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Americanism        < Previous        Next >

 

Extracting Main Ideas:

The Founding Fathers On Voting*

 

Today's Snack: Let's "extract" peanuts out of their shells and then eat them for a nutritious snack. (See the definition of "extract" in today's Treat.) Have a nice glass of apple juice with your peanuts, and see if you can find out exactly how juice is "extracted" from apples.

 

--------------------

 

Today's Treat is for students in

middle school or high school

 

You'll need a pencil, a highlighter marker pen, and a dictionary

 

 

At election time, we choose which candidates to vote for, and how to vote on ballot issues. That provides each of us with an opportunity for good citizenship. But it also makes it more important than ever that we all have good reading comprehension.

 

If you don't have a big enough vocabulary to understand what candidates say and what ballot issues would do, you can't be an informed voter. And you'll probably make mistakes. As an election comes up, you need good enough thinking skills to analyze how well the ideas and positions of the various candidates might work, or what could go wrong with them.

 

You don't have to be an expert on the details . . . but you do have to be able to get the main idea.

Who has time to research all these candidates and all these issues? Not very many of us. But there's a reading skill that can come in really handy. You have to be able to "scan" a paragraph or a page of text, and "extract" the most important idea from it.

 

By "scan," we mean to glance at a paragraph or a page of text, and read just a few words of it quickly. The key ideas should jump out at you. If they don't, scan it again, and maybe a third time. If you still can't understand the "nut" of the idea, then buckle down and read it carefully, as you usually do.

 

By "extract," we mean to harvest or glean or capture the most important idea.

 

To "extract" something is to get, pull or draw out. Dentists "extract" a bad tooth. Surgeons "extract" an infected appendix. Manufacturers of the essential baking ingredient, vanilla, are able to "extract" the best flavor from the vanilla bean to make the "vanilla" liquid that is added to cookies and cakes and makes them taste so great.

 

After you have scanned a paragraph of text, imagine your mind scooping out the "nut" of the idea from it. Imagine your mind as a miner, digging out that valuable nugget of gold.

 

Maybe that's why highlighter pens come in yellow - it's like you "extract" the key word or phrase from a paragraph and mark it in gold. Well, yellow - but close enough.

 

If you can extract a key idea and write it down in one short sentence or phrase, you've really improved yourself as a thinker and a writer.

 

Let's take some examples of paragraphs that were written by American founding fathers about the privilege of voting in our country, and scan them to extract the main idea.

 

After each paragraph, there will be space for you to write down words you don't recognize, and you can look them up in the dictionary and write down the definitions briefly. That will help build your vocabulary, which will also help you be a better voter!

 

Now scan these, and use your highlighter to mark the key word or phrase. You might have to look up an unfamiliar word or two in a dictionary, and write down a brief definition. Then take your pencil, and sum up each point in just one sentence. Let's do the first one together.

 

 

 

Samuel Adams

 

Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual - or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.

 

[Samuel Adams, The Writings of Samuel Adams, Harry Alonzo Cushing, editor (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1907), Vol. IV, p. 256, in the Boston Gazette on April 16, 1781.]

 

Vocabulary (define the word):

 

Compliment - to express praise; to commend

 

Executing - carrying out; accomplishing

 

Solemn - serious; sober

 

Accountable - forced to answer, report or explain

 

Main Idea: Voting is an important duty of a good citizen.

 

 

 

Nothing is more essential to the establishment of manners in a State than that all persons employed in places of power and trust be men of unexceptionable characters. The public cannot be too curious concerning the character of public men.

 

[Samuel Adams, The Writings of Samuel Adams, Harry Alonzo Cushing, editor (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1907), Vol. III, p. 236-237, to James Warren on November 4, 1775.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Essential

 

Establishment

 

Unexceptionable

 

Main Idea:

 

 

Matthias Burnett

 

Consider well the important trust . . . which God . . . [has] put into your hands. . . . To God and posterity you are accountable for [your rights and your rulers]. . . . Let not your children have reason to curse you for giving up those rights and prostrating those institutions which your fathers delivered to you. . . . [L]ook well to the characters and qualifications of those you elect and raise to office and places of trust. . . . Think not that your interests will be safe in the hands of the weak and ignorant; or faithfully managed by the impious, the dissolute and the immoral. Think not that men who acknowledge not the providence of God nor regard His laws will be uncorrupt in office, firm in defense of the righteous cause against the oppressor, or resolutely oppose the torrent of iniquity. . . . Watch over your liberties and privileges - civil and religious - with a careful eye.

