School Improvement in Maryland
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 C. Protecting Rights and Maintaining Order

Indicator 1. Examine the impact of governmental decisions on individual rights and responsibilities in the United States

Objective a. Describe responsibilities associated with certain basic rights of citizens, such as freedom of speech, religion, and press, and explain why these responsibilities are important

Clarification

A cornerstone of the American political system is the idea that the purpose of government is to protect the “inalienable” rights of the people, and that governments that become “destructive” of individual rights may be altered or abolished. The Bill of Rights, which was added to the Constitution in 1791, is a list of many of the basic rights retained by the people that cannot be interfered with by the federal government. As a result of the incorporation doctrine, through the 14th Amendment nearly all of the rights listed in the Bill of Rights are also now protected from state government violations as well. Since the Reconstruction era, additional amendments to the Constitution have been added to protect the suffrage rights of various groups of Americans such as African Americans, women, and persons aged 18 or older.

The purpose of many of the guarantees found in the Constitution is not merely to protect the individual. Because the United States has a participatory system of government whose power originates with the people, many of the rights provided by the Constitution are also intended to maintain the legitimacy of the U.S.’s democratic system of government. Without freedom of the press, for example, Americans will not be adequately informed to hold elected officials accountable for their actions. Without the freedoms of assembly and speech, citizens’ capacity to influence officials’ decision making would be curtailed. If suffrage rights are not protected, the true voice of the public would not be heard during elections.

Implicit in these rights are responsibilities of citizens to participate in America’s experiment in self-government, and to do so in a civil and law abiding manner that preserves both the democratic political process as well as the individual rights of other citizens. With the freedoms of speech and press, for example, come the responsibility of citizens and media to refrain from engaging in expression that is dangerous to others, slanderous, or libelous. Freedom of religion is accompanied by the responsibility to practice one’s faith in a way that acknowledges and is respectful of other faiths. With suffrage comes the responsibility of citizens to respect other voters’ voices in the ballot box and peacefully accept the outcome of free and fair elections.

In the years leading to the Civil War, the widespread failure of citizens to meet these responsibilities undermined the legitimacy of the U.S. democratic process and coincided with the breakup of the Union. During the mid-1850’s crisis known as “Bleeding Kansas,” for example, pro- and anti- slavery activists poured into the Kansas territory and committed acts of violence intended to influence the outcome of elections that were intended to determine the future of slavery in the territory. This conflict even included a notorious incident in which Senator Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked Charles Sumner of Massachusetts with a cane on the floor of the United States Senate. Later, John Brown attempted to end slavery in Virginia by raiding a federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry and freeing slaves by force.

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Resources for Objective 1.C.1.a:
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