School Improvement in Maryland

Lesson Seeds: The lesson seeds are ideas for the indicator/objective that can be used to build a lesson. Lesson seeds are not meant to be all-inclusive, nor are they substitutes for instruction.

Standard 1.0 Political Science

Topic A. The Foundations and Function of Government

Indicator 2. Analyze the impact of historic documents and practices that became the foundations of the American political system during the early national period

Objective a. Evaluate the power and authority of the government on individuals

As indicated in the content explanation, this concept may be taught in a wide variety of historical contexts in early U.S. history. In this lesson seed, it will be applied to student analysis of various positions taken during the debate over the expansion of slavery.

First, be sure that students can explain the difference between power and authority, apply this difference to a simple scenario, and then identify a position of authority and explain the origin(s) of authority for that position. As needed, present the class with several situations and ask the students to identify the scenarios that they think illustrate power, identify the situations that they think illustrate authority, and justify their responses. Be sure student justifications are connected to the origins of authority (for example, “A school systems superintendent’s authority to cancel school on a snowy day comes from his legal responsibility to ensure the safety of students and staff. On the other hand, neither customs, laws, nor principles of morality permit your older brother to use your gaming device without asking for permission.”)

After reading textbook or even primary source accounts of different views on the slavery issue, provide students with a table in which each row represents one of the following general perspectives: “fire-eaters,” who cited property rights in opposing all government restrictions on slavery and its expansion; advocates of popular sovereignty, who felt that the citizens of individual western territories should be able to vote on whether or not slavery would be permitted when their territories became states; “free soilers,” who opposed the expansion of slavery into any western territories, and abolitionists, who called for the immediate elimination of all slavery wherever it existed. Have the students define each position in the first column of the table. Then tell the students that different positions on the slavery issue reflect very different philosophies about governmental power and authority.

In the second column of the table, have the students address the question “According to this position, does the government have the authority to restrict slavery?” by circling either “NEVER,” “SOMETIMES,” or “ALWAYS,” and then explaining their response. Be sure all explanations refer back to one of the three origins of authority cited above (for example, “Fire-eaters believed that the government NEVER has the authority to restrict slavery because the law in the form of the Constitution protects slave owners’ private property, and because customs protect the right to own slaves.”). Then, in the third column, have students address the question, “According to this position, when does the government have the authority to respond to the slavery issue?” and then explain responses for each position. (For example, “Abolitionists believed that for moral reasons the government has the authority to ban all slavery.”)

Resources for Objective 1.A.2.a:
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