Introducing FOIA to a New Generation

You can see this post as it originally appeared on our sister blog The FOIA Ombudsman.

Students in a library

We hope our work will help young researchers learn to love FOIA. (National Archives Identifier 23932367)

The Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, generally provides any person with the statutory right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to Government information in executive branch agency records.

FOIA is a powerful tool for those who wish to learn more about how government agencies do their work, but too many are unaware that the right to request government records exists.

So, in partnership with colleagues in our Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), we’re developing teaching resources about FOIA that can be easily integrated into secondary school lessons.

We envision these materials fitting neatly into existing units in social studies, history, civics, and government classes (but we can’t wait to hear how educators in other areas use them!).

In order to illustrate the power of records to shed light on the Government’s actions, these lessons will link FOIA to key historical events. As a first step, OGIS solicited input from staff across the National Archives to help identify records in the National Archives Catalog that link to important points in history.

We also hope that you can suggest records in the National Archives Catalog that will help students understand the role of records in improving understanding of the government’s actions. Join our conversation on History Hub, our online community for researchers, citizen historians, archival professionals, and open government advocates.

In October 2015, the White House released the Third U.S. Government National Action Plan. While NAP 3.0 includes a number of useful commitments from the National Archives, we are particularly excited about our commitment to develop curriculum tools to introduce secondary students to the Freedom of Information Act.

We can’t wait to hear from you!

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Suspending the Right of Due Process: Japanese-American Relocation during World War II

This post is part of our series on the Bill of Rights. We’re highlighting primary sources from our student workbook Putting the Bill of Rights to the Test, that helps students explore core concepts found within the Bill of Rights, and how they’ve impacted American history. This year marks the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. The National Archives is commemorating the occasion with exhibits, educational resources, and national conversations that examine the amendment process and struggles for rights in the United States.

American citizens can sometimes take their “inalienable rights” for granted.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II, in reaction to growing hysteria along the Pacific coast from Alaska to Southern California and in the Hawaiian Islands, families of Japanese ancestry were sent to hastily built “relocation” camps further inland.

They had committed no crimes.  Almost 2/3 of them were American citizens.  This included  thousands of small children.  Because of a largely unfounded, but perceived, public danger they were denied the Constitutional right to due process through the courts and were sent en masse to live in tar-paper dormitories, solely because they were of Japanese ancestry.


“Exclusion order posted at First and Front Streets in San Francisco directing removal of persons of Japanese ancestry from the first section of the city to be affected by evacuation. Evacuees will be housed in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration.”

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Because of the perception of “public danger,” all Japanese within varied distances from the Pacific coast were targeted.  Unless they were able to dispose of or make arrangements for care of their property within a few days, their homes, farms, businesses and most of their private belongings were lost forever.


“Sacramento, California.  Children of Japanese ancestry play on the front porch of their home two days before evacuation.”

First, they were sent to “assembly centers” – often racetracks or fairgrounds – where they waited and were tagged to indicate the location of a long-term “relocation center” that would be their home for the rest of the war.


“Hayward, California.  Two children of the Mochida family who, with their parents are awaiting evacuation bus.”

They were then sent by train or bus to their assigned Center, which were often very far away from their homes, often with very different climates and harsh conditions.  There were nine  primary “relocation” centers at:

  • Manzanar, California
  • Tule Lake, California
  • Minidoka, Idaho
  • Amache, Colorado
  • Heart Mountain, Wyoming
  • Topaz, Utah
  • Gila River, Arizona
  • Jerome, Arkansas, and
  • Rohrer, Arkansas.
JapaneseChildren2Minidoka-21-1670a (1)

“Gerald, 5, David, 6, and Chester Sakura, brothers.  These little evacuees, along with 600 others from the Puyallup (WA) assembly center have just arrived at Eden, Idaho, and will spend the duration [of the war] at the Minidoka War Relocation Authority Center.” 8/17/1942.

At these “relocation centers” they were housed in army-style barracks, usually shared with several other families.  Most lived in these conditions for nearly three years or more until the end of the war. Gradually some insulation was added to the barracks and lightweight partitions were added to make them a little more comfortable and somewhat private.


“Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California.  Pre-school children on the way to their barrack homes from morning class at this War Relocation Authority center for evacuees of Japanese ancestry.”

