Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 3: George Washington: The Precedent President


The Lesson


Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington

Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory

George Washington became President—reluctantly—at a critical time in the history of the United States. The Confederation had threatened to unravel; the weak central government (which included a weak executive with the sole responsibility of presiding over meetings of Congress and no special power to initiate laws beyond that of any member of Congress, enforce laws, or check acts of Congress) created by the Articles of Confederation had failed. As part of its goal to form a "more perfect" government, The Constitution of the United States defined a new role for the executive, the President, in a much stronger federal system. However, a definition on paper and a President in practice could be two very different things. In this activity, students review the responsibilities and powers of the President as intended by the Founders and as practiced during Washington's precedent-setting terms in office.

Review the chart “The Chief Executive” that the class filled in on the previous day or during Lesson Two, Chief Executives Compared: The Federalist Papers, paying special attention to items 4 through 9 under the Constitution.

Guiding Questions

  • What important developments occurred during George Washington's tenure as the first "President of the United States"?
  • How did they affect the future of the U.S. and the office of President?

Learning Objectives

After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to:

  • List some of the precedents set during George Washington's term in office.
  • Match an action of a President with a power or responsibility of the Chief Executive.

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 file. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. George Washington the Precedent President

Gather a list of accomplishments of George Washington in his tenure as the first President of the United States from your textbook and other sources. Some EDSITEment-reviewed websites are:

Match Washington's accomplishments with your class list of the powers and responsibilities of the President.

Now have each student write on one page, in large, neat letters, an executive power or responsibility. Then students should illustrate on another page a matching event from George Washington's Presidency, including an appropriate caption. These could be put together to make a book, but first they will be used for a game (see the Assessment section).

Guiding Discussion Questions:

Can students find statements about the powers and responsibilities Hamilton discussed?

Are any aspects of the Executive as described in the Constitution different from Hamilton's discussion?

Remind students that, as the first President under the Constitution, George Washington was constantly setting precedents. He did a lot to define in practice what was written in the Constitution.


  • Put on display some or all of the illustrated events from Washington's Presidency. Then read aloud a power or responsibility of the President. Can students find the match?
  • After teaching this lesson, as a homework assignment, ask students to locate in a newspaper, magazine, or Internet article about a current event involving the President. See if it can be matched with a Presidential power or responsibility from the Constitution. Return to the concept of Presidential powers throughout the school year

Extending The Lesson

For more specific information on the role of President under the Articles of Confederation, consult the companion EDSITEment curriculum unit Lost Hero: Who Was Really Our First President?

The Basics

Time Required

2-3 class periods

Subject Areas
  • 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)