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Popular Sovereignty and the Consent of the Governed

Guiding Questions

  • What is the proper role and function of government in a democratic society?
  • Why is consent necessary in government?
  • What rights do people have in the U.S., and where do they get those rights?


  • Students will describe the relationship between citizens and government.
  • Students will explain the importance of consent in a democracy.
  • Students will explain the reasons for the American Revolution.
  • Students will compare and contrast different philosophies around consent and popular sovereignty.

  • Bill of Rights
  • Declaration of Independence
  • King George III
  • direct
  • republic
  • democracy
  • English Bill of Rights
  • inalienable rights
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • popular sovereignty

Ask students to define the following terms:

  • Bill of Rights
  • democracy
  • English Bill of Rights
  • inalienable rights
  • popular sovereignty

Ask students to explain why the American colonists listed so many charges against King George III in the Declaration of Independence

Ask students why the Preamble of the Constitution begins with the words “We the People,” and what is significant about that statement.

Ask students to describe what would happen if government ceased to exist (alternatively, ask students what essential services does government provide, or, why government is necessary).

Ask students what the phrase “taxation without representation” means.

Ask students what responsibilities government has to its citizens, and what responsibilities citizens have to the government.

Ask students why it is important that the authority to rule people is based on their consent to be ruled.

Discuss students’ responses.

The teacher will inform students that at the time of the American Revolution, there were several key philosophers that helped influence the Founders’ thinking on the role and responsibilities of government.

Have students read the excerpts from Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Handout A: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Consent of the Governed. After reading, students should complete Handout B: Comparing Philosophies to compare and contrast the ideas relating to consent of the governed. Afterward, the teacher will discuss the answers with the students.

The teacher can ask students what, if anything, King George III and the British Government could have done to have prevented the American Revolution.

Benjamin Franklin once said “In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns.”

Based on this quote, what do you think Franklin would say about our government today? Why do you think this?

Students can read more of John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (The Project Gutenberg eBook of Second Treatise Of Government By John Locke.) and consider Locke’s arguments on the need for consent, and why Locke argued that revolutions would be rare.

Student Handouts

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