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Summer Civics Institute on American Principles and Debates Professional Development Seminar for Teachers

June 24-28, 2024
Live Online via Zoom from American University
Washington, DC

The Political Theory Institute is hosting a week-long professional development seminar for middle- and high-school teachers at American University exploring the key principles and debates of the American republic from its founding until today through the careful study of primary source documents. In this five-day, small-group seminar, led by faculty from American University (and perhaps some additional outside experts), we will read and discuss key texts, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers, as well as key speeches and writings from the United States’ most thoughtful leaders, such as Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, among others.

The seminar aims to explain and assess the key principles of American political thought, elucidate the tensions and conflicts within and between these principles, examine how the principles are embodied in American political institutions, and trace some of the ways in which the principles unfold – and fail to – over the course of American history. Emphasis is placed on great American debates, as the meaning of our principals and the best manner of instituting them has always been contested. The course does not supply a single interpretation of American principles. Rather, it aims to immerse you in the complexity of the issues. This seminar thus provides invaluable preparation for civics, American history, and government classes.

This Summer Civics Seminar is run by the Political Theory Institute and sponsored by the Jack Miller Center.


  • A stipend of $300
  • 20 contact hours of professional development credit
  • A bound volume of primary source readings, sent in advance of the seminar


Public, private, and other qualified teachers of grades 6-12 are invited to apply. Applicants for this seminar must be able to access the class via Zoom. To apply, please complete the application form and email it to Alan Levine at with the subject line “Civics Institute Application.” Applications will be reviewed and accepted on a rolling basis. The final application deadline is April 14, 2024. Past offerings of this seminar have been completely full, so apply early to maximize your chances of acceptance.

Daily Schedule

9:30 - 11:00 - First Session (90 min.)
11:00 - 11:15 Break
11:15 - 12:30 - Second Session (75 min.)
12:30 - 1:30 Lunch
1:30 - 2:45 - Third Session (75 min.)
(The Tuesday lunch will include an informal get-to-know-you session.)

Tentative Syllabus


American Principles and Institutions


Session 1: Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence (*Jefferson’s original submission with official edits*)
John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, paragraph numbers: 4, 6, 8, 13, 14, 95, 119-21, 123-26, 220, 225-26, 230, 240-43.
Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Madison, 6 September 1789: The Earth Belongs in Usufruct to the Living”
The Federalist Papers, #49
Articles of Confederation (excerpt)
US Constitution


Sessions 2 & 3: Debates over the Constitution I: Institutions

“Address of the Pennsylvania Minority” (18 December 1787)
Brutus, # I & XV (20 March 1788)
The Federalist Papers, #1, 6, 10, 23, 47, 48, 51, 70, 78


Sessions 1 & 2: Debates over the Constitution II: Representation, Citizenship, & Trust

Edmund Burke, “Speech to the Electors of Bristol,” (excerpt)
The Federalist Papers, #35, 39, 45, 55, 57, 63
Montezuma, Philadelphia Independent Gazeteer (17 October 1787)
Newport Man, Newport Mercury, March 1788
Agrippa, #IX (28 December 1787)
The Federal Farmer, “Letter #VII” (31 December 1787)
Melancton Smith, Speeches 21-27 June 1788 (See also Federalist
responses in endnotes, especially notes 13, 17, 18, 22, 23, 30)


Session 3: Debates over the Constitution III: Bill of Rights & Natural Aristocracy

Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Madison, 15 March 1789: A Bill of Rights”
Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to John Adams, 28 October 1813: A Natural Aristocracy”
The Federalist Papers, #84, 68

Slavery in the United States


Session 1: Slavery and the American Founding

Patrick Henry, “Letter to Alsop” (1773)
U.S. Constitution’s slavery provisions: Art. 1, Sec. 2, Clause 3; Art. I, Sec. 9, clause 1; Article 4, Sec. 2, Clause 3; Art. 4, Sec. 3, Clause 2.
Benjamin Franklin, “Address from the Pennsylvania Society for
Promoting the Abolition of Slavery” (1790)
Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to John Holmes” (1820)


Session 2: Slavery, Abolitionism, & the Constitution in Antebellum America

William Lloyd Garrison, “On the Constitution and the Union”
Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” (5 July 1852)
John C. Calhoun, Speech to Congress, 6 February, 1837: “Slavery a Positive Good”
Alexander Stephens, “Corner Stone” speech, 21 March, 1861


Session 3: Lincoln & the Civil War

Dred Scott Case (edited)
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (selections)
Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address”
Abraham Lincoln, “Second Inaugural Address”

The Fight for the American Promise


Session 1: Civil Rights Movement

Martin Luther King, “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” (1963)
Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream” Speech (1963)
Malcom X, “The Ballot or the Bullet” (1964)
Malcom X, “Statement of the Organization of Afro-American Unity” (1964)


Session 2: Women's Movement

Abigail and John Adams, Correspondence (1776)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Declaration of Sentiments” (1848) (& other short documents)
Stanton, Anthony, & Gage, History of Women’s Suffrage (1889, Intro.)
Sojourner Truth, “A’n’t I a Woman?” (1851)
Betty Freidan, The Feminine Mystique (1963, ch. 1)
Betty Freidan, “Our Revolution is Unique” (1968)

Roots of Contemporary Ideology


Session 3: Roots of Progressivism

Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1889, excerpt)
The Populist Party Platform (4 July 1892)
The Progressive Party Platform (5 August 1912)
Progressive Era Amendments to US Constitution (1913-33)
Theodore Roosevelt, “New Nationalism” (1910)
Woodrow Wilson, “What is Progress?” (1913)


Session 1: Roots of Liberalism

John Dewey, “The Future of Liberalism” (1935)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “The Four Freedoms” (1941)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “Second Bill of Rights” (1944)


Session 2: Roots of Conservatism

James Ceaser, “Four Heads and One Heart: The Modern Conservative Movement” (2010)
Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (excerpts, 1962)
Irving Kristol, “Human Nature and Social Reform” (1978)
Irving Kristol, “What is a Neoconservative?” (1984)

How to Integrate Primary Sources into the Classroom


Session 3: Pedagogical Wrap Up with Practical Advice and Suggestions