"I declare!"
Founding Fathers Sound Off on Contemporary Issues

Teacher Resources Signing of the Declaration of Independence
Sigining of the Declaration of Independence by John Trimbull (Library of Congress)
Student Resources



  • Invitation to inquiry
  • Open minds
  • Stimulate curiosity






Scene from the hip-hop musical "Hamilton" (Wikimedia Commons)

Sonia Sotomayor with President Obama and Vice President Biden (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)













Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Michael Deas.

You have been studying the Declaration of Independence and its role in the success of the American Revolution, and in creating a foundation for the American Dream. View the video below to recall why the men who wrote and signed the Declaration, whom we often call our country's "Founding Fathers," were frustrated ...

Consider the enduring relevance of the Declaration of Independence and the Founding Fathers who wrote and signed it:

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda’s broadway hip-hop musical "Hamilton" has changed the way Americans think about history, musicals, education and the idea that the founding fathers are — as Miranda put it —“old, dead white men” they cannot relate to.
  • Nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the United States Supreme Court:
  • Saving the National Treasures: (Safari Montage video)
    • Consider the great reverence modern Americans have for the original versions of our foundational documents. This NOVA program views the preservation process of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as a team of leading conservators, engineers and historians come to the rescue of the documents to prevent them from deterioration and damage. (55 minutes; view at least the first few chapters)

You might assume that all the signers of the Declaration of Independence agreed on its contents. However, the Founding Fathers and the people they represented had a variety of viewpoints on freedom, rights, and the role of government; there was heated debate over certain issues, like slavery and states' rights. The Declaration underwent collaborative revision by the group before it was finally signed and published.

Likewise, Americans and their representatives have not always agreed on what the Founding Fathers intended when they declared our rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Consider the changes in American law and society that have occurred as a result of such debates, for example:

Contemporary issues involving our rights, and the role of government in ensuring those rights, continue to be the subject of heated disagreement and debate. Politicians often invoke "the intentions of the Founding Fathers" when arguing their positions on contemporary issues like censorship, environmental policy, health care reform, immigration, same-sex marriage, and zero tolerance policies. What would the Founding Fathers have to say about such issues if they were here with us today?

In this online research model, you will have an opportunity to really "get to know" one of the Founding Fathers, and to investigate a contemporary American issue from his perspective, to help answer our essential inquiry question:

Essential question

Throughout the research process, you may use a variety of inquiry tools and strategies.

Click on the Immerse tab above to continue your inquiry.


  • Build background knowledge
  • Connect to content
  • Discover interesting ideas


Essential question

First, build your background knowledge about one of the Founding Fathers by reading the biographical encyclopedia article linked to his name on the Student Resources Page. Pay particular attention to the Founding Father's ideas, beliefs and accomplishments.

After reading the article provided, locate two additional reliable, authoritative biographical articles about your Founding Father using the recommended Biographical Resources.

Begin your Inquiry Journal (paper or electronic) or use Cornell notes or another note-taking tool to respond to these inquiry questions:

  • What were the concerns of this Founding Father's constituents?
  • What were this Founding Father's views on personal freedom, rights, and the role of government in people's lives?
  • What makes this Founding Father a relevant point of reference to politicians and citizens today?
  • What current issues or events might evoke comments from this Founding Father?
  • What surprised you? What would you like to know more about?

Engage in conversation in an Inquiry Circle with students researching the same Founding Father, to develop ideas and discuss emerging questions with a small group of classmates.

Click on the Explore tab above to continue your inquiry.


  • Explore interesting ideas
  • Look around
  • Dip in




Image Source: Library of Congress


Essential question

Task and Product

Now that you've "met" your Founding Father, you will need to explore his views on freedom, citizens' rights, and the role of American government. Then, you will research a contemporary American issue through the lens of your Founding Father's perspective to determine how he might respond to the issue.

You will use your research evidence and insights to compose a written argument that defends a stance your chosen Founding Father would take on a modern American issue. In addition, you will assume the character of the founding father you researched in order to participate in a Socratic Seminar surrounding modern American issues.

Click on the Evaluation tab above to preview the scoring tools that may be used to evaluate your research process and your final product and presentation. Then return to this Explore page.


Use exploratory search strategies like browsing, scanning, and skimming several seminal documents written by your Founding Father, from the Seminal Documents on the Student Resources page. "Dip in" to read and reflect as you explore.

Choose at least one of your Founding Father's seminal documents to do an in-depth analysis of the his beliefs about rights and the role of government, and the rhetorical devices he used to express them:

Click on the Identify tab above to continue your inquiry.


  • Pause and ponder
  • Decide direction
  • Identify inquiry question

Essential Inquiry Question:

Essential question

These subsidiary questions will help you to gather specific information relevant to your Essential Inquiry Question:

Questions about the Founding Father (Immerse):

  • What were the concerns of this Founding Father's constituents?
  • What were this Founding Father's views on personal freedom, rights, and the role of government in people's lives?
  • What makes this Founding Father a relevant point of reference to politicians and citizens today?
  • What current issues or events might evoke comments from this Founding Father?

Questions about a Seminal Document written by the Founding Father (Explore):

  • How does the Founding Father use rhetorical devices like syntax, diction, tone, and parallel structure to convey his argument?
  • What does the document reveal about the Founding Father's beliefs about rights and the role of government?

Questions about a Contemporary American issue (Gather):

  • How does this issue involve freedom or individual citizens' rights?
  • How does this issue involve the role and responsibility of American government in ensuring rights and freedom?
  • How does this issue illustrate the enduring relevance of the Declaration of Independence?

