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 c. Explain how the philosophies of Hobbes, Locke and Montesquieu influenced the principles that shaped United States government

First, engage students in a brainstorming session, a discussion, or even a simulation of what life would be like with no laws or rules to follow (in a state of nature). In doing so, be sure the students or separate groups of students reflect on the following questions: (1) What would be the advantages and disadvantages of living in such a state? (2) What might people who are stronger or smarter than others try to do? (3) What might people who are weaker or less skilled than others try to do? (4) Would anyone have the right to govern you? Would you have the right to govern anyone else? Why? (5) What would people do to protect their lives, liberty, or property? (6) What would be most important to you: the protection of your rights or the maintenance of order?

Have the students read brief text accounts summarizing the ideas of Hobbes and Locke about the state of nature, such as those found in the We the People texts, and then set up a three columned table or three-circle Venn diagram comparing the philosophers with each other and with their ideas from the opening activity. Be sure the students can explain the similarities and differences in class discussion.

To cover de Montesquieu, engage students in a similar discussion/simulation about what might happen if the President of the United States was responsible for making and interpreting laws in addition to enforcing them. Then read text accounts of or passages from The Spirit of the Laws and have the students compare their ideas with the philosopher’s.

Next, have the students match teacher-provided quotes and/or paragraphs that apply to each of the philosophers with teacher-provided excerpts from the Founding documents, quotes from the Founders, simple definitions, and even news headlines. Be sure students can correctly explain the connections they identify.

Finally, discuss with the students the elements of political cartoons, which may be found at Then have the students select a philosopher from this objective and design a political cartoon that depicts a prominent observation this thinker made about the state of nature, the nature of power, the need for a social contract, the need for separation of powers, etc.

Resources for Objective 1.A.2.c:
Clarifications | LESSON SEEDS | Sample Assessments | Resource Links