Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 3: James Madison: Raising an Army: Balancing the Power of the States and the Federal Government

A We The People Resource


The Lesson


James Madison.

James Madison.

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.

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 lesson, Madison's words will help students understand the constitutional issues involved in some controversies that arose during Madison's presidency.

Guiding Questions

  • What events during Madison's presidency raised constitutional questions?
  • What were the constitutional issues?
  • Where did Madison stand?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to

  • Summarize at least one event during Madison's presidency that raised constitutional questions.
  • Explain the constitutional questions raised by the event.
  • 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.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. What Was the Problem?

Raising funds for national defense or for an army in time of war is much easier if a national bank exists. For example, a bank can facilitate the acquisition of loans. In 1811 Congress had allowed the charter of the First National Bank, which Madison considered unconstitutional, to elapse. The War of 1812 created a new need for the bank, but the question remained whether a national bank was constitutional.

Give your class background on the First and Second National Banks from the class text or another source, such as U.S. Presidents from the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. See "James Madison: Domestic Affairs," which offers the following information about the political situation, with some background on the development of the two-party system and the policies of Alexander Hamilton:

  • Among the domestic issues that did stand somewhat apart from the war itself was the struggle over the rechartering of the Bank of the United States, whose charter was scheduled to terminate in 1812. The move to recharter the Bank met stiff opposition from three sources: "old" Republicans who viewed the Bank as unconstitutional and a stronghold of Hamiltonian power, anti-British Republicans who objected to the substantial holdings of Bank stock by Britons, and state banking interests opposed to the U.S. Bank's power to control the nation's financial business. When the anti-Bank forces killed the recharter drive, the U.S. confronted the British without the means to support war loans or to easily obtain government credit. In 1816, with Madison's support, the Second Bank was chartered with a twenty-year term. Madison's critics claimed that his support for the Bank revealed his pro-Federalist sympathies.
Activity 2. What Does the Constitution Say?

Review with the class the relevant sections of the U.S. Constitution, available on the EDSITEment resource The Avalon Project. These include:

Teachers who would like more background before leading this discussion about the Constitution can consult a reference such as Understanding the Constitution (Peltason, Davis, Peltason, and Corwin. Wadsworth Publishing, 15th edition. May 22, 2000. ISBN: 0155071920)

Does the Constitution say anything specific that would relate to the incorporation of a national bank? (No). Does the power to raise revenue (Article 1, Section 7, #1) imply the ability to incorporate a bank? Does the ability to borrow money (Article 1, Section 8, #2) imply the ability to incorporate a bank? Does a national bank promote the "general welfare" (Article 1, Section 8)? Would a national bank tend to benefit one state or region more than another, such as a state with many businesses dealing in finance as opposed to an agricultural state (Article 1, Section 9)? Should incorporating banks be the responsibility of the states (Article 6, Section 2, Tenth Amendment)? Some opponents argued that a national bank would infringe on state banks, making them ineffective. Students should think about this issue as they learn more.

Activity 3. A Brief Look at the Documentary Record

Share with the class the following documents, all available on the EDSITEment resource American Memory:

The people of this State appear to be under no apprehension of an invasion. … [T]hey expressed no desire that any part of the militia should be called out for their defense, and, in some cases, we were assured such a measure would be disagreeable to them …

You observe, in your last letter, that the danger of invasion … increases … It can hardly be supposed that, if this State had been in great danger of invasion, the troops would have been called from hence to carry on offensive operations in a distant Province…

I though it expedient to call the Council together… I requested their advice … The Council advised, “that they are unable, from a view of the constitution of the United States… to perceive that any exigency [any urgency] exists, which can render it advisable to comply…

The Governor and Council have authority to require the opinion of the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court,… upon the following questions:

1st Whether the commanders in chief of the militia of the several States have a right to determine whether any of the exigencies contemplated by the onstitution of the United States exist …

2nd  Whether … the militia … can be be lawfully commanded by any officer but of the militia, except by the President of the United States?

(The council) advised me to call into service of the United States three companies of the detached militia. … I have this day issued an order for calling out three companies of the detached militia. … Two of the companies will be stationed at Eastport, and one company at Robinston, [both under the jurisdiction of  Massachusetts] until the President shall otherwise direct.

What objections on constitutional grounds did the governor raise? What practical objections did he raise? Did the governor have a strong constitutional argument? 

