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Opening paragraph from the The United States Constitution: 'We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.'

[Detail] The United States Constitution

Resources | Procedure

Overview

Was the Constitution an abandonment of the ideals of the American Revolution?

Was the Constitution essential to assure our survival as a nation?

Your platform will be a standard for the day--a broadside. In this broadside you will publicize your opinion regarding this new constitution. In order to support your position, you will examine a series of primary source documents written during the time. From this analysis you will identify the key issues facing the nation, what precipitated the call for a new government, and what the important issues raised by this new form of government were.

Background

  • During the Government Workshop you identified what type of government to create, using the Declaration of Independence, your knowledge of colonial history and your assigned political persuasion as your guide. Did the Articles of Confederation reflect the ideals of the American Revolution? What were the problems facing our young nation?
  • You have identified the reasons for calling a Federal Convention. Why did we need to revise the Articles of Confederation?
  • You have studied the Constitution. Did it address the major issues? At what cost? Why might it be difficult to convince the individual states to adopt the Constitution?
  • Your final project in this study of the creation of the Constitution will be to create a "broadside" arguing for or against ratification of the Constitution.

Activity One: What is a Broadside?

Broadsides--by far the most popular ephemeral format used throughout printed history--are single sheets of paper, printed on one side only. Often quickly and crudely produced in large numbers and distributed free in town squares, taverns, and churches or sold by chapmen for a nominal charge, broadsides are intended to have an immediate popular impact and then to be thrown away.

"The Popularity of Broadsides" from An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera.

1. Begin by learning what a broadside is and how it was used. Go to the collection An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera in American Memory. Scroll down and click on the Special Presentation: Introduction to Printed Ephemera Collection.

2. Read the Introduction from the beginning through the section on Political Broadsides.

3. Answer the following questions in your project notebook:

  1. What is a broadside?
  2. What are its three most important defining characteristics?
  3. How has it been used in history?
  4. Examine two broadsides from the Introduction to An American Time Capsule.
  5. What was the purpose of each broadside?
  6. How did each broadside reflect the three defining characteristics you identified above?

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Activity Two: Examining the Primary Source Documents

Focus Question: Was the Constitution a Counter Revolution?

Looking at multiple primary source documents, you will decide if the Constitution represented such a radical departure from the ideals of the American Revolution as to constitute a counter revolution. You will be assigned to an issue group of several students. Together your group will examine pre-selected documents from American Memory. Each document will be read and interpreted for evidence to be used to argue for or against ratification of the Constitution. Finally, you will create a broadside based on interpretation of these primary source documents arguing for or against ratification of the Constitution.

Responsibilities

For this project each student will have multiple responsibilities:

  1. Each student will be assigned the role of supporting or opposing the ratification of the Constitution.
  2. Each student will look at evidence on one of the assigned issues and share that evidence with others.
  3. Each student will create a broadside using quotes from primary source documents.
  4. Each student will present arguments for or against ratification of the Constitution based on evidence.

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Issues

Primary source documents in the following five areas will be used as evidence:

  1. Issue 1:  Legality of the Constitution
  2. Issue 2:  Regulation of Interstate and International Commerce
  3. Issue 3:  National Debt and Treasury Obligations
  4. Issue 4:  State vs. National Power
  5. Issue 5:  National Integrity

Choice of Assignment

Choose one issue to represent as you examine a series of primary documents from American Memory.

Techniques for Examining the Documents

  1. Think about what you already know. The more you read, the more you know about the context of the material, and the more you will understand.
  2. There is a rhythm to language. Reading out loud (as with Shakespeare) sometimes makes the meaning clear, even when old-style phrases and archaic words are not totally understood.
  3. Use tools to create smaller chunks of text.
  4. Focus on the title and introductory paragraph to determine what the document was originally written to communicate.
  5. Click on the Bibliographic Information link to find out the date and any additional information known about the document.
  6. Highlight sections of text as you read to help focus.
  7. Use the "Find" function of the browser to search for keywords. Read several lines before and after the word to understand the context in which the keyword is used. Check the entire document for instances of the keyword.
  8. Review your notes and prior knowledge to determine keywords. Search and skim looking for keywords.

