Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

Competing Voices of the Civil Rights Movement (2 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

When most people think of the Civil Rights Movement in America, they think of Martin Luther King, Jr. Delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and receiving the Nobel Peace Prize the following year secured his fame as the voice of non-violent, mass protest in the 1960s. But "the Movement" achieved its greatest results—the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Ac—due to the competing strategies and agendas of diverse individuals. Even black Americans, the primary beneficiaries of this landmark legislation, did not agree on the tactics that should be used to secure the equal protection of their rights. This unit presents the views of several important black leaders who shaped the debate over how to achieve freedom and equality in a nation that had long denied a portion of the American citizenry the full protection of their rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. first came to national prominence through his leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955-56, which helped desegregate public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama. A gifted preacher and committed pacifist, King thought that non-violent, direct action against racial segregation provided the best means of securing the full integration of blacks into the mainstream of American life. As he wrote in his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," "I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek."

The connection between means and ends was not lost on a competing voice in the debate over civil rights—Joseph H. Jackson. The president of the National Baptist Convention from 1953 to 1982, Jackson argued that black Americans could not afford to use methods that would "substitute panic and anarchy in the place of law and order." In particular, Jackson thought that civil disobedience undermined the very goal of the Civil Rights Movement—the full protection of the law for all citizens. More constructive, less provocative, means should be pursued by black Americans to promote progress in a nation with a majority-white population.

It was precisely the white population of America that Malcolm X took issue with in the years he served as chief spokesman for the Nation of Islam (sometimes referred to as the Black Muslims). Believing that blacks were God's chosen people, Malcolm X preached that they should separate from whites, who were destined for divine punishment because of their longstanding oppression of blacks. As he once remarked, "You don't integrate with a sinking ship." Whites had proven they were long on professing and short on practicing their ideals of equality and freedom, and so Malcolm X thought only a separate nation for blacks could provide the basis for their self-improvement and advancement as a people.

Upon completing this unit, students should have a better understanding of the diversity of voices that shaped the debate over civil rights in 1960s America.

Guiding Questions

  • Was King's nonviolent resistance to segregation laws, as opposed to working within the bounds of the law and courts, the best means of securing civil rights for black Americans in the 1960s?
  • Is the separate black nation proposed by Malcolm X a better or nobler goal than "the beloved community" of Martin Luther King, Jr.? What would Americans need to believe, and how would they need to act, in order to achieve Malcolm X's goal as opposed to King's goal?

Learning Objectives

  • Explain Martin Luther King, Jr.'s concept of nonviolent resistance and the role of civil disobedience within it.
  • Articulate the primary concerns of the Alabama clergymen who rejected King's intervention in Birmingham's racial conflicts in 1963.
  • Describe how King defended his nonviolent campaign to the Alabama clergymen.
  • Explain why the president of the National Baptist Convention, Joseph H. Jackson, thought King's protest methods were unproductive and un-American, and articulate the alternatives he recommended to secure civil rights for black Americans.
  • Evaluate the merits of the argument between King on one side of the debate, and the Alabama clergymen and Jackson on the other, and decide which view could better secure civil rights for black Americans.
  • Explain why Malcolm X believed black Americans needed a nation of their own-separate from the United States-to improve themselves, and why he thought integration was a false hope for blacks in America.
  • Articulate the reasons why Malcolm X thought integration was a false hope for blacks in America.
  • Explain why Malcolm X disagreed with both the goal and the method of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s nonviolent protest strategy.
  • Give reasons for the hope Martin Luther King, Jr. had that America could be peacefully integrated.
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments of both King and Malcolm X, and judge which approach better secures civil rights for black Americans.

Preparation Instructions

Review the lesson plans in the unit. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and links from EDSITEment-reviewed websites used in this lesson. Download and print out selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing. Alternatively, excerpted versions of these documents are available as part of the downloadable PDFss.

Download the Text Documents for the lessons, available as PDFs. These files contain excerpted versions of the documents used in each lesson, as well as questions for students to answer. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of the handouts you plan to use in class.

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.

