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Civic Virtue and Our Constitutional Republic

50 min

Guiding Questions

  • What is a virtue?
  • Why focus on virtues and not “values” or “character”?
  • How does virtue impact the function of government?


  • Students will define civic virtue.
  • Students will learn and define some of the specific civic virtues that the United States’ Founders believe were required of citizens in order for the Constitution to function.

  • Virtue
  • Values
  • Character
  • Justice
  • Self-Governance/Moderation
  • Humility
  • Responsibility/Prudence
  • Perseverance
  • Courage
  • Respect
  • Contribution
  • Integrity

Students complete a pre-assessment of their understanding of civic virtue using Handout A.

Assign students to small groups and assign each group a few of the civic virtues defined on Handout C: Identifying and Defining Civic Virtues. Have students briefly discuss their assigned virtues to clarify the definitions. Then have each group complete the table to identify a person or character in history, literature, or current events who exemplified their assigned virtues.  Include an explanation. Call on a few groups to share their results.

Assign Handout D: George Washington and the Temple of Virtue reading. In the next class, have students work in small groups to talk through the critical thinking questions. Use Handout E: Self-Governance and American Self-Government to reflect on the significance of civic virtue and to recognize the correspondence between virtue and specific constitutional principles. If desired, use Handout F: Making Our Republic Work to provide a writing prompt regarding self-governance.

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

Handbook of Annotated Primary Sources