Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Limited Government

Alan Peacock


Students demonstrate knowledge of the differences between limited and unlimited governments, by writing a letter from the point of view of Thomas Jefferson to King George III explaining why a constitutional democracy is better than despotic royal tyranny.


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).


-American government textbook
-Pencil and paper supplied by students


Prior to this lesson, it will be necessary to prepare a foundation by discussing with students the role of Thomas Jefferson in the American Revolution and the some of the basic causes of the American Revolution. Additionally, prior discussion regarding the definitions of various forms of political systems, such as republic, monarchy, dictatorship, oligarchy, and direct democracy, will be necessary.


1. Ask students if their parents have ever told them to do something they did not want to do, e.g., clean their rooms, complete homework, etc.

2. Ask the students to consider their reactions to the demands of their parents. Did they have the means to limit the authority of their parents?

3. Ask students if the government has the authority to command our actions. Do citizens have a say in what our government can and can not do?

4. Ask the students to name parts of the U.S. Constitution that limit the power of government and how those limitations protect individual freedom. List responses on board.

5. Help the students create a collective group definition of limited government and unlimited government by soliciting definitions, placing the solicited answers on the board. Ask for improvements, changes, or alterations to the definitions to achieve final definitions.

6. Tell the students to identify international contemporary governments that are models of limited governments and unlimited governments. List on board. Allow students a few minutes to copy the notes from the discussion.

7. Give the students the standard and introduce the assignment with the criteria for evaluation.

8. Tell the students to write rough drafts of the assignment and exchange with their peers for preliminary evaluations. Tell them that they may use their notes.

9. Following feedback from peers and the instructor, the students will complete the final drafts of the assignment.

10. Assess the assignment.


Evidence: Each student will write an R.A.F.T. paper, a CRISS strategy, as if the student were Thomas Jefferson writing a letter to King George III.

The letter should explain why the colonists desire to create a constitutional democracy and identify those aspects of British rule they find authoritarian and despotic. The letters will be graded for formative assessment. A checklist for evaluation of the letters is in the associated file.

Criteria: In the letters, the students will define a constitutional democracy, explain the differences between limited and unlimited government, and demonstrate why citizens might prefer a limited goverment over an unlimited government. The letter must also identify a constitutional democracy as an example of limited government and a monarchy or dictatorship as an unlimited government.


Students can be asked to find contemporary examples from current events publications that identify how our government's authority has limitations and identify reasons why the American people desire to implement such limitations.

Web Links

This site discusses the principle of limited government and relates it to the Declaration of Independence and the concepts of divisions of power and checks and balances. Excellent pre-reading site.
A Principle of The Traditional American Philosophy

Attached Files

A rubric checklist for evaluation.     File Extension: pdf

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