Free Lesson Plans
Our free eLesson newsletter helps teachers connect America’s Founding principles to students’ lives. Delivered directly to your inbox, each eLesson includes historical content, connections to real life, classroom activities, downloadable PDFs, answer keys, discussion questions, and/or suggestions for further reading. Two eLessons will be sent each month and will cover a variety of topic areas to engage today’s students. Update your profile to make sure you’re subscribed!
This Week’s eLesson:
The Twenty-Fifth Amendment
At the White House ceremony that certified the ratification of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, President Lyndon Johnson noted that
“It was 180 years ago, in the closing days of the Constitutional Convention, that the Founding Fathers debated the question of Presidential disability. John Dickinson of Delaware asked this question: “What is the extent of the term ‘disability’ and who is to be the judge of it?” No one replied.”
The Twenty-Fifth Amendment was ratified in 1967 and contains several important provisions dealing with the executive branch. Most notably, it provides a procedure by which the vice-president can assume the role of “Acting President” in the event the chief executive is incapacitated.
The need for the Twenty-Fifth Amendment was borne out of several factors. One was the increased power and responsibility that American presidents held in the twentieth century. Another was the responsibility presidents had for national security; in the nuclear age the president may be called upon at any moment to determine how to defend the nation. In the aftermath of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson had suffered a debilitating stroke that rendered him extremely limited in his ability to execute his powers as president, yet no mechanism existed for him to transfer his powers to Vice-President Thomas Marshall had he wanted to do so. While this did not do lasting damage to the government, a similar situation during the Cold War could have had disastrous consequences.
However, the most immediate reason that spurred the Twenty-Fifth Amendment was a realization that, due to advancements in modern medicine, it may be possible for a president to suffer a serious health crisis that could render them incapacitated for an extended time period, yet not end their life. President Dwight Eisenhower suffered a major heart attack in office that led him to work out an informal agreement with Vice-President Richard Nixon on how to manage the government in Eisenhower’s absence, yet this agreement had no legal standing. President John F. Kennedy’s assassination was a further reminder that a president could theoretically be incapacitated and be unable to execute the responsibilities of their office. Thus, there was an urgency to pass the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, which Congress did in the wake of the Kennedy assassination.
Since its passage, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment’s provision for the president to pass authority to the vice-president has only occurred three times: Once by President Reagan and twice by President George W. Bush, all three times the president was undergoing a colonoscopy, and all three times were done by the voluntary action of the president. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment contains language for the president to lose power involuntarily, but this has never been used. The closest this has ever been a possibility was in the wake of President Reagan’s attempted assassination. Despite this, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment’s value is shown in such cases as Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon, who suffered a massive and ultimately fatal stroke, and was removed as prime minister under Israeli law, allowing the Israeli government to continue functioning.
Despite the limited usage of passing presidential authority, this function is probably what the Twenty-Fifth Amendment is best known for and has been dramatized in pop culture references such as the movie Air Force One and television show The West Wing. However, it has actually been another part of the amendment, the part that allows presidents to appoint, with the consent of Congress, a person to fill the position of vice-president,that has been more consequential in U.S. History. This provision was used by President Nixon to appoint Gerald Ford as vice-president after the resignation of Spiro Agnew, and by Ford to appoint Nelson Rockefeller vice-president after Nixon’s own subsequent resignation and Ford’s elevation to the presidency.
This eLesson will provide students with an opportunity to learn about the text of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment as well as its historical usage and potential need. It will ask them to consider why such an Amendment was deemed necessary and how it has been, and could be, used. It will also give students the opportunity to debate possible applications of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.
- Students will explain how President Tyler’s decision to become president upon the death of William Henry Harrison was an important precedent for the United States.
- Students will examine the current line of presidential succession and suggest possible improvements
- Students will debate different scenarios for invoking Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment
- Students will consider who should make the decision that the President is incapacitated under Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment
Handout C: US Code: Title 3, Chapter 1,
Handout D: The 25th Amendment
Activity 1 (10-15 Minutes)
- Have students read Handout A: Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the U.S. Constitution.
Ask students what they believe the phrase “the Same shall devolve on the Vice President” Poll students to see if they believe that means that the vice-president should automatically become President
- Have students read Handout B: John Tyler Biography (the part under the heading “The Accidental President”)
Discuss Tyler’s decision to claim the full powers of the presidency for himself. Ask students how American History might have been different had Tyler not established this important precedent. For students who have knowledge of the Tyler presidency, ask them if his actions cause them to reassess his presidency, considering Tyler is often ranked as one of our worst presidents.
Additionally, ask students why they believe the Framers left presidential succession so vague while writing the Constitution.
- Have students read Handout C: US Code: Title 3, Chapter 1, § 19. Under Article II of the Constitution, Congress determines presidential succession after the vice-president. Under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, the current line is the Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and then Cabinet officers by order of their establishment.