During this period, three Japanese-American citizens were involved in legal actions in protest of this policy: Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Mitsuye Endo. Hirabayashi and Korematsu received negative judgments, but Mitsuye Endo, after a lengthy battle through lesser courts, was allowed to leave the Topaz, Utah, facility.

Justice Murphy of the Supreme Court expressed the following opinion:

I join in the opinion of the Court, but I am of the view that detention in Relocation Centers of persons of Japanese ancestry regardless of loyalty is not only unauthorized by Congress or the Executive but is another example of the unconstitutional resort to racism inherent in the entire evacuation program. As stated more fully in my dissenting opinion in Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 , 65 S.Ct. 193, racial discrimination of this nature bears no reasonable relation to military necessity and is utterly foreign to the ideals and traditions of the American people.  (Find more from this case on

In 1988,  President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act awarding compensation and issuing a formal apology for the U.S. military action affecting over 100,000 Japanese-American civilians during World War II.

These and thousands of other documents and photographs related to the Japanese Relocation experience are available on the National Archives Online Catalog and

These primary source documents might be used to begin classroom discussions using questions such as:

  • Could we ever be deprived of the rights guaranteed to us by the U.S. Constitution and its amendments without good reason?  What might cause such a severe response?
  • What far-reaching consequences might occur if we had even a temporary suspension of your own rights?  How would we pick up our lives after it was over?
  • The relocation camps often had barbed wire surrounding them and guards in towers around the perimeter.  Do you think they were actually prisons?

Documents, including those above and those found in some of the following resources, can be analyzed carefully by students depending upon their grade level.  You might want to use our document or photograph analysis worksheets.


Additional Resources:

Online Lesson Plans

Other Information

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Introducing the Newly Redesigned

Our popular teaching website, has a new look and updated features!

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At its core, DocsTeach is very much the same site. You can still find thousands of primary sources — letters, photographs, speeches, posters, maps, videos, and more — spanning the course of American history.

Activity Search on DocsTeach

Find activities by era, skill, grade or type.

And with your (free) account, you can create your own fun and engaging online activities.

You can borrow from the ever-expanding collection of document-based activities created by us at the National Archives — or from fellow teachers around the world.

And you can still copy and customize any activity you find for your students.

How Have Americans Responded to Immigration? activity

Now students can complete activities and teachers can create activities right from the browser on mobile devices!

But now you can do all of this on mobile devices, including tablets, in addition to your computer.

Aside from making the site mobile friendly, we made other improvements as well. After all, we’ve delivered thousands of DocsTeach presentations for thousands of educators at conferences, in professional development workshops, and online — and there was a short list of questions with which we’d become familiar. Of course we used these to guide our major updates.

DocsTeach is now easier to use, more customizable, and provides a more complete experience for students.

New features include the ability to:

  • organize and share favorite documents,
  • view multimedia,
  • access document transcriptions and citations,
  • easily save and print primary sources,
  • include primary sources from outside the National Archives, and
  • search activities by grade level.
The WWI Homefront

Now you can share document collections with students or fellow teachers.

We also made some changes to provide clearer information about the resources on DocsTeach and to make it easier to find:

  • DocsTeach activities are labeled with the CC0 Public Domain Dedication and classified as open educational resources — anyone around the world can copy, modify, or distribute them freely.
  • The copyright status of each primary source on the site is clearly stated.
  • Metadata in the code has made the site more “discoverable” (following the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) and specifications). This means the site is more likely to come up in searches using education-specific terms.

Since we first launched in 2010, DocsTeach pages have been viewed over 12.5 million times, in over 2.2 million visits from around the world. More than 35,000 registered users have created over 20,000 activities. And teachers, students, and schools have downloaded the DocsTeach app for iPad over 580,000 times.

Attention Registered Users

Even though you already have an account, you’ll need to re-register using your current username the first time you visit the redesigned

Once you register and log in, you can migrate any activities you’ve already created.

  1. Register for an account. You must use the same username that you used previously in order to sync your account.
  2. You’ll receive an email with a link to click on to verify your account.
  3. Log in to DocsTeach.
  4. Use the Menu to find My Account and choose Migrate Activities.
  5. You will see the activities you’ve previously created and can migrate them so that you and your students can use them.
  6. Access your migrated activities in My Activities – you may even wish to edit them to take advantage of the new features.

Watch for a new iPad app

The newly redesigned DocsTeach website works on iPads and other tablets. But if you prefer, you can use the DocsTeach app to share primary source-based learning activities with your students to access on their iPads.