  • In the Refusal of Connecticut to Furnish Its Quota, Page 1, the governor of Connecticut asserted  that, “The Constitution of the United States has ordained that Congress may provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions.” He refused  to furnish his state’s quota because he claimed  none of the specified conditions existed. He also objected  to the statement that Connecticut’s men would  be placed “under the immediate command of an officer or officers of the army of the United States.” Did  the governor have a valid constitutional argument? (NOTE: If desired, students can read the entire text of the Refusal of Connecticut to Furnish Its Quota, Page 1, which continues with the Refusal of Connecticut to Furnish Its Quota, Page 2.)
Activity 4. What Did Madison Say?

There was universal agreement that the ability to raise an army is essential to the nation, but there were two questions that needed to be answered. Whatever system might be in place for raising an army, what rights of refusal should individual states have? What is the best system to guarantee an army can be raised when one is needed?

Keep in mind the American distaste for standing armies. In the Declaration of Independence, available on the EDSITEment-reviewed website The Avalon Project, Thomas Jefferson complained that the British king "kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures." "Legislatures" in this case refers to the various colonial legislatures.

Download, copy and distribute the worksheet "Madison on Rights of the States vs. Rights of the Federal Government,", which includes excerpts reflecting Madison's general thinking on this issue, as well as on the specific issue of raising an army. The goal of the class is to create a statement the students consider to be a cohesive summary of Madison's opinion. (NOTE: Help your students as they work as a group to formulate a correct, clearly worded generalization. This is a good opportunity for them to discover or rediscover the importance of choosing just the right words to express their ideas.) Did Madison's position seem to indicate that he would agree with the actions of the governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut in refusing to fill their quotas? With regard to the impending War of 1812, if a larger army was necessary, why did President Madison have to ask Congress? See the Assessment for a follow-up to this discussion.

Activity 5. A Brief Postscript: What Happened?

Though an in-depth discussion of the War of 1812 is beyond the scope of this lesson, culminate student learning with a brief look at the consequences of the conflict over state militia quotas for the War of 1812.

Share the following excerpts from The United States Army, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library, which offers an analysis of the raising of an army for The War of 1812 and the aftermath of the resulting controversy:

Congress did not lack the will to prepare for war…

In addition to increasing the Regular Army, Congress had authorized the President to accept volunteer forces and to call upon the states for militia. The difficulty was not planning for an army, but raising one …

A significant weakness in the American position was the disunity of the country. In the New England states public opinion ranged from mere apathy to actively expressed opposition to the war. A good many Massachusetts and Connecticut ship owners fitted out privateers-privately owned and armed vessels that were commissioned to take enemy ships-but New England contributed little else to the prosecution of the war, and continued to sell grain and provisions to the British …

The militia, occasionally competent, was never dependable, and in the nationalistic period that followed the war when the exploits of the Regulars were justly celebrated, an ardent young Secretary of War, John Calhoun, would be able to convince Congress and the nation that the first line of defense should be a standing army …

No "penalty" was ever suffered by the uncooperative New England states, though the Federalist Party—with its strongest base of support in New England and whose members opposing the War of 1812 supported the refusal to fill the quotas-never recovered from the accusations of a lack of patriotism arising during the wave of national sentiment that followed the war.


Students having completed the lesson should be able to respond effectively to the following:

  • Why were the Founders so concerned about keeping a standing army?
  • What does the Constitution say about how an army should be raised?
  • Is a standing army prohibited by the Constitution?
  • In what ways did the federal government have problems getting states to furnish their quotas of troops?
  • What constitutional issues did the governors of the refusing states raise?
  • Were these concerns valid?
  • What was Madison's position on a standing army? On the rights of states to refuse to comply with an action of the central government?
  • (NOTE: Additional discussion questions may be found in the text for the lesson.)

Do Madison's various statements on raising an army and the balance of power work together to create a cohesive philosophy? Did Madison's opinions change given the situation? Or, did Madison's opinions evolve? Ask students to compose a brief essay in response to the question: How do you explain Madison's decision to authorize a standing army? Students should cite specific documents or events as support.

The Basics

Grade Level


Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Immigration/Migration
  • 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
  • Using archival documents
  • Using primary sources
  • MMS (AL)


Activity Worksheets
Student Resources