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Founding Principles and Civic Virtues Organizer

Founding Principles and Civic Virtues Organizer

Guiding Questions: What does “Being an American” mean to me? What Founding Principles and Civic Virtues unite Americans?

  • I can define Founding Principles and Civic Virtues and apply them to my life.
  • I can understand why practicing Civic Virtues is necessary for the United States to endure.

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” —Benjamin Franklin

The Founders established a republic with representative self-government based upon the consent of the governed and constitutional protections of liberty. This means that the people are the ultimate authority and create a government with representatives chosen by them to govern. The Founders believed that a self-governing people needed to practice civic virtues in order for a republican government and society to endure. Civic virtues bind free individuals into a community that is united by the spirit of a common purpose and an interest in the common good.


  • As you read the description for each principle and civic virtue, highlight the keywords that help you understand the term. Use those highlighted words to write your own definition.
  • Find an example from your school, your community, or the news in which individuals demonstrated that principle or civic virtue. Finally, reflect on what that virtue means to you in your life. “Prudence” has been completed as an example, and “Courage” has been started for you.


Civic Virtue Define in Your Words Real-World Example Reflection
1. Prudence: Practical wisdom that applies reason and other virtues to discern right courses of action in specific situations To use good judgment and decision making to determine the right thing to do Completing homework and chores before going out with friends I try to make the right decision when I feel pressured by friends to do things I know I shouldn’t.
2. Courage: The ability to take constructive action in the face of fear or danger. To stand firm as a person of character and do what is right, especially when it is unpopular or puts one at risk. Standing up to a bully
3. Honor: Demonstrating good character and integrity and thinking and acting honestly.
4. Humility: To remember that one’s ignorance is far greater than one’s knowledge. To give praise to those who earn it.
5. Integrity: To tell the truth, expose untruths, and keep one’s promises.
6. Justice: Upholding of what is fair, just, and right. To stand for equally applied rules that respect the rights and dignity of all and make sure everyone obeys them.
7. Moderation: The avoidance of excesses or extremes.
8. Perseverance: To continue in a task or course of action or to hold to a belief or commitment, in spite of obstacles or difficulty; choosing to take the right path rather than the easy path and to stay the course.
9. Respect: Honor or admiration of someone or something. To protect one’s mind and body as precious aspects of identity. To extend that protection to all other individuals.
10. Responsibility: Acting on good judgment about what is right or wrong, or deserving the trust of others. Knowing and doing what is best, not what is most popular. Demonstrating trustworthiness by making decisions in the best long-term interests of the people. Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty and the liberty of others.
11. Self-Governance: To be self-controlled, avoiding extremes, and to reject unwise influence or control by others.
12. Vigilance: Being alert and attentive, taking action to remedy possible injustices or evils.


Founding Principle Define in Your Own Words Real-World Example Reflection
1. Natural/Inalienable Rights: Rights that belong to us by nature and can only be justly abridged through due process. Examples are life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.
Lesson: The Enlightenment and Social Contract Theory
2. Limited Government: Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers that protect their natural/inalienable rights.
Lesson: The Enlightenment and Social Contract Theory
3. Liberty: Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, government does not have the authority to limit freedom.
Lesson: The Declaration of Independence
4. Equality: All individuals have the same status regarding their claim as human beings to natural rights and equal treatment under the law.
Lesson: The Declaration of Independence
5. Consent of the Governed/Popular Sovereignty: The power of government comes from the people.
Lesson: An “Apple of Gold” in a “Picture of Silver”: The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution
6. Rule of Law: Government and citizens abide by the same laws regardless of political power.
Lesson: An “Apple of Gold” in a “Picture of Silver”: The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution
7. Checks and Balances: Constitutional powers are distributed among the branches of government, allowing each to limit the application of power of the other branches and to prevent expansion of power of any branch.
Lesson: “A Glorious Liberty Document”: The U.S. Constitution and Its Principles
8. Federalism: The people delegate certain powers to the national government, while the states retain other powers; and the people, who authorize both the states and national government, retain all freedoms not delegated to the governing bodies.
Lesson: “A Glorious Liberty Document”: The U.S. Constitution and Its Principles
9. Separation of Powers: A system of distinct powers built into the Constitution to prevent an accumulation of power in one branch.
Lesson: “A Glorious Liberty Document:” The U.S. Constitution and Its Principles
10. Freedom of Religion: The right to choose one’s religion or form of worship, if any, without interference; freedom of conscience.
Lesson: The Creation of the Bill of Rights
11. Freedom of Speech, Press, and Assembly: The legal right to express one’s opinions freely, orally or in writing, and the right to gather with others in groups of one’s choice without arbitrary or unreasonable restrictions.
Lesson: The Creation of the Bill of Rights

Analysis Questions

  1. What similarities and differences between the class lists of virtues needed for self-government and this list do you notice?
  2. Do all Americans demonstrate these civic virtues and principles? What happens to the republic and civil society if they do not act in a way that supports these virtues?
  3. Are there any virtues or principles that seem more important than others? Explain your reasoning.

Additional Activities