Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 1: Starting a Government from Scratch


The Lesson


Statue of John Hanson by Richard E. Brooks in the National Statuary Hall in the  Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.

Statue of John Hanson by Richard E. Brooks in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.

Credit: Courtesy of Architect of the Capitol

At the time the Founders were shaping the future of a new country, John Adams suggested the President should be addressed as “His Excellency.” Happily, others recognized that such a title was inappropriate. Though the proper form of address represents only a small detail, defining everything about the Presidency was central to the idea of America that was a work-in-progress when the nation was young.

Guiding Questions

  • What actions are necessary in order to start a new government?
  • What would one of the major concerns be in preserving the new government and country?
  • What would be the role of the leader or president of the country?

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the role of the government and the president in establishing a new country.
  • Describe some of the actions the government bodies would probably take to ensure order and security.
  • List some of the challenges and problems, as well as accomplishments that might occur in forming a new government.

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. Starting a Government From Scratch

Begin the discussion by asking students if anyone in their families ever makes a “to do list.” Talk about such lists.

Ask students to think carefully about what the Founders had to do to start a brand new country, which officially began with the ratification of the Articles of Confederation on March 1, 1781. Imagine you've just formed a new country. Brainstorm a list of actions the Continental Congress would probably take in starting a new country. Consider the many kinds of things a government does.

  • Help the class take into consideration the major events that require government action, such as being prepared to defend the country. For example, a concern about defense is indicated in a letter from John Hanson to Nathanael Greene January 29, 1782, available on the EDSITEment resource American Memory. (NOTE: For now, simply mention to students that John Hanson presided over the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation. They will learn much more about Hanson in Lesson 3.) Although the Battle of Yorktown, the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War, had occurred in October 1781, Hanson mentions that there are still British troops in the U.S., though within “exceeding narrow limits.” He also expresses concern about the British attempt to enlist still loyal Americans (Tories), enslaved African Americans, and Native Americans:

    The exceeding narrow limits to which the possessions of the enemy (the British) are confined by a series of the most judicious and fortunate operations, must be the source of infinite discontent and an inconceivable mortification to their unbounded ambition and intolerable pride; at the same time that it affords every Friend to his Country singular Joy and satisfaction. Nothing can be a more convincing proof of their weakness and hopeless situation, than the base unworthy acts they are practicing and the infamous means they have recourse to, in order to support themselves in their diminishing Conquests and distress us. But I hope every practicable measure will be adopted to defeat their wicked designs. The partial failure of their attempt to embody (enlist) the Tories I consider as a favorable Omen; and as to the Negroes, (the British are trying to convert them to) inhuman purposes. ... But with respect to the savages (Native Americans), every precaution within our power should be used to render the plans of our enemy ineffectual.

    Defense against the British and their allies was a matter of grave concern in the early years of the new nation. In fact, the last engagements of the Revolutionary War, as documented on American Memory, did not take place until August 1782:

    … the Battle of Blue Licks, in the Appalachian west, the British and their Indian allies, the Wyandot, Ottawa, Ojibwa, Shawnee, Mingo, and Delaware inflict heavy casualties and force the retreat of Daniel Boone and the Kentucky militia. In response, George Rogers Clark leads Kentucky militia on an expedition against the British into Ohio country. These are often considered the last formal engagements of the Revolutionary War.

  • The class should also consider the ways the government helps out with activities Americans do every day, such as going to schools supported and regulated by the government, spending money coined by the government, riding on roads maintained by the government, paying taxes for the government's use, sending and receiving mail, and so on.
  • Now think about the Presidency. Read or review with students the section about the President on The Articles of Confederation, available on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Avalon Project at the Yale Law School:

    The United States in Congress assembled shall have authority … to appoint such other committees and civil officers as may be necessary for managing the general affairs of the United States under their direction -- to appoint one of their members to preside, provided that no person be allowed to serve in the office of president more than one year in any term of three years;

Guiding Discussion Questions:

What “rules” applied to the President under the Articles of Confederation? (The responsibility to preside over Congress's meetings, a one-year term, only one term in any three-year period, and nothing else specific in the way of powers or responsibilities.)

What does it mean to preside over a meeting?

What responsibilities does that task entail?

What power could that give the person who presides?

If the term of the President was set at one year, and a candidate could only be elected for that one-year term once every three years, how would those requirements most likely affect the power of the President?

More information on the Articles of Confederation, intended specifically for students in grades 6-8, is available on Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids: The Articles of Confederation, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library.


Write down and save all of students' ideas about what was on the minds of the Founders as they started the new nation. We know what was on some of their "to do lists" because records were kept of what happened in the Continental Congress. In Lesson Two, students will review the Journals of the Continental Congress to find out what was really on the Founders' “to do lists.”

The Basics

Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • 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)


Activity Worksheets