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The Big Six Ideas of the Constitution

The Big Six Ideas of the Constitution


What is the significance of the Six Big Ideas in the Constitution historically and for Americans today?

The Six Big Ideas are:

 1. limited government

2. republicanism

3. checks and balances

4. federalism

5. separation of powers

6. popular sovereignty


Examine the Constitution to identify two examples of any two of these Big Idea in action.

Students will quote from the Constitution and identify the quotes location. Students will then rephrase the quote in their own words... There will be multiple correct answers for each Big Idea.

Example: Separation of Powers-Article II, Section 2, clause 2 says that the Executive "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur." This means that two branches, the President and Congress (the Senate), have to agree before a treaty goes into effect.

Each group will share their examples with the class.




Analyzing Primary Sources to Relate the Six Big Ideas to History

Student pairs will examine one of the documents below to examine and determine which of the “Six Big Ideas” it most accurately reflects. Each of these documents was created or received by the federal government in the course of exercising powers under the Constitution.

These documents are available online from the National Archives, links to all documents are provided below.


Senate Revisions to House-Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution: 9/9/1789 National Archives Identifier Number 3535588

Act of August 6, 1965 (Voting Rights Act of 1965), Public Law 89-110, 79 STAT 437, which enforced the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: 8/6/1965 National Archives Identifier Number 299909

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Introduced, S.J. Res. 189: 8/4/1964 National Archives Identifier Number 2127364

Selection from President Andrew Jackson's Veto of the Bank Recharter Bill: 7/10/1832 National Archives Identifier Number 306427

Henry Clay’s Resolutions on the Removal of Deposits from the Bank of the United States: 12/23/1833 National Archives Identifier Number 2127306

Letter from Mrs. E. Jackson in Favor of Voting Rights: 03/08/1964 National Archives Identifier Number  2173239

Senate Joint Resolution declaring admission of Missouri into the Union: 2/26/1821 National Archives Identifier Number 306501

Joint Resolution Proposing the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States Constitution: 2/20/1933 National Archives Identifier Number 596379

Certified Copies of the Official Correspondence by and between His Excellency, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, and the Hon. John Sparks, Governor of Nevada, 12/3/1907 – 12/26/1907 National Archives Identifier Number  295933

Attempted Override of President Richard Nixon’s Veto of S. 518, an Act to Abolish the Offices of the Director and Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget: 5/1973 National Archives Identifier Number 2127368

Petition to Congress from Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joselyn Gage, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton of the National Woman Suffrage Association: c. 1/1873 National Archives Identifier Number 306687

Joint Resolution Proposing the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution: 05/13/1912 – 5/13/1912 National Archives Identifier Number 1408966

Petition from the Union Fire Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in Support of the Crittenden Compromise: c. 1861 National Archives Identifier Number 306495

Map of the United States Including Western Territories: 12/1848 National Archives Identifier Number 2127339

Tally of the 1824 Electoral College Vote: 2/9/1825 National Archives Identifier Number  306207


More than 220 years after the ratification of the Constitution, the Six Big Ideas still inspire debate. Different understandings of how the Big Ideas should be manifested in the actions of the federal government often engender debates over what government should be doing in the name of the people it serves. Students will obtain an understanding of these current disputes by taking sides in a debate featuring current issues.

Respond to any two of the following questions:

 1.The idea: Limited Government

Question: To what extent should the federal government be involved in economic issues?

Position A: The federal government's powers over taxation as well as international and interstate trade allow significant latitude in directing economic policy.

Position B: The federal government should only act to remedy unfavorable economic conditions for business activity.


2. The idea: Republicanism

Question: What should be the role of citizens in creating public policy?

Position A: Public policy should reflect the opinion of voters.

Position B: Public policy should be created by officials who are most informed about the issues involved.


3. The idea: Checks and Balances

 Question: When the President makes a nomination, what should be the nature of the Senate's "advice and consent?"

Position A: The Senate should defer to the President's choice of who he wants working under him.

Position B: It is the Senate's duty to make an independent judgment of a nominee's suitability for a position serving the American people, even if that means denying the President his choice.


4. The idea: Federalism

Question: How should power be divided between the federal government and the states?

Position A: The Federal government should retain the most power because it is best positioned to insure fair treatment, safety and equal protection for all Americans.

Position B: The states should retain the most power because they are closer to the people, better informed on local issues and best positioned to exercise authority for their residents.


5. The idea: Separation of Powers

Question: Once Congress declares war and the President assumes the role of Commander-in-Chief who decides how the war ends?

Position A: Congress, the policy making branch which represents the people, should determine peace terms.

Position B: The President as Commander-in-Chief is in the best position to determine appropriate actions.


6. The idea: Popular Sovereignty

Question: Should voter ballot initiatives be allowed to overturn laws passed by legislative bodies?

 Position A: Yes; ballot initiatives allow voters to directly participate in their government.

Position B: No; voters already express their views through election of public officials.