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English Detective 16 Foundations of American Democracy: July 2, 2013
July 01, 2013

English Detective 16 Foundations of American Democracy: July 2, 2013

The current investigation (Introducing this issue):

American Independence Day (4th of July) is this week. I had already planned a newsletter using some of the American founding documents to illustrate some important Academic Word List vocabulary... Happy 4th of July!

This issue offers a choice: short readings about the background of the U.S. Constitution, a major decision that established the power of the Supreme Court, and an optional Voice of America presentation on Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address. It gives a simplified version that is true to Jefferson’s thoughts at a crucial moment in American democracy, as he tried to bring the nation together after the very divisive election of 1800. He discussed majority rule, minority rights, the importance of respect, and working together for the common good.

There is also a TED talk by an American lawyer working to correct injustices in the American justice system (“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes.”)

You can practice this issue’s vocabulary with a Government Vocabulary Crossword and a reading on Academic Writing that illustrates many of the words.

Your First Clue: Vocabulary we’ll Emphasize in this Issue

Which words do you already know? Which are familiar (you have seen them, or can guess their meanings), but you’d like to know more about them? Which are completely new?

amendment, appendix, cited, clause, coherent, constitution, core, debate, discrimination, distort, draft, enforcement, explicit, implicit, index, integration, journal, levy, minority, nonetheless, orientation, preliminary, prior, prohibited, revision, subordinate

A few comments on the vocabulary:

An appendix can be two very different things. In our bodies, the appendix is a tiny tube hanging off the colon. An appendix at the end of a book or document contains related (non-essential) information that didn’t fit well into the main text.

A citation is a court summons (the formal word for a traffic ticket in the U.S.-- “The police officer cited him for driving through a stop light.”) It is also an acknowledgement of the source of a quotation, fact, or idea: “Scholars should always cite the books and articles from which they got their facts.” A citation can also be official recognition for hard work or for courage in battle.

A draft is one of several versions of a piece of writing, from the time ideas are first put on paper until it is ready to be published. (This word also has other, unrelated, meanings including air movement, a gulp of some drink, a way to serve beer, and calling players to major sports teams or requiring civilians to become soldiers. It can be used as a verb or an adjective as well as a noun!)

Levy is another noun or verb with several meanings. It comes from the French (and originally the Latin) verb for ‘to raise,’ and can be used for tax collection (raising money by a tax or fine), raising an army (another word for drafting into the military), and in the short passage quoted from the U.S. Constitution, for waging war.

Orientation can be a group introduction to a new job or school. (It comes from orient-- the east, and ‘to orient oneself’-- to figure out the direction one is facing.) It can also mean a person or group’s outlook or preferences. (The most common current use, “sexual orientation,” refers to whether a person considers him or herself to be heterosexual or homosexual-- “straight” or “gay.”)

Subordinate can be an adjective that means less important, or a noun meaning a person who is under someone else’s direction.

Getting the whole story: this issue’s reading/listening practice:

You can choose among several readings for this issue. I strongly recommend the very brief introduction to the U.S. Constitution below. It also links to the Constitution itself, and to other important documents of the founding fathers. There are a couple other links to readings that seem valuable to me, but if you want only one more, I suggest the TED talk about justice. It’s longer, has important vocabulary (as well as ideas,) You can probably read the transcript in your own language as well as in English before or after watching it.

The Constitution:

A little background on the U.S. Constitution.

I think the Preamble (Introduction) to the Constitution is a wonderful expression of the basic principles of government. I’m including it below, as it is also very short. Below the Preamble is a paragraph from section 3 of the Constitution that demonstrates one use of our vocabulary word ‘levy.’ (It’s been a hard word to find.)


"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

the beginning of Article III section 3:
"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court."

The Supreme Court:

Another short account, this time about the case that established the power of the U.S. Supreme Court is here.

Thomas Jefferson:

Thomas Jefferson was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence, (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...”)He was a brilliant and complex man.

In spite of what he wrote, he kept slaves-- though he understood that slavery contradicted much of what he believed. He was chosen to be the third president of the United States in a very bitter election. In his first inaugural address (immediately after taking the oath of office), he urged his fellow-citizens to work together despite their differences. It is an eloquent speech, with many ideas that are relevant today.

Voice of America offers a simplified audio version of it here.

Their version keeps true to Jefferson’s original thoughts. (If you want to compare for yourself, the original is here.

A TED Talk on Justice:

The next link is to a TED talk on the American criminal justice system and injustices toward those who are poor, especially young black men. Bryan Stevenson talks about his own background, and why he feels people need to care about justice to protect their own humanity. Activism to “form a more perfect union” and “establish justice” has been part of the American tradition from the beginning.

Click here to watch the TED talk.

Follow the Clues (Vocabulary Practice):

Click here for the crossword(Right-click to download.) Here are the answers.

This essay reviews vocabulary from this issue and others.

Coming in the next issue: Planning a sustainable future.

In case you missed these: Earlier issues of English Detective have articles on a number of topics, plus practice with over 200 words from the Academic Word List. You can check them out with the link to the back issues page below (or find what words were practiced each issue here.

P.S. If you’re not already getting English Detective, you can subscribe by completing the form here. (It's free!)

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