Ask students if they can think of any other offices that should be “moved” in the line of succession. Also, ask students if they believe “successors” should be designated from outside of the Washington D.C. area, as it has been pointed out that a biological, chemical, or nuclear attack on the Capitol could theoretically wipe out all of the individuals on this list. If so, then who should be included on this list?
Activity 2 (15-25 Minutes)
- Have students read Handout D: The Twenty-Fifth Amendment
Call students attention to Section 1 (which validates Tyler’s position that the vice-president truly does become the president upon the president leaving their position), Section 2 (which has been used twice to fill the vacant office of vice-president) and Section 3 (which has been used three times to allow the vice-president to be acting president due to a president undergoing a medical procedure)
- Have students carefully examine Section 4, and inform students it is the only part of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment which has never been invoked.
- Engage students in a classroom debate involving different hypothetical scenarios under which Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment may be invoked and see if students believe it would be appropriate for the vice-president to become the acting president in each one. The teacher may provide for their own scenarios, or use or modify the ones provided below
- The President of the United States has suffered a massive heart attack and is unresponsive; doctors are unsure when the president will regain consciousness (this is a modified version of what could have happened during the Eisenhower presidency)
- The President of the United States has suffered a massive stroke and is confined to his bedroom. Although unable to walk and only with a limited ability to communicate, the president makes it clear that he intends to remain as president and continue to exercise the functions of his job (this is essentially what happened during the Wilson presidency)
- A member of the president’s immediate family has been kidnapped by terrorists and is being held hostage (this scenario is from the television show The West Wing, in the show, President Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen, voluntarily gives up power under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, in this case, to the Speaker of the House, as the vice-presidency was vacant at the time)
- The president has been the victim of an assassination attempt, and while the president is undergoing emergency surgery, the vice-president has not yet made it back to the Capitol (this happened after the assassination attempt on President Reagan).
- Erratic statements and behavior of the president have called into question the president’s fitness for the position; although the president has received a clean bill of health from his physicians and has not stated he is unfit for office, the personal and private experiences his Cabinet members have witnessed have led them to conclude he is unable to fulfill his oath of office (this scenario was alleged to have been debated by the author of an anonymous op-ed article in the New York Times during the Trump presidency).
- Point out to students that Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment states “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide…” Ask students if they believe it might be more proper for “such other body as Congress may by law provide” to make the decision along with the vice-president that the president is incapacitated. Then, ask students who should comprise this body?
Conclusion (5 minutes)
- Ask students how the US might be different had the Twenty-Fifth Amendment not been passed (most notably, there would not have been a Ford presidency, and most likely Carl Albert, the Speaker of the House of Representatives during the mid-1970’s, would have become president)
- Ask students if they have any concerns over how Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment could be used, and if so, what suggestions they might have for improvement of the process.
Defining Classroom Citizenship
The vitriol and partisan discussions have not died down over the summer and the rhetoric seems to only be heating up. That does not mean it has to in your classroom! Engaging in discussions that touch on sensitive material are a natural part of any social studies classroom. This eLesson will give you some tools for setting a tone of tolerance and an expectation for civil discourse in your classroom for the coming year.
- Students will investigate what it means to be a good citizen in their classroom
- Students will set the expectations for their class for the coming year
A. Depending on student skill level and background, briefly clarify a dictionary definition of “citizen.”
B. First, instruct students, seated in small groups, to individually list characteristics of a good citizen. There should be no conversation during this part of the lesson. (2 minutes)
C. Students share and compare responses within each group. Each group will decide on a consensus list of the five most important characteristics of a good citizen. It is not necessary to prioritize within the list of five. Note that consensus involves a process of reaching an agreement in which everyone’s opinion is heard and considered, not simply a vote by majority rule. (10 minutes)
D. Each group shares its list in turn, with teacher posting on the board or appropriate classroom display technology the list of five attributes the group has selected.
E. Have the class identify and circle similarities among the lists.
F. Teacher highlights the most frequently named characteristics and states: “Now that you have proven you know what it takes to be a good citizen, I’m sure you can follow these same citizenship rules for our class.”
G. Teacher leads a whole class discussion of how the highlighted characteristics apply to and are important for a civil and productive classroom, soliciting as much student participation as possible in identifying classroom application of the civic skills.
H. Have students first individually reflect on debrief questions such as the following, and then conduct a whole-class discussion as appropriate.
- What steps did you follow individually/as a small group?
- Did you need to start with a definition of citizenship, or did you develop it as you worked?
- Were the characteristics you listed based on reason or emotion?
- To what extent will the list we developed as a class be a good set of rules?
- What else might we need to consider?
- What steps are important in reaching a reasoned decision as an individual? As a group?
- What skills were necessary in order for you to accomplish this activity?
