Lesson 7: Making a Nation: The Philadelphia Convention
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
- Explain the purpose of the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention and how it came about
- Describe the role that Shays’ Rebellion played in the Convention
- Compare and contrast the concerns and key arguments of the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists
- Describe and evaluate the views of the key players at the Convention
- Describe the make-up of the Massachusetts delegation and explain their positions on key issues at the Convention
- Explain why the proceedings were kept secret
- Identify and describe the compromises reached during the Convention
- Analyze primary source documents
- Interpreting visual information
- Observing and describing
- Thinking critically
- Expressing opinions
- Analyzing visually
- Understanding historical perspective
- Gathering and using information
- Interpreting information
In this lesson, students learn that while the Philadelphia Convention was called for the ostensible purpose of amending the Articles of Confederation, several delegates arrived with a far more ambitious agenda: to replace the Articles entirely with a new and stronger federal government. Concern with the unrest in Massachusetts and the lack of resources with which the Confederation Congress could respond to the crisis weighed on the delegates, and the Convention became an intense three-month struggle between those favoring a stronger central government—the Federalists, and those favoring stronger state government—the Anti-Federalists. The scene is the front of the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia as the convention delegates—including Washington, Franklin, and the Massachusetts delegates—enter the building for another day of deliberations. As Philadelphians look on, their knowledge of the proceedings, like other Americans, is limited to newspaper reports that the delegates are charged with revising the existing Articles of Confederation.
|Rufus King. Courtesy National Portrait
Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC
||Making a Nation, © 2008 Bryant
||Elbridge Gerry. Courtesy Independence
National Historical Park, Philadelphia, PA
While the insurrection in Massachusetts was just about over by the spring
of 1787, it was very much present at the Constitutional Convention, and
played a major role in strengthening the hand of those who favored a stronger
central government. States selected delegates to the Convention over the
winter while news from Massachusetts made it appear to many as though
Massachusetts was spiraling into a bloody civil war. Delegates arrived
in Philadelphia while convicted Regulators languished in jails, some under
sentence of death for high treason. Confederation Secretary of State Henry
Knox even observed that while the immediate danger had passed, it behooved
the Massachusetts government to hang several leaders to discourage others
from taking arms against the state. The Convention met from May 25 to
September 17, 1787. Almost immediately, the delegates chose to scrap the
Articles of Confederation, under which the Congress had not been able
to gather a quorum or raise revenues. For over three months of intense
discussion and debate, those who favored a stronger central government
pressed their issue, resulting in a new Constitution with the power to
raise revenue and “insure domestic tranquility.”
Preparing to Teach
- Familiarize yourself with the Articles
of Confederation, ratified in March of 1781, especially articles 8, 9 and 12. These can be found in the Artifacts & Documents section of the website.
- Familiarize yourself with the key provisions of the US Constitution proposed at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention of 1787.
- Familiarize yourself with the Making a Nation historic scene,
linked to from the Historic
Scene menu. Read the three tabs, then roll your cursor over
the highlighted hot spots in the illustration. Follow the links
in the rollovers. Below the illustration and the tab content,
read the four OBSERVER comments, the four essays in the THEMES
section, and follow the links in the RELATED TO THIS SCENE
- Familiarize yourself with the Library of Congress’ Using
- Although not explicitly referred to in the lesson, you can incorporate selections from the Timeline and Music section
into the lesson.
Teaching the Lesson
- Class Assignment: Prior to the one or two class periods spent on this lesson, make the following website preparation assignment:
Class Activity: Debate: Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists
Debate the Proposed Constitution: Assemble the debaters at
the front of the room and hold a debate about the new Constitution.
Make sure the Federalist side is familiar with the Federalist tab, and
the Anti-Federalist side is familiar with the Anti-Federalist tab. Use
the discussion questions below. Additional materials can be read to
enhance students’ familiarity with the arguments on both sides
of the issues. Search for correspondence in the Artifacts & Documents
section using the names Justin Hitchcock and Park Holland for the Federalist
viewpoint. A good source for Elbridge Gerry’s Anti-Federalist
view is a letter
he sent to the Massachusetts’ General Court following the Philadelphia
Convention. You can also use the Looking
Glass cartoon as in indication of one historic view of the
Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist Debate in 1787.
