Why is James Madison such an important figure? Why is he known as the "Father of the Constitution"? How involved was James Madison in the most important events in America from 1775 to 1817? The answers to these questions provide context for understanding the importance of James Madison's opinions on constitutional issues.
The rivalry between the Federalists and Republicans in the early days of the American Republic was bitter. What were the key positions of the parties? How important to the parties' positions were their basic attitudes toward constitutional interpretation (Federalists, broad interpretation / Democratic-Republicans, strict interpretation)? Which positions of either party resonate in the politics of today?
In this lesson, students examine the critical factors leading to the development of the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans and look at the timeline of key events and issues caused the differences in opinion.
Before the birth of opposition political parties, divisions among U.S. leaders developed over the ratification of the Constitution.
Students will read President Madison's War Message (in either an edited/annotated or full-text version) and be given the opportunity to raise questions about its contents.
This lesson plan looks at the major ideas in the Declaration of Independence, their origins, the Americans’ key grievances against the King and Parliament, their assertion of sovereignty, and the Declaration’s process of revision. Upon completion of the lesson, students will be familiar with the document’s origins, and the influences that produced Jefferson’s “expression of the American mind.”
This lesson looks at Thomas Paine and at some of the ideas presented in his pamphlet Common Sense, such as national unity, natural rights, the illegitimacy of the monarchy and of hereditary aristocracy, and the necessity for independence and the revolutionary struggle.
This lesson focuses on the chief objections of the Anti-federalists, especially The Federal Farmer (Richard Henry Lee), Centinel, and Brutus, regarding the extended republic. Students become familiar with the larger issues surrounding this debate, including the nature of the American Union, the difficulties of uniting such a vast territory with a diverse multitude of regional interests, and the challenges of maintaining a free republic as the American people moved toward becoming a nation rather than a mere confederation of individual states.
In September of 1787, the delegates to the Convention in Philadelphia presented their work to the American public for ratification. The proposed Constitution marked a clear departure from the Articles of Confederation, which had essentially established a federal “league of friendship” between thirteen sovereign and largely independent states. Under the newly proposed plan of government, the union between the states would be strengthened under a national government that derived its authority—at least in part—directly from the American people rather than purely from the state legislatures. And under the new Constitution, the people would be represented equally in the House, regardless of the state in which they lived—unlike the Articles of Confederation, according to which the Continental Congress equally represented the states. In other words, the proposed Constitution would make the United States a nation of one people rather than a loose confederation of states.
The proposed Constitution, and the change it wrought in the nature of the American Union, spawned one of the greatest political debates of all time. In addition to the state ratifying conventions, the debates also took the form of a public conversation, mostly through newspaper editorials, with Anti-federalists on one side objecting to the Constitution, and Federalists on the other supporting it. Writers from both sides tried to persuade the public that precious liberty and self-government, hard-earned during the late Revolution, were at stake in the question.
Anti-federalists such as the Federal Farmer, Centinel, and Brutus argued that the new Constitution would eventually lead to the dissolution of the state governments, the consolidation of the Union into “one great republic” under an unchecked national government, and as a result the loss of free, self-government. Brutus especially believed that in such an extensive and diverse nation, nothing short of despotism “could bind so great a country under one government.” Federalists such as James Madison (writing as Publius) countered that it was precisely a large nation, in conjunction with a well-constructed system of government, which would help to counter the “mortal disease” of popular governments: the “dangerous vice” of majority faction. In an extended republic, interests would be multiplied, Madison argued, making it difficult for a majority animated by one interest to unite and oppress the minority. If such a faction did form, a frame of government that included “auxiliary precautions” such as separation of powers and legislative checks and balances would help to prevent the “factious spirit” from introducing “instability, injustice, and confusion … into the public councils.”
In this unit, students will examine the arguments of Anti-federalists against and Federalists for the extended republic that would result from the new Constitution. They will become familiar with some of the greatest thinkers on both sides of the argument and their reasons for opposing or supporting the Constitution. They will learn why Anti-federalists believed that a large nation could not long preserve liberty and self-government. They will also learn why Federalists such as James Madison believed that a large nation was vital to promote justice and the security of rights for all citizens, majority and minority alike. Finally, students will see the seriousness of the question as one that both sides believed would determine the happiness, liberty, and safety of future generations of Americans.
Review each lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and links from EDSITEment-reviewed websites. Download and print out selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
These Text Documents contain excerpted versions of the documents used in the activities, as well as questions for students to answer.
Analyzing primary sources:
If your students lack experience in dealing with primary sources, you might use one or more preliminary exercises to help them develop these skills. The Learning Page at the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress includes a set of such activities. Another useful resource is the Digital Classroom of the National Archives, which features a set of Document Analysis Worksheets.
…tactics…is only a small part of generalship. For a general must also be capable of furnishing military equipment and providing supplies for the men; he must be resourceful, active, careful, hardy and quick-witted; he must be both gentle and brutal, at once straightforward and designing, capable of both caution and surprise, lavish and rapacious, generous and mean, skilful in defense and attack; and there are many other qualifications, some natural, some acquired, that are necessary to one who would succeed as a general.
—Attributed to Socrates in The Memorabilia (3.1.5-3.1.6) by Xenophon on the EDSITEment resource The Perseus Digital Library
I cannot insist too strongly how I was surprised by the American Army. It is truly incredible that troops almost naked, poorly paid, and composed of old men and children and Negroes should behave so well on the march and under fire. —Attributed to a French Officer in George Washington: Life Before the Presidency on the EDSITEment-reviewed website The American President
George Washington's early military career (1754-1758)—during the Seven Years' War—was not uniformly successful. In his first battle, he and his men were ambushed and forced to surrender Fort Necessity on the Pennsylvania frontier. Washington's reputation for leadership and courage was based on his actions in another defeat at the hands of the French. In that battle, at Fort Duquesne (1755, often called the "Battle of the Wilderness" or "Braddock's Defeat"), Washington had two horses shot from under him and eventually had to assume command from the mortally wounded General Edward Braddock. Washington led the surviving British and Colonial soldiers on a successful retreat.
Later (1775-1783), Washington would lead the Patriots to a surprising victory over Great Britain, "…the best-trained, best-equipped fighting force in the Western world. …Although he lost most of his battles with the British, year after year he held his ragtag, hungry army together"—from the EDSITEment resource The American President.
What combination of experience, strategy, and personal characteristics enabled Washington to succeed as a military leader?
In this unit, students will read the Continental Congress's resolutions granting powers to General Washington; analyze some of Washington's wartime orders, dispatches, and correspondence in terms of his mission and the characteristics of a good general; and study—with frequent reference to primary material—four battles. In the final lesson in the unit, students will take one last measure of Washington. They will examine his words in response to a proposal that he become the head of a military dictatorship and a movement among some disaffected soldiers to circumvent civilian authority.