The Federalist Debates: Balancing Power Between State and Federal Governments

This series of activities introduces students to one of the most hotly debated issues during the formation of the American government -- how much power the federal government should have  or alternatively, how much liberty states and citizens should have. The lesson begins by tracing the U.S. federal system of government to its roots, established by America's Founding Fathers in the late 18th century, highlighting the controversial issue of state sovereignty versus federal power. Students compare the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution, analyzing why weaknesses in the former led to the creation of the latter. Then they examine the resulting system of government formed by the Constitution, investigating the relationship between federal and state governments as they exist today. Finally, students reflect back on history and argue whether they believe Hamilton or Jefferson had the more enduring vision for America.

For related lessons about the development of the Founding Documents, see the following EDSITEment lesson plans:

Jefferson vs. Franklin: Renaissance Men
Jefferson vs. Franklin: Revolutionary Philosophers
The Constitutional Convention: Four Founding Fathers You May Never Have Met
The Constitutional Convention: What the Founding Fathers Said

Guiding Questions

How should power be distributed between states and the federal government for a successful democracy?

What are the pros and cons of state sovereignty vs. federalism, as argued by the Founding Fathers?

Learning Objectives

Understand the differences and similarities between state and federal governments and their functions, structures, and powers

Explain the basic positions of the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, as represented to varying degrees by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson

Make arguments on behalf of those Founding Fathers who favored strong federal government and those who favored strong states' rights

Write a persuasive essay in response to an open-ended question