45 Words

This 15-minute video and lesson plan specifically addresses the origins of the First Amendment and the drafting of the Bill of Rights. Actor Martin Sheen narrates the story of the political struggles involved in establishing the First Amendment and the challenges it faced in the decades that followed the founding of the nation.

The video, together with others linked on the same page, explores the notion of sedition, political dissent and press freedom in the context of early American history, highlighting the tensions in the post-Revolutionary period between those politicians and journalists who wanted to uphold the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment and the leaders who felt that in order to protect the new nation they had to ban any speech or publication intended to undermine the government.

Some of the additional videos on the Newseum site do not directly discuss the First Amendment — but they add interesting and effective supplements to discussions of press freedom.  Many of them compellingly demonstrate the ability of the press to sway an audience.  They cover a wide variety of topics such as media bias, the press and the Berlin Wall, the press and the Civil Rights movement, and Watergate.


How do you use it?

The 15-minute video "45 Words" in this resource, together with shorter (5-12 minutes) videos on a variety of topics involving the press, are accompanied by a list of "essential questions," downloadable lesson plans, viewing guides and links to other sources off-site.

If these videos were to be used for a presentation or in advance of a talk, some prep time would be needed to become familiar with the lesson plans and discussion questions. 

Students have to register on the Newseum site in order to watch this video.  That may be a disincentive to some viewers to watching the videos independently — although the registration is simple and the site easy to navigate.

Who is the audience?

These resources are appropriate for high school and older students.  Many of the issues presented are very much alive today. 

What other resources will complement this?

  1. Freedom of the Press & School Newspapers  Lesson plan from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (H, A)
  2. Pillars of the First Amendment  Lesson plan from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (M, H, A)
  3. Social Media & Student Speech  Lesson plan from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (H, A)

Additional Recommended Resources Off-Site Links

  1. A Constitutional Timeline
    • Multi-aged audience timeline that highlights key dates in history of Constitution, with links to text, audio and video clips. From National Constitution Center's Constitution Day site. 
  2. Interactive Constitution
    • Multi-aged audience site that enables users to search Constitution by keyword or topic, with access to explanatory materials throughout. From National Constitution Center.   
  3. The Annenberg Guide to the United States Constitution
    • Multi-aged audience site that lists the text of each section of every article in the Constitution, and provides explanation of what the text means in plain language.  From the Leonore Annenberg Institute of Civics. 
  4. Understanding the Federal Courts
    • Multi-aged online textbook-type document that includes sections on Article III, the Federal Court system and the geographical boundaries of the Courts of Appeal and the District Courts, the code of conduct for judges, juror qualifications, exemptions and terms of service, as well as categories of bankruptcy cases.  From the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.