Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington
Credit: Courtesy of American Memory
George Washington became President—reluctantly—at a critical time in the history of the United States. The Confederation had threatened to unravel; the weak central government (which included a weak executive with the sole responsibility of presiding over meetings of Congress and no special power to initiate laws beyond that of any member of Congress, enforce laws, or check acts of Congress) created by the Articles of Confederation had failed. As part of its goal to form a "more perfect" government, The Constitution of the United States defined a new role for the executive, the President, in a much stronger federal system. However, a definition on paper and a President in practice could be two very different things. In this activity, students review the responsibilities and powers of the President as intended by the Founders and as practiced during Washington's precedent-setting terms in office.
Review the chart “The Chief Executive” that the class filled in on the previous day or during Lesson Two, Chief Executives Compared: The Federalist Papers, paying special attention to items 4 through 9 under the Constitution.
After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to:
Gather a list of accomplishments of George Washington in his tenure as the first President of the United States from your textbook and other sources. Some EDSITEment-reviewed websites are:
Match Washington's accomplishments with your class list of the powers and responsibilities of the President.
Now have each student write on one page, in large, neat letters, an executive power or responsibility. Then students should illustrate on another page a matching event from George Washington's Presidency, including an appropriate caption. These could be put together to make a book, but first they will be used for a game (see the Assessment section).
Can students find statements about the powers and responsibilities Hamilton discussed?
Are any aspects of the Executive as described in the Constitution different from Hamilton's discussion?
Students can also read a summary of the powers and responsibilities of the President in Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids: The President, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library.
Remind students that, as the first President under the Constitution, George Washington was constantly setting precedents. He did a lot to define in practice what was written in the Constitution.
For more specific information on the role of President under the Articles of Confederation, consult the companion EDSITEment curriculum unit Lost Hero: Who Was Really Our First President?
2-3 class periods