are all with you, but when it [danger] approaches they turn on you. Any prince, trusting only in their works and having no other preparations made, will fall to ruin, for friendships that are bought at a price and not by greatness and nobility of soul are paid for indeed, but they are not owned and cannot be called upon in time of need. Men have less hesitation in offending a man who is loved than one who is feared, for love is held by a bond of obligation which, as men are wicked, is broken whenever personal advantage suggests it, but fear is accompanied by the dread of punishment, which never relaxes.

Close reading prompt
Who wrote this? What claims does the author make about how a prince should rule? How does the language indicate the authors perspective?

Document 2 – Source: King Louis XIV of France in 1660
The head alone has the right to deliberate and decide, and the functions of all the other members consist only in carrying out the commands given to them… The more you grant… [to the assembled people], the more it claims.. The interest of the state must come first.

Close reading prompt
Who wrote this? What is the author’s perspective? What claims does the author make about the government? How does the document’s language indicate the author’s perspective? Is it reliable?

Document 3 – Source Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, 1748.
Although the forms of state—monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy—were united in English government, the powers of government were separated from one another. There can be no liberty where the executive, legislative, and judicial powers are united in one person or body of persons, such concentration is bound to result in tyranny and oppression.

Close reading prompt
Who wrote this? What is the author’s perspective?  Do the documents agree? If not, why? What claims does the author make? Which document is the most reliable?

Teachers guide
Document 1: This document was written by Niccoló Machiavelli. The author claim that princes cannot be trusting of others and must instead instill fear over their subjects. Machiavelli claims that loyalty through love turns in the face of danger, however, loyalty earned through fear of punishment never relaxes. In order for a prince to be respected, they must be feared rather than loved. The author uses language to describe people like ‘wicked,’ ‘deceitful,’ and ‘ungrateful,’ to indicate their disdain for people.

Document 2: King Louis XIV wrote this. The author believes that the head of the state should make all of the decisions in government, reinforcing the idea of absolute power of the monarchy. They believe that the more power you grant to the people, the more they demand. The author uses language, such as referring to the head as making deliberate decisions and other members ‘only carrying out commands given to them,’ to indicate their perspective on how government should function. The author is not reliable because they are the king, and it is in their best interest to hold the power.

Document 3: The author is Montesquieu. Montesquieu believes that a government without a separation of powers is tyranny. This document does not agree with Machiavelli or Louis XIV, who believe in ruling through fear, and through absolute power, respectively. Montesquieu argues that the executive, legislative and judicial powers cannot be concentrated under one person or body, clashing with both the other two documents. Document three is the most reliable because it argues for a system of government closer to what we strive for in a democratic society today, including a division of powers to prevent tyranny.

Following reading these documents and responding to the close reading questions, students will be asked to compare the advantages and disadvantages of each system of government the above authors are arguing for.

Title image source: Louis XIV Rigaud Condé Chantilly, liscenced on Wikimedia Commons

Document source: Noonan, T. C. (1999). Document-Based Assessment for Global History. Portland, Maine: J. Weston, Walch.

The Struggles of Early Colonists: The missing Roanoke Colony

Target Student Group: This lesson uses primary sources from John White’s attempt to return to and find the Lost Colony of Roanoke. The target student group for this close reading activity can be a 10th grade US History class that is looking at the United States colonialism period. The Lost Colony of Roanoke is an interesting mystery that details the struggles of the early colonists.

Lesson Context: This close reading activity will have students looking at one of the earliest colonies which ended up disappearing all together. John White’s accounts are meant to show how difficult it was to be an early settler and emphasize how an entire colony just went missing. Another aspect that is highlighted is not only living in a colony was difficult, but also the journey to get to America had several challenges. The Roanoke colony shows how settlers were completely cut off from society and had to figure things out on their own, which led to a lot of death and even a few mysteries.

Historical Documents:

Roanoke Colonist’s Appeal to John White: an excerpt from “The voyage of Edward Stafford and John White” by John White (1589) Source
  • What are the colonists asking John White to do?
  • What does this appeal reflect what life was like as a colonist?
  • What challenges do settlers face?
John White’s Attempt to Rescue the Roanoke Colonists, 1590 Source
  • What were some of the problems that the crew encountered?
  • What does the sea breaking into their boat mean based on the context of the excerpt?
  • What was ruined by this incident? And how might that impact the settlers?
John White’s Attempt to Rescue the Roanoke Colonists, 1590 Source
  • What did John White tell the settlers before he left? What was the plan?
  • Would you have done something differently? What would you have done?
  • What did John White see when he returned to Roanoke?

Teacher’s Guide: For document one, the main point that students should get would be the fact that colonists were very far away from England/established civilization so it would be very challenging to get resources. In this document, John White is writing about how the colonists are asking him to go back to England to get supplies. Which means the colonists didn’t have enough supplies to successfully thrive in Roanoke. For document two, students should understand that the journey and taking a ship to the Americas was also extremely challenging and a lot of people died. John White is talking about how one of the boats sank, the supplies they got were ruined, and a part of the crew drowned. Students should also notice that a lot of the crew didn’t know how to swim and since the supplies were ruined, if the colonists were still in Roanoke, they wouldn’t have gotten everything they needed. For document 3, students should understand that this is the excerpt where John White talks about the colony being totally gone. They had initially created a plan for White to know if something wrong had happened, but he saw no sign of it. However, the houses they had made were taken down and things were out of place. Students should make a judgement on whether they agree with White’s plan or if they had a better idea.

Cover Photo Source