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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 suggests a brief article about the background of the U.S. Constitution and a Voice of America presentation on Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address. The VOA provides 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

Some of the more difficult words (levy, orientation, prohibited, subordinate) are explained on the Academic Word List Vocabulary pages F-M , N-R , or S-Z .) Several others are discussed on the Writing Words page: appendix, cite, clause, draft, explicit, implicit, index.

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 also links to Thomas Jefferson's first inaugural address. However, if you have time for only one more, I suggest the TED talk about justice.

It concerns a major current issue in this country, with some 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:

Here's 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."

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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