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > People > African American
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Debate
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Oral presentation skills
  • Report writing
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
  • Visual analysis
  • Writing skills
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

Abraham Lincoln on the American Union: "A Word Fitly Spoken" (4 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

This unit explores the political thought of Abraham Lincoln on the subject of American union. For him, the union was not just a structure to govern the national interests of American states; it also represented a consensus about the future of freedom in America—a future where slavery would eventually be eliminated and liberty protected as the birthright of every human being. Students will examine Lincoln's three most famous speeches—the Gettysburg Address and the First and Second Inaugural Addresses—in addition to a little known fragment on the Constitution, union, and liberty to see what they say regarding the significance of union to the prospects for American self-government.

Although Lincoln did not attend high school or college, he possessed a logical and inquisitive mind that found clarity in working out legal and political problems on paper. One fragment he wrote after the 1860 presidential election addressed how the Constitution and union were informed by the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln wrote that while America's prosperity was dependent upon the union of the states, "the primary cause" was the principle of "Liberty to all." He believed this central ideal of free government embraced all human beings, and concluded that the American revolution would not have succeeded if its goal was "a mere change of masters." For Lincoln, union meant a particular kind of government of the states, one whose equality principle "clears the path for all—gives hope to all—and, by consequence, enterprize, and industry to all."

As president of the United States, Lincoln used his First and Second Inaugural Addresses to explore the meaning of the American union in the face of a divided country. Upon assuming the presidency for the first time, he spoke at length about the nature of union, why secession was antithetical to self-government, and how the federal constitution imposed a duty upon him to defend the union of the states from rebellious citizens. When he was reelected four years later, and as the Civil War drew to a close, Lincoln transcended both Northern triumphalism and Southern defiance by offering a providential reading of the war and emancipation in hopes of reuniting the country.

In his most famous speech, delivered upon the dedication of a national cemetery at the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Lincoln gave a brief but profound meditation on the meaning of the Civil War and American union. With the Emancipation Proclamation as a new and pivotal development of the federal war effort, Lincoln sought to explain why the war to preserve the Union had to become a war to secure the freedom of former slaves. The nation would need to experience "a new birth of freedom" so that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Upon completing this unit, students should have a better understanding of why Lincoln revered the union of the American states as "the last best, hope of earth."

Guiding Questions

  • How did Lincoln understand the principles of the Declaration of Independence as the goal of the American union?
  • How did Lincoln defend the Union from states seeking to leave or "secede" from the Union?
  • How did Lincoln see the Civil War as an opportunity for the nation to bring forth a "new birth of freedom" (or liberty for all), and why was this necessary for the survival of American self-government?
  • How did Lincoln seek to restore the American union as the Civil War drew to a close?

Learning Objectives

  • Explain what Lincoln thought was the chief cause of America's prosperity.
  • Explain the principles of human equality and government by consent expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
  • Show how the principles of the Declaration represent the aim of the American union and constitution.
  • Articulate how Lincoln used a verse from Proverbs to symbolize the relationship between the principle of individual freedom and the practice of constitutional self-government.
  • Explain provisions of the federal constitution that Lincoln believed empowered him to defend the American union from attempts at secession.
  • Explain how South Carolina, as the first state to try to leave the Union, defended her attempt to secede upon Lincoln's election to the presidency.
  • Articulate why Lincoln thought he had a constitutional obligation as president to preserve the Union from attempts at secession.
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the pro-Union and pro-secession arguments, and decide which argument is the most philosophically defensible.
  • Explain why some Northern Democrats criticized Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
  • Explain why Lincoln thought July 4, 1776, was the birthday of the United States.
  • Articulate the connection Lincoln made between emancipation and preserving the Union.
  • Describe the "unfinished task" that Lincoln presented to the American people at Gettysburg.
  • Describe the historical context for Lincoln's second inauguration as president.
  • Articulate some of the concerns of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, a leader of the Radical Republicans, who controlled Congress after the election of 1864.
  • Describe the mood of the South as reflected in Confederate President Jefferson Davis's rhetoric in early 1865.
  • Explain Lincoln's understanding of how the war began, its relation to slavery, and the role of God in the conflict.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the lesson plans in the unit. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and links from EDSITEment-reviewed websites used in this lesson. Download and print out selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing. Alternatively, excerpted versions of these documents are available as part of the downloadable PDFs listed on the left-hand sidebar under "Additional Student/Teacher Resources."
  • Download the Text Documents for the lessons, available as PDFs. These files contain excerpted versions of the documents used in each lesson, as well as questions for students to answer. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of the handouts you plan to use in class.
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.

