Teaching with the Records of Congress
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Teaching with the Records of Congress

October 17, 2019

This is a rerecording of the webinar
Teaching with the Records of Congress a presentation offered by the Center for
Legislative Archives for educators on Thursday April 18, 2019. The Center for
Legislative Archives, part of the National Archives and Records
Administration preserves and makes available the historical records of the
United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate. Educators
can use these historical documents to teach about representative democracy, how
Congress works, and the important role Congress has played throughout American
history. What do we mean when we say the records of Congress?
Well since 1789 Congress has legislated, held hearings, or debated nearly every
subject you could think of. Consequently the records of the Senate and House of
Representatives reflect the full spectrum of the nation’s political
concerns. Petitions to Congress reflect the voices of the people, their concerns,
their beliefs, and offer multiple perspectives on issues throughout our
history. Among the holdings of the Center for Legislative Archives you will find
the records of the United States House of Representatives committees and
offices, the records of the United States Senate committees and offices and the
other types of records you see on the screen now. the Center for Legislative
Archives does not hold the private and personal papers of Senators and
Representatives. Additionally, laws signed by the
Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate and the President of the
United States and records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses
are located elsewhere within the National Archives. The goal for today’s
program is to connect you with new primary sources from the Center for
Legislative Archives that you can incorporate into your history and civics
lessons. I will also share the Center’s classroom resources for teaching about
Congress hopefully these records will help your students develop a new
appreciation for Congress as the direct link between the American people and
their government. Let’s start at the beginning. The first Congress is arguably
one of the most important congresses in the United States history everything the first Congress did set precedent. Early accomplishments include:
setting up the rules procedures and establishing the roles of officers in
the House and Senate, early legislation that raised revenues by setting duties
on imported goods, establishing the department’s of State, War, and Treasury
and creating a federal judiciary to name just a few. Most of the actions of the
first Congress broke new ground in addition to everything else that was
going on James Madison introduced the first set
of amendments to the Constitution the omission of a list of individual rights
in the Constitution had hindered its ratification by the states. The states of
Massachusetts, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Virginia and New York
submitted proposed amendments for individual freedoms with their
resolutions for the ratification of the Constitution. On June 8 1789
representative James Madison proposed new amendments to the Constitution in
the House of Representatives. That summer the house debated these issues and on
August 24th passed 17 proposed constitutional amendments. Then the
Senate took up the matter cutting the 17 amendments to 12 by
combining and deleting items. On October 2nd 1789 12 articles or amendments were
sent to the States by December 15 1791 three-fourths of the states had ratified
10 of them, articles 3 through 12 on the original document known thereafter as
the Bill of Rights. To dive into this process the Center for Legislative
Archives has created the Congress Creates the Bill of Rights app. This app
is also available online as a PDF so if your students are unable to access the
app all this information is available in PDF form.
There’s also a supporting eBook on the Center’s website as well. This app
provides an overview of the background of the Bill of Rights and helps take
students inside the first Congress. It looks at the amendments in process and
gives students a chance to join the debate. When students go inside the
debate they’ll think about questions like should the Constitution
be amended? Should the House of Representatives have few or many
members? Should the people have the authority to instruct their
representatives? Should the federal Bill of Rights apply to the states? And other
issues of the first Congress considered. In one section students will be able to
look at track changes to the articles 3 & 4 on the Senate markup of the House’s
proposed amendments to the Constitution and see how changes were made to this
text. Article 3 & 4 would ultimately be combined and are known today,
known as today’s First Amendment. Students will also be able to trace
changes to the other amendments proposed by Madison as well. The Center has
created an accompanying lesson plan Congress creates the Bill of Rights
Completing the Constitution to help walk students through this process. This
lesson plan helps students take a closer look at this document the Senate markup
to the House’s proposed amendments to the Constitution. This is a fascinating
document because we can see where things have been crossed out added on and
really look at the Bill of Rights as a work in progress. Additionally, students can use the
app to again take a look at those changes in the close-up on compromise
section and trace the history of the different amendments from their origins
as ideas proposed by state ratification conventions to final versions as
ratified by the states. Using this lesson Completing the Constitution,
you can assign students one or more of the seventeen amendments passed by the
House. Each group will then use this worksheet to translate their assigned
amendments to a eight to twelve word tweet. Then, students will study the