 

[Matthias Burnett, Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Norwalk, An Election Sermon, Preached at Hartford, on the Day of the Anniversary Election, May 12, 1803 (Hartford: Printed by Hudson & Goodwin, 1803), pp. 27-28.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Posterity

 

Prostrating

 

Institutions

 

Impious

 

Dissolute

 

Providence

 

Resolutely

 

Iniquity

 

Main Idea:

 

 

 

Frederick Douglass

I have one great political idea. . . . That idea is an old one. It is widely and generally assented to; nevertheless, it is very generally trampled upon and disregarded. The best expression of it, I have found in the Bible. It is in substance, "Righteousness exalteth a nation; sin is a reproach to any people" [Proverbs 14:34]. This constitutes my politics - the negative and positive of my politics, and the whole of my politics. . . . I feel it my duty to do all in my power to infuse this idea into the public mind, that it may speedily be recognized and practiced upon by our people.

 

[Frederick Douglass, The Frederick Douglass Papers, John Blassingame, editor (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), Vol. 2, p. 397, from a speech delivered at Ithaca, New York, October 14th, 1852.]

Vocabulary:

 

Assented

 

Exalteth

 

Reproach

 

Constitutes

 

Infuse

 

Main Idea:

 

 

Charles Finney

 

[T]he time has come that Christians must vote for honest men and take consistent ground in politics or the Lord will curse them. . . . Christians have been exceedingly guilty in this matter. But the time has come when they must act differently. . . . Christians seem to act as if they thought God did not see what they do in politics. But I tell you He does see it - and He will bless or curse this nation according to the course they [Christians] take [in politics].

 

[Charles G. Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1868), Lecture XV, pp. 281-282.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Consistent

 

Exceedingly

 

 

Main Idea:

 

 

James Garfield

 

Now more than ever the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature. . . . [I]f the next centennial does not find us a great nation . . . it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.

 

[James A. Garfield, The Works of James Abram Garfield, Burke Hinsdale, editor (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1883), Vol. II, pp. 486, 489, "A Century of Congress," July, 1877.]

Vocabulary:

 

Reckless

 

Corrupt

 

Centennial

 

Main Idea:

 

 

Francis Grimke

 

If the time ever comes when we shall go to pieces, it will . . . be . . . from inward corruption - from the disregard of right principles . . . from losing sight of the fact that "Righteousness exalteth a nation, but that sin is a reproach to any people" [Proverbs 14:34]. . . .[T]he secession of the Southern States in 1860 was a small matter with the secession of the Union itself from the great principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, in the Golden Rule, in the Ten Commandments, in the Sermon on the Mount. Unless we hold, and hold firmly to these great fundamental principles of righteousness, . . . our Union . . . will be "only a covenant with death and an agreement with hell."

 

[Rev. Francis J. Grimke, from "Equality of Right for All Citizens, Black and White, Alike," March 7, 1909, published in Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence, Alice Moore Dunbar, editor (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000), pp. 246-247.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Disregard

 

Secession

 

Enunciated

 

Covenant

 

Main Idea:

 

 

Alexander Hamilton

 

A share in the sovereignty of the state, which is exercised by the citizens at large, in voting at elections is one of the most important rights of the subject, and in a republic ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law.

 

[Alexander Hamilton, The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Harold C. Syrett, ed. (New York, Columbia University Press, 1962), Vol III, pp. 544-545.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Sovereignty

 

Exercised

 

Republic

 

Estimation

 

Main Idea:

 

 

John Jay

 

Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.

 

[John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, Henry P. Johnston, ed. (New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1890), Vol. IV, p. 365.]

 

 

Vocabulary:

 

Providence

 

Privilege

 

Main Idea:

 

 

The Americans are the first people whom Heaven has favored with an opportunity of deliberating upon and choosing the forms of government under which they should live.