- Why is the skill of rational decision-making a useful tool?
- What criteria did you use to prioritize/reach consensus?
- In what ways did you and your group demonstrate the ability to come to a reasoned judgment in reading, writing, and speech?
I. For additional background or a further enrichment activity, students can read Handout A: What does it mean to be a Citizen?
How will you approach teaching the most recent Supreme Court cases in your classroom? Throughout the 2017 term, which began on Monday, October 2, 2017, the nine justices of the Supreme Court have deliberated on a variety of cases addressing different constitutional issues. As justices of the highest court in the United States, it is their responsibility to decide whether the previous verdicts rendered in lower courts have adhered to the principles set forth in the Constitution.
We’re here to help you and your students make sense of these cases with this timely eLesson focusing on some of the most significant SCOTUS decisions of the current term before it ends in late June or early July.
- Introducing Think the Vote
- Presidential Debates in History
- What’s the Deal with the Electoral College?
- What’s a Caucus and How Does it Work?
- Debating Voter ID Laws
- “Dirty” Presidential Politics
- The Electoral College and Popular Vote
- The Inauguration of the President
Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers
- What Do We Learn from the U.S. Embassy’s Move to Jerusalem?
- Tariffs, Trade, and Tension
- Too Young to Vote, but Not to March: Lessons in Youth Civic Engagement
- Your Vote Matters! Political Efficacy in 2018
- Pat Tillman and Self Sacrifice: A Different Direction
- Columbus Discovers the New World: Paideia Seminar
- Pardon Me, Mr. President
- Setting Classroom Expectations for Trust, Tolerance, and Civil Discourse
- Who Checks the FBI?
- Citizens Can Change Things, Too
- Incoming! The Impact of Immigration
- The First Hundred Days
- The Electoral College and Popular Vote
- Contentious Elections and the Peaceful Transition of Power
- The Great Immigration Debate
- An Anthem, a Flag, and Individual Liberties
- The Role of Presidential Debates
- Do University Students Have a Right to Carry Concealed Weapons on Campus?
- The Constitution and the Culture
- ISIS and American Foreign Policy
- Turning Point in American Foreign Policy
- The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives
- Should the Death Penalty be Abolished?
- Net Neutrality: Should the Government Regulate the Internet?
- When is Affirmative Action Justified?
- Security vs. Privacy: The Fight between Apple and the FBI
- Debating Voter ID Laws
- Remembering Justice Antonin Scalia
- Refugees in American History
- What’s a Caucus and How Does it Work?
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- Free Speech or “Safe” Speech?
- Down with Hamilton and Jackson? Why Our Currency May be Changing
- Civil Asset Forfeiture
- Robert F. Kennedy’s April 4 Address
- Unlocking Your Cell Phone: Property Rights in the Digital Age
- Searching for the Fourth Amendment
- Voters Make History with State Ballot Initiatives
- Discussing Controversial Topics – The Second Amendment
- Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine
- Religious Freedom and the Affordable Care Act
- Occupy Protests and the Bill of Rights
- The Stolen Valor Act and False Speech
- Free Speech versus Privacy: Snyder v. Phelps (2011)
- The Healthcare Act, Federalism, and the Commerce Clause
- The Bill of Rights and the Tragedy of the Arizona Shooting
- WikiLeaks: Should Assange be charged under the Espionage Act?
- Arizona Immigration Law
- Arizona’s Immigration Law Countersuit
- Healthcare and the Bill of Rights
- Commemorating 9/11 and America’s Civic Values
- Justice Thomas on National Identity
- Hurricane Katrina and the Bill of Rights
- Snowden and the NSA
- Voting Rights in America
- North Carolina Amendment One
- Understanding the Nomination Process
- Affirmative Action and the Constitution
- Supreme Court GPS Warrant Ruling
- Internet Copyright and Piracy Bills
- Property Rights and the Supreme Court
- Federal Budget and the Constitution
- The Defense of Marriage Act
- Airport Scanners and the Fourth Amendment
- Is the Healthcare Act Constitutional?
