Government by the People

6, 7, 8

In this lesson, learners read primary documents that illustrate the motivations of the founding fathers of the United States related to philanthropy (government by the people, advocacy, civil rights, shared power). We have a long history of demanding civil rights for a population that was discriminated against or underserved.

PrintOne 50-Minute Session

The learner will

  • summarize the purpose of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
  • identify changes to government as a result of citizen action and the work of nonprofit organizations.

Focus Question: How do government and nonprofit organizations collaborate for the common good?



  1. Anticipatory Set

    Ask the learners to describe the purpose of the Constitution of the United States.

    Remind them that the new government in the United States was attempting to avoid the mistakes of the government from which they broke off ... in England. 

  2. As a whole group or in small groups, explore parts of the Constitution, using the following site for reading and interpreting this primary document: Go to the Table of Contents to get an overview. Then start with the Preamble.

    Note the hyperlinks that go into a little background and help interpret the Constitution and the meaning of selected words. Suggested sections to read or skim: Article 1, Sections 1, 7, and 9; and the Bill of Rights (first ten Amendments).

  3. Summarize that the purpose of the Constitution is to establish a government of and by the people - we the people. The balance of powers ensures that no one group or person becomes too powerful. Above all else, the framers of the Constitution wanted to make sure people had the right to change laws when they weren't fair. They wanted people to participate in politics, make fair laws, demand free speech, and protect civil liberties.

  4. Discuss what responsibilities go along with a government of and by the people.

    • Voting and staying informed is fundamental to our Constitution. The power is in the hands of the people, therefore, it is important people are informed and can make decisions that are best for the common good.
    • It becomes our democratic responsibility to stay informed, speak up if something isn't right or fair, and protect the rights of people whose voices are not validated.
  5. As a reflection, discuss how they can use social media, community organizing, and blogging to speak up about issues of concern.

    Define advocacy and discuss different ways to use our voice and writing in our role as responsible members of a government by the people.  How were the signers of the Declaration and Bill of Rights advocates?  


  6. Discuss the social movements over time that worked through volunteers and nonprofits to protest unfair laws or practices (Civil Rights Movement, Women's suffrage, United Farm Workers, American Indian Movement).  Show this 4-minute video overview of these movements.

    It is often the work of volunteers and nonprofits to protect rights and keep democracy and the constitution fresh and relevant. A group of committed and passionate people have the power and the right to make changes to our Constitution (Amendments).

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Identify the philanthropic ideas embedded in a nation's founding documents.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Describe how different needs are met in different ways by government, business, civil society, and family.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Define civic virtue.
      2. Benchmark MS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.
      3. Benchmark MS.6 Describe how the founding documents and fundamental democratic principles encourage citizens to act philanthropically.
      4. Benchmark MS.8 Define civil society.
    2. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Explain the role of philanthropy in major themes and social issues in the nation's history.
      2. Benchmark MS.2 Give an example of individual philanthropic action that influenced the nation's history.