Unit 3 – writing the constitution rationale

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Rationale: This unit addresses the Articles of Confederation, the need for a new constitution, the Constitutional Convention (issues and compromises that evolved), the debate over ratification and the creation of the Bill of Rights.

During this unit students:

  • evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and understand the need for a new government

  • learn about the issues and compromises that were addressed at the Constitutional Convention

  • The establishment of the U. S. Constitution is examined through the compromises and influences from past documents (Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, English Bill of Rights)

  • after learning about the convention, students utilize their critical thinking skills to evaluate Federalist and Anti-Federalist writings to summarize the debates surrounding the ratification of the Constitution

  • lastly, students learn about the individual rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and how these amendments appeased the Anti-Federalists.


  • Many students have the misconception that the Bill of Rights was part of the original writing of the Constitution, as opposed to being the first amendments to the document.

  • Students often believe that all Americans agreed and wanted the new Constitution.

Key Academic Vocabulary Supporting Conceptual Development

  • Confederation a union of states in which each member state retains some independent control over internal and external affairs.

  • Constitution the fundamental law, written or unwritten, that establishes the character of a government by defining the basic principles to which a society must conform; by describing the organization of the government and regulation, distribution, and limitations on the functions of different government departments; and by prescribing the extent and manner of the exercise of its sovereign powers.

  • Ratification process of approving the Constitution

  • Compromise an agreement between opposing parties to settle a dispute or reach a settlement in which each gives some ground, rather than continue the dispute

Unit 4 – more perfect union


This unit bundles student expectations that address the governmental system established by the U.S. Constitution.

Prior to this unit, students were introduced to the seven principles in 7th grade (7.14A). They also studied the reasons for writing a new Constitution, the compromises and issues during the Constitutional Convention, the ratification process and view points of the Federalist and Anti-Federalists. Students have learned about the individual rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. During this unit students learn about the seven principles of government found in the U.S. Constitution, and the roles and powers of each of the three branches of government.


  • Students often assume that the president has all the power.

Key Academic Vocabulary Supporting Conceptual Development

  • Principle – a basic truth, law, or assumption

  • Legislative branch – law making body

  • Executive branch – branch of the government that executes or enforces the laws

  • Judicial branch – branch of the government that interprets the laws

  • Amendment – change to the Constitution after following the formal process

  • Republic

  • Republicanism

  • Federalism


8.1A Identify the major eras and events in U.S. history through 1877, including creation and ratification of the Constitution and describe their causes and effects

Constitutional Era

  • Philadelphia Convention 1787

  • Great Compromise

  • Three-fifths Compromise

  • AntiFederalist vs. Federalist

  • Federalist Papers

  • Bill of Rights

8.1B apply absolute and relative chronology through the sequencing of significant individuals, events, and time periods

8.4C Explain the issues surrounding important events of the writing the Articles of Confederation.
Writing the Articles of Confederation – occurred at the Second Continental Congress (1776), created a new form of government for the independent colonies, included one branch, a Congress including one representative from each of the former colonies

Articles created a “firm league of friendship” where “each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence”

8.15B Summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.

  • Strengths of Articles

    • States’ Rights (result of strong fear of a tyrannical leader)

    • Confederation of states with equal voice in Congress

    • Congress had power to:

=make war and peace,

=sign treaties

=raise an army and navy

=print money, and

=set up a postal system

  • Weaknesses of Articles

    • No national taxes (no ability to gain national revenue to pay for army, navy, or other national interests; had to ask the states for money which they often ignored)

    • No federal court system (no ability to settle disputes between states)

    • Lack of strong federal government (reduced ability to settle disputes over state boundaries)

    • No power to regulate commerce (quarrels about taxes on goods that crossed state borders)

    • No federal leader (no “Executive” to lead the country)

    • Limited military = No protection

Shay’s Rebellion: Massachusetts farmers rebelled against courts foreclosing on their farms

    • Showed weakness of the Articles of Confederation

    • Showed that the government could not keep order and a stronger form of national government was needed

8.1C explain the significance of the following dates: 1787, writing of the U.S. Constitution

  • 1787 – writing of the U.S. Constitution (1788 – Ratification of Constitution)

8.15D Analyze how the U.S. Constitution reflects the principles of limited government, republicanism, checks and balances, federalism, separation of powers, popular sovereignty, and individual rights.

