Historic Views of Civic Virtue

9, 10, 11, 12

The learners analyze examples from history of civic virtue and then select the characteristics they believe are most important for enduring citizen engagement.

PrintOne 50-Minute Session

The learner will:

  • define characteristics of civic virtue.
  • argue whether the civic virtue of United States citizens today is of enduring nature.
  • copies for one-third of the group of each of these handouts:
  1. Philosophy of Rousseau
  2. The Iroquois Confederacy Constitution
  3. Alexis deTocqueville's Democracy in America
  • facilitator copy of Key Terms and Phrases Related to Civic Virtue
  • Constitution Society Web site. Constitution of the Iroquois Nation. https://constitution.org
  • Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Edited by Edward Hacker. New York: Washington Square Press, 1973.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Share this list of civic virtues named by the Founding Fathers as the glue holding our society together. They are described in the Federalist Papers and other documents as civic virtues when in pursuit of the common good (as a counter-example, it isn't a virtue to act bravely if it is done to hurt someone). Discuss the meaning of virtue vs civic virtue, and how these civic virtues could act like glue for society.

    • Justice
    • Self-Governance/Moderation
    • Humility
    • Responsibility/Prudence
    • Perseverance
    • Courage
    • Respect
    • Contribution
    • Integrity
  2. Show pictures of Rousseau, de Tocqueville, and a representative from the Iroquois nation. Tell participants they will read three perspectives from history and compare them. They don't need to read all three, but they will become an expert in one of them and share what they learned. 

    Form three groups: A, B, and C. 

  3. Group A reads the handout on Rousseau, group B reads The Iroquois Confederacy Constitution, and group C members read the Tocqueville excerpts from Democracy in America.

    • They individually read the selection they have been given and underline all words or phrases that could be considered part of the definition of civic virtue.
    • They discuss in their group what they underlined and come to consensus about what to share with the full group.
  4. Note: The handout Key Terms and Phrases Related to Civic Virtue provides the facilitator with a list of words and phrases that should be found in each article.

  5. Each group works together to create a poster that summarizes the author's view of civic virtue and includes the key words or phrases of that author's definition of civic virtue. Spend some time with each group to make sure that they are identifying the key phrases.

  6. Have each group present their poster.

    Lead a discussion on the similarities and differences between the authors.

    As a reflection, each person writes a definition of civic virtue and lists at least five words or phrases from all three posters that fit their definition of civic virtue.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Describe and give examples of characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Analyze philanthropic traditions of diverse cultural groups and their contributions to civil society.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss civic virtue and its role in democracy.