Currently, the app is disabled while we update it — a brand new app will be available in the coming weeks!

DocsTeach is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the support of Texas Instruments, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, and Capital One. Thank you, National Archives Foundation and supporters, for helping us complete this long-awaited redesign! 

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WWI App User-Design Workshop for Educators in Kansas City

We invite educators to participate in a free World War I app user-design workshop on Saturday, June 25, at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, MO.

Barbed Wire Gate to Trench

Barbed Wire Gate to Trench, Ypres Salient and Area, Cambrin. From the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs. National Archives Identifier 16580840.

If you are a Kansas City area teacher interested in 1:1 learning or working with iPads, being part of the app-design process, or would like to provide design input based on your in-class experience, we encourage you to join us for this fun and engaging workshop!

The National Archives has teamed up with Historypin, the National WWI Museum and Memorial, the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress and a growing number of cultural heritage partners to develop an engaging WWI website and tablet app to dynamically highlight WWI content. The app invites people nationwide to contribute their own stories and play a part in the centennial commemoration of the First World War. Building on an amazing moving image archive being digitized and preserved especially for the centennial, a flood of rarely seen, public domain images and films will encourage discovery and creative reuse.

Educators in the workshop will get an early, behind-the-scenes look at the alpha version of the app, with the aim of exploring realistic scenarios for how the app and its growing set of rich primary source materials can be used in the classroom. This is an opportunity to influence how the app will be used in classrooms across the country and in Europe.

Coffee and lunch will be provided. Historypin will be onsite to lead this small user design workshop and record critical feedback in preparation for the app’s beta release at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.

As the centenary of the U.S. entrance into the Great War approaches, it becomes all the more important that students understand and acknowledge an event that spurred on such momentous change on a global scale. Educator experiences are invaluable to helping shape how the public might experience and share some of our nation’s most interesting WWI content!


  • Saturday, June 25, 9 a.m. – noon
  • At the National WWI Museum and Memorial’s Edward Jones Research Center, 100 West 26th Street, Kansas City, MO
  • Coffee, snacks, and lunch will be provided.
  • Registration is free, but limited. Reserve your spot by emailing or calling 816-268-8010. We’ll ask for your school and district name during registration.
  • The WWI app is optimized for iPads for its initial iteration. If you have your own iPad, please bring it with you. If instead you have a laptop, please bring that. Bringing your own hardware is not required, but is encouraged.
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Is the Death Penalty a Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

This post is part of our series on the Bill of RightsWe’re highlighting primary sources from our student workbook Putting the Bill of Rights to the Test, that helps students explore core concepts found within the Bill of Rights, and how they’ve impacted American history. This year marks the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. The National Archives is commemorating the occasion with exhibits, educational resources, and national conversations that examine the amendment process and struggles for rights in the United States.

America’s Founders witnessed a time when branding, ear cropping, drawing and quartering, and other methods of torture were commonplace. In order to safeguard citizens from excessive punishment the Eighth Amendment ensures individuals protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

Amendment VIII: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

But what is cruel and unusual punishment and who decides what is considered cruel and unusual? How can it be measured?

In 1900, eighteen people in Van Buren County, Arkansas, felt compelled to petition the government and express their disagreement with capital punishment. Both the group’s freedom of expression and right to petition the government are protected by the First Amendment, but the issue they raised directly relates to the Eighth Amendment.

For the petitioners, capital punishment or the death penalty, was simply murder. They felt individuals should not be put to death, but could be rehabilitated after much introspection and reflection. The petitioners’ goal was to have Congress abolish the death penalty and for America to take its place as a moral leader of the world.

Petition to Abolish the Death Penalty

Petition to Abolish the Death Penalty, 1900. From the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives. National Archives Identifier 25466029.

Direct students to read the opening paragraphs of the petition. Ask them to carefully note the following:

  • What do the petitioners define capital punishment to be?
  • What do they hope will happen to capital punishment?
  • What do the petitioners believe is an alternative to the death penalty?

Begin a discussion by focusing on the language used in the petition. Ask the following questions:

  • What feelings are the petitioners hoping to evoke from the members of Congress by titling the petition “The Light of Truth”?
  • What do the petitioners believe to be “pure Justice” and how can it be obtained?
  • What do the petitioners mean when they use the word “Humanitarianism”?
  • What do you think the petitioners’ main influence is for writing this petition? Ask students to cite specific words or phrases from the text that support their argument.