  • Limited government – the Constitution and laws define the limits of those in power so they cannot take advantage of their elected, appointed, or inherited positions. Everyone, including all authority figures, must obey the laws (rule of law). Government is restricted in what it may do.

  • Republicanism – a philosophy of limited government with elected representatives serving at the will of the people; government is based on the consent of the governed.

  • Checks and balances – system that does not allow any one branch of the government to have too much power (e.g., the president can veto legislation passed by Congress, but Congress can override the veto; the Senate confirms major appointments made by the President; the courts may declare acts passed by Congress as unconstitutional)

  • Federalism – the distribution of power between a federal government and the states within a union. In the Constitution, certain powers are delegated to only states, others only to the federal government, and others are shared powers.

  • Separation of powers – the branches included the legislative branch known as "Congress" made up of a "House of Representatives" and a "Senate," the executive branch known as the "President," and the judicial branch known as the "Supreme Court." The powers of the legislative branch are outlined in Article I of the U.S. Constitution. The President would lead the executive branch, which carried out the laws and ensured their just application. These powers are outlined in Article II of the U.S. Constitution. The judicial branch, consisting of all courts of the United States including the highest court, the Supreme Court, would interpret and apply the laws, ensuring that they are just. Its powers are outlined in Article III.

  • Popular sovereignty – the concept that political power rests with the people who can create, alter, and abolish government. People express themselves through voting and free participation in government.

  • Individual rights – many opposed the Constitution in 1787 because they believed it did not offer adequate protection of individual rights. The Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, was created to correct this. The individual rights protected in the Bill of Rights include economic rights related to property, political rights related to freedom of speech and press, and personal rights related to bearing arms and maintaining private residences.

8.4D Analyze issues of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, including the Great Compromise and Three-Fifths Compromise

8.21C Summarize a historical event in which compromise resulted in a peaceful resolution.
Convention called to address the problems with the Articles of Confederation; Madison introduces a new plan.

  • Issue: representation in the legislature

    • Virginia Plan – Large state plan that proposed representation based on population size

    • New Jersey Plan – Small state plan that proposed equal representation among all states

    • Compromise: Great Compromise – Constitution resulted in a two-house legislature with House of Representatives based on population and the Senate maintaining equal representation from all states

  • Issue: How slaves should be counted regarding population and taxation

  • Compromise: Three-Fifths Compromise – Three-Fifths of the slave population would be counted when setting direct taxes on the states and three-fifths ratio would also be used to determine representation in the legislature

8.17A Analyze the arguments of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, including those of Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, James Madison, and George Mason.

8.4E Analyze the arguments for and against ratification.


  • Federalists – argued for a stronger national government because under the Articles of Confederation, the weak national government set the United States up for failure

    • Alexander Hamilton – wanted to go beyond the stated powers of the Constitution; used the “necessary and proper” clause to justify forming a National Bank that was necessary and proper for the United States economy to develop; served as a delegate from New York at the Constitutional Convention

    • James Madison – known as the “Father of the Constitution”; helped to write the Federalist Papers with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton; authored the first 10 Amendments (the Bill of Rights) to compromise with the Anti-Federalists

  • Anti-Federalists – argued that states’ rights should remain powerful over key issues; remained of the opinion that we fought the Revolution to get away from strong central government—had great desire for individual liberties; believed that the Constitution should protect individual rights

    • Patrick Henry – was so opposed to the idea of a stronger national government that he refused to attend the Philadelphia Convention because he “smelled a rat” (influential leader from the Colonists’ protest against England with his speech “Give me Liberty or Give me Death”)

    • George Mason – leader of the Anti-Federalists; believed in the need to restrict governmental power and supported protection of individual rights; served as a delegate from Virginia at the Constitutional Convention

  • Compromise

    • The U.S. Constitution is ratified and the Bill of Rights is added


8.16A Summarize the purposes for and process of amending the U.S. Constitution
Purpose of Amendments – the Constitution can be changed or amended when it is deemed necessary by the people to adjust to changing times and to maintain a “living” document.

