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Lesson Plan
George Washington and the Rule of Law


This lesson discusses George Washington’s commitment to the principle of the rule of law. The reading examines situations faced by Washington as both commander in chief and president when he chose the rule of law over expediency or personal power. Discussion questions follow the reading.


Students will analyze historical evidence including primary sources to understand George Washington's words and actions in support of the rule of law.


National Council for the Social Studies: Thematic Strands II, V, VI, X
Arizona Academic Standards, Social Studies: 1SS-E17, E18; 2SS-E3, E7, P1, P5, P10
California History-Social Science Content Standards: 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4; 11.1; 12.1, 12.2
Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills: Social Studies 8.1, 8.3, 8.4, 8.5, 8.16, 8.21, 8.23; U.S. Government 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16


Richard Brookhiser, Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (New York: The Free Press, 1996)

James Thomas Flexner, Washington: The Indispensable Man (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969)

Edmund S. Morgan, The Genius of George Washington (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1980)

Suggested Procedure:
  1. Draw a line down the center of the board. Write “Rule of Law” on the top left and “Rule of Men” on the top right. Ask students what they think it would be like to live in societies guided by these different principles. Write words or phrases from student responses in the appropriate columns. Then, suggest words such as “constitution” or “dictator” and ask students to place the words in the appropriate column.
  2. Distribute copies of the reading “George Washington and the Rule of Law.”
  3. Read aloud and discuss the first paragraph of the reading. Ask why the principle of the rule of law is important to our system of government. Tell students to look in the reading for ways that Washington defended this principle.
  4. Have students work individually or in groups to finish the reading and answer the discussion questions. With the entire class, discuss the reading and student responses to the questions.
  5. **As an extra exercise, print and distribute copies of Washington’s Letter to Lewis Nicola or have students read it online. Have students highlight or list words from the letter that show Washington’s displeasure with Nicola’s suggestion that Washington be made king.
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