Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 2: Chief Executives Compared: The Federalist Papers


The Lesson


Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington

Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory

The Founders were faced with a difficult decision—fix the flawed Articles of Confederation or develop a new system. Essays in favor of the passage of the Constitution by Founders such as Madison and Hamilton were published in the Federalist Papers, available on the EDSITEment resource Avalon Project at the Yale Law School. About the Federalist Papers, available via the Library of Congress, explains:

…the Federalist Papers, is a series of 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison between October 1787 and May 1788. The essays were published anonymously, under the pen name "Publius," in various New York state newspapers of the time.

The Federalist Papers were written and published to urge New Yorkers to ratify the proposed United States Constitution, which was drafted in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. In lobbying for adoption of the Constitution over the existing Articles of Confederation, the essays explain particular provisions of the Constitution in detail. For this reason, and because Hamilton and Madison were each members of the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers are often used today to help interpret the intentions of those drafting the Constitution.

Guiding Questions

  • How do Hamilton's remarks reflect the concerns of some of the Founders?
  • How was the role of “President” defined in the Constitution?

Learning Objectives

  • Discuss the powers and responsibilities of the President as defined by the Constitution.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the lesson plans in this unit. 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.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. The Federalist Papers

Pass out the excerpts from Alexander Hamilton's The Real Character of the Executive (Federalist #69) that are provided in the handout “From The Federalist Papers: The Real Character of the Executive,” on pages 1-2 of the Master PDF.

As a class or in small groups, with each group assigned one section only, look at seven elements of the office of President in Hamilton's words.

Compile a list of the powers and responsibilities of the President based on Hamilton's essay and/or additional resources.

Then compare the Presidency under the Constitution to the British monarchy and to the President of the United States in Congress Assembled under the Articles of Confederation. (See curriculum unit: Background on the Patriot Attitude Toward the Monarchy and Lesson One in this unit, Before and Beyond the Constitution: What Should a President Do?).


Work as a class to fill in the chart “The Chief Executive” on page 3 of the Master PDF.

The Basics

Time Required

2-3 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Using primary sources
  • MMS (AL)