About Connect and “The Great Debate”

The Great Debate

Connect invites you to take part in the ongoing debate over the duties of citizenship and the promise of democracy. America is an idea, and debate is at its core.

Discussion Questions

Discussion questions probe the issues facing modern citizens, while traditional and multimedia resources provide background for an informed dialogue. Visit often to see what’s new, and to add your voice to the discussion.

Values in conflict

Together, we’ll examine current conflicts for their connections to the historic struggle for balance among freedom and equality, unity and diversity, law and ethics, private wealth and common wealth.

The Great Debate

Americans continually seek, in the words of the Constitution’s Preamble, to form a more perfect union. But we have disagreed throughout our history about just how to achieve this. Every generation has supplied its own answer. This is “The Great Debate,” an enduring conversation about how to strike the right balance between core values.

Americans share these values, but they exist in tension with each other. Too much of one value creates an imbalance incompatible with our democratic society. For example, one value Americans universally revere is freedom. But if one person had unlimited freedom, we would have a totalitarian state. If all had it, we would have anarchy. So we temper freedom with equality, the notion that rights and opportunities should be spread widely among the members of our society. Absolute equality would also be disastrous to the republic, as it would lead to communism and the repression of individual initiative. So we say that the values of freedom and equality are in tension, and Americans constantly debate how to fine tune that balance.

Similarly, we debate how to balance law and ethics, unity and diversity, and private wealth and common wealth. All our public debates can be viewed through this prism of "The Great Debate" as citizens push and pull the nation toward one or another value: first one way, then the other, then – sometimes decades later – back again.

You’ll find these debates throughout Colonial Williamsburg CONNECT:

Unity vs. Diversity
We celebrate our unity as one American nation, but we also cherish our diversity. How do these values sometimes clash?
Private Wealth vs. Common Wealth
Accumulating individual wealth is at the heart of our economy, yet we also contribute to the needs of the community. In what ways do we do both?
Law vs. Ethics
We are a nation of laws, but American heroes have protested or even rebelled against laws that were unethical. When is the right time for protest?
Freedom vs. Equality
Too much freedom for some can threaten equality for all. But the quest for equality can limit individual freedoms. How do we find a balance?


The Idea of America High School Educational Program
Podcast: The Idea of America

The Idea of America: Citizen's EditionPlan your visit