Statue of John Hanson by Richard E. Brooks in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.
Credit: Courtesy of Architect of the Capitol
At the time the Founders were shaping the future of a new country, John Adams suggested the President should be addressed as “His Excellency.” Happily, others recognized that such a title was inappropriate. Though the proper form of address represents only a small detail, defining everything about the Presidency was central to the idea of America that was a work-in-progress when the nation was young.
Begin the discussion by asking students if anyone in their families ever makes a “to do list.” Talk about such lists.
Ask students to think carefully about what the Founders had to do to start a brand new country, which officially began with the ratification of the Articles of Confederation on March 1, 1781. Imagine you've just formed a new country. Brainstorm a list of actions the Continental Congress would probably take in starting a new country. Consider the many kinds of things a government does.
Defense against the British and their allies was a matter of grave concern in the early years of the new nation. In fact, the last engagements of the Revolutionary War, as documented on American Memory, did not take place until August 1782:
The exceeding narrow limits to which the possessions of the enemy (the British) are confined by a series of the most judicious and fortunate operations, must be the source of infinite discontent and an inconceivable mortification to their unbounded ambition and intolerable pride; at the same time that it affords every Friend to his Country singular Joy and satisfaction. Nothing can be a more convincing proof of their weakness and hopeless situation, than the base unworthy acts they are practicing and the infamous means they have recourse to, in order to support themselves in their diminishing Conquests and distress us. But I hope every practicable measure will be adopted to defeat their wicked designs. The partial failure of their attempt to embody (enlist) the Tories I consider as a favorable Omen; and as to the Negroes, (the British are trying to convert them to) inhuman purposes. ... But with respect to the savages (Native Americans), every precaution within our power should be used to render the plans of our enemy ineffectual.
… the Battle of Blue Licks, in the Appalachian west, the British and their Indian allies, the Wyandot, Ottawa, Ojibwa, Shawnee, Mingo, and Delaware inflict heavy casualties and force the retreat of Daniel Boone and the Kentucky militia. In response, George Rogers Clark leads Kentucky militia on an expedition against the British into Ohio country. These are often considered the last formal engagements of the Revolutionary War.
The United States in Congress assembled shall have authority … to appoint such other committees and civil officers as may be necessary for managing the general affairs of the United States under their direction -- to appoint one of their members to preside, provided that no person be allowed to serve in the office of president more than one year in any term of three years;
What “rules” applied to the President under the Articles of Confederation? (The responsibility to preside over Congress's meetings, a one-year term, only one term in any three-year period, and nothing else specific in the way of powers or responsibilities.)
What does it mean to preside over a meeting?
What responsibilities does that task entail?
What power could that give the person who presides?
If the term of the President was set at one year, and a candidate could only be elected for that one-year term once every three years, how would those requirements most likely affect the power of the President?
More information on the Articles of Confederation, intended specifically for students in grades 6-8, is available on Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids: The Articles of Confederation, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library.
Write down and save all of students' ideas about what was on the minds of the Founders as they started the new nation. We know what was on some of their "to do lists" because records were kept of what happened in the Continental Congress. In Lesson Two, students will review the Journals of the Continental Congress to find out what was really on the Founders' “to do lists.”
1-2 class periods