Further the discussion by asking students to share their thoughts on the following:

  • What does cruel and unusual mean?
  • How is the cruelty of a punishment measured?
  • Who decides if a punishment is cruel and unusual?

Explain to students that the death penalty is still a hotly debated topic today for many reasons. Guide a class discussion, asking students to:

  • List the arguments used by both sides of the issue as to why capital punishment should or should not be abolished.
  • Conduct research to find out how many states have abolished the death penalty and how many states still use capital punishment. Is it still legal in the state of Arkansas or has it been abolished?

Conclude the class discussion by sharing the following phrase from the Fifth Amendment and asking these follow-up questions:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime,…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law….

  • How should the Fifth and Eight Amendments be balanced?
  • Based on this, do you believe the Founders felt that capital punishment was an appropriate punishment as long as a person had received proper due process?
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Examining the Second Amendment Using Plain Writing and Historical Context

This post is part of our series on the Bill of RightsWe’re highlighting primary sources from our student workbook Putting the Bill of Rights to the Test, that helps students explore core concepts found within the Bill of Rights, and how they’ve impacted American history. This year marks the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. The National Archives is commemorating the occasion with exhibits, educational resources, and national conversations that examine the amendment process and struggles for rights in the United States.

Gen. Storms, N.Y. State Militia

Gen. Storms, N.Y. State Militia, from Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes in the Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer. National Archives Identifier 528370

Teachers often use hot topics in the forefront of today’s news to motivate student learning and exploration. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, because of its controversial nature and ability to polarize large groups in today’s news, might be used effectively as motivation to teach topics such as the importance of plain writing, understanding historical context, and using fundamental research skills in primary sources.

One classroom approach might begin with a class discussion using two primary sources that help illustrate how long the modern controversy surrounding the 2nd Amendment has been going on.

After comparing these documents, display for students the text of the 2nd Amendment: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Ask students to answer: Do we really know the exact meaning of the 2nd amendment? Why or why not? (Note: Many court battles have been fought and won on both sides of the gun-control controversy and the arguments on both sides rage on. See the Cornell Legal Information Institute’s analysis, including some specific court cases.)

Illustrating the Importance of Plain Writing

Instruct students to rewrite the amendment so it is clearer and more applicable to their lives in modern society. Save this to compare to later examples. You might want to discuss the concept of preconceived ideas and personal bias in writing at this time as well.

Then ask: Why does the amendment begin with the concept of a “militia?” What is a militia?

A quick look at a dictionary will reveal something like (

A group of people who are not part of the armed forces of a country but are trained like soldiers.

  1. a part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency
  2. a body of citizens organized for military service
  3. The whole body of able-bodied male citizens declared by law as being subject to military service

Have students read and compare the following two primary sources: what later became the Kansas State Constitution (1859) and New York’s proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution (1788). Point out the wording about the right to bear arms and the need for a militia.

See section 4 of the Kansas Territory Wyandotte Constitution:

The people have the right to bear arms for their defense and security, but standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and shall not be tolerated, and the military shall be in strict subordination to the civil power.

Wyandotte Constitution

Wyandotte Constitution (Kansas Territory), 7/29/1859, available at

See page 3 of New York’s Ratification of the Constitution with Proposed Amendments:

That the People have the right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated Militia, including the body of the People capable of bearing arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a Free State; that the Militia should not be subject to martial law, except in times of War, Rebellion, and Insurrection.

That standing Armies in time of peace are dangerous to Liberty, and ought not to be kept up, except in Cases of necessity; and that at all times the Military should be under strict subordination to the civil Power.

New York’s Ratification of the Constitution with Proposed Amendments (page 3)

New York’s Ratification of the Constitution with Proposed Amendments (page 3), 1788, available at

Placing Primary Sources in Historical Context

Share with students text from the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

Direct them to the Founders Online, a National Archives website of correspondence between George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams (and family), Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison before, during, and after the creation of the Bill of Rights.

Share some relevant examples of results for searches on “militia,” “standing army,” and other terms gathered from the example documents. (Explain that a “standing Army” is nearly the opposite of a “militia;” it is a professional military, active in peacetime as well as during time of war, with little or no civilian control.)

