America’s Documents of Freedom
The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation are often referred to collectively as the Documents of Freedom. As a group, these documents demonstrate the evolution of American democracy and freedoms. The lessons in this unit examine how changes in government impact individuals differently; how freedom is interpreted through the creation of federal documents; how legal systems are greatly influenced by earlier legal codes; and how interpretations of historical documents change over time.
Lesson 1: Are We the People?
During this lesson, students will consider how the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation limited or expanded individual rights for different groups of Americans. Students will study the documents, write letters in the persona of a historical character in response to the documents, and conduct research to evaluate their responses and place them in a historical context. Download Are We the People?
Lesson 2: Are We Free Yet?
Through document analysis of excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Thirteenth Amendment, this lesson encourages students to evaluate the level of freedom promised by each of these documents. Students will also learn how freedom in society is interpreted through the creation of government documents. Download Are We Free Yet?
Lesson 3: We the People Have a Few Comments
This lesson asks students to respond to the positive and negative aspects of the Documents of Freedom and to reflect on how our interpretation of these documents has changed over time. Students will read and analyze excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. They will then have the opportunity to write a letter to the author of one of these documents with their questions, suggestions for revision, praise, and reflections on the importance of the document over time. Download We the People Have a Few Comments.
Lesson 4: Roots of the Documents of Freedom
This lesson teaches students to consider the evolution of political systems through document comparison of the Magna Carta, the British Bill of Rights, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the Bill of Rights. Students will reflect on the nature of democracy by tracing the development of representative democracies over many years and studying how their values are expressed through government documents. Download Roots of the Documents of Freedom.