Unit Lesson Plans

Each lesson in this unit is designed to stand alone; taken together they present a robust portrait of how Lincoln viewed the American union. If there is not sufficient time to use all four lessons in the unit, either the first or third lesson convey Lincoln's understanding of the American union as a means to securing "Liberty to all"—with the first lesson focusing on the principled connection between the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and the third lesson addressing the practical connection between the Union war effort, the freedom of the newly emancipated slaves, and the preservation of American self-government. Adding the second lesson would show why Lincoln's understanding of the union and Constitution obliged the president to defend the nation from secession. Adding the fourth lesson would explore how Lincoln thought that only a common memory of the war as the chastening of God to both sides for the national (not Southern) sin of slavery could restore national unity.

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > People > African American
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Culture
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > People > Women
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Reform
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Religion
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Slavery
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Developing a hypothesis
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
  • Writing skills
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

The Battle Over Reconstruction (3 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

As the Civil War drew to a close, the social, political and economic conditions within the rebellious southern states fueled discussion about how to restore them to the Union. This series of lesson plans will examine the nature and extent of some of these social, political and economic conditions and how they worked to shape the debate about restoring southern states to the Union as well as their lasting impact in shaping the national debate in the years following Reconstruction.

Beyond the obvious material destruction, there was more to reconstruct in the South than buildings, farms, manufacturing and railroads—there were social and political relationships to rebuild. Yet, it is impossible to understand Reconstruction fully without a grasp of the social and economic upheaval the war brought with it. For the people living through the times, this upheaval created a situation that demanded immediate attention. Economically, the South had been shattered, with much of its capital—formerly invested in slaves—lost. Fields remained untilled and fallow. Capital that during the war had been invested in manufacturing to a much larger extent than it had been before the war, was now laid to waste with many of the South’s factories in ruins. Beyond these tangible losses there was the devastating cost in human life. More than one-fifth of the South’s adult white male population (some 260,000) was lost fighting for the Confederacy. In addition, the great majority of black soldiers who had fought and died in the Union army were from the South. Its losses in manpower, therefore, was monumental.

Another consideration in post-bellum America was a new question for southern society: What would be the role of the newly freed black population of the South? What would be the social relationship between this new community and its former white masters? The South faced a newly freed workforce that grew more and more recalcitrant, refusing to work for former masters (very often with good cause), whatever the pay. Old habits of social interaction had to be reconsidered and, most often, unlearned. Thus, even if the South could quickly show some signs of economic recovery, solving the problems posed by social reconstruction would prove to be a much more difficult and lengthy proposition.

The political process of Reconstruction, on the other hand, had begun before the war ended. In some states—like Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana—where earlier Union victories had been so complete as to take them out of the Confederacy for practical purposes, the populations had already taken steps in the direction of re-establishing former relations with the Union. For Abraham Lincoln, it was impossible to separate Reconstruction policy from war policy. Reunification was the central object of the war for Lincoln. Because of that, Lincoln believed that a swift procedure for Reconstruction—taking place, in effect, as Union victories gradually spread throughout the South—would aid in the effort to bring the war to a speedy end. In order to encourage a speedy process of Reconstruction, Lincoln argued for generous terms of amnesty to former rebels and encouraged lenient processes for restoring states to their former relations with the Union.

Many in Congress, however, had a different view. Upon receiving Lincoln’s “Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction” these members were indignant. Apart from the content, which a number viewed as too gentle toward the South, some legislators argued that Lincoln’s proclamation flew in the face of Congress’ presumed sovereignty in the matter. Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania argued that Lincoln’s plan for allowing only 10% of a state’s electorate to put forward a constitution was contrary to democratic theory and the principle of majority rule. Further, many members argued that the states joining the Confederacy had, in effect, “committed suicide” and had to be re-established from the ground up in the same way territories or conquered foreign lands would be organized.

Whatever virtues there were in Lincoln’s less strident and less specific plan for Reconstruction, however, may also have contributed to its weakness. Because its success depended so much on Lincoln’s own judgment, discretion, and persuasive abilities, his assassination on April 14, 1865 was a devastating loss to its operation. Lincoln’s Vice President, Andrew Johnson, shared Lincoln’s view that reconstruction ought to be directed from the White House, but he lacked much of Lincoln’s political savvy and understanding and shared almost none of his forgiving nature or charm with the people.