John Adams’ “Essay on Man’s Lust for Power” (29 August 1763) with Author’s Comment in 1807:

Power is a Thing of infinite Danger and Delicacy, and was never yet confided to any Man or any Body of Men without turning their Heads.—Was there ever, in any Nation or Country, since the fall, a standing Army that was not carefully watched and contrould by the State so as to keep them impotent, that did not, ravish, plunder, Massacre and ruin, and at last inextricably inslave the People…

Letter to Benjamin Franklin from the Massachusetts House of Representatives, 6 November 1770

… So wretched is the State of this Province, not only to be subjected to absolute Instructions given to the Governor to be the Rule of his Administration, whereby some of the most essential Clauses of our Charter vesting in him Powers to be exercised for the Good of the People are totally rescinded, which is in reality a State of Despotism; but also to a Standing Army, which being uncontrouled by any Authority in the Province, must soon tear up the very Foundation of civil Government.

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, Secretary of State, during the Constitutional Convention, 20 Dec 1787

…I will now add what I do not like. First the omission of a bill of rights providing clearly and without the aid of sophisms for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction against monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land and not by the law of Nations…

Ask students to search Founders Online themselves for more evidence of colonial discussions centered on the militia, standing armies, and the right to bear arms written in the mid to late 1700s. Discuss how day-to-day life differed in 1787 from today. Have them decide what the reasons might be for having the right to keep and bear arms in that time period. After gathering more evidence, ask them to rewrite the 2nd Amendment again in their own words as if they were living in 1787 and then compare the three versions:

  • the actual 2nd Amendment,
  • their first rewritten modern version, and
  • their rewritten version from the viewpoint of a citizen in 1787.
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New eBook and Lesson: Representing Congress

Representing Congress: Clifford K. Berryman Political CartoonsThe new eBook Representing Congress: Clifford K. Berryman’s Political Cartoons presents a selection of cartoons to engage students in a discussion of what Congress is, how it works, and what it does. It features the masterful work of one of America’s preeminent political cartoonists and showcases his ability to use portraits, representative symbols and figures, and iconic personifications to convey thought-provoking insights into the institutions and issues of civic life.

In addition to the eBook, we’ve created an accompanying lesson to use with your students.

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Freedom of the Press Under Stress

This post is part of our series on the Bill of Rights. We’re highlighting primary sources selected to help students explore core concepts found within the Bill of Rights, and how they’ve impacted American history. This year marks the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. The National Archives is commemorating the occasion with exhibits, educational resources, and national conversations that examine the amendment process and struggles for rights in the United States.

Though freedom of the press was enshrined in the Bill of Rights in 1789, its application would be tested early in our nation’s history. When editor William Durell reprinted an article that compared President John Adams to infamous traitor Benedict Arnold in his rural New York newspaper the Mount Pleasant Register, he was the first person arrested under the Sedition Act.

Indictment of William Durell, United States vs. William Durell

Indictment of William Durell, United States vs. William Durell National Archives Identifier 1067894

Through documents of United States v. William Durell, including this indictment, students can see how the Sedition Act passed by Congress on July 14, 1798 aimed to limit freedom of the press.  The seditious paragraph (originally printed in the New Windsor Gazette) was in response to a recent quote from John Adams that stated independence was not his initial goal, but that it grew to be an “indispensible necessity” to preserve liberty.  For this belief, the article likened him to Benedict Arnold about to betray or sell the US to Britain.  That after the United States was once again “made an appendage to the British Monarchy,” Adams would hold “the first office under his Brittanic Majesty.”

Indictment of William Durell, United States vs. William Durell

Indictment of William Durell, United States vs. William Durell, National Archives Identifier 1067894

Though clearly a controversial act, the article was criminal due to the recent passing of the Sedition Act.  Passed at a time when the Adams administration and its Federalist allies feared both war abroad with France and dissension at home, the Sedition Act made it a crime for anyone to “print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against any part of the government.  If the intent was to defame, bring them into contempt, or “excite against them…the hatred of the good people of the United States,” it was seditious and punishable by up to 2 years in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Twenty five people were arrested for violating for violating the act, and all ten brought to trial were found guilty, including William Durell.  After delays, Durell was found guilty and sentenced to four months in jail, a $50 fine, and a $2,000 bond guaranteeing good behavior for 2 years.  In addition to the verdict, the long delay and seizure of his property by the local sheriff led to Durell to seek clemency from the court to help support his wife and five children.  He would receive a partial pardon from John Adams (he was still on the hook for the bond for good behavior) making him the only person convicted of violating the Sedition Act to be pardoned.

