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Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 1.0 Political Science

Topic B. Individual and Group Participation in the Political System

Indicator 2. Defend the importance of civic participation as a citizen of the United States

Objective b. Analyze the concept of citizenship and explain how the concept has changed from colonial times through Reconstruction


A citizen is a person who enjoys the rights but also assumes the responsibilities of membership in a political community. The American notion of citizenship has been influenced by ideas of classical republicanism and natural rights theory. The ideals of classical republicanism came from ancient Greek and Roman city states, and emphasized the civic participation and responsibilities of citizens to act in a manner that placed the public good above private interest. The first American communities, which were small, self-contained entities whose members personally depended upon one another, placed emphasis on the classical republican notion of the common good. Many called themselves “commonwealths,” and in places such as New England conducted town meetings where individuals could provide input regarding community policies. In contrast, the natural rights philosophy of John Locke placed more emphasis on individual rights. According to natural rights theory, political communities exist to protect the rights of individuals who belong to them, and each citizen within the community is free to pursue his or her own interests as long as they do not interfere with the rights of other members of the community. Political philosophers and leaders ranging from the Founding Fathers to Alexis de Tocqueville have long pondered the question of how the United States can maintain a political community where civic virtue and self-interest coexist. The realization that the two ideals can be compatible lies in the concept of enlightened self-interest, the notion that one can fulfill private ambitions only if he or she also contributes to the common good.

The dramatic evolution of the meaning of American citizenship that took place during the era covered in 8th grade U.S. History was the product of a decades-long struggle between advocates of states’ rights and proponents of the United States establishing a strong national identity. This debate reached culmination with the Civil War and Reconstruction. Between the end of the colonial era and Reconstruction, Americans changed from first primarily seeing themselves as bound to their individual colonies and then states to later developing a sense of national identity and citizenship. This change coincided with a transformation from states being implicitly authorized by the Constitution to determine who was eligible for the protections of citizenship at the time of the ratification of the Constitution, to the federal government determining the meaning of national citizenship with ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868.

In declaring that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside,” the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was passed to expand the pool of American residents entitled to the legal protections of national citizenship, and also to give American citizens authority over and responsibility for the proper functioning of their local, state, and national governments. The Amendment advanced legal citizenship to African American males by overturning the Supreme Court’s 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford, which had ruled that the Constitution did not allow any African Americans to be citizens of the United States. It also guaranteed citizenship to all children born in the United States, regardless of their parents’ citizenship status.

But in spite of the intentions of the 14th Amendment, as the Reconstruction era drew to a close many groups of American residents did not in reality enjoy the full rights of American citizenship. African Americans, for example, were denied citizenship rights after post-Reconstruction southern state governments enacted segregation laws and used a variety of legal methods to keep them from voting in elections. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, federal policy towards Native American residents vacillated between respecting the sovereignty of Native American tribes and seeking to dismantle tribal governments. Native Americans did not receive full citizenship until Congress enacted the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. Finally, women in America were not given universal suffrage rights until ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Resources for Objective 1.B.2.b:
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