Class Activity: Primary Resource Study: Project the
Constitution found in the Artifacts & Documents section of the
website. Select students to read key sections of the document. Project
and read comments made about this document,
found in the related to this scene links. Use the zoom and the transcript
to examine closely the handwriting and any words you have difficulty
understanding. Discuss the key sections of the document.
Class Discussion Questions:
- From the Historic Scene
menu, go to the Making
a Nation historic scene, and read the Overview tab,
the Federalist tab, and the Anti-Federalist tab. Roll your
cursor over the rollovers within the illustration and read
the text. Note that only the highlighted rollovers for
each tab display pop-ups.
- Read the observer comments, the four essays in the themes section, and follow the links in the related to this scene section, studying the material displayed.
- Go to the Artifacts & Documents section
of the website. Search for the Articles of Confederation.
Pay particular attention to Articles 8, 9 and 12.
- Go to the Artifacts & Documents section of the website. Search for the US Constitution and read it.
- Assign each of the following characters to students (or a small
group of students) so the student(s) can assume that historic persona
in class: Massachusetts delegation: Elbridge Gerry, Caleb Strong,
Rufus King; George Washington; Benjamin Franklin; John Madison; Henry
Knox; and Alexander Hamilton. Students can learn about thier characters
by looking them up in the People
Menu and by searching for their correspondence in the Artifacts
& Documents section.
- Assign the following observers to students (or a small group of
students) so the student(s) can assume that historic persona in class:
Thomas Jefferson, Richard Price, Anonymous Correspondent for the Hampshire
Gazette, Samuel Adams. Jefferson and Adams have character narratives
in the People menu.
- What sorts of problems did the delegates hope to address at the
Constitutional Convention? (need for an expansion of federal powers;
need for protections for states and their citizens)
- What sort of role or influence do you think the conflict in Massachusetts played in the debates and in the final document?
- Benjamin Lincoln and Henry Knox personally kept George Washington abreast of the Regulators’ activities and the unrest in Massachusetts. Do you think they painted an accurate picture? (painted it in the darkest of terms, calculated to confirm Washington’s worst fears about the potential collapse of the state republics, they knew that their cause would be strengthened by Washington’s participation)
- What were the circumstances surrounding George Washington’s participation in the Convention? (Shays’ Rebellion helped persuade him to come out of retirement and chair the proceedings.)
- What were the sentiments of the four Massachusetts delegates about the key issues at the Convention? (Only Gerry did not favor a strong central government; he believed a strong central government would deprive the states of their sovereignty and wanted the proposed Constitution to include a bill of rights.)
- What was the “unique” case that three of the Massachusetts
delegates made for a stronger central government? (US was powerless
to offer assistance during Shays’ Rebellion)
- What were the concerns of James Madison? (lack of credit worthiness
of the federal government and the fiscal policies of the states caving
to demands for debtor relief) Do you see any parallels with today?
- What were the key arguments of the Federalists? (see tabbed content)
- What were the key arguments of the Anti-Federalists? (see tabbed content)
- What was the significance of the failure of Rhode Island to attend
the Convention? (Rhode Island’s non-attendance was the exception
that proved the rule—state power must be curbed)
- What were the compromises reached during the Convention? (Great Compromise, Three-Fifths Compromise, Slavery Compromise)
- If the founding fathers were alive today, how do you think they
would feel about our current government and its interpretation of
the Constitution? Think of recent Supreme Court rulings and actions
taken by the administration.
- Gross, Robert, ed. In Debt to Shays: The Bicentennial of an Agrarian Rebellion, volume 65. Boston, MA: The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1993.
- Richards, Leonard. Shays’s Rebellion: The American Revolution’s Final Battle. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
- Starkey, Marion. A Little Rebellion. New York: Knopf, 1955.
- Satzmary, David. Shays’ Rebellion: The Making of an Agrarian Insurrection. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980.
- The History Channel Series: 10 Days That Changed America: Shays’ Rebellion: America’s First Civil War; 60 minutes
- Calliope: A little Rebellion Now and Then: Prologue to the Constitution; 30 minutes
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