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Justice for All

95 min

Guiding Questions

  • Where did the Founders’ concepts of justice, liberty, and equality come from?
  • What influence did British law and Enlightenment thinking have on the Founding Documents?


  • Students will examine primary source documents to define justice, liberty, and equality.
  • Students will analyze primary source documents to discern how the Founders utilized specific concepts of justice, liberty, and equality in the nation’s Founding Documents.
  • Students will identify where the Founders drew upon Enlightenment philosophy in the Founding Documents.

  • equality
  • Declaration of Independence
  • justice

Assign the Justice for All Essay to provide context for the class time activities.

Write this quote on the board, without providing the source.

“To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice…”

Ask students to write it in their own words, and perhaps to discuss in think-pair-share format. Offer opportunity for a few students to share their reflections.

Before moving on to the next activities, give the source of the quote: Magna Carta, 1215.

Activity One [45 minutes]

Have students read the excerpts from the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, the Petition of Right, and the English Bill of Rights provided in Handouts A-D. They can do this individually, in groups, or for homework.

The students should look for ways in which the documents promote justice and protect the people; they should think about ways in which the ideas in these documents led to the American Founding Documents; and they should complete Handout E: Comparing the Documents.

After students have completed the reading and Handout E, conduct a class discussion on the ways in which the documents they read are similar to or different from each other. Ask the class to think about what ideas or principles from these documents were used in the American Founding documents.

Activity Two [20 minutes]

Have students read the Handout F: Excerpts from John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government (1690) and Handout G: Excerpts from Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws (1748). Students should concentrate on the ways in which both authors think about liberty, justice, and rights and record their findings on Handout H: Comparing Locke and Montesquieu.

Discuss results for Handout H.

After students have read the excerpts and completed Handout H, have them write a short essay in response to this prompt:

Many of the Founders read the writings of Locke and Montesquieu. How did the Founders incorporate Locke’s and Montesquieu’s ideas into the Founding Documents?

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

The Constitution