Creating Our (First) Constitution

 

 

Text Box:

Todd Crites

Grinnell High School

2010–2011

Library of Congress, Rare Book and
Special Collections Division

 

In this lesson students will play the role of political consultants advising the Second Continental Congress on the development of a political system to govern “the thirteen united States of America,” as they were referred to in the Declaration of Independence.  They will then examine the constitution that was actually written—The Articles of Confederation—first in light of their own recommendations, and then from the point of view of James Madison.  Students will read a transcription of Madison’s “observations” on the “Vices of the Political System of the U. States,” which were penned a week before the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia and foreshadow the ideas he would present at the convention and then elaborate upon in Federalist No. 10.

 

Overview/ Materials/LOC Resources/Standards/ Procedures/Evaluation/Rubric/Handouts/Extension

 

Overview                                                        Back to Navigation Bar

 

Objectives

 

Students will:

·         Devise a workable political system for the “thirteen united States of America” based on their understanding of the social contract theory and political conditions that existed at the time.

·         Analyze the Articles of Confederation to understand the nature of the political system created by the Second Continental Congress, especially the relationship between the states and the central government.

·         Compare and contrast the political system they created with the system established by the Articles of Confederation.

·         Make a persuasive argument for or against ratification of the Articles of Confederation in the form of a political broadside.

·         Summarize James Madison’s “observations” about “Vices of the Political System of the U. States” and predict what recommendations he would make for improving the political system.

 

 

Recommended time frame

 

 

3 days

 

Grade level

 

 

11–12

 

Curriculum fit

 

 

AP U.S. Government & Politics

 

Materials

 

“Advising the Founding Fathers” handout (see below)

 

“Did the Founding Fathers take your advice?” handout (see below)

 

Library of Congress “Introduction to Political Ephemera Collection” website: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/rbpehtml/pessayA.html#int

 

“Primary Sources” page on the Grinnell High School AP U.S. Government & Politics website:

http://sites.google.com/a/grinnell-k12.org/ap-u-s-government-politics/primary-sources

 

ICC Essential Skills & Concepts                 Back to Navigation Bar

 

 

Political Science/Civic Literacy—Grades 9–12

  • Understand how the government established by the Constitution embodies the enduring values and principles of democracy and republicanism.
  • Understand the differences among the complex levels of local, state, and national government and their inherent, expressed, and implied powers.

History—Grades 9–12

  • Understand how and why people create, maintain, or change systems of power, authority, and governance.

 

Procedures                                                     Back to Navigation Bar

 

 

Prior Learning

Students should have learned about the following topics prior to this lesson:

  • the social contract theory; John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government
  • the colonial era and events leading to the American Revolution; the Declaration of Independence

Day 1

  1. Have students take a look at the title of the official signed copy of the Declaration of Independence, which reads “The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” Ask them to make observations about the size of different phrases and the capitalization of various words. Prompt students to develop hypotheses to explain why some words are large/small, capitalized/not capitalized.
  2. Explain to students that declaring independence meant that each of the thirteen colonies was now independent of Britain. The new states were not yet formally knit together into a single nation with a central government, but most political leaders of the time understood that establishing a continent-wide government of some sort was the next logical step. 
  3. Provide students the “Advising the Founding Fathers” handout.  Allow them to read and reflect on the questions for a few minutes, jotting down ideas in the space provided.  Then put students in groups of 3–4 to discuss the questions further.  Finally, you will discuss the questions as a whole group.
  4. Homework Assignment: Individually students should compose their “official recommendations” to Congress.  Their recommendations should answer the questions on the handout in sufficient detail to be easily understood.  Each recommendation should state what Congress should do and why.  (Teachers should stress the importance of using reasoning to justify each recommendation.)

Day 2

  1. Discuss Day 1 homework assignment and then collect it to be graded.
  2. Transition: “Let’s see if the Founding Fathers took your advice.”
  3. Distribute copies of the articles in the handout “Did the Founding Fathers take your advice?”
  4. Have students access the original embossed version of the Articles and then the transcript of the article online to answer the questions on the handout.  Discuss when all students are finished.
  5. Introduce the Broadside Assignment: Students should first read about broadsides on the Library of Congress “Introduction to Political Ephemera Collection” website.  Then students should compose a broadside arguing for or against ratification of the Articles.

