Civil Liberties in History

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11490

Did people everywhere always have the freedoms outlined in the U.S. Bill of Rights? Any student of history knows people have been (and still are) oppressed. How would the BOR look if you wrote it now?


Civics, United States

learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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We should really appreciate having a Bill of Rights. What do you think life was like before the Bill of Rights? Do you think people had any rights that were protected by the government?

Take a look at this article, Law in the Middle Ages, by Simon Newman, courtesy of The Finer Times. As you read, reflect on the following questions:

  • Who determined the law back in the Middle Ages?
  • What were the limits on the types of punishment the government could use?
  • How was that system different from the system we have today?

One of the fascinating — and sometimes terrifying — lessons of history is that governments and their leaders easily abuse power.

Some very smart people began to think a few centuries ago about how better to limit that power. Oddly enough, the tools they decided upon were a pen and paper!

Let's see how the situation of law and power evolved from the grim and brutal days of the Middle Ages to the U.S. Bill of Rights.

  1. Examine the website, A Brief History of Human Rights, courtesy of United for Human Rights. You should click through the sequence of pages linked at the bottom of the page to see all the information provided. As you read, gather notes about each of the events in the development of the concept of civil liberties and human rights, such as:
    • key documents
    • important people
    • critical events
    • other noteworthy facts
  1. After you have gathered your notes, create a timeline with at least eight items that describe the history of human rights as described on the website.
  2. Using your own research, find two or three other websites on the same topic of the history of civil liberties or human rights, and add at least five new facts or ideas to your timeline.

Present your timeline to your parent or teacher. Then, reflect on the following questions and discuss:

  • What conclusions can you draw about the history of the concept of civil liberties?
  • How does the U.S. Bill of Rights relate to other historical developments?
  • If these civil liberties are such a great idea, why do so many countries still not have them?

Now that you have an overview of the history of civil liberties and the development of human rights, continue on to the Got It? section to take a look at some of the specific attempts to preserve rights for the people against their government through time.

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