The original Constitution did not specifically protect the right to vote—leaving the issue largely to the states. For much of American history, this right has often been granted to some, but denied to others; however, through a series of amendments to the Constitution, the right to vote has expanded over time. These amendments have protected the voting rights of new groups, including by banning discrimination at the ballot box based on race (15th Amendment) and sex (19th Amendment). They also granted Congress new power to enforce these constitutional guarantees, which Congress has used to pass landmark statutes like the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While state governments continue to play a central role in elections today, these new amendments carved out a new—and important—role for the national government in this important area.
The first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, adopted through ratification, are collectively referred to as the Bill of Rights. As the first nine outline fundamental guarantees to the citizenry and the tenth reserves some governmental powers to the state governments, the Bill of Rights establishes limitations on the scope of the federal government.
The Articles of Confederation, ratified on March 1, 1781, created a loose confederation of sovereign states along with a weak central government. After several years living under the provisions of this document, the idea of establishing a stronger central government emerged. This led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Debates surrounding the ratification of the new document followed, with the Federalists supporting the ratification of the Constitution, and the Anti-Federalists opposing it, concerned it provided too much power to a central government. In this lesson, students will view videos of Virginian Founding Fathers James Madison and George Mason debating issues related to the Constitution.
In this lesson, students will hear from a primary source, Ruby Bridges, as she spoke with elementary school students about her experiences as the first black student in an all-white school in New Orleans in 1960.
Who should be responsible for determining the content and materials that are included in school curricula? In this lesson, students will hear testimony from elected officials, people in the education community as well as a trailblazer in the Civil Rights Movement as they offer their perspectives on issues that should be addressed in educational settings as well as student access to materials such as books.
Students watch, analyze, and respond to video clips that detail the goals of the writers of the first state constitutions, explore historical the background, and and examine Virginia’s, Pennsylvania’s, or Massachusetts’ first state constitutions.
This lesson features the history of political polling in the United States going back to the 19th century and the development and use of polling since then.
This 9-minute video illustrates how demographic trends and a changing California economy in the 1990s created a backlash against immigration, only to be followed by an even larger one over time. The video shows students how economic and demographic forces affect the strategies of the political parties, and demonstrates how policies like Proposition 187 can produce unintended and surprising consequences. It also draws parallels with some aspects of President Trump’s rhetoric on immigration.
The video segments for this activity come from “American Reckoning,” a Frontline and Retro Report collaboration that examines a little-known story of the civil rights era. This activity centers on the attempted murder of George Metcalfe and the response by the N.A.A.C.P. and Deacons for Defense chapters of Natchez, Miss.
Project Citizen is an interdisciplinary curricular program for middle, secondary, and post-secondary students, youth organizations, and adult groups that promotes competent and responsible participation in local and state government. The program helps participants learn how to monitor and influence public policy. In the process, they develop support for democratic values and principles, tolerance, and feelings of political efficacy.