The Center for Legislative Archives—part of the National Archives—maintains some of the most historically valuable documents created by the federal government: the records of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Educators can us these historical documents to teach about representative democracy, how Congress works, and the important role Congress has played throughout American history.
DocsTeach: Teaching with the Records of Congress
This special DocsTeach page will help students learn about Congress and its role in American history.
These lesson plans are designed to assist teachers with using primary source materials to integrate Congress into history, government and civics classes. They are suitable for junior high and high school students.
Fundamental Principles of Government
- Teaching Six Big Ideas in the Constitution
This lesson engages students in a study of the U.S. Constitution and the significance of six big ideas contained in it: limited government; republicanism; checks and balances; federalism; separation of powers; and popular sovereignty.
- Constitution Scavenger Hunt with Political Cartoons
In this lesson, students will analyze 16 political cartoons drawn by Clifford and Jim Berryman during the early to mid-20th century to learn about the outline and structure of the Constitution, as well as the content of many of its clauses.
- Congress Creates the Bill of Rights: Completing the Constitution
These activities present questions, lesson ideas, and supporting resources selected to facilitate learning with the app and eBook, Congress Creates the Bill of Rights.
- Congress and the Bill of Rights in History and Today
This lesson uses primary sources documents related to teach students how the First Congress created the Bill of Rights, and about the essential role James Madison played in that process.
- Congress, the President, and the War Powers
This lesson will explore the implementation of the war-making power from the first declared war under the Constitution—the War of 1812—to the Iraq War.
Congress in History
- 1812: Congress's First Declaration of War Under the Constitution
Students will examine primary sources from the historical records of Congress to analyze the reasons in support of and opposed to going to war against Great Britain in 1812. Students will consider what is worth fighting for and who, under the constitutional separation of powers, should decide questions of war.
- Was Reconstruction a Revolution?
In this lesson students will examine several historical congressional records from the Reconstruction era to determine whether the Reconstruction period of American history should or should not be viewed as a revolution.
- Congress and Harriet Tubman's Claim for a Pension
Students will explore records from the U.S. House of Representatives to discover the story of Harriet Tubman’s Civil War service to the government and her petition to Congress for compensation.
- Exploring the Western Frontier with the Records of Congress
In this lesson students will use facsimiles of historical records of Congress to investigate whether the frontier shaped America or if America—through Congress—shaped the Western frontier of the contiguous 48 states from 1789 – 1890.
- Congress Protects the Right to Vote: The Voting Rights Act of 1965
This lesson uses historical records from the House Committee on the Judiciary to explore the constitutional issues that the committee encountered as it deliberated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
How Congress Works
- The Presidential Veto and Congressional Veto Override Process
This lesson uses historical records of Congress to illustrate the veto and veto override process.
- The Legislative Process
This lesson uses historical records of Congress to explain the process of a bill becoming a law.
- What Congress Does and Why it Matters
Students learn the concepts of representation, separation of powers, and the constitutional role of Congress.