Skills used: concept application, source analysis, argumentation
Essential question: Does gerrymandering support the concept of representation and consent of the governed?
- What does it mean to be represented in a self-governing republic?
- How does representation support the Founding principle of the consent of the governed?
- Students will define the concept of consent of the governed and gerrymandering.
- Students will assess how gerrymandering affects representation in a republic
- Primary source: “The Gerry Mander,” Boston Centinel, 1812
This lesson looks at the concept of gerrymandering and how that process leads to debates over the consent of the governed and representation.
- Think, Turn, Talk: What does the term “consent of the governed” mean to you?
- Have students reflect on the prompt and then share their response with a partner.
- Ask for volunteers to share their responses.
- Create a class definition for this term or share the Bill of Rights Institute’s definition and ask how or if they would change it: consent of the governed: the power of government comes from the people.
- Ask, “Why is it important in our government to ensure that our representatives have our consent?”
- Say, “In this lesson, we will be looking at the process of how districts are created and how that connects to the ideas of representation and the consent of the governed.
- Show students only the image of “The Gerry Mander” primary source without any context. Ask, “What do you see? What do you think this is? When or why do you think it was made? What other information do we need to really analyze this cartoon?”
- Have students look at “The Gerry Mander” primary source with the background context.
- Discuss student observations and answers to the accompanying questions.
Have students choose one of the following options:
- Research the district boundaries within their own state to determine if they think there is any evidence of gerrymandering. Have them share their findings with the class.
- Have students complete the puzzles on http://gametheorytest.com/gerry/ . What does this game reflect about the question of representation, fairness, and gerrymandering?
- Have students look at other examples of gerrymandering cartoons in recent history on https://caglecartoons.com/. Search “gerrymander”. Then, create their own political cartoon about gerrymandering with an explanation of how their cartoon connects to the idea of representation and fairness.
Assess and Reflect
Have students respond to the following question: Based on what you have seen and read in this lesson, does gerrymandering support the concept of representation and consent of the governed? Explain.
Primary Source: “The Gerry-Mander”, Boston Centinel, 1812.
Building Context: The district depicted in the cartoon was created by the Massachusetts legislature to favor the Democratic-Republican party candidates supported by Governor Elbridge Gerry over the candidates of the Federalist party in 1812. This cartoon gave rise to the term “gerry-mandering”, manipulating electoral district boundaries with the intent to create an advantage for a particular group in that district. This process addresses the idea of giving more power to a particular group, as it gives some voters greater representation than others.
Comprehension and Analysis Questions:
- Describe what you see.
- What is the cartoonist’s opinion of the district boundaries created in 1812? How do you know?
- Based on this cartoon, define gerrymandering in your own words.
- Compare this cartoon with the following cartoon from 2019, also titled “The Gerrymander.” What do these cartoons suggest about the role of gerrymandering in U.S. politics over time?