Foundations of Democracy, High School

How Should We Choose People for Positions of Authority?

The following is taken from the Center for Civic Education’s Foundations of Democracy curriculum. The curriculum is designed to
  • Promote an increased understanding of institutions of our constitutional democracy and the fundamental principles and values upon which they were founded.
  • Develop the skills needed by young people to become effective and responsible citizens
  • Increase understanding and willingness to use democratic processes when making decisions and managing conflict, both in public and private live.
It is organized around four concepts, authority, responsibility, justice and privacy, which form part of the common core of civic values and concepts that are fundamental to the theory and practice of democratic citizenship in the United States.

This particular lesson is adapted from Unit 2 of the Authority concept.

Lesson Overview

Students learn to identify the requirements of a position of authority and the qualifications a person should possess to fill that position. Students learn a set of intellectual tools designed to help them both analyze the duties of a position and to decide if an individual is qualified to serve in that  particular position. Students apply the intellectual tools to a job description fro president of the Untied States and create a list of some of the characteristics a person should have to fill the position and perform well in that office.

divide_b Purpose of Lesson

This lesson introduces a set of intellectual tools that are useful in selecting people to fill positions of authority.  These tools also are useful in evaluating the qualifications of persons who are in such positions.  

When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to identify and explain the requirements of a position of authority.  You also should be able to identify and explain the qualifications a person should possess to fill that position.

Terms to Know

position of authority
woman suffrage

What qualifies make a good leader?

Read the selection below then answer the “What do you think?” questions. These questions will help you begin thinking about the characteristics a person should possess to fill a position of authority.

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), abolitionist, temperance advocate, and most of all, champion of women’s rights, held the strong conviction that women could never achieve their full rights until they first had won the right to vote. A skilled organizer, she played a key role in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote. She was fearless in promoting the cause of women’s rights and endured years of opposition and abuse as a result. The press slandered her, strangers jeered at her, and people often threw eggs and rotten fruit at her when she lectured. Anthony grew up in a Quaker home and was a bright, independent child.  She was well educated and spent a number of years teaching.  Her interests, however lay in other areas and she soon became deeply involved in the moral crusades that would absorb her time and energy for years. At a time when people expected women to stay home, she used her intelligence, determination, and organizational skills to further the causes in which she believed. Discouraged by the limited role allowed to women in the temperance movement, she helped found the Woman’s State Temperance Society of New York. She also served as an agent for the American Anti-SIavery Society. Her prime concern, however, was to further the rights of women. Anthony was one of the foremost leaders in the movement for woman suffrage, and in 1892 she was elected president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

In November 1872, police arrested Anthony as she attempted to vote in a presidential election.  A few month later, she compounded her crime by trying to vote in a city election.  Although she was convicted, she refused to pay the fine.  Neither public ridicule nor the fear of jail could deter her commitment to the cause in which she so fervently believed.

Anthony assisted in organizing international woman suffrage associations, helped compile and publish a history of the suffrage movement, and spoke tirelessly throughout the county on the subject of women’s rights for more than half a century. She died in 1906, only a few years before her dream of woman suffrage became a reality.

What do you think?
  1. What were the responsibilities of a position of authority in the woman suffrage movement?

  2. What characteristics did Anthony have that helped make her a successful leader?

How should we choose someone for a position of authority?

In the preceding activity, you Iisted some  responsibilities of a posítion of authority and the characteristics necessary to do the job Well. You  will have the opportunity to Select people for positions of authority. To make wise choices, you will need some intellectual tools. Just as there are tools with which to repair a car or bake a cake, there are tools of the mind with which to examine issues.

Intellectual tools include a variety of ideas, observations about society and our roles within it, and sets of questions that are useful in analyzing situations and reaching decisions. The following are some inteìlectual tools you can use when deciding if someone is qualified for a particular position:  


    Before you can decide how qualified a person is for a position, you must ñrst consider what the job involves.


    The characteristics oft he person for a particular job should enable that individual to fulñll the duties and powers of that position and to do the job well. Depending on the position, some characteristics that might be important include the following:
    • specialized knowledge or skills
    • physical capacity
    • impartiality
    • integrity
    • intelligence
    • diligence
    • reliability
    • courage
    • ability to work with other people
    • sensitivity to human needs and rights
    • views on job-related issues


    Each candidate’s characteristics should be compared with the qualities needed for the job as well as with the characteristics of the other candidate.


    You should be able to explain the basis for your selection using the information gained from answering the first three questions in the procedure.

Critical Thinking Exercise


The following activity provides you with an opportunity to apply the intellectual tools you have just learned. Working in small groups, read the excerpt from Article Il of the Constitution describing the position of president of the United States. Then work with your group to complete the chart on p.19. Be prepared to share your answers with the class.

Article II

Section 1. ...Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: “I do solemnly swear (or  affirm) that I will faithfully execute the of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Section 2. The President Shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States...and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of The Senate, to make Treaties provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments. The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

Section 3. He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjorn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.
What do you think?

  1. What characteristics should a person have to be selected for the position of president?

  2. Think about the characteristics you identified for Susan B. Anthony that qualified her to lead the woman suffrage movement. What similarities do you see between those characteristics and the ones you have identified for the presidency? What characteristics are different?

Using the Lesson

  1. Choose a television program that shows someone in a position of authority.  Write the duties, powers, privileges, and limitations of the position.  Then describe the characteristics of the person in that job that qualify him or her for the position.  Explain whether or not you would select this person for the position.

  2. Think of a position of authority you might like to serve in some day.  In your journal, write a short description of the position, the characteristics someone should possess to do it well, and explain why you might qualify for the job.


fod high chart

Note to teachers: If you enjoyed this Foundations of Democracy lesson, please consider purchasing the Foundations of Democracy textbook that contains this lesson and many others.
Foundations of Democracy High School Student Book (image)
Foundations of Democracy
explores four concepts—Authority, Privacy, Responsibility, and Justice—using illustrations, handouts, open-ended discussion questions, and calls for students to apply situations to their own lives.

For more information, or to purchase Foundations of Democracy textbooks, click here.

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