 

[John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, Henry P. Johnston, ed. (New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1890), Vol. I, p. 161.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Deliberating

 

Main Idea:

 

 

 

Thomas Jefferson

 

The elective franchise, if guarded as the ark of our safety, will peaceably dissipate all combinations to subvert a Constitution, dictated by the wisdom, and resting on the will of the people.

 

[Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, ed. (Washington: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903), Vol. 10, p. 235.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Elective

 

Franchise

 

Dissipate

 

Subvert

 

Main Idea:

 

 

[T]he rational and peaceable instrument of reform, the suffrage of the people.

 

[Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Paul Leicester Ford, ed. (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1905), Vol. 12, p. 136.]

 

 

Vocabulary:

 

Instrument

 

Suffrage

 

Main Idea:

 

 

 

[S]hould things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights.

 

[Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Paul Leicester Ford, ed. (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1905), Vol. 10, p. 245.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Peaceable

 

Elective

 

Main Idea:

 

 

William Paterson

 

When the righteous rule, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.

 

[Supreme Court Justice William Paterson reminding his fellow justices of Proverbs 29:2. United States Oracle (Portsmouth, NH), May 24, 1800.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Wicked

 

Main Idea:

 

 

William Penn

 

Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments. Let men be good and the government cannot be bad. . . . But if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn. . . .[T]hough good laws do well, good men do better; for good laws may want [lack] good men and be abolished or invaded by ill men; but good men will never want good laws nor suffer [allow] ill ones.

 

[William Penn quoted from: Thomas Clarkson, Memoirs of the Private and Public Life of William Penn (London: Richard Taylor and Co., 1813) Vol. I, p.303.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Endeavor

 

Warp

 

Abolished

 

Main Idea:

 

 

 

Daniel Webster

 

Impress upon children the truth that the exercise of the elective franchise is a social duty of as solemn a nature as man can be called to perform; that a man may not innocently trifle with his vote; that every elector is a trustee as well for others as himself and that every measure he supports has an important bearing on the interests of others as well as on his own.

 

[Daniel Webster, The Works of Daniel Webster (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1853), Vol. II, p. 108, from remarks made at a public reception by the ladies of Richmond, Virginia, on October 5, 1840.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Trifle

 

Elector

 

Trustee

 

Bearing

 

Main Idea:

 

 

 

Noah Webster

 

In selecting men for office, let principle be your guide. Regard not the particular sect or denomination of the candidate - look to his character. . . . When a citizen gives his suffrage to a man of known immorality he abuses his trust; he sacrifices not only his own interest, but that of his neighbor, he betrays the interest of his country.

 

[Noah Webster, Letters to a Young Gentleman Commencing His Education to which is subjoined a Brief History of the United States (New Haven: S. Converse, 1823), pp. 18, 19.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Principle

 

Sect

 

Denomination

Sacrifices

 

Betrays

 

Main Idea:

 

 

 

 

When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers, "just men who will rule in the fear of God." The preservation of government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty; if the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made, not for the public good so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded. If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.

 

[Noah Webster, History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1832), pp. 336-337, �49.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Entitled

 

Discharge

 

Incompetent

 

Squandered

Divine

 

Main Idea:

 

 

 

John Witherspoon

 

Those who wish well to the State ought to choose to places of trust men of inward principle, justified by exemplary conversation. . . .[And t]he people in general ought to have regard to the moral character of those whom they invest with authority either in the legislative, executive, or judicial branches.

 

[John Witherspoon, The Works of John Witherspoon Edinburgh: J. Ogle, 1815), Vol. IV, pp. 266, 277.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Exemplary

 

Main Idea:

 

 

 

John Adams

 

We electors have an important constitutional power placed in our hands: we have a check upon two branches of the legislature, as each branch has upon the other two; the power I mean of electing at stated periods, one branch, which branch has the power of electing another. It becomes necessary to every subject then, to be in some degree a statesman: and to examine and judge for himself of the tendencies of political principles and measures.

 

[John Adams, The Papers of John Adams, Robert J. Taylor, ed. (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1977), Vol. 1, p. 81, from "'U' to the Boston Gazette" written on August 29, 1763.]

 

Vocabulary:

 

Statesman

 

Examine

 

Tendencies

 

Main Idea:

 

 

 

 

* These quotes are from:

www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=80

 

 

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.AfterSchoolTreats.com Americanism 05 2008

 

 

 

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