historical context of their proposed amendment and trace their amendment’s
history and determine if the main idea that they identified was present in each
of the steps. The next worksheet can be posted in the classroom for students to
add their findings and keep track of their findings as they examine the
evolution of these different ideas and see if they made it into the final
version of the Bill of Rights as ratified by the states. When we apply a
historical lens to the records of Congress we could discover the process
behind landmark legislation, explore the diverse and shifting perspectives of
Americans on issues like slavery, women’s rights, and Congress’ work to expand
these rights. We can also see examples of situations when Congress also worked to
restrict rights like with the Alien Sedition Acts or the Gag Rule. It’s all
there in the records of Congress. The Center for Legislative archives has
created a series of lessons that can help you dive into the history of
important issues using the records of Congress. Many of these lessons focus on
petitions. Throughout our history people have influenced Congress through the
power of petition. Congress’ actions impact people’s lives and we have many
examples of what this looks like in the holdings of the Center for Legislative
Archives. I’m going to share two examples of lessons
you today. In Congress and Harriet Tubman’s Claim for a Pension, students
will explore records from the US House of Representatives to discover the story
of Harriet Tubman’s Civil War service and her petition to Congress for
compensation. Students will be familiar with Harriet Tubman’s work on the
Underground Railroad but she also served as a nurse, cook spy, and leader of a raid
during the Civil War. It was on this basis that she requested a federal
pension after the war at the time of this pension this pension petition was
filed she was receiving a pension as the widow of a Civil War soldier, but this
makes the case that she should receive addition an additional pension as
someone who served during the war. Using historical thinking skills students will
examine the evidence of Tubman’s service and assess Congress’s decision to grant
her a pension. Students will use this worksheet to analyze different evidence
from the records of the US House of Representatives, including supporting
documents from a Civil War officials indicating the breadth of Tubman’s service
during the Civil War. This lesson will help students think about to what extent
and for what services did Congress officially acknowledge Harriet Tubman’s
Civil War service to her country and discuss the limitations of this
recognition. In another lesson students will use facsimiles of
historical records from the files of the US House of Representatives
Judiciary Committee to evaluate evidence and consider constitutional issues that
the committee encountered as it deliberated the Voting Rights Act of
1965. In this lesson, Congress Protects the Right to Vote,
students will examine the concept of federalism and weigh the proper balance
of powers between federal and state governments when it comes to protecting
the right to vote. By analyzing evidence reviewed by the House Judiciary
Committee related to the Voting Rights Act students will wrestle with the same
issues faced by the committee as it created this landmark civil rights
legislation. Ten primary source documents allow students to see multiple
perspectives and evaluate Congress’ actions as they created this legislation
some of the document students will look at will include this petition from
George Neu who was against the Voting Rights Act as well as this petition from
Mrs. Jackson who asks for Congress to take action especially after seeing the
events in Selma Alabama. Students will use this worksheet, Weighing the Issues,
to think about evidence supporting and evidence opposed to the Voting
Rights Act and evaluate it based on its how persuasive the evidence is and then
students will think about which document makes a stronger case for its position
and based on this evidence should Congress pass this legislation. These two
are just two examples of some of the available lesson plans on the Center’s
website for diving into the history of the United States with the records of
Congress. We can also use the records of Congress to study the legislative
process the concepts of representation, separation of powers, and the
constitutional role of Congress. For example, In the lesson, What Congress Does and Why it Matters students will connect different roles of
Congress to real-life examples from our holdings. Students start with this
graphic organizer. Taking a look at this graphic organizer we can see there are
four different sections, Exercising constitutional powers, legislates,
represents constituents, and balances power. Students will start by
brainstorming different ideas of how Congress does each of these four major
actions. Then students will receive twenty game pieces and will need to
collaborate to identify the best match which overarching umbrella of a type
of action does the game piece fit. The final graphic organizer will look
something like this as we can see there are different actions in each section
and ultimately the graphic organizer will spell out “Congress Represents Us”
The next step is then to assign a different document to student pairs or
individual students and the students will work to analyze that document using
a document analysis worksheet and think about which action their document best
represents. Students can either analyze document online or in a PDF form or you
can print out the documents to share with students. We also have miniature
versions of the documents that can be printed out and placed around this
graphic organizer. To show you just a brief selection of the documents that
students will take a look at, Here’s one example. This is a nomination
of Ulysses S. Grant by Abraham Lincoln for the Lieutenant General position in the
army and it’s being sent to the Senate of the United States.
