Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 1: The President Under the Articles of Confederation


The Lesson


Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington

Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory

… the executive authority, with few exceptions, is to be vested in a single magistrate. This will scarcely, however, be considered as a point upon which any comparison can be grounded; for if, in this particular, there be a resemblance to the king of Great Britain, there is not less a resemblance to the … khan of Tartary, to the Man of the Seven Mountains....”
—Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers #69 on the EDSITEment reviewed website Avalon Project at the Yale Law School

“if you adopt this government, you will incline to an arbitrary and odious aristocracy or monarchy…”
—Anti-Federalist Paper Cato #5 Executive Power on the Constitution Society website, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library

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.

Note: This lesson may be taught either as a stand-alone lesson as part of the curriculum unit Before and Beyond the Constitution: What Should a President Do? or as a sequel to the complementary EDSITEment curriculum units Background on the Patriot Attitude Toward the Monarchy and Lost Hero: Who Was Really Our First President?

Students with an understanding of the fears of the Founders regarding a powerful executive will benefit the most from this lesson. (See curriculum unit, Background on the Patriot Attitude Toward the Monarchy). When discussing the structure of the Executive sketched in the Articles of Confederation, you may want to refer back to the complaints of the colonists as summarized by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. This review will 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 the lesson in this unit, students will be able to:

  • Discuss the powers and responsibilities of the President as defined by the Articles of Confederation.

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. The Role of the President Under the Articles of Confederation

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.)

Why such a weak role? (See Related lesson, “Background on the Patriot Attitude Toward the Monarchy.”)

For more specific information on the role of President under the Articles of Confederation, consult Lesson Two, The To-Do List of the Continental Congress from the companion EDSITEment unit Lost Hero: Who Was Really Our First President? 


Students who have completed only this lesson in the unit should be able to describe the terms of the president's role under the Articles of Confederation, including his authority or power and responsibilities, as well as the weakness of his position.

The Basics

Time Required

2-3 class periods

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