Process of Amending the Constitution – proposal by Congress (by two-thirds vote of both houses) or proposal from a convention called by two-thirds of the states. It then goes to the state legislatures to be ratified, must have three-fourths of the votes to pass OR passage by three-fourths of the votes in special state conventions.


8.19B Summarize rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

  • 1st Amendment – freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly

  • 2nd Amendment – bear arms

  • 3rd Amendment – no quartering troops during times of peace

  • 4th Amendment – search and seizure

  • 5th Amendment – right to due process, not to be tried for the same crime twice (double jeopardy) & not to testify against yourself

  • 6th Amendment – right to speedy public trial

  • 7th Amendment – right to trial by jury in civil trials

  • 8th Amendment – right not to have excessive bail and/or punishment

  • 9th Amendment – rights of the people

  • 10th Amendment – rights to the states

8.15A Identify the influence of ideas from historic documents, including the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the Mayflower Compact, the Federalist Papers, and selected Anti-Federalist writings, on the U.S. system of government.

Historic Documents =>

Influence on U.S. System of Government

MAGNA CARTA – limited the power of the King

Constitution limits the power of the central government

ENGLISH BILL OF RIGHTS – listed individual rights

Model for the Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments to Constitution)

MAYFLOWER COMPACT – agreement written by Pilgrims in 1620

established the idea of self-government and majority rule

FEDERALIST PAPERS – supported ratification of the Constitution with a focus on the need for a strong central gov’t with restricted powers

Constitution provides for a strong central gov’t with separated powers and a system of checks and balances.

ANTI-FEDERALIST WRITINGS – opposed the Constitution because it lacked protection of individual rights.

When the Constitution was ratified, the first ten amendments (the Bill of Rights) were immediately added to protect those rights.

8.15C Identify colonial grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence and explain how those grievances were addressed in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Grievance in Declaration of Independence

Addressed in Constitution

Taxation without representation

All states have representation in Congress, which sets taxes

King has absolute power

Congress has the power to override Presidential veto

Colonists not allowed to speak out against the King

1st Amendment – freedom of Speech

Quartering Act forced colonists to house troops

3rd Amendment – no quartering of Troops

Allowed homes to be searched without warrants

4th Amendment – no unwarranted search and seizure

No trial by jury of peers

6th amendment –right to speedy public trial
7th Amendment – trial by jury

8.25A Trace the development of religious freedom in the United States.

  • 1620-1691 – Plymouth Colony – self-governing church with each congregation independent and electing its own pastor and officers

  • 17th century – Massachusetts Bay Colony – churches also fairly democratic in that they elected ministers and other officials, but church closely tied with state government

  • February 1631– Roger Williams founded Rhode Island. In 1636 separated church and state

  • 1681-1776 – Penn’s Frames of Government guaranteed religious freedom to all settlers in Pennsylvania

  • 1689 – Toleration Acts

  • Maryland founded as haven for Catholics

  • 1791 – Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of religion and freedom from government interference

8.25C Analyze the impact of the First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom on the American way of life.

  • Americans have the right to worship however they choose.

  • The government does not have the right to interfere with religious beliefs.

  • Sets up for official separation of church and state

8.21B Describe the importance of free speech and press in a constitutional republic.


Freedom of speech and press allow for the protection of individual rights. Freedom to express information, ideas, and opinions that are free of government restrictions based on content.

8.26B Identify examples of American art, music, and literature that reflect society in different eras.

Writing the Constitution

  • Art – "Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States", by artist Howard Chandler Christy

  • Literature-- U.S. Constitution, Washington's papers, pamphlets

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