After the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and the ascendancy of Congress in directing Reconstruction policy, the realities of enforcing their well-meaning goals soon dimmed the enthusiasm of many Republicans. Though Republicans made quick and huge political gains in the South as newly enfranchised black voters rushed to their support, it was clear that the party and its ideals of peace through racial and sectional harmony on Republican terms remained unpopular with large segments of the population—particularly with those who were disenfranchised because they could not take the “oath” or otherwise prove their loyalty to the Union. This meant that the huge majorities Republicans then enjoyed were, so to speak, operating on borrowed time.

Southern governments frequently were in the hands of political novices: for example, inexperienced (and sometimes illiterate) freedmen and—worse yet, from the point of view of many Southern loyalists—Northerners who had moved south in the wake of war to assist in the recovery effort. These conditions made it quite difficult for the Republican Party to get much of a foothold in the South among any except black voters and those who had relocated from the North. It also made it difficult to enforce Republican plans for Reconstruction and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

As resistance and violence continued to spread in the South, Republican resolve began to weaken. Maintaining a visible and active presence of Union troops in the South to facilitate the peaceful operation of government and Reconstruction was expensive and frustrating to many in Congress. Moreover, the horrors of the late war were alive in the memories of most Americans and the real or imagined threat of resumed and open hostilities operated with more persuasive force than the best of arguments.

President Ulysses S. Grant had been elected partly because he seemed to show promise of strong executive leadership, but also because he was viewed in the afterglow of his wartime success. But in his first showdown with Congress upon being elected, Grant backed down and accepted a compromise proposal with the Senate even after the House had voted to join him in his opposition to the Tenure of Office Act. This show of weakness seemed to set the tone for Grant’s administration (1869-77) which, though it seemed to offer some promise to restore order and sanity to the South, actually accomplished very little in this realm.

In part, Grant’s administration suffered because of some real and some exaggerated charges of corruption—most of which did not directly involve Grant but tarnished him (and, eventually, Congress) nonetheless. The impact of scandal on the national political debate was real. It contributed to a chastening of Republican ambitions in the South and forced the party to concentrate on maintaining its base of support in the North rather than growing the party in Dixie. This helped to shape the national political debate for generations.

The “official” era of Reconstruction came to a close with the Compromise of 1877. In that “compromise,” Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won a tight race for the Presidency with just one electoral vote—on the condition that all federal troops be removed from the South and a southern Democrat be named to his cabinet.

In all, the history of Reconstruction was an object lesson in the limitations of persuasion in politics—as was the history of the Civil War that preceded it. The great political battles of the era were full of interesting reflections and assertions about the nature and purpose of America and American government. The passage of the 14th Amendment and Civil Rights legislation were great victories for the advocates of equality under the law. But in the end, events overpowered the best thinking on both sides of this divide and the impact of these great victories was left to be felt and interpreted by a new generation of Americans. Much of the legislation enacted in the name of racial equality was to be undone in the coming years by rulings coming from the Supreme Court (Plessy v. Ferguson, The Civil Rights Cases, etc.) and then to be taken up again in the Civil Rights struggles of the 20th century. In many ways, we continue these struggles in our politics today.

Guiding Questions

  • How did the experience of social and political upheaval from the Civil War influence people to think about the process of Reconstruction?
  • What were the leading differences between Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, and the Radical Republicans in Congress when it came to Reconstruction?
  • Which of the leaders had the best and most realistic understanding of what was needed?
  • How did the results of Reconstruction policy shape the politics of the reconstructed states and the nation at large?

