Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Foundations of American Government

Clark Youngblood
Santa Rosa District Schools


This lesson is designed to show the Principles and Origins of American Government.


The student understands the nature of political authority and the nature of the relationship between government and civil society in limited governments (e.g., constitutional democracies) and unlimited governments (e.g., totalitarian regimes).

The student understands the ideas that led to the creation of limited government in the United States (e.g., ideas of natural rights philosophy, and the concept of popular sovereignty).




Prepare information using examples of different governments throughout the world for comparisions. MAGRUDER'S AMERICAN GOVERNMENT by Prentice Hall, 1993. Pages 3 - 66. Have students read a newspaper and find 10 different articles that have to do with our government ( including national,state,and local), bring them to class and share.


Students listen to a lecture on the following aspects of government, take notes, participate in discussion and indicate knowledge of the Principles and Origins of American Government.

1. Review the Principles of Government with the class- -What is Government?--Government is the institution through which a society makes and enforces its public policies. Government is made up of those people who exercise government powers; those who have authority and control over other people. Government is among the oldest of all human inventions. Early records date back to ancient Egypt and the 6th century B.C. Define--What is a -state-?- (Nation/Country) Nation actually refers to an ethnic term, and Country refers to a geographic area.
2. List the 4 characteristics of a State: (there are more than 180 in the world today) 1.Population 2. Territory-must have clear defined boundaries. 3. Sovereignty-supreme and absolute power within its own territory 4. Government-an agency in which a state exerts its will and works to accomplish goals. (The development of writing allowed civilizations to store records, build on earlier knowledge, spread ideas,and faciltate government.)
3. List the 6 purposes of government defined in the Preamble to the Constitution. 1) To form a more perfect union 2) Establish justice(equality) 3) Insure domestic tranquility (order in society) 4) Provide for the common defense. 5) Promote the general welfare (public schools,environment) 6) Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. (dedication to freedom)
4. FORMS OF GOVERNMENT-- Basic Forms-(Where is the Power?)--UNITARY- a centralized government where all powers held by the government belong to a single,central agency. (Most gov'ts are unitary in form) Federal government-one in which the powers of government are divided between a central government and several local governments. CONFEDERATE GOV'T-an alliance of independent states.Most power is held by independent states leaving the central government weak. 5. Explain the relationship between legislative & executive agencies--Presidential: separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government. Parliamentary: Executive is made up of the prime minister or premier and that of officials cabinet. They themselves are members of the legislative branch, the parliament. Dictatorship exists where those who rule cannot be held responsible to the will of the people.-dictatorship is probably the oldest & most common form of government known.
6. Explain this vocabulary. DEMOCRACY- a supreme political authority that rests within the people. DIRECT DEMOCRACIES-(pure democracy) where the will of the people is translated into law directly by the people themselves in mass meetings. These do not exist on the national level. INDIRECT DEMOCRACIES: (representative democracy) small groups of people chosen by the people to act as their representatives expressing popular will. They are held accountable for their conduct, especially during election time. A CONSTITUTION is a plan that provides the rules for government..
7. Discuss the major purpose of a Constitution
1. It sets out ideals that the people bound by the Constitution believe in and share, 2. It establishes the basic structure of government and defines the government's powers and duties. 3. It provides the supreme law for the country. Constitutions may be written or un-written, although they are usually written. The U.S. Constitution is the oldest written constitution still in use today. Great Britain, has an unwritten constitution based on hundreds of years of legislative acts,court decisions,and customs. BASIC CONCEPTS OF DEMOCRACY: Democracy exists because the American people believe in its basic concepts and will only continue to exist as long as the concepts are practiced.
8. Discuss the FIVE BASIC CONCEPTS OF DEMOCRACY: 1) a recognition of the fundamental worth & dignity of every person. 2) a respect for the equality of all persons. 3) a faith in majority rule and an insistence upon minority rights. 4) an acceptance of the necessity of compromise. 5) an insistence upon the widest possible degree of individual freedom.
9. Discuss the SOILS OF DEMOCRACY: 1) Active citizen participation 2) Favorable economy 3) Widespread education 4) Strong civil society (Red Cross,Humane Society etc..) 5) Social consensus.. -Soils- meaning the basis for all government to function.


Student achievement will be based on the following questions. The student must be able to recall and list the following. The 4 characteristics of a -state- and the effect of - writing- in the formation of governments. Students must be able to list the 5 basic concepts of democracy.
Students prepare a short essay, of three paragraphs,outlining -why the U.S. government should exist and what its purpose should be-. Students' grades will be based on content of either acceptable or non-acceptable.
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