- The U.S. Census and Personal Liberty
- The Inauguration of the President
- Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2013)
Bill of Rights Institute Curricula Resources
- Father Emil Kapaun’s Acts of Self-Sacrifice
- Roger Sherman in His Own Words
- Varian Fry’s Grave Responsibility
- Free Speech, Banned Books, and Civil Discourse
- Clement Laird Vallandigham: Resounding Silence
- The Selfless Defenders of Wake Island
- John Brown and Self-deception
- The Battle for Balance
- Security, Liberty, and the USA PATRIOT Act
- Champions of Freedom – The Founders
- Toast the Constitution: Prohibition Lessons
- Religious Liberty: The American Experiment
- College Bill of Rights
- Due Process Central
- Teaching Complex Topics
- Elbridge Gerry & Gerrymandering
- Bill of Rights
- Additional Amendments
- Federalist 39
AP United States History DBQs
- McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
- Dred Scott v. Sanford (1854)
- Korematsu v. United States (1944)
- Eisenhower and the Little Rock Crisis (1957)
- Kelo v. New London (2005)
Presidents and the Constitution
- Washington and the Whiskey Rebellion
- Commander in Chief: The Barbary Pirates
- Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase
- James Madison and Federal Power
- The Disputed Election of 1824: John Quincy Adams
- James Buchanan and the Dred Scott Decision
- Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation
- Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment
- Federal Power: Theodore Roosevelt
- Cleveland and the Texas Seed Bill
- Johnson and Reagan and Federal Power
- Nixon and the War Powers Resolution
- The Panama Canal Treaties: Jimmy Carter
- The Impeachment of Bill Clinton
- Bush v. Gore and the 2000 Presidential Election
- George W. Bush and Military Tribunals
Landmark Supreme Court Cases
- Supreme Court Round-Up 2016-2017
- Supreme Court Round-Up 2015-2016
- Supreme Court Round-Up 2014-2015
- Supreme Court Round-Up 2013-2014
- Supreme Court Round-Up 2012-2013
- Supreme Court Round-Up 2011-2012
- Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) – Slavery and the Fugitive Slave Clause
- Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) – Separate but equal
- Marbury v. Madison (1803) – Judicial Review or Judicial Activism?
- McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) – Federal Power
- Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) – Commerce Clause, Federalism
- Reynolds v. United States (1878) – Free Exercise of Religion
- Quincy Railways v. Chicago (1897) – Just Compensation, Incorporation
- Strauder v. West Virginia (1879) and Smith v. State of Texas (1941) – Fourteenth Amendment, Equal Protection
- Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918) – Commerce Clause, Federalism
- Olmstead v. United States (1927) – Fourth Amendment
- Near v. Minnesota (1931) – Freedom of the Press, Prior Restraint
- Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) – Free Exercise of Religion
- Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940) – Freedom of Speech, Religion
- United States v. Causby (1946) – Eminent Domain
- Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952) – Executive Power
- Brown v. Board of Education (1954) – Equal Protection
- Mapp v. Ohio (1961) – Fourth Amendment, Exclusionary Rule
- Engel v. Vitale (1962) – Freedom of Religion, Establishment Clause
- Edwards v. South Carolina (1963) – Freedom of Speech and Assembly
- Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) – Sixth Amendment, Right to Counsel
- New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) – Freedom of the Press, Libel
- Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) – Personal Liberty, Privacy
- Miranda v. Arizona (1966) – Criminal Procedure and the Fifth Amendment
- Loving v. Virginia (1967) – Equal Protection
- Skokie (1977) and Brandenburg (1968) – Freedom of Speech and Assembly
- Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) – Freedom of Speech, Students
- New York Times v. United States (1971) – Freedom of the Press, Prior Restraint
- Roe v. Wade (1973) – Personal Liberty
- Taylor v. Louisiana (1975) – Juries
- Gregg v. Georgia (1976) – Eighth Amendment, Death Penalty
- Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) – Freedom of Speech, Students
- New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985) – Fourth Amendment, Students
- Bethel v. Fraser (1986) – Freedom of Speech, Students
- South Dakota v. Dole (1987) – Federal Power
- Allegheny County v. ACLU (1989) – Freedom of Religion, Establishment Cause
- Texas v. Johnson (1989) – Freedom of Speech
- Lee v. Weisman (1992) – Freedom of Religion, Establishment Clause
- Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Commission (1992) – Eminent Domain
- J.E.B. v. Alabama (1994) – Representative Juries
- United States v. Lopez (1995) – Commerce Clause, Federalism
- Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network (1996) – Freedom of Speech and Assembly
- Dickerson v. United States (1999) – Rights of the Accused
- Owasso v. Falvo (2001) – Privacy, Students
- Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) – Freedom of Religion, Establishment Clause
- Pottawatomie v. Earls (2002) – Fourth Amendment, Students
- Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada (2003) – Fourth Amendment, Fifth Amendment
- Locke v. Davey (2004) – Free Exercise of Religion
- Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004) – Executive Power
- Gonzales v. Raich (2004) – Commerce Clause
- MGM Studios v. Grokster (2005) – Property Rights, Copyright
- Kelo v. New London (2005) – Eminent Domain
- Morse v. Frederick (2007) – Freedom of Speech, Students
- F.E.C. v. Wisconsin Right to Life (2007) – Freedom of Speech, Campaign Finance
- District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) – Second Amendment
- McDonald v. Chicago (2010) – Second Amendment
- Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010) – Freedom of Speech, Campaign Finance
- Florence v. The Board of Chosen Freeholder (2011) – Search and Seizure