Lesson Plan

The Constitutional Convention: Four Founding Fathers You May Never Have Met

Signing of Constitution, by Howard C. Cristy.
Photo caption

Signing of Constitution, by Howard C. Cristy.

"Alexander Hamilton of New York—a brilliant, ambitious, former aide-de-camp and secretary to Washington during the Revolution, had…become a powerful political figure…. There were others who played major roles—Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut; Edmund Randolph of Virginia; William Paterson of New Jersey…"

— "Constitution of the United States—A History," National Archives

In the course of over two centuries since the nation's founding, the Constitution of the United States has become an iconic document for many Americans, who may with difficulty imagine real people piecing it together detail by painstaking detail through meetings, discussions, committee work, and compromise. Yet we have good records of those proceedings. By means of such records, among them James Madison's extensive notes, we can witness the unfolding drama of the Constitutional Convention and the contributions of those men we have come to know as the Founding Fathers: Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, among the best known. There were others, however, less well known now but who also played major roles in founding the new nation.

Four such "others" are the subject of this lesson. Here, you'll introduce your students to four key, but relatively unknown, contributors to the U.S. Constitution-Oliver Ellsworth, Alexander Hamilton, William Paterson, and Edmund Randolph. Learn through their words and the words of others how the Founding Fathers created "a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise" (From America's Founding Documents at the National Archives website).

Note: Use this lesson as a prequel to, or in conjunction with, the complementary lesson, Constitutional Convention: What the Founding Fathers Said. By completing the activities in both lesson, students will become familiar with the Constitutional Convention and the men and ideas that shaped the U.S. Constitution.

Guiding Questions

What is the connection between regional politics and the positions of Ellsworth, Hamilton, Paterson, and Randolph during the drafting of the U.S. Constitution?


What other factors motivated these four Founding Fathers as they developed their positions in the debate?

Learning Objectives

Summarize the plans put forward by Ellsworth, Hamilton, Paterson, and Randolph

Provide some biographical details for Ellsworth, Hamilton, Paterson, and Randolph

Make connections between the biographies of Ellsworth, Hamilton, Paterson, and Randolph and their positions during the Constitutional Convention