Compare the meanings of “freedom” and “liberty.” Students watch a video about what liberty meant to Thomas Jefferson, then consider different definitions of the word “liberty” by analyzing founding documents of both the United States and the state of Montana.
This lesson is part of "Great States: Montana | Unit 1: Introduction to Montana" which will give students a nuanced introduction to the state of Montana. Students will be introduced to key events and people from Montana, as well as learn how boundaries are established and maintained, and how culture influences one’s perspective and experience in the world.
2.4: Explain how governments provide for the needs and wants of people by establishing order and security and managing conflict.
4.1: Identify and use various sources of information (e.g., artifacts, diaries, photographs, charts, biographies, paintings, architecture, songs) to develop an understanding of the past.
Helena District 2.4: Explain how Montana state government works to provide for the needs and wants of its citizens.
Helena District 4.1: Identify and use various sources to develop an understanding of the history of Montana (including the Montana Constitution).
- Video: Liberty Minutes | Jefferson on Liberty
- An interactive whiteboard, projector, or another type of screen to show videos to class
- Teacher Prompt: What is Liberty?
- Ask students, “What does ‘freedom’ mean? What about ‘liberty’?” Indicate that liberty is a concept similar to freedom. The following are two definitions of liberty that should be projected or written on a board:
- The state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.
- The power or scope to act as one pleases.
- Tell students they will be watching a short video about what liberty meant to President Jefferson, near the time of the nation’s founding.
Play the video, Liberty Minutes | Jefferson on Liberty. [1:26]
- Ask which of the two definitions of “liberty” apply to Jefferson’s thoughts? (Both apply, the first in terms of government, and the second in terms of self.)
- Next, show or project the following phrases from the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the United States Constitution:
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. /1
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
- Ask which of the two given definitions of “liberty” are implied in these documents. (Clearly, the first definition.) Next, project this passage from Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution of the State of Montana:
Section 3. Inalienable rights. All persons are born free and have certain inalienable rights. They include the right to a clean and healthful environment and the rights of pursuing life’s basic necessities, enjoying and defending their lives and liberties, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and seeking their safety, health and happiness in all lawful ways. In enjoying these rights, all persons recognize corresponding responsibilities.
- Ask students what they think the Montana Constitution’s definition of liberty is (combination of both definitions), and whether it’s the same or different as the US Constitution (It’s similar to the United States Constitution, but Montana’s has a more detailed list of freedoms.)
- To conclude the lesson, have students reflect on their own liberty. What freedoms and limitations do they experience in school? What about at home?
1/ Declaration of Independence, Para. 2. [Source: National Archives and Records Administration.]
2/ Constitution of the United States, Preamble, § 1. [Source: National Archives and Records Administration.]
3/ Montana Constitution, Article II, § 3, Inalienable Rights. [Source: The Montana Legislature, Montana Code Annotated, 2015.]