This is a great example of the action of the one thing Congress does confirm
presidential nominations. Another example of a congressional action is this act to
protect trade and commerce against unlawful restraints and monopolies, this
is an example of Congress regulating commerce. Next this excerpt from the
Congressional Record shows us Mrs. Meek speaking out about the Everglades
restoration plan and this shows us that Congress has the job of advocating local
concerns. And as another example here in this engrossing copy of the 1964 Civil
Rights Act we can see where proposed changes or
amendments are being made to the bill and this reminds us that one of the jobs
of Congress is to amend bills. By completing this graphic organizer and
analyzing these different documents students will see real-life examples of
what Congress does and be able to make more connections to their own life-why
Congress matters. Congress is where we see the idea of popular sovereignty
translated into reality House members and Senators are accountable to their
constituents and each election allows voters to take stock of their
representatives today we’ve seen how you can use the records of Congress to
explore the work of Congress I want to share one more resource from the Center
for Legislative Archives that can help your students visualize the role and
work of Congress. Within the Center for Legislative Archives we have a special
collection that consists of over 2000 Clifford Berryman originals. Clifford
Berryman was a cartoonist in Washington DC for over five decades working first
for the Washington Post and then the Washington Evening Star after the In the 1990s a collection of over
2,000 Clifford Berryman originals was purchased and donated to the Senate
collection this collection also includes over 200 cartoons by Jim Berryman
Clifford’s son. Berryman’s cartoons provide keen observations of Congress
and can be used to teach historical events as well as provide insights into
our institutions and civic life today the special collection is a part of the
holdings of the Center for Legislative Archives. I’m going to share just a
handful of cartoons from this collection that will help bring to life the work of
Congress for your students and help them make connections to to life today. For
example, there are Berryman cartoons that can help us look at the process by
which a bill becomes a law. This one is a reminder that it’s not always
smooth sailing and sometimes the process can be a bit messy here we have a bill
returning from the US Senate covered in amendments it’s nearly unrecognizable to
its original house author and a good reminder that a bill’s
journey through Congress is not complete until has been passed in identical form
by both houses. Berryman provided illustrations
capturing elections throughout his career and this can help, these
political cartoons can help us think about and talk about elections as a
part of our civic life. Finally communicating with constituents is a
critical element of representation and here we see a congressperson returning
home with explanations, questions to be answered, why I voted, main reasons why I
did not vote, and the congressman says it’s not going to be such a restful
month at that. A reminder that the Congressperson needs to be responsive to the voters back at home. To
help bring these class cartoons in to the classroom, the Center for Legislative
Archives has created a series of resources for you there are several
eBooks available on the Center’s website as PDFs including Tepresenting
Congress, Clifford Berryman’s political cartoons that specifically look at how
Congress is represented we also have an eBook that looks at America and the
world taking Berryman cartoons that look at American Foreign Affairs. The National Archives also has a series of primary source
analysis worksheets including one specifically for cartoons to help your
students understand what is happening in each cartoon by breaking it down into
pieces Finally there are lesson plans
specifically for bringing these cartoons into the classroom and getting them into
your students hands including Congress Represented in Political Cartoons,
Reviewing Big Civics Ideas through Political Cartoons, and a Constitutional
Scavenger Hunt. Finally we’ve also created several DocsTeach activities
that you can share with your students as well. Let’s start with DocsTeach.org
the online tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives here we are on the
popular topics page for the records of Congress. On this page you’ll find
collections of primary sources for teaching a variety of congressional
topics clicking on one of these categories will take you to a page where
you can refine your search or browse all of these different primary sources and
then share them with your students there are also teaching activities that
the Center has created that can be completed by your students online or
conducted with your class as a group including the Legislative Process:
Congress at Work, a look at Reconstruction, and analyzing evidence of
the Pearl Harbor attack to name just a few. These lessons include a page that
provides additional background information for you the teacher as well
as a link that you can share directly with your students to complete the
activity if you can if you create a free DocsTeach account you can save your
activities and actually review your students responses within DocsTeach. The
other page I want to highlight is the home page for educational resources from
the Center for Legislative Archives on this page you’ll find links to all the
lesson plans and more that were mentioned in today’s program links to
the app, ebook, and more on the political cartoons. Links to all of the resources
shared in this program are available in the description below. This concludes our
program, Teaching with the Records of Congress. We’ve highlighted just a
handful of Rrecords and resources from the Center for Legislative Archives in
today’s program and hopefully you have new ideas for how you can share these
records and the story of representative government in the United States with
your students. Thanks for tuning in!

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