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During his second inaugural address, President Obama drew extensively from America’s founding documents to give us a social studies lesson… and a call to action. From the Declaration of Independence he reminded us of importance of equality and inalienable rights for every American. From the Constitution, he called on “We, the People,” to carry out the mandate of the Preamble and form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

 President Obama gave us a history lesson stating the founders didn’t replace a tyranny of king with rule by the privileged or rule by mob, but they gave us a republic, a government of, by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe the founding creed. He reminded us of how We, the People, have lived up to the enduring virtues of the Preamble through war and peace, by helping those who are unable to help themselves, and by building a future. He reminded us that the founders believed civic virtue is not to be left to only our elected representatives, and that We, the People need to be actively engaged in working for the common good.

 This inaugural address provides teachers with a unique opportunity to not only align the messages in the speech with the founding principles of our government and the events in our history, but to take up that call for action that so many presidents have asked us to do in their inaugural addresses. You can begin where President Obama started in his speech with the passage from the Declaration of Independence:

 “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, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 To help students gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of these words, have them compare the words in the passage to the rights delineated in the Bill of Rights. Place students in small groups with the text of the passage and a copy of the Bill of Rights. Distribute the comparison graphic organizer at the end of this article. You can cut and past it into a word document.  Have students align the three individual rights of Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness with the rights articulated in the Bill of Rights on the graphic organizer. Have student groups present their findings in a poster or PowerPoint presentation. Discuss questions such as

  • What did you learn from this activity that you didn’t already know?
  • Why do you think 18th century Americans felt rights such as these needed to be in the Constitution? Give examples.
  • Why do you think these rights are important today? Give examples.
  • Give examples of where some of these rights have some limits and the possible reasons for these limits. Do you feel these limits are fair? Explain.
  • What should people do if they feel the limits on their rights are too constricting? What provisions in the Constitution allow people to address concerns about their rights?

 A similar graphic organizer can be used to list the goals described in the Preamble of the Constitution, found in sections of President Obama’s second inaugural address where he states the phrase “We, the People.” Have students discuss questions such as:

  • Review examples of where President Obama’s declarations of “We, the people” align with the provisions in the Preamble.
  • What other themes in the speech seem to embody the purpose of the Preamble?
  • The Preamble is part of the Constitution. Yet, there is debate over whether the government alone is responsible for carrying out these goals or it the people should do it themselves,  or a combination of both. As you review the specifics of President Obama’s “We, the People” statements, who do you think he is calling on to meet these goals? Use examples to explain your answer.

 These activities are good discussion starters and can be conducted in less than one class period. They can serve as essay or project starters to get students immersed in the material. Having students work together in small groups helps them exchange ideas and learn from each other.

 If you have other quick discussion starters you’ve used with success, please share these in the comments section below. We welcome your ideas.


 Aligning the Bill of Rights with the Declaration of Independence Graphic Organizer

Directions: List the rights from the Bill of Rights that align to each of the following basic rights.


Identify the Amendment number and the clause in the Bill of Rights

















Pursuit of Happiness
















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