• Lesson 1: An Early Threat of Secession: The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Nullification Crisis

    Created July 18, 2010
    Henry Clay, author of the Missouri Compromise.

    Americans affirmed their independence with the ringing declaration that “all men are created equal.” But some of them owned African slaves, and were unwilling to give them up as they formed new federal and state governments. So “to form a more perfect union” in 1787, certain compromises were made in the Constitution regarding slavery. This settled the slavery controversy for the first few decades of the American republic, but this situation changed with the application of Missouri for statehood in 1819.

  • Lesson 3: The Monroe Doctrine: A Close Reading

    Thomas Jefferson played a role in the development of the so-called Monroe  Doctrine.

    To what events in United States and European foreign affairs does the Monroe Doctrine refer? What was the primary purpose behind the Monroe Doctrine?

  • Lesson 3: Religion and the Fight for American Independence

    Commander of the Continental Army, George Washington

    Using primary documents, this lesson explores how religion aided and hindered the American war effort; specifically, it explores how Anglican loyalists and Quaker pacifists responded to the outbreak of hostilities and how the American revolutionaries enlisted religion in support of the fight for independence.

  • Lesson 1: Fragment on the Constitution and Union (1861)—The Purpose of the American Union

    Library of  Congress image of 1860 campaign illustration of Republican nominee Abraham Lincoln

    How did Abraham Lincoln understand the relationship between principles of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution? In this lesson students will examine Lincoln's "Fragment on the Constitution and Union," a brief but insightful reflection on the importance of the ideal of individual liberty to the constitutional structure and operation of the American union written in the last days of December 1860 when his election as president had brought the crisis of the American "house divided" to a head.

    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    The First American Party System: Events, Issues, and Positions (3 Lessons)



    The Unit


    Jefferson's revolutionary viewpoints soon shaped the beginnings of a profound split in American politics. On one side, centering on the figure of the secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, were those favoring an energetic federal government, a strong presidency, and ties to England. On the other side, centered on Thomas Jefferson, were those favoring a less dynamic national government, a limited presidency, and ties to revolutionary France.
    —From His Empire of Liberty on the EDSITEment resource The American President

    The idea of a legitimate opposition—recognized opposition, organized and free enough in its activities to be able to displace an existing government by peaceful means—is an immensely sophisticated idea, and it was not an idea that the Fathers found fully developed and ready to hand when they began their enterprise in republican constitutionalism in 1788.
    —Richard Hofstadter in The Idea of a Party System (University of California Press, 1970. p. 8.)

    Fear of factionalism and political parties was deeply rooted in Anglo-American political culture before the American Revolution. Leaders such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson hoped their new government, founded on the Constitution, would be motivated instead by a common intent, a unity. Though dominant, these sentiments were not held by all Americans. A delegate to the Massachusetts ratifying convention, for example, asserted that “competition of interest…between those persons who are in and those who are out office, will ever form one important check to the abuse of power in our representatives.” (Quoted in Hofstader, p. 36) Hamilton argued from a slightly different perspective in Federalist #70: “In the legislature, promptitude of decision is oftener an evil than a benefit. The differences of opinion, and the jarrings of parties in that department of the government, though they may sometimes obstruct salutary plans, yet often promote deliberation and circumspection, and serve to check excesses in the majority.”

    Political parties did form in the United States and had their beginnings in Washington's cabinet. Jefferson, who resigned as Washington's Secretary of State in 1793, and James Madison, who first began to oppose the policies of Alexander Hamilton while a member of the House of Representatives, soon united, as Jefferson wrote in his will, "in the same principles and pursuits of what [they] deemed for the greatest good of our country" (on the Thomas Jefferson Digital Archive, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website The American President). Together, they were central to the creation of the first political party in the United States. In the meantime, those who supported Hamilton began to organize their own party, thus leading to the establishment of a two-party system.

    In this unit, students will read the philosophical and policy statements of Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and others to better understand the nature and positions of the first political parties in the United States.

    Guiding Questions

    • What constitutes a legitimate opposition in a democracy? What is a political party in a democracy?
    • What differences in philosophy led to the development of the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties?
    • What events and issues were important in causing the differences in opinion?
    • What were the key positions of the parties?
    • What are the essential elements of an organized political party?

    Learning Objectives

    • Cite critical factors leading to the development of the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans.
    • Summarize the key positions of the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans and the reasoning behind those positions.

    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.
    • The philosophical differences that arose during the Constitutional Convention and the ratification process that followed laid the foundation for the political divisions that emerged and solidified once the new government was in place. Article VII of the Constitution provided for ratification by the states, stipulating that approval by nine states would be sufficient for adoption. Support for the new government was mixed. Supporters called themselves Federalists and dubbed their opponents Anti-Federalists. These labels referred to groups that formed for the sole purpose of debating the merits of the Constitution, deciding whether it should be adopted, and, if so, determining what conditions should be placed on its acceptance. Though sharply divided on issues relating to the new framework of government, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists did not adopt the organizational elements associated with formal political parties. Furthermore, the divisions that arose during the ratification process were different from the alignments that emerged during Washington’s administration. Madison, for example was closely aligned with Hamilton during the struggle for ratification but led the opposition to Hamilton’s Federalist Party throughout the 1790s. Exactly when philosophical differences coalesced into recognizable political parties is open to debate. According to the Encyclopedia of American History (Morris and Morris, Harper Collins, 1996):

      Competent latter-day authorities differ over the approximate date of origin of these parties. Among the dates indicated for their definite emergence are 1787-88 (C.A. Beard), 1791-92 (J.S. Bassett: D. Malone), 1792-1793 (N. Cunningham) and 1798 (O.G.Libby).

    Additional information on the positions of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists may be found in the EDSITEment lessons Before and Beyond the Constitution: Chief Executives Compared: The Federalist Papers and The Constitutional Convention: Four Founding Fathers You May Never Have Met.

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level


    Subject Areas
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
    • History and Social Studies
    • History and Social Studies > Themes
    • 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
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Debate
    • Discussion
    • Historical analysis
    • Interpretation
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Textual analysis
    • Using archival documents
    • Using primary sources