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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation

[Detail] Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States

A Century of Lawmaking records a time in our nation when written and spoken words alone were used to influence and change the national political scene. The collection can be used to launch rich language arts experiences for students.

1) Retelling the American Story

Ask older students to write and illustrate a children's story book about the Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War, Constitution, or Bill of Rights. Have students sift through the collection to find easy-to-understand quotations to use in their story. Help students excerpt the quotations for simplicity.

Search for Declaration of Independence, Continental Army, Constitution and Bill of Rights to find documents such as "Gradual Approaches Towards Independence," Elliot's Debates, Volume I (pages 42-60).

Students might use the quotation about the appointment of General George Washington (page 47) which says,

"On the 15th of June, it was resolved, that a general should be appointed to command all the Continental forces ...for the defence of American liberty; ...George Washington was unanimously elected."

2) Poetry

Read aloud Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key. Discuss why struggle, such as America's fight for independence, inspires poetry. Have students select a document from the collection and write a poem about its contents.

Students might find poetic inspiration in colonial discontent with British rule. Search on Association, taxation or rights to find selections such as "An Address To The People Of Great-Britain" in Journals of the Continental Congress for Friday, October 21, 1774, (page 82).

3) Historical Voice

After students have worked with the collection on other projects, ask them to think about whose voices are represented in the collection and whose are not heard. Search on women, mother, daughter, slave, and Indian to find references to these silent groups.

Students might find Hannah Bradish's account of the Lexington/Concord battle in the Journals of the Continental Congress, Thursday, May 11, 1775 (page 39); the debate over the status of slaves during the war with Great Britain on Friday, October 13, 1786 (page 863 - 865); and the debate over Congress regulating Indian trade on July 26, 1776.

4) Persuasive Writing

Ask students to identify and rewrite a debate or speech from the Constitutional Convention in today's language. Search the collection for issues that have contemporary relevance such as state sovereignty, federal power, judicial review and separation of powers.

For example, students might rewrite James Madison's thoughts on separation of powers that appear in Elliot's Debates on Thursday, July 19, 1783, (page 337). Encourage students to use modern examples that highlight the importance of separation of powers in today's government.

You might also have students work in teams, and rewrite opposing views and stage the debate.