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The Fourteenth Amendment and Incorporation

80 min

Guiding Questions

  • How has the Fourteenth Amendment been used in U.S. History?
  • How has the process of incorporation increased the power of the Supreme Court and the federal government?
  • How has the Bill of Rights’ meaning changed with the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment and the concept of incorporation?


  • Students will analyze the language of the Fourteenth Amendment to understand its purpose and effects.
  • Students will explain how the Fourteenth Amendment increased federal power using the concept of incorporation.
  • Students will analyze cases in which the Fourteenth Amendment allowed for the U.S. government to use its new power to strike down state laws and expand the rights of citizens.

  • Bill of Rights
  • Natural Rights
  • First Amendment
  • Ninth Amendment
  • Fourteenth Amendment
  • Due Process
  • Property
  • Founders
  • Constitution
  • Republic
  • Liberty
  • Justice

Explain to students that the Founders believed we had Natural Rights. Ask them to list those rights. Then ask them to explain who protects those rights and how those rights are protected.

Have students read the The Fourteenth Amendment and Incorporation Essay.

Distribute Handout A: Fourteenth Amendment. Assign students to pairs or trios and instruct them to complete the questions at the bottom of Handout A. Then, have groups share and compare their rewrites of the amendment (question 1). Discuss questions 2 and 3, using this to check students’ understanding before conducting a class discussion using the questions on Handout B: Digging into the Fourteenth Amendment.

Distribute Handout C: The Founders, the Fourteenth Amendment, and Me. Discuss each of the quotations in the first column of each table, making sure that students understand their meaning. Have students complete Handout C and then report their responses to the whole class.

Select six volunteers to perform for the class the script from Handout D: Incorporation – Unintended Consequences Script. Encourage students to create personalities for their roles by using facial expressions, intonation, and appropriate gestures.

Once students have finished the presentation, discuss the following questions with the entire class:

  • Who was affected by the teachers’ decisions?
  • Who was affected by the principal’s decision?
  • Who was affected by the superintendent’s decision?
  • Why did the superintendent incorporate her decision?
  • Who would have liked or disliked her first decision? Her second decision?
  • In the real world of schools, at which level (class, school, or district) is it easiest to get changes made? Hardest to get changes made?
  • What are the advantages or disadvantages of incorporation?

Some say that incorporation has resulted in an expansion of our liberties. Others say that incorporation has resulted in an expansion of the federal government. What do you say? Could both be correct? Explain your answer.

Have each student research their state constitution and bill of rights and create a chart, listing their state provisions in one column and any similar provisions of the federal Bill of Rights in the other. Discuss these questions:

  • Does the federal Bill of Rights protect certain rights that the state constitution does not? Or vice-versa?
  • To what extend do the citizens of their state need the Fourteenth Amendment to secure their rights?

Have students find an online article about a fundamental freedom protected by the Bill of Rights. Students should:

  • Identify the fundamental right.
  • Identify the amendment protecting that fundamental right.
  • Describe what action is being taken by either the federal or state government concerning the fundamental right.
  • Explain whether the action violates a fundamental right.
  • Determine the best way to resolve any conflict between the individual’s freedom and the government’s position.

Have students complete an Exit Slip responding to Question 4 on Handout C, providing a more thoroughly formulated response than they may have initially written.

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

The Progressive Era

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