The Constitution in Action – Political Parties and Presidential Electors: The Election of 1800

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific contexts. This
simulation places students in the Early Republic and asks them to engage in the politics of those
times. Acting as either Federalists or Republicans, they will be asked to develop strategies for
electing their party’s standard bearer as president, using the Constitution’s complex system of
presidential electors to their advantage at three distinct stages. (a) As state legislators, they determine how electors are to be chosen, a power granted to those bodies by the Constitution. (b) As electors, they decide whether to vote for both of their party’s nominees or whether to “throw one away” so their vice-presidential candidate does not “overrun” their choice for president. (c) As Federalist members of the House of Representatives, they will decide whether to vote for Aaron Burr, a Republican of dubious reputation, in order to prevent Thomas Jefferson, a hardened opponent of Federalist policies, from becoming president. By participating in these critical decisions, they will see how the system of presidential electors, which the framers had designed in order to minimize partisanship, was played to partisan advantage by both sides.

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Executive Branch/Presidency
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The Constitution in Action – State Challenges to Federal Authority: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific contexts.
Students in this simulation, as Republican members of the Kentucky and Virginia legislatures in
1798 and 1799, consider how they will oppose the Alien and Sedition Acts. Constitutionally, can a
state legislature “nullify” a federal act if it violates the Constitution? Who is to decide what violates
the Constitution? Can a state, acting on the people’s behalf, “interpose” between the federal
government and the people? Students will then act as members of other state legislatures and
consider how to respond to Kentucky and Virginia. By engaging in this historical moment, students will wrestle with the ongoing tension between the Article VI, Clause 2, of the Constitution, which establishes the federal government as the “supreme Law of the Land,” and the Tenth Amendment, which reserves powers “not delegated to the United States” to the states or the people.

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The Constitution in Action: Who Shapes Foreign Policy?

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific contexts. This
simulation places students in the Early Republic and asks them to engage with a fundamental
question of Constitutional interpretation faced at that time: Who controls foreign policy, Congress
or the President? Students will explore this sweeping question with respect to Washington’s
Neutrality Proclamation of 1793 and Jay’s Treaty. By confronting foreign policy issues in historical
contexts, students will see that the Constitution, necessarily sparse, did not spell out what should be done in every circumstance. They will also see that constitutional interpretations depended in some measure on politics, with players on both sides of an issue marshaling constitutional arguments to support their positions.

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The Constitution in Action: Strict vs. Loose Construction

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific contexts. This
simulation places students in the Early Republic and asks them to engage with questions of
Constitutional interpretation faced by President Washington and the First Federal Congress. Did the Constitution empower Congress to charter a national bank? Finance and maintain lighthouses? Regulate working conditions of merchant seamen? Support higher education? Promote scientific inquiry? By confronting a variety of issues, not merely the national bank controversy, students can see that balancing the “necessary and proper” clause of the Constitution with the Tenth Amendment’s declaration of reserved powers to the states is no easy matter, and that the founding generation split on the issue multiple times, as we do today.

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The Constitution in Action: Republic or Democracy?

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific
contexts. This lesson places students at the First Federal Congress and asks them to consider
whether citizens have the right to instruct their elected representatives on how to vote. This
gets to the very heart of what our government is all about. Should we have a republic—a
representative government in which elected leaders are free to deliberate and decide on their
own—or a democracy, in which representatives follow the lead of their constituents? Students
will engage with this question twice: first, as members of the First Federal Congress, not
knowing anything about later events, and second, as modern citizens, taking into account
partisan gridlock, media (print, broadcast, social media, and Internet news), and the infusion
of money into the political arena.

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Legislative Branch/Congress
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The Constitution in Action – Origin of the Bill of Rights: Madison’s Amendments

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific
contexts. This lesson places students at the First Federal Congress and asks them to respond
to the amendments James Madison proposed on June 8, 1789. Which of Madison’s
proposals should they amend to the Constitution? Should they consider amendments
proposed at state ratifying conventions as well? Whatever they decide on these matters,
should amendments be placed at the end of the Constitution or woven into the body of the
text, as Madison preferred? By engaging in this process, students will view the twelve
amendments that emerged from the First Federal Congress, ten of which became the Bill of
Rights, not as foregone conclusions but as the consequence of considered deliberations.

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The Constitution in Action – Origin of the Bill of Rights: State Amendments

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific
contexts. This lesson places students at a critical moment in our nation’s founding, when
Americans considered whether to ratify the Constitution. Should they agree to the document
as-is, without making any changes? Students will examine and evaluate numerous
amendments proposed at state ratifying conventions. Which of these protected rights or
affirmed basic principles? Which called for structural changes in the new government? Only
by looking at the full sweep of amendments offered by the states can students understand
the historical context of the Bill of Rights, which would include some of the proposed
changes but not others.