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Identifying Issues in the Documents

As you wade through these primary documents with their dense text and arcane language, keep in mind your purpose:

To identify the arguments for and against the ratification of the constitution.

Other questions to keep in mind are:

  1. Why did our founding fathers want to change the form of government?
  2. What does this document tell you about the foundation of this nation?
  3. How does this knowledge help you better understand some of the important issues of today?

Taking Notes

For each document you need to take notes:

  1. Identify the issue you have chosen to research
  2. Give a full citation for each document
  3. Identify the main points, related to the issue you have chosen, that are raised in each of the documents.
  4. Do these points support or weaken the argument for the ratification of the Constitution?
  5. Identify specific quotes from the document to demonstrate your understanding of the document, the issues and arguments for and against the ratification of the constitution.

Sharing Findings

You will then meet with four other colleagues who have been examining other documents and issues and share your findings.

Producing a Broadside

Finally you will produce a broadside to publicize your position in regard to ratification of the Constitution.

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Reading Assignments

Assignment #1: The Articles of Confederation

As you are probably aware, the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, but our current Constitution was not signed until 1789. In the years in between, the Continental Congress designed and used the Articles of Confederation. Read supplementary materials as assigned to learn how the Articles worked--and how they didn't.

1. Tradition and Change: How colonial governments were accustomed to acting.

  1. In this section, identify four major ways that colonial governments were not totally democratic.
  2. Now, based on the reading, define the words democrat and republican as a person would have used them in the late 1700s.

2. Reconstituting the States: How, after the revolution, many states became more democratic.

In this section, identify five ways that state constitutions spread power to the common man.

3. The Articles of Confederation: The central fact of the Articles was that they "established a form of government in which Americans were citizens of their own states first and the United States second."

Draw a diagram of the government as you understand it from the explanation on page 192. Your diagram should show how Congress was chosen, how it interacted with other groups, and what its powers were.

4. Financial Crisis: What caused the Depression that began in 1784, and why couldn't the Articles handle it very well?

5. Western Lands: Identify and define each of these two landmark acts:

  1. The Ordinance of 1785
  2. The Northwest Ordinance
  3. How did both of these acts affect Native Americans?

6. Shays's Rebellion: What was it, why did it happen, and what effect did it have on the Colonies and the Articles?

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Assignment #2: The Constitution

Read materials as assigned to gain an overview of the process of the American Constitutional Convention of 1787. Try to answer every question thoroughly; each one will help you understand our simulation.

  1. Basic Issues: Name the first two basic issues facing the Constitutional Convention.
  2. The Virginia Plan: What was it?
  3. The New Jersey Plan: What did it say?
  4. The Great Compromise: How did Roger Sherman end this fight?
  5. Checks and Balances: Define and describe this key idea.
  6. Federalism: What is this crucial idea?
  7. Three Fifths Compromise: How did this plan "settle" the serious problem of slavery?
  8. Antifederalists: What was their view of the new Constitution, and why were they eventually defeated?
  9. Federalists: What was their view of the new Constitution, and why did they eventually win?
  10. The Federalist Papers: Who wrote them and what did they say?

Refer to the U.S. Constitution in your text and answer the following questions.

Article I

  1. What branch of government does Article I describe?
  2. Identify the three requirements for a person to be eligible for election to the House of Representatives
  3. Identify the three requirements for a person to be eligible for election to the Senate.
  4. What is the term of office for a member of the House of Representatives? For the Senate?
  5. Describe in your own words how a bill becomes a law.

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Article II

  1. What branch of government does Article II describe?
  2. Describe the three requirements for a person to be eligible for election to the presidency.
  3. What is the term of office for the president?
  4. Describe in your own words how the president is elected.

Article III

  1. What branch of government does Article III describe?
  2. What is the name of the nation's highest court?
  3. How many justices are on the nation's highest court?
  4. How long do federal judges hold office?
  5. List five kinds of cases that come under the judicial power of the United States courts

Article IV

  1. What is this article about?
  2. How can territory be admitted as a state

Article V

  1. What is this article about?
  2. What are the different ways this document be amended or changed?

Article VI

  1. What is this article about?

Article VII

  1. What is this article about?
  2. How is the Constitution to be ratified by the states?

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