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        North Dakota | Activity 1.4: The Many Meanings of "Liberty"

        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 US and the state of North Dakota.

        Lesson Summary

        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 North Dakota.  

        This lesson is part of Great States: North Dakota | Unit 1: Introduction to North Dakota where students will examine seemingly objective terms and concepts. The materials and activities in this unit will give students a more nuanced understanding of how to set about learning about their state.

        Time Allotment

        20 minutes

        Learning Objectives


        4.4.1: Identify the roles, rights, and responsibilities of a citizen in North Dakota (e.g., obedience to laws, the right to vote) 



        1. 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:
          1. The state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views.
          2. The power or scope to act as one pleases.

        [Source: Oxford North American English Dictionary.]

        1. Tell students they will be watching a short video about what liberty means to President Jefferson, near the time of the nation’s founding.

          Play the video, Liberty Minutes | Jefferson on Liberty [1:26].

        2. Ask, which of the two definitions of “liberty” apply to Jefferson’s thoughts? (The first in terms of government.) Did Jefferson see liberty as something to take for granted? What responsibilities did Jefferson see as being important to preserving liberty? (Jefferson thought liberty was fragile, and people lost their lives, fortunes, and honor to it. It has to be taught and education is essential for liberty. It is not license to do whatever you want—it is a social responsibility.)
        3. Next, show or project the following phrases from the Declaration of Independence and from 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.

          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.

        4. Again, ask which of the two given definitions of “liberty” are implied in these documents. (Clearly the first definition.) Next, project this passage from Article 1, Section 1 of the Constitution of the State of North Dakota.

          All individuals are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation; pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness;

        5. Ask students to speculate why the North Dakota Constitution, written in 1889, uses the word “defending” life and liberty, a word not used in the United States Constitution. Why might the writers of this document have thought that “inalienable rights” were in need of defense? (Answers will vary. North Dakota had experienced a great deal of conflict by this point; the United States had fought the Civil War.)
        6. To conclude the lesson, have students reflect on their own liberty. What freedoms and limitations do they experience in school? What about at home? What responsibilities do they have as citizens to preserve liberty?


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