The Laws Live On|
Grade level: 7-12
Subjects: Social Studies, History, Government
Estimated Time of Completion: 2 to 3 class periods
III. Materials Needed
V. Assessment Suggestions
I. INSTRUCTIONAL OBJECTIVES
Students will use information they have learned from viewing parts of the PBS
"Napoleon" series, study and research about the U.S. Constitution to compare the effects of Napoleon's civil code on France and the U.S. Constitution on America. Students will learn and study how these laws are interpreted over time. They will also compare and contrast the two legal systems these laws created.
This lesson correlates to the following national standards for history, established by MCREL at http://www.mcrel.org/:
III. MATERIALS NEEDED
- Understands the causes and consequences of political revolutions in the late
18th and early 19th centuries
- Understand the institutions and practices of government created during the
Revolution and how these elements were revised between 1787 and 1815
to create the foundation of the American political system based on the
U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
- Begin with a brainstorming session where you ask students to list as many of the
Amendments as they can from the Bill of Rights. Continue by asking students to think about the first ten amendments and why the founding fathers believed they were necessary in order to make the U.S. a strong country. Be sure to discuss
the fact that many people worked together as a group to form the
Constitution. Discuss why the Constitution has lasted and been effective
for so many years.
- Now turn students' attention to Napoleon. Have them brainstorm a list of ideas and
characteristics that come to their mind when they think of him. Guide students as
they brainstorm so that they will hit on the idea that Napoleon was a lawmaker.
- Show students Episode One "To Destiny". Point out as you go that Napoleon came from
humble beginnings and often felt different from those around him.
Watch only as far as the point leading up to Louis XVI's execution (beginning of tape to approximately 23:00). Pay special attention to the following cues:
- "It was the French Revolution the would set Bonaparte free." (approximately
- "His ambition was so great that it swallowed up small aims, like doing
something in Corsica, and became the ambition to control France and
control Europe, and then possibly the world." (approximately 22:00)
- Have students write notes to answer the following questions as they view the Episode One:
- In what ways did Napoleon feel like an outcast among his peers?
- Why did Napoleon feel his military career would be limited by
his Corsican background?
- How did Napoleon feel the French Revolution would "set him free" and
"open up" French society?
- Why do you think these events made Napoleon feel like he wanted to rule the world?
- Students should discuss their answers to the above questions in small groups, or the
teacher can facilitate a classroom discussion about these topics. The instructor
should be sure that students see and understand that Napoleon felt that the
previous social structure and class system limited one's potential simply because
of backgroundpeople were not allowed to achieve above their level or move
from one level to another. Ask for student opinions about how they would feel
if this were the case for them. Even more interesting, ask students if they ever
feel that in the U.S. we have a form of "class" system that "keeps people in
- Students should then view Episode Two "Mastering Luck" beginning with the section where
Napoleon secretly returns to France after the Egyptian campaign (approximately 10:30 to end). Pay special attention to the following cues:
- "I am the Revolution." (approximately 15:00)
- "A newborn government, he told his secretary, must dazzle and astonish."
- "Napoleon believed in government for the people, but not by the people."
- "...he wanted his regime to endure." (approximately 21:00)
- Students should answer the following questions as they view this segment:
Once students have finished viewing and answering questions, the teacher could facilitate some class discussion about the answers to the various questions. Another technique would be to stop the video after the information for each
question is presented and allow students to work in small groups to come up with answers. They could then share those in a large group at the conclusion of the video.
- What does Napoleon mean when he says, "I am the Revolution"?
- Napoleon says, "A newborn government must dazzle and astonish." What do you think he means by this and how will his new government do these things?
- It is said that the new government was "rule for the people, but not by the people." Why do you believe Napoleon wanted his government this
way? How is this different than the way the U.S. government is
- Napoleon wanted his work to endure forever, so he appointed himself
Emperor. Why would becoming an emperor make his work live
long after he was gone?
- Once discussion is finished, students should look specifically at the code of conduct
that Napoleon authored and that French law is based upon today. Again, this is available in its entirety or in a shortened version at
Have students pick out what they believe are the strong or "good" parts of the code.
- Now have students look for parts of the code that they disagree with or that they
believe are weak.
- Once the strengths and weaknesses of the code are found, they should be recorded on
a large list that the whole class can see. The teacher should facilitate debates as
they arise, since some ideas could be both strengths and weaknesses.
- When the chart is complete, turn students' attention to the U.S. Constitution's Bill
of Rights, available online at http://www.nara.gov/exhall/charters/constitution/conmain.html. Have students pick out what they feel are the strengths and weaknesses
of our governing document. Again, make the list of strengths and weaknesses and
post it, with the teacher again facilitating debates as they arise.
- Students can use what they have learned about both documents to draft a governing
document of their own by choosing the strongest parts of Napoleon's civil code and the U.S. Constitution. Once students have decided which parts of each document should be included, they should construct the document and give it an appropriate title. Students should be able to explain why they chose to include
what they did and why some elements were left out. This could be done as a
large group activity or in small groups with each group presenting to the rest of the class. The document(s) should then be posted in the classroom for others to
see or for future use/reference.
V. ASSESSMENT RECOMMENDATIONS
Students could write a short written response that answers the following questions
about the document they created above.
- Why did you think it was important to include the ideas you chose for your
governing document? Give specific examples or reasons.
- Some ideas from Napoleon's Civil Code and the Bill of Rights were left out.
Why did you think it was better not to include these ideas in your
document? Give specific reasons or examples to support your decision.
- Why do you believe the document you created could be a successful means
for governing people? Explain your reasons.
After completing the activity above, students could explore further by completing a
piece of writing that discusses and examines one of the following questions:
Students could choose a law that they feel should be changed. They could do research
and develop specific ideas about how to change that law. They could then draft a
letter to an appropriate lawmaker asking them to make the changes to the law they
have learned about. This could be done with city, county, state, or federal laws.
Addresses for legislators should be available from local election offices or boards.
- When looking at strengths of the two documents and the fact that they have
both endured for more than 200 years, discuss how a set of laws and ideas this old can still apply effectively to people today.
- Over time, some interpretations of the laws and ideas listed in the Civil
Code and the Bill of Rights may change or evolve based on the
needs of the society. We can see this in the U.S. Constitution when we look at the process for changing amendments and the amendments that have been revised over time. Discuss an example of a change in the interpretation of the law that we see in our society today and whether or not you believe it would be beneficial to change the law or its
interpretation. (Hint: the debate over the right to bear arms, prayer in schools, etc.)
About the Author
Lisa Prososki taught English, reading, social studies, and technology courses
throughout her twelve years as a school teacher with North Kansas City Schools
in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently operating a consulting business
from her home while being a full time mother to her 1 year old son.