• Lesson 3: Abraham Lincoln and Wartime Politics

    Created July 17, 2010
    The re-election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency in 1864

    This lesson will look at the partisan political issues which emerged in the election of 1864 around Abraham Lincoln's role as a wartime president. Through an examination of primary documents, students will focus on Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, the Emancipation Proclamation, his decision to arm the freed slaves, his refusal to accept a compromise peace with the South, and the election of 1864.

  • Lesson 1: On the Eve of War: North vs. South

    Created July 17, 2010
    A Confederate artillery battery at Charleston, South Carolina

    This lesson will examine the economic, military and diplomatic strengths and weaknesses of the North and South on the eve of the Civil War. In making these comparisons students will use maps and read original documents to decide which side, if any, had an overall advantage at the start of the war.

  • Lesson 2: The First Inaugural Address (1861)—Defending the American Union

    Photo of Lincoln’s first Inauguration, March 4, 1861. The Nation was on the  brink of war.

    Abraham Lincoln felt that the attempt of seven states to leave the American union peacefully was, in fact, a total violation of law and order. This lesson will examine Lincoln's First Inaugural Address to understand why he thought his duty as president required him to treat secession as an act of rebellion and not a legitimate legal or constitutional action by disgruntled states.

  • "Common Sense": The Rhetoric of Popular Democracy

    Thomas Paine

    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.

  • Lesson 3: The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854: Popular Sovereignty and the Political Polarization over Slavery

    Stephen A. Douglas

    Popular sovereignty allowed the settlers of a federal territory to decide the slavery question without interference from Congress. This lesson plan will examine how the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 affected the political balance between free and slave states and explore how its author, Stephen Douglas, promoted its policy of popular sovereignty in an effort to avoid a national crisis over slavery in the federal territories.

  • Lesson 1: Anti-federalist Arguments Against "A Complete Consolidation"

    Richard Henry Lee (1732–1794)

    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.

  • 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.

  • Lesson 1: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nonviolent Resistance

    Photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr.

    By examining King's famous essay in defense of nonviolent protest, along with two significant criticisms of his direct action campaign, this lesson will help students assess various alternatives for securing civil rights for black Americans in a self-governing society.

    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

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



    The Unit


    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-reviewed Educator Resources section of the National Archives website. 

    …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 (PDF of Madison's full remarks here)

    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.

    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


    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
    • 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