Constitutional Statesmanship: A Civics Curriculum

What does it mean to be governed by a constitution? How does the Constitution shape and influence our politics and the character of our polity? Constitutional Statesmanship explores the principled roots, meaning, and development of the Constitution throughout history by examining how our most prominent statesmen address key issues within and guided by America’s founding document.


Created by AEI’s Program on American Citizenship, the Constitutional Statesmanship e-curriculum is a rich source of materials compiled to aid both teacher and student in the classroom instruction and learning of American history, government, civics, and social studies. This collection of primary source documents paired with video discussions highlights constitutional themes and challenges as experienced by key statesmen in our history. It seeks to educate both hearts and minds about American political principles, ideals, identity, and national character, and the virtues and aspirations of our civic life.

Constitutional Statesmanship is an innovative tool for supplementing existing civics curricula while preparing students for college-level coursework.

Abraham Lincoln and the Constitution is the first topic in the ongoing Constitutional Statesmanship series.

An Engaging Approach to Civic Education

The lives and autobiographies of so diverse a cast as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, James Madison, John Marshall, Alexander Hamilton, Daniel Webster, Frederick Douglass, and Theodore Roosevelt teach everyday men and women how to make the most of themselves as individuals and as citizens. As models of individual life, these American statesmen show how to harmonize daily life with the principles of the American polity. Admiration for these men and what they stand for is part of the social bond—this is why their study should be near the center of civic education.

The American system is not perfect, but students will have a weak motivation to participate in and perpetuate that system if their formal education only presents them with a civic narrative emphasizing America’s shortcomings and failures. The problem of civic education is to inculcate healthy civic values in a way that encourages a questioning and thereby a deepened understanding of those values. The truth about Lincoln and other American statesmen consists in stages of understanding—one that more completely understands the constitutional principles they are fighting to preserve, the particular circumstances they face, and the wisdom to find a path to successfully navigate the constraints and possibilities attached to popular self-government.

It is this process of deepening the understanding of the primary truths of civic education that is involved in high-quality civic education. The study of our statesmen, properly conducted, makes good citizens at the same time that it extends their horizons.

A Model for High-Level Discourse

Our e-learning project aims to provide an avenue into the study and meaning of American identity, character, and citizenship, as informed and influenced by its foundational documents and as showcased by the lives and actions of America’s presidents and statesmen. It will do so by displaying and promoting learning, not through straight lecturing but through genuine inquiry and searching conversation, led by established scholars in the field.

Each section features video content of scholarly conversations centered on specific constitutional questions encountered by American statesmen throughout history and their reaction to them. These videos are not only interesting and informative; they serve also as model conversations of high-level discourse, and will help to raise the level of critical thinking and classroom discussion. Additional materials include:

  • Brief biographical information
  • Relevant primary texts
  • Questions for thinking about and with each statesman
  • Links to further scholarship