Generate some questions of your own as you engage in your inquiry:

  • Consider a variety of questioning techniques as outlined in Jamie McKenzie's Questioning Toolkit.

Click on the Gather tab above to continue your inquiry.


  • Gather important information
  • Go broad (search)
  • Go deep (read)

Essential question

See the brief videos below to select a contemporary American issue that you find personally interesting, and that you think would be of interest to the Founding Father you have already begun researching. Select an issue your Founding Father might feel strongly about, based on what you have learned about his views on rights and the role of government:

Use the Contemporary Issues Resources on the Student Resources page to locate information about the contemporary American issue you have selected.

  • Use this tool to Evaluate Sources of information about contemporary issues as you find them.
  • Use the Inquiry Log to make choices and track your inquiry journey.
  • Read deeply from pertinent resources and apply reading strategies to construct meaning.
  • Use strategies and tools for note-taking, documentation, and reflection as you gather:
  • Refine your inquiry question or focus as needed, based on your research findings so far and your new insights and understandings.
  • Demonstrate digital citizenship and avoid plagiarism by paraphrasing or quoting information, and by citing your sources in a Works Cited list.

Click on the Create tab above to continue.


  • Reflect on learning
  • Go beyond facts to make meaning
  • Create to communicate

Analyze your research notes to identify information that establishes a connection among the biographical information, seminal document analysis and contemporary issue you researched.

Synthesize your learning and new insights based on these connections to write a thesis statement for your written argument in response to the Essential Inquiry Question:

Essential question

Organize your research findings and conclusions to create an outline for a well-reasoned, logically structured argument. Support your thesis statement with biographical evidence, your seminal document analysis, and information pertaining to the contemporary American issue you researched.

  • You have collected information from a variety of sources; however, you will not necessarily utilize every note and source you have collected. You must critically examine each piece of information to determine if it supports your argument. If you find that it does not, you should not include it in your outline. Be sure to consider opposing viewpoints as well as your Founding Father’s stance on a contemporary American issue.
  • Use the Inguiry Log to determine each source’s relevance to your thesis. If necessary, continue your research to gather additional information that would support your thesis.
  • Refer to the Sample Outline Template and Sample Outline on Thomas Jefferson as an example.
  • Use the an outline template to create an original outline using your own research findings and insights. Refer to these outlining tools and tips, as directed by your teacher:

Create an MLA-formatted Works Cited list to cite all sources of information included in your outline:

Write your Research-based Argument:
Use the Research Writing Overview as you begin to compose your argument.

After composing your research paper draft, you and your classmates will engage in self and peer revision and editing. During peer revision, your goal is to assess the content and conventions utilized by the writer in order to make suggestions for improving the composition. Use this tool to Revise for Ideas and Organization.  

Evaluate your own research paper according to the assessment criteria on the Research Writing Rubric.

Click on the Share tab above to share your learning with your inquiry community.


  • Learn from each other
  • Share your learning
  • Tell your story


Essential question

You will present your research findings to your inquiry community by engaging in a class Socratic Seminar. Socratic Seminars are driven by questions and focus on participants who engage in the following behaviors:

  1. Listen - No one can speak while someone else is speaking.  The other person's sentence must be completed.
  2. Build - Speakers must attempt to build on others' comments rather than debate or contradict.
  3. Refer to the text - As often as possible, speakers must refer directly to a specific section of the text being used rather than making general comments or observations

The purpose of the Socratic seminar is to engage in a dialogue about contemporary American issues from the perspective of your Founding Fathers. The discussion will focus on the contemporary issues that you and your classmates researched. You will need to support your (Foundng Father's) position on a contemporary issue with evidence from your research (as you did with your written argument).

Prepare for the Socratic Seminar by completing the Socratic Seminar Guide.

  • During the Socratic Seminar you will use the Socratic Seminar Rubric to complete a Peer Evaluation and Self Evaluation. 
  • At the conclusion of the Socratic Seminar, you will complete the Reflection portion of the Self Evaluation on the Socratic Seminar Rubric.
Click on the Evaluate tab above to conclude your inquiry.


  • Evaluate the achievement of learning goals
  • Reflect on content
  • Reflect on process



Reflect & Evaluate:

The following reflection and assessment tools may be used or adapted by you and your teacher to evaluate your research process and your final product and presentation.

You can use these tools throughout your inquiry process to plan, make decisions, monitor your progress, reflect, and self-evaluate achievement of your inquiry-based learning goals:

Extend your learning:

Make the contemporary American issue you researched come alive! Be creative in telling the story of how the issue has affected a fictional character you create.

  • Your narrative will be relatively short, so choose to describe a specific pivotal moment; for example, if your issue has to do with environmental policy, you might write about the moment when a college student is chaining himself/herself to a tree in a Washington forest to protest clear-cutting—including the factors leading his/her to this decision.
  • Describe the experience from your character’s perspective, using either first or third person point of view. Be sure to create an engaging opening, vary your syntax for effect, and use vivid description.
  • You will need to reference your notes, outlines, or final draft for details about the contemporary American issue featured in your story. 
  • Use the Narrative Writing Guide to complete your prewriting and direct your composition.
  • You and your English teacher can use the Narrative Writing Rubric to evaluate your composition.
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Guided Inquiry Design icons and resources used with permission, from Kuhlthau, C.C., Maniotes, L.K.,  & Caspari, A.K. (2012).  Guided inquiry design: A framework for inquiry in your school. Santa Barbara, CA:  Libraries Unlimited.

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