The Center for Legislative Archives

Educational Resources

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 Educators can us these historical documents to teach about representative democracy, how Congress works, and the important role Congress has played throughout American history.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.

Lesson Plans

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 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.

How Congress Works

  • The Legislative Process
    This lesson uses historical records of Congress to explain the process of a bill becoming a law.
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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
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