Day 3

  1. Allow students to briefly share their broadsides.
  2. Transition: “Let’s jump ahead ten years to find out whether or not the political system established by the Articles of Confederation was working.  We’ll look at one man’s—one very influential man’s—assessment.”
  3. Have students access Madison’s “Vices of the Political System of the U. States.”
  4. Number students 1–11 to correspond with Madison’s eleven “vices.”  Students read their assigned passage and write a 1–2 sentence summary.  Students then form groups with the other students who were assigned the same passage, and they write a group summary.  A representative from each group shares their summary. (Note that the final section of Madison’s observations regarding the root causes of unjust laws—the people and their elected representatives who in a republican form of government use their number or their influence to pursue their own selfish interests at the expense of the common good—is a theme he will elaborate upon after helping devise and author the Constitution, namely in Federalist 10.)
  5. Discussion: Based on your understanding of Madison’s critique, what sort of recommendations do you think he would make for improving the political system?

Evaluation                                                      Back to Navigation Bar

 

 

Formative Assessment

  • As students grapple with the many big ideas in this lesson, the teacher should work to ascertain each student’s level of understanding and use targeted interventions to clarify and extend understandings.  This can be done as students work individually and in small groups as well as during the ungraded discussions.

Summative Assessment

  • Two written assignments—students’ recommendations to the Congress and their political broadsides—will be used to evaluate students’ progress towards the lesson objectives.  The rubric below can be used with both assignments.

Primary Resources from the Library of Congress
and National Archives

Back to Navigation Bar

 

Image

Description

Citation

URL

The original Declaration of Independence

Official signed copy of the Declaration of Independence, August 2, 1776; Miscellaneous Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1774–1789, Record Group 360; National Archives

http://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/document.html?doc=1&title.raw=Declaration%20of%20Independence

 

Transcription:

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

 

 

Stone engraving of the Declaration of Independence

Image of the Declaration of Independence taken from the engraving made by printer William J. Stone, 1823, National Archives

http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2003/fall/stone-engraving.html

Print titled “Leaders of the Continental Congress—John Adams, Morris, Hamilton, Jefferson”

 

Leaders of the Continental Congress—John Adams, Morris, Hamilton, Jefferson, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3a16679/

 

Articles of Confederation

Engrossed and corrected copy of the Articles of Confederation, showing amendments adopted, November 15, 1777, Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1774–1789, Record Group 360; National Archives

http://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/document.html?doc=2&title.raw=Articles%20of%20Confederation

 

Transcription:

http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=3&page=transcript

 

 

1777 leaflet of the Articles of Confederation

Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/rbpebib:@field(NUMBER+@band(rbpe+17802600))

 

Broadside titled “An account of a late military massacre at Boston, or the consequences of quartering troops in a populous town” (1770)

Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division

http://memory.loc.gov/rbc/rbpe/rbpe10/rbpe104/10401000/001dr.jpg

 

Broadside titled “The Damning sin of profane swearing and cursing” (1760)

Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division

http://memory.loc.gov/rbc/rbpe/rbpe17/rbpe178/17800600/001dr.jpg

 

Broadside titled “A new song in favor of courting” (n.p.n.d.)

 

Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division

http://memory.loc.gov/rbc/rbpe/rbpe24/rbpe244/24403300/001dr.jpg

 

Portrait of James Madison

James Madison, 4th president of the United States, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3b34361/

 

James Madison’s observations on “Vices of the Political System of the U. States” (May 1787)

James Madison, May 7, 1787 . Vices of the Political System of the U. States, The James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division

http://memory.loc.gov/master/mss/mjm/02/1000/1005d.jpg

 

Transcription:

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mjmtext:@field(DOCID+@lit(jm020120))

 


Rubric

Back to Navigation Bar

 

·         Creating Our First Constitution Rubric


Handouts

Back to Navigation Bar

 

 

 

·         Advising the Founding Fathers

·         Did the Founding Fathers Take Your Advice