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the general character of the social conditions within the nation in the aftermath of war.
  • Demonstrate the ability to navigate through a statistical map interactive and use information gathered there to inform an understanding of the political, social, and economic crisis confronting the nation during Reconstruction.
  • Distinguish the central and driving ideas at work in original documents surrounding Reconstruction and be able to discuss their impact on events.
  • Identify specific problems that may have emerged given the attitudes and conditions prevalent in the defeated South.
  • Discuss how these attitudes and ideas may have helped or hindered Reconstruction.
  • Describe the constitutional claims of both the President and the Congress (in the generic rather than specific sense) for controlling Reconstruction policy.
  • Give a general accounting of the differences between some of the leading representatives in Congress and both Presidents Lincoln and Johnson.
  • Distinguish between the purposes of Johnson and Lincoln in advocating a stronger executive role.
  • Explain how the divisions between President Johnson and the Congress eventually led to his impeachment.
  • Distinguish between the main and competing visions for Reconstruction as they began to emerge at the end of the Civil War.
  • Distinguish the central and driving ideas at work in original documents surrounding Reconstruction and be able to discuss their impact on events.
  • Describe the general character of the social conditions within the nation in the aftermath of Reconstruction.
  • Demonstrate the ability to navigate through a statistical map interactive.
  • Use information gathered from the interactive maps to inform an understanding of the political, social, and economic problems confronting the nation in the wake of Reconstruction.
  • Distinguish the central and driving ideas at work in the documents used to illustrate this lesson.
  • Identify specific problems that may have emerged as a result of Reconstruction policy in its many and varied permutations.
  • Discuss how these policies may have affected attitudes in the country and, subsequently, how these attitudes helped or hindered politics upon the conclusion of the Reconstruction era.

Preparation Instructions

Review the lesson plans in the unit. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and links from EDSITEment-reviewed websites used in this lesson. Download and print out selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing. Alternatively, excerpted versions of these documents are available as part of the downloadable PDF files.

Download the Text Documents for the lessons, available as PDFs. These files contain excerpted versions of the documents used in each lesson, as well as questions for students to answer. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of the handouts you plan to use in class.

Finally, familiarize yourself with the interactive maps and timeline that accompany this lesson. The interactive maps explore the impact of the war and Reconstruction on the South, while the interactive timeline examines the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and his troubles with the Congress. These interactives are incorporated into several of the activities for this lesson.

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.

The Lessons

  • Lesson 1: The Battle Over Reconstruction: The Aftermath of War

    President Andrew Johnson presided over the early days of Reconstruction.

    This lesson covers two essential aspects of Reconstruction: the condition of the southern states at the close of the war and Lincoln’s plan for restoring them to the Union. In examining the conditions of the southern states, students consider both the physical conditions (i.e., the impact of the devastation of war) and the political condition of these states (i.e., what was the proper relationship between southern states and the Union upon their surrender at Appomattox?)

  • Lesson 2: The Battle Over Reconstruction: The Politics of Reconstruction

    Abolitionist Frederick Douglass

    In reviewing events, documentary evidence, and biographical information, students come to understand the complex nature of political decision-making in the United States. In this lesson, they consider the momentous questions facing the country during the Reconstruction debate by weighing the many factors that went into the solutions offered. Students also think critically as they consider whether and how other solutions might have played out.

  • Lesson 3: The Battle Over Reconstruction: The Aftermath of Reconstruction

    President Ulysses S. Grant presided over the waning days of Reconstruction.

    In this lesson, students examine the development of new constitutions in the reconstructed South. They also consider the political and social realities created by a dramatically changed electorate. In gaining a firmer grasp of the causes for the shifting alliances of this time, students see how far-reaching the consequences of the Civil War and Reconstruction era were and how much these events continue to shape our collective destiny today.

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > People > African American
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
Skills
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical thinking
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Using primary sources
  • Visual analysis
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 (3 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

On the last day of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin observed that he had often wondered whether the design on the president's chair depicted a rising or a setting sun. "Now at length," he remarked, "I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun."

Franklin's optimism came only after many months of debate and argumentation over the form of government that would best secure the future safety and happiness of the young American republic. At times it seemed that the Convention would fail as a result of seemingly irreconcilable views between the delegates, especially on the questions of selecting representatives to Congress, the relationship of the national and state governments, and the powers of the president. After a month of deadlock over the issue of representation, Franklin himself had called for a prayer because "mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom."

The delegates at the 1787 Convention faced a challenge as arduous as those who worked throughout the 1780s to initiate reforms to the American political system. Even before the Convention was authorized to convene, the road to reform was paved with resistance, especially from those who believed that the Articles of Confederation were in little or no need of amendment. In the end, the Convention met, and by the almost miraculous "Connecticut Compromise" was able to fulfill its task of recommending improvements to the American form of government, with only three delegates refusing to sign the final document. Although many challenges to ratification lay ahead, the work of the Convention placed the Union on a more stable basis, and the Constitution continues to be the foundation of American government and political thought to this day.

