Documents and Civic Duties

By Potter, Lee Ann | Social Education, November-December 2005 | Go to article overview

Documents and Civic Duties


Potter, Lee Ann, Social Education


When Benjamin Franklin emerged from the State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the close of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787, he was reportedly asked what type of government had been created. According to lames McHenry, one of George Washington's aides, Franklin replied, "A republic, if you can keep it." Thirty-three years later, Thomas Jefferson shared a similar sentiment with his friend William Charles Jarvis. He stated, "I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves." And in 1821, in the Supreme Court's decision on Cohens v. Virginia, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, "The people made the Constitution and the people can unmake it. It is a creature of their own will, and lives only by their will."

Franklin, Jefferson, Marshall, and countless others have eloquently emphasized the responsibility that every citizen bears for insuring the success of our system of government. But for students there is often a disconnect between hearing that they personally bear an important responsibility, and understanding both what that means and what specific actions they can personally take.

Primary source documents can make that connection much clearer for students, by illustrating what is meant by responsible citizenship. The people who create documents as well as those who are featured in them can serve as models of civic behavior--both appropriate and inappropriate--whether they are performing a civic duty or, more specifically, exercising civic responsibility. The documents themselves can serve as tools for starting class discussions, encouraging research, prompting writing activities, and more.

Civic duties and responsibilities are numerous. They include voting, serving on a jury, signing a petition, writing to a government official, paying one's taxes, being knowledgeable about current events, registering for the draft, serving in the military, being a law-abiding citizen, volunteering, addressing issues that affect the larger society, contributing to the common good, protesting injustice, passing on civic values to the next generation, and more. Government documents, in their almost infinite variety, feature individuals and groups performing such civic duties, and often more than one simultaneously.

A letter sent to President Gerald R. Ford in September 1974 by elementary school student Anthony Ferreira is one document that exemplifies a citizen exercising multiple civic duties (p. 388). In a single sentence, on Big Chief paper (a lined writing tablet), young Ferreira demonstrated his knowledge of current events by capturing American public opinion about the president's decision to pardon Richard Nixon. "Dear President Ford," the letter says, "I think you are half Right and half wrong." While the historical context of the document may not be immediately evident to students, its vagueness may pique student curiosity. Although the letter may seem too simple to be an effective teaching tool, in fact, its simplicity serves as a powerful reminder that whether one is old enough to vote or not, all American citizens have a First-Amendment right to petition their government and the responsibility to contact their public officials. This document may be all the encouragement students need to contact their own public officials about current issues. The document also serves as a prompt for asking students to identify one of the powers granted to the president in Article II, section 2, of the Constitution--the power to grant pardons.

An 1844 anti-slavery petition from the women of Philadelphia to Congress is another example (p. 389). The signers of this document also did not have the right to vote, but they did have the right to petition, and they chose to exercise it. Students who are introduced to this document are likely to note how this legislative record relates to another civic duty: that of concerning oneself with issues that affect the larger society, or simply the "common good. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Documents and Civic Duties
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.