Ask your students to carefully analyze the indictment.  Model careful document analysis.

Focus particular attention to the specific language used to describe William Durell and his crime (page 1 of indictment). Terms such as “wicked, malicious, seditious and ill-disposed person” and “wickedly, maliciously, and unlawfully did print and publish” should jump out at students. Then, focus attention on the selection that is quoted from the Mount Pleasant Register that compares John Adams to Benedict Arnold(page 2 of indictment).

Ask students to answer the following, citing specific evidence from the text:

  • How does the indictment describe William Durell and his crime?
  • What was William Durell accused of doing to John Adams? Be specific.
  • Reading the Section 2 of the Sedition Act, did William Durell violate the law?  Why or why not?

After analyzing the document itself, lead a class discussion focused on one of the following questions:

  • Do you think the Sedition Act was constitutional? Explain.
  • How would our nation be different if the Sedition act was still in effect? Explain the consequences.

Additional Resources:

Explore related writings from John Adams via Founder’s Online, an online resource that has put transcripts from thousands of documents from the Founding Fathers.

To read the address that led to John Adams being compared to Benedict Arnold:

To read the text of John Adams pardon of William Durell:

Posted in Document Spotlights, Online Tools, Teaching Activities & Lesson Plans | 2 Comments

“Freedom of” or “Freedom From” Religion?

This post is part of our series on the Bill of RightsWe’re highlighting primary sources from our student workbook Putting the Bill of Rights to the Test, that helps students explore core concepts found within the Bill of Rights, and how they’ve impacted American history. This year marks the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. The National Archives is commemorating the occasion with exhibits, educational resources, and national conversations that examine the amendment process and struggles for rights in the United States.

For hundreds of years before even the passage of the Bill of Rights, individuals came to our shores seeking the opportunity to worship freely and without persecution. These ideals were solidified in the passage of the First Amendment. It defends an individual’s right to worship, but also protects individuals from the government supporting a particular religion:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

But what if these two issues come into conflict? How does the First Amendment find balance between the establishment clause and free exercise clause?

The memorandum opinion of U.S. District Judge Jack Roberts in the Madalyn Murray O’Hair et al. v. Thomas O. Paine, et al. case allows students to examine these issues more closely.

In a nationally televised event on Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman read the first 10 verses from the book of Genesis in the Bible.


The Apollo 8 crew saw the horizon vertically, with the lunar surface to the right. (Rising Earth Greets Apollo VIII Astronauts, 12/29/1968. From the Records of the U.S. Information Agency. National Archives Identifier: 2641570)

Feeling her First Amendment rights had been violated, American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair filed suit against Thomas O. Paine, the administrator of NASA, and the space agency. O’Hair is best known for her role in Murray v. Curlett, that was consolidated with Abington School District v. Schempp, and led to the Supreme Court’s 1963 ruling that school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools was unconstitutional.

She believed that because the Apollo 8 crew read from the scripture, her rights were infringed upon as an atheist. O’Hair claimed that NASA, a federal agency, instructed the astronauts to read from the Bible and this was a direct violation of separation of church and state. She further alleged that NASA was trying to establish Christianity as the official religion of the United States. As a tax payer, O’Hair argued that federal funds which supported the space program should not be used to accommodate a Bible on board the space capsule. She also claimed that the date of the Apollo 8 flight was chosen because of religious reasons.

Judge Roberts dismissed the suit, writing that the complaint failed to state a cause of action for which relief could be granted. He argued that the plaintiffs were not coerced to watch the televised event, and if the astronauts had been forced to read from the Bible then the personal rights of the astronauts would have been violated, not those of the plaintiffs. Roberts stated carrying the Bible aboard the space capsule neither advanced nor inhibited religion, and therefore did not violate the establishment clause. Roberts concluded that the scheduling of the Apollo 8 flight to coincide with the Christmas season was “approaching the absurd,” and “The First Amendment does not require the State to be hostile to religion, but only neutral.”

Begin a discussion with your students by asking the following questions to explore this topic:

  • What does freedom of religion mean?
  • What is the establishment clause? What does it do?
  • Does the First Amendment protect someone who is an atheist from being exposed to religion?

Ask students to explore the memorandum opinion of Judge Roberts, carefully noting:

  • What claims does O’Hair base her suit on?
  • What reasons does Judge Roberts give to dismiss the suit?

