Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 2: The "To Do List" of the Continental Congress


The Lesson


Students with an understanding of the fears of the Founders regarding a powerful executive will benefit the most from this lesson. When discussing the structure of the Executive sketched in the Articles of Confederation, it is useful to refer back to the complaints of the colonists as summarized by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Help students understand why and how the Founders were cautious. Consult the following EDSITEment lessons for grades 6-8 for more information on:

Guiding Questions

  • How was the role of "President" defined in the Articles of Confederation?
  • What were the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation regarding the role of the President?

Learning Objectives

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

  • Describe the role of "President of the United States in Congress Assembled" under the Articles of Confederation
  • Explain how the President was elected.

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.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. The "To Do" List of Congress

The Continental Congress had a lot to do and a leader with very little power. What happened? For one thing, the Congress assigned a committee to make up a kind of “to do list.” Share with students “The Continental Congress's To Do List” on pages 1-2 of the Master PDF. Directions for the teacher are provided on the document.

Guiding Discussion Questions:

What items are on the list?

Did the students list any of the same things in their exercise in Lesson 1?

The committee made a very long list.

What would make it possible for the Congress to start working on all those important matters?

(If desired, you can access the complete text at Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 Wednesday, August 22, 1781 on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory.)

On November 5, 1781, less than three months after the “To Do List” was brought to Congress, and just days after the victory at Yorktown, the delegates held an election. Share with the class the results as stated in The Journal of the Continental Congress for November 5, also available on American Memory:

Congress proceeded to the election of a President; and the ballots being taken, the honorable. John Hanson was elected.

Judging from this account, Hanson's choice was apparently unanimous, even though there were present other highly qualified potential candidates. If desired, students can look at the record of the next election for President on Monday, November 4, 1782 (also on American Memory), which was contested.

John Hanson was the first person in the United States who served a full term in an office referred to as “President of the United States,” though Hanson's correct full title was "President of the United States in Congress Assembled."

Guiding Discussion Questions:

Should John Hanson be considered the first U.S. President?

What did he do as President?

Activity 2. A Closer Look

Students will learn more about Hanson himself later, but now they will consider what the Continental Congress did while Hanson presided. With students working in small groups or in a whole-class setting, share the handout "Documents for John Hanson's Term as President of the United States in Congress Assembled" on pages 3-8 of the Master PDF.

If students work in groups on particular documents, they should be prepared to share with the class answers to all of the following questions, based on information contained in their document. (Take groups in chronological order.)

Guiding Discussion Questions
  • What date is on the document?
  • What is the document about?
  • Does the document show the Congress trying to do something on its "To Do List"? What?
  • Does the document discuss anything that resembles what happens today? If yes, in what way?
  • Does the document contain anything surprising about the President? If yes, in what way?
  • Does the document show that the country was doing well, having problems, or neither? In what way?
  • Is anyone familiar mentioned in the document? Name him.
  • Does the document illustrate a power or responsibility of the President? If yes, in what way?


Discuss students' overall impression of the documents.

They should be prepared to answer the following questions and provide evidence for their answers.

  • Judging from the documents, what was the Congress accomplishing? Where was it having difficulties?
  • The article Defects in the Articles of Confederation on the EDSITEment resource American Memory lists three of the important defects of the Articles of Confederation. Which documents from Lesson Plan 3, above, demonstrated these problems?
    • Congress Can Not Improve Poor Attendance by Delegates (Document #7: Asking the States to Send Representatives to Congress)
    • Congress Pleads with the States to Contribute Money to the National Treasury (Document # 3: Urging the States to Send Required Money and Troops)
    • Congress is Unable to Control Commerce Between America and Foreign Nations (Document #4: Trying to Stop Trade with England)

The Basics

Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
  • 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)