Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

James Madison: From Father of the Constitution to President (4 Lessons)

Tools

Share

The Unit

Overview

Q. Who was called the "Father of the Constitution"? A. James Madison, of Virginia, because in point of erudition and actual contributions to the formation of the Constitution, he was preeminent.
—From Constitution Q and A on the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom

…if the letter of the Constitution is strictly adhered to, and if no flexibility is allowed, no power could be exercised by Congress, and all the good that might be reasonably expected from an efficient government would be entirely frustrated.
— James Madison, February 2, 1791, from James Madison Debates the Constitutionality of a National Bank on The James Madison Center, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website The American President

The Framers gave us a document durable and flexible enough to take us from the agrarian land of the 18th century, of the musket, the axe and the plow-to the country we know today, of the Internet and the human genome and a thousand different cultures living together in one nation like a glittering mosaic.
—Michael Beschloss at the ceremony to unveil page two of the Constitution in its new encasement, September 15, 2000, in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building, Washington, D.C. (available on the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom)

Even in its first 30 years of existence, the U.S. Constitution had to prove its durability and flexibility in a variety of disputes. More often than not, James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," took part in the discussion. Madison had been present at the document's birth as the mastermind behind the so-called Virginia Plan. He had worked tirelessly for its ratification including authoring 29 Federalist Papers, and he continued to be a concerned guardian of the Constitution as it matured. However, it should be noted that Madison chose not to allow his notes from the Constitutional Convention to be published until after his death,

In the early years of the Republic, Madison held a variety of offices, both appointed and elected. At other times, he was part of the loyal opposition. Both in office and out, he played an important role in the continuing debate [stet]. Virtually every important event was precedent-setting, raising crucial questions about how the constitution should be interpreted and implemented. How should the Constitution be applied to situations not specified in the text? How can balance be achieved between the power of the states and that of the federal government? How can a balance of power be achieved among the three branches of the federal government? In this curriculum unit, Madison's words will help students understand the constitutional issues involved in some controversies that arose during Madison's presidency.

Guiding Questions

  • How was Madison involved in the creation and implementation of the Constitution?
  • What events during Madison's presidency raised constitutional questions?
  • What were the constitutional issues that arose during his presidency?
  • What positions did Madison take on each of these issues?
  • Did his thinking evolve and, if so, what factors influenced his thinking and actions?

Learning Objectives

  • List reasons why Madison is called the "Father of the Constitution."
  • Summarize three significant issues during Madison's presidency that raised constitutional questions.
  • Explain the constitutional questions raised by these events.
  • Discuss Madison's opinions on the constitutional questions.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
  • Download the Master PDF. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.
  • In Lesson One, a graphic organizer helps students see how involved James Madison was in the major events of his time. Though the lesson can stand alone, it works to demonstrate Madison's importance and to show why his opinions are so central to understanding the on-going process of creating a working democracy based on the Constitution. EDSITEment offers the following complementary lessons you may want to use in part or whole:
  • Lesson One helps students see that James Madison had connections to many of the important events of the day. Among other things, he:
    • served in the Continental Congress before and while the Articles of Confederation were in effect;
    • conceived the Virginia Plan, which became the foundation of the Constitution;
    • worked to get the Constitution ratified (by writing many Federalist Papers, for example);
    • became the principal author of the Bill of Rights while serving in the House of Representatives;
    • served as Secretary of State during Jefferson's administrations;
    • as Secretary of State, supported Jefferson with the Louisiana Purchase;
    • co-founded the Democratic-Republican Party, which favored a strict interpretation of the Constitution and less power for the central government;
    • raised serious objections to the Alien and Sedition Acts in the Virginia Resolutions and elsewhere;
    • served as President during the War of 1812;
    • signed the act establishing the Second National Bank;
    • supported internal improvements, such as the Cumberland Road and the Erie Canal, but felt there should be a constitutional amendment making it clear that the central government had the authority to raise money for and administer such projects.

      The focus here is not an in-depth understanding of the specifics (such as the Virginia Resolutions), though many of those issues are covered in the related EDSITEment lessons listed above. This lesson asks students to understand how the Constitution has been applied and to appreciate the depth of Madison's involvement with that document and many controversies surrounding its interpretation.
  • There are a variety of ways in which this curriculum unit can be used. Lessons Two, Three, and Four each deal with a single event during Madison's presidency that raised constitutional questions—the chartering of the Second National Bank, the raising of an army for the War of 1812, and the need for the country to make internal improvements. You can complete all three lessons in a whole-class setting. You might choose only one for your class as an example of constitutional interpretation. Each lesson strives to raise the level of student appreciation for the relevance of the Constitution to the events in Madison's presidency and the importance of Madison's opinions, even though he did not always prevail. Each event raises constitutional issues of interest. Another option is to split the class into three or six groups, each of which takes on Lessons Two, Three, and Four and then reports back to the class.

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
Skills
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Textual analysis
  • Using archival documents
  • Using primary sources
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 (3 Lessons)

Tools

Share

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 > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • 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
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

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

Tools

Share

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 > U.S. > Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Culture
  • 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

Reference Shelf

Evaluating Online Resources

All sorts of information can be found on the Internet, including misinformation, false information, and sheer fabrication.

No central authority reviews and verifies the content of web pages on the Internet. You as an individual are wholly responsible for evaluating the quality and validity of the information presented. Assessing Internet information, based on a few simple indicators can provide students in the humanities with constant practice in thinking critically about the nature of research and evidence.