Conclude with a class discussion and ask students to share:

  • Do you believe O’Hair’s rights were violated? Why or why not?
  • Do you agree with the judge’s opinion? Why or why not?

For a possible follow-up activity, you can engage students in a conversation about other newsworthy cases — for instance, whether or not the placement of a statue of the Ten Commandments inside a federal courthouse, “In God We Trust” printed on money, or “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the First Amendment.

You can find additional primary sources related to religious freedom, as well as teaching activities about struggles for rights and amending the Constitution, on our special Amending America DocsTeach page.

The full citation of Judge Roberts’s opinion is: Memorandum Opinion in Madalyn Murray O’Hair, et. al. vs. Thomas O. Paine, et. al. (A-69-CA-109), 12/1/1969. Civil Case Files, 1938-1997 (48W030A); Records of the U.S. District Court Western District of Texas (Austin), Record Group 21, National Archives at Fort Worth.

Download the PDF file.

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WWI Posters and Home Cards

Today’s post comes from former education intern Amanda Hatch. She added newly digitized primary sources, found during our 2015 Primarily Teaching institutes, to DocsTeach. Information and applications for our 2016 workshops are available now.

United States Food Administration Additional Directions to First Home Card

This card details the reasons that food sacrifices were necessary as the war moved into 1918. U.S. Food Administration Additional Directions to First Home Card, 12/1/1917. From the Records of the U.S. Food Administration. National Archives Identifier: 20762194

“In this winter of 1918 lies the period when there will be tested in this great free country of ours the question as to whether or not our people are capable of voluntary individual self-sacrifice to save the world,” wrote Herbert Hoover, then head administrator of the newly created U.S. Food Administration.

Because of decreased crop production in Europe and restricted shipping curtailed by German submarines, many of the Allied nations and troops during World War I desperately needed food.

Hoover set in motion a campaign of voluntary food conservation: “Food will win the war.” Posters and home cards encouraging Americans to conserve food became essential to the success of the campaign.

These posters and cards — some of which were digitized by teachers in our Primarily Teaching summer institute at the National Archives at Chicago — provide an engaging way to introduce students to World War I.

Food conservation directions

The other side of the card has additional directions. National Archives Identifier: 20762194

Although war, especially on foreign soil, can be a hard concept to fully visualize and comprehend, these documents help students understand how the war affected individuals and families just like themselves. By examining World War I through the sacrifices made on the homefront as illustrated by these documents, students can better grasp what it was like for Americans being asked to bear the cost of freedom, and the sacrifices made to preserve “this great free country of ours.”

Students can relate to children who had to sacrifice things like macaroni and cheese and sugary sweets in order to feed the starving soldiers and civilians fighting overseas. In a 1917 handout sent to American homes, Hoover outlined the necessity of having at least one wheatless and meatless meal a day. He instituted “Wheatless Wednesdays” and “Meatless Mondays” while encouraging Americans to cut out as much wheat, meat, and sugar from their diet as possible. For many, this meant incorporating a new style of cooking and foregoing favorite items like pasta, cereals, and pastries.

The Wisconsin Food Administration’s list of food substitutions for meatless and wheatless meals

The Wisconsin Food Administration’s list of food substitutions for meatless and wheatless meals, including menu suggestions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 12/18/1917. From the Records of the U.S. Food Administration. National Archives Identifier: 20737679

To help with this new diet, the Wisconsin Food Administration offered a list of “substitutions” in place of wheat. Students can have fun analyzing this document because it contains discouraged items they’ll recognize: Graham Crackers, Aunt Jemima pancakes, Triscuits, Vanilla Wafers, and Shredded Wheat. You can ask: What do you think of the substitutions for these items? Would you be willing to give them, or something similar, up for the war effort?

Pamphlets and home cards like those shown below also circulated among American families reminding them that such a sacrifice was done “in freedom’s name.” Though not everyone experienced the horrors of war and faced bullets like those in Europe, men, women, and children on the homefront played a crucial wartime role by conserving food. A 1918 pamphlet reminded people: “Now is the hour of our testing. Let us make it the hour of our victory—victory over the enemy of freedom.”

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Such documents provide a great segue into a classroom discussion about sacrifice. You can ask: Though not asked to conserve food now, does the government ask you to do anything to protect and promote liberty in America? What is the cost of freedom today?


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