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Principles of Government • What Is Democracy?
Classroom Activities

Objective: Understand the central role that the concepts of natural rights and the consent of the governed played in the establishment of the U.S. government.

Key Questions:

  • Why were some of the classical societies drawn to democracy as a form of government?
  • How did the founders blend the democracy of the Greeks with the Roman Republic?

Notes on Implementation:

  • To extend the activity, students can illustrate their examples, present the examples to the class, or submit their examples to the online class poll/discussion board.

Student Activity: Students can access the below activity in the Principles of Government Topic Center within the American Government database.

Student Activity:

The U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776) identifies the chief goals of government as securing "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The preamble of the U.S. Constitution provides a broader list of goals. The authors of the U.S. Constitution further identified these as natural rights, or rights that individuals are naturally entitled to, independent of any laws made by man. Representative government ultimately rests on the consent of the governed. Under the U.S. Constitution, consent of the governed is chiefly expressed through elections of members of Congress and the president. The varying terms of members of the two elected branches attempt to balance accountability with the need for some continuity and stability.

In this activity, you will examine the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to see how the relationship between natural rights and consent of the governed are established in these founding documents.



  • Read through the reference articles in the Resources section to familiarize yourself with natural rights, consent of the governed, and the bill of rights.
  • On your own in or small groups, dig in to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to search for the best examples of the linkage between consent of the governed and the protection of rights.
  • Once you have identified two examples in each document, make your case for why your examples are particularly strong in their expression of consent of the governed and protection of rights in writing or by discussing in small groups.


Key Understandings:

  • Founding documents are a result of compromise and the direct experiences of those drafting them
  • Democratic governments derive their power from the consent of the governed

Possible Answers for Activity:

Examples from Founding Documents Connection to Founding Principles
"No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States..." (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9) This clause protects the principle of natural rights; titles of nobility would create inherited privileges for certain members of society
"[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur..." (U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 2) This clause directly appeals to the consent of the governed, as represented by the Senate, to have a say in the shaping and directing of foreign policy
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." (Declaration of Independence) The idea that human equality is a "self-evident" truth is a rephrasing of the concept of natural rights
"...to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..." (Declaration of Independence) This sentence suggests that in order for the power wielded by a government to be "just," it must be derived from the "consent of the governed"


MLA Citation

"What Is Democracy?" History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2020, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/Content/2042752?cid=257. Accessed 18 Feb. 2020.

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