Unit Plan

Getting "Into" the Unit:

Discuss the Age of Absolutism as personified in Louis XIV. Explain how many monarchs believed they ruled by divine right. (This form of government placed absolute, or unlimited, power in the monarch and his or her advisors.) The nickname of Louis XIV, "the Sun King," promoted the image of the king as the center of the universe of each nation. His famous quote "I am the state" further exemplifies his far reaching power. Louis governed by decree and, although he felt a certain paternalism towards his subjects, was not responsible to the wishes of any specific subject. Those favors bestowed and powers delegated to someone else were given at his whim. Use images of the palace at Versailles to illustrate the pomp and majesty attached to Louis and his court. The palace at Versailles has a wonderful web tour. Explain that the English, Russian, Austrian and some German Monarchs also believed in "the divine right of kings."

Possible Activities:


  • As an introduction to government, have the students in groups of four create a list of the top ten laws they feel are most important in any given society. Tell them they have been shipwrecked on an island or are colonizing a new planet or some other framework to begin their new civilization. After students have created their list, debrief as a class with a large piece of chart paper having each group contribute to the top laws of society. Then discuss how news laws will be arrived at in the future, how existing laws will be amended, how the laws will be enforced, what rights should be protected, and who will decide the fairness of the laws or the enforcement. After this activity introduce Louis XIV and continue with the lesson.
  • Review the feudal pyramid. Discuss the duties of the king to the people and vassels to the king.


Getting "Through" the Unit:

Activity #1: Overview text on the development of democratic traditions
Activity #2: Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting three philosophies
Activity #3: T-Chart comparing and contrasting two philosophies
Activity #4: Matching connecting ideas to the five thinkers
Activity #5: Time Line places the philosophies and the documents of democracy on a time line
Activity #6: Documents of

Democracy Chart

research activity connecting documents, ideas, and philosophers

The following text appears with illustrations on the "Overview" page. The text intentionally does not include references to the philosophies although it contains many of their ideas. After reading through the overview, copy Activity #1 page. Activity #1 expects that the students will match the thinkers to the ideas they would support.


Activity #1:


List the names of the thinkers that would support the ideas in italics contained in each paragraph.
During the Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, intellectuals began to examine the standards by which rulers governed. The principles of the Scientific Revolution, which held that everything including the government was worth examination and scrutiny, spread to these philosophies; our early political scientists.

These new liberal ideas were that individuals had natural rights and that government was an agreement or contract between the people and their ruler. In this governmental contract both the ruler and the citizen had rights and responsibilities. Power needed to be separated and balanced so that individuals or groups did not become corrupt through those powers. Liberal ideas mean ideas that want a change from the way things are usually done. These ideas were considered liberal because they wanted change from absolutism and the divine right of kings.

The philosophers or philosophies as they were called, believed that government "contract" and its supporting laws needed to reflect the "general will" of the people. Laws should be agreed upon by both the ruler and those governed. Assemblies of citizens with real power to influence the government and judge the effectiveness of the constitutions should be formed.

Rulers and governments which abused their power and did not protect the rights of the citizens were corrupt and the people had a right to rebel and replace the ruler. The ruler also had the right to expect that the citizens respect the government and laws which were just. Citizens should expected that their right to freedom of speech without censorship was protected as well as many other natural rights. Citizens also wanted the right to choose their own religion. Some political thinkers believed everyone had a right to universal suffrage. Suffrage means the right to vote. Some thinkers fought for women's rights.

After the American Revolution and the French Revolution, more and more countries began to draw up or write constitutions which reflected these liberal ideas. Political theorists further examined how to determine if the laws or rules of government really reflected the "individual rights" of the citizens and the "general will" of the people. It became accepted that legislation and justice ought to reflect what was the best for the most people, or the greatest good for the greatest number. Discussion and debate on exactly who was a citizen and had the right to take part in the new governments continued to grow. Discussions on women's rights and discrimination continue today.

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Activity #2: Venn Diagram

Have students choose three of the political philosophers to compare to each other using three circles in an overlapping Venn diagram.

Activity #3: T-Chart

Choose any two political philosophers and have the students compare and contrast them to each other.

Philosopher #1

Philosopher #2

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Activity #4: Matching

Match the Political Thinker with the Ideas they believed. There may be more than one answer for each idea.


John Locke
Mary Wolstonecraft
Jean Jacques Rousseau
John Stuart Mill


1. Natural rights
2. Women's rights
3. Self-protection can be a defense for interfering with an others personal freedoms
4. Considered an opponent of the Enlightenment's emphasis on reason
5. Citizens should rebel against unjust governments
6. Advocated freedom of opinion without censorship
7. Government is a contract between the ruler and citizens
8. Marriage was particularly unfair to women
9. Three part government -- Legislative, executive, and judicial
10. Advocated equal education for women and men
11. Religious freedom
12. Politics and morality are not separate
13. Greatest good for the greatest number should be the aim of the lawmakers
14. Separation of governmental powers
15. State is created to preserve freedom
16. Influence the writing of constitutions of many countries including the United States

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"Beyond" the Unit:

Activity #5: Time Line

Have students create a time line covering the years 1600-1900. Include the life span of each of the five political thinkers. Also include the following events and documents: Declaration of Independence, Declaration of the Rights of Man, Constitution; American Revolution, French Revolution, Mexican War of Independence, American Civil War.

More Advanced: Have students draw conclusions about the ideas of the philosophers and the ideals of the revolutions. Which documents or revolutions have direct relationship to the ideas of the five political thinkers.

Activity #6: Documents of Democracy Chart

Have students research the following documents: Declaration of Independence, Declaration of the Rights of Man, Declaration of the Rights of Women, Constitution, Bill of Rights, etc. Work in groups and use the structure of this site to establish a relationship between the Documents of Democracy and the liberal ideas which they include. For Example:

  • Natural rights -- John Locke, Mary Wolstonecraft
  • Right to Rebel -- John Locke
  • General Will -- Jean Jacques Rousseau
Date Written:



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Overview Teacher Notes Vocabulary Page