In this unit, students will examine the roles that key American founders played in creating the Constitution, and the challenges they faced in the process. They will learn why many Americans in the 1780s believed that reforms to the Articles of Confederation were necessary, and the steps taken to authorize the 1787 Convention in Philadelphia. They will become familiar with the main issues that divided delegates at the Convention, particularly the questions of representation in Congress and the office of the presidency. Finally, they will see how a spirit of compromise, in the end, was necessary for the Convention to fulfill its task of improving the American political system.

Guiding Questions

  • Was the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, called for by Congress to recommend amendments to the Articles of Confederation, necessary to preserve the Union?
  • Why was the question of representation such an important issue to the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and what led them to eventually compromise on the question?
  • Why was creating the office of the presidency such an important and difficult task for the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787?

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the steps taken by Americans to bring about the 1787 Convention by placing key events in historical order in a timeline.
  • Discuss actions by several state governments that violated the Articles of Confederation and acts of Congress.
  • Identify the powers of Congress under the Articles of Confederation, and explain why those powers were insufficient to ensure the prosperity and security of the United States.
  • Articulate the views of several American founders about the problems of the American political system in the 1780s.
  • Explain and discuss the schemes of representation in the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Hamilton Plan.
  • Explain the significance of the Connecticut Compromise in resolving the question of representation.
  • Understand and discuss the proposals for the office of the presidency in the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Hamilton Plan, and how these differed from but contributed to the office of the presidency as established by the U.S. Constitution.
  • Articulate how the debates over the office of the presidency often revolved around the American rejection of monarchy.
  • Understand the significance of the Brearly Committee's recommendations in resolving disagreements over the office of the presidency.
  • Explain the tension between the need to give the president sufficient "energy" (i.e., power and independence) and at the same time establish sufficient limitations and controls to prevent the abuse of executive power.

Preparation Instructions

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. Alternatively, excerpted versions of these documents are available as part of the downloadable PDF, such as this one for Lesson Plan One (see sidebar under "Additional Student/Teacher Resources" for full list of files).

Download the PDFs for each lesson, such as this one for Lesson Plan One. This file contains excerpted versions of the documents used in the first and second activities, as well as questions for students to answer. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of the handouts you plan to use in class.

Working with 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. Finally, History Matters offers pages on "Making Sense of Maps" and "Making Sense of Oral History" which give helpful advice to teachers in getting their students to use such sources effectively.

The Lessons

  • Lesson 1: The Road to the Constitutional Convention

    Signing of Constitution, by Howard C. Cristy

    This lesson focuses on the problems under the Articles of Confederation between 1783 and 1786 leading to the 1787 Convention. Through examination of primary sources, students will see why some prominent American founders, more than others, believed that the United States faced a serious crisis, and that drastic changes, rather than minor amendments, to the Articles were necessary.

  • Lesson 2: The Question of Representation at the 1787 Convention

    Signing of Constitution, by Howard C. Cristy

    When the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention convened in May of 1787 to recommend amendments to the Articles of Confederation, one of the first issues they addressed was the plan for representation in Congress. This lesson will focus on the various plans for representation debated during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

  • Lesson 3: Creating the Office of the Presidency

    Signing of Constitution, by Howard C. Cristy

    As the delegates at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 continued to develop a plan of government that would remedy the defects of the Articles of Confederation, one of the most difficult challenges was creating the office of the presidency. This lesson will focus on the arguments over the various characteristics and powers of the office of president as debated during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > People > African American
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Historical analysis
  • Internet skills
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Online research
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
  • Writing skills

After School

Interview your Parents, Family, and Neighbors

Jackie Robinson quoteJack Roosevelt Robinson (1919-72), the first black man to "officially" play in the big leagues in the 20th century, possessed enormous physical talent and a fierce determination to succeed. In the course of a distinguished 10-year career beginning in 1947, Robinson led the Brooklyn Dodgers to six National League titles and one victorious World Series.

  • North Africa and Southern Europe Map

    Created October 5, 2009
  • Character Traits: “To Kill a Mockingbird”

    Created October 5, 2009