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Civil Discourse and Petitioning

40 min

Guiding Questions

  • What is the role of civil discourse as laid out by the Founding Fathers?
  • How does it compare to the modern viewpoint of civil discourse?


  • Students will understand the concept of civil discourse and petitioning.
  • Students will review primary source documents and consider events that involve civil discourse and petitioning.

  • Civility
  • Civil Disobedience
  • Faction
  • Petition
  • Pluralism
  • Toleration
  • Constitution
  • Founders
  • Virtue
  • Declaration of Independence
  • First Amendment

Students should read the Civil Discourse and Petitioning Essay and define the key terms.

Using the information from your reading and definitions, what do you believe are the most important things to remember when debating different points of view or engaging in civil discourse?  What are important principles to remember when petitioning the government?

Afterwards, read Handout A: Federalist No. 10, by James Madison (1787) as a class.  Ask, What is the importance of civil discourse in what Madison called “the republican principle”?

Assign students to read and respond to the questions from Handout C: Clement Laird Vallandigham.

Discuss how civil discourse and petitioning played a role in Vallandigham’s opposition to the Civil War and the government’s reaction.

Assign students Handout D: Edward R. Murrow to explore another example of civil discourse through the media.

Use Handout E: Assembly and Petition Cases to explore Supreme Court Decisions in relation to the topic.

Have students create a poem on Handout B: Citizenship Acrostic using the word “Citizen”. The poem should define what a good citizen should know, think, believe, do, or say. They can include actions, ideas, characteristics, and feelings in their poem.

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

Voluntarism and Public Servants