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The Constitution in Action: The Early Republic

The United States Constitution, signed in 1787 and ratified in 1788, provided a skeletal
outline, but how would it be applied in the real world?
Some provisions were clear. The president had to be at least thirty-five years of age, so no
thirty-one-year-old could ever fill the office unless there were a constitutional amendment.
But other provisions raised questions. Presidential appointments to high offices required
senatorial consent, but could a president remove a top official on his own, without consent?
That troublesome question produced a constitutional crisis right off the bat. A bill
establishing the Department of Foreign Affairs stated that its head would be “removable
from office by the President of the United States.” Many in Congress objected, arguing that
if the Senate must consent to an appointment, it must also consent to a dismissal. Senators
split evenly on the measure, ten in favor and ten opposed. Vice-President John Adams broke
the tie, giving the president alone full power to dismiss appointees. Had Adams voted the
other way, our government would look very different today. Cabinet appointees, if they
curried favor with senators, would not be dismissed and could last from one administration
to the next.
This unit presents students with several such issues faced by Americans in the Early
Republic as they tried to interpret and implement the Constitution.
First, a glaring omission: Why was there no Bill of Rights? Should there be one, and if so,
what should it include? The lesson “Origin of the Bill of Rights” is in two parts. The first
places students at state ratifying conventions and asks them what additions or alterations
they would like to make to the Constitution. The second places them in the First Federal
Congress and asks them to respond to the amendments James Madison has proposed.
During congressional discussions over amendments that would become our Bill of Rights,
the House of Representatives debated at length a proposal that would have granted citizens
the right to instruct their representatives on what issues to address in Congress and even how
to vote. This gets to the very heart of what our government is all about. “Republic or
Democracy?” places students in the First Federal Congress and asks them to consider
whether our government should be a republic—a representative government in which elected
leaders are free to deliberate and decide on their own—or a democracy, in which
representatives follow the lead of their constituents.
In the lesson “Strict v. Loose Construction,” students consider several related questions
faced by President Washington and Congress. Should Washington veto the bill to charter a
national bank because the Constitution does not explicitly grant that power—or is the power
to charter a national bank implied by powers that are explicitly granted? As members of the
First Federal Congress, should they approve a measure for financing and maintaining
lighthouses, even though their authority to address that matter was not explicitly granted?
Do they have the power to regulate working conditions of merchant seamen? Support
higher education? Promote scientific inquiry? By confronting a variety of issues, not merely
the national bank controversy, students can see that balancing the “necessary and proper”
clause of the Constitution with the Tenth Amendment’s declaration of reserved powers is no
easy matter, and that the founding generation split on the issue multiple times, as we do
today.
Next, students explore “Who Shapes Foreign Policy?” Does the Constitution grant that
power to Congress or to the President? By considering Washington’s Neutrality
Proclamation of 1793 and Jay’s Treaty in historical context, students will see that
constitutional interpretations depend in some measure on politics, with players on both sides
of an issue marshalling constitutional arguments to support their positions.
In “State Challenges to Federal Authority: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions,”
students first become Republican members of the Kentucky or Virginia legislatures and
consider how they will oppose the Alien and Sedition Acts. Constitutionally, can a state
legislature “nullify” a federal act if it violates the federal Constitution? Who is to decide what
violates the Constitution? Can a state, acting on the people’s behalf, “interpose” between the
federal government and the people? Students then act as members of other state legislatures
and consider how to respond to Kentucky and Virginia. By engaging in this historical
moment, students wrestle with the ongoing tension between Article V, Section 2, of the
Constitution, which establishes the federal government as the “supreme Law of the Land,”
and the Tenth Amendment, which reserves powers “not delegated to the United States” to
the states or the people.
“Political Parties and Presidential Electors: The Election of 1800” places students in
the Early Republic and asks them to engage in the politics of those times. Acting as either
Federalists or Republicans, they will be asked to develop strategies for electing their party’s
standard bearer as president, using the Constitution’s complex system of presidential electors
to their advantage at three distinct stages. (a) As state legislators, they determine how electors
are to be chosen, a power granted to those bodies by the Constitution. (b) As electors, they
decide whether to vote for both of their party’s nominees or whether to “throw one away” so
their vice-presidential candidate does not “overrun” their choice for president. (c) As
Federalist members of the House of Representatives, they will decide whether to vote for
Aaron Burr, a Republican of dubious reputation, in order to prevent Thomas Jefferson, a
hardened opponent of Federalist policies, from becoming president. By participating in these
critical decisions, they will see how the system of presidential electors, which the framers had
designed in order to minimize partisanship, was played to partisan advantage by both sides.

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The Constitutional Convention: To Sign or Not to Sign (Option B: Student-Generated Constitution)

NOTE: This lesson is for classes that have completed other components of
ConSource’s Constitutional Convention Simulation unit. Classes that have not
engaged with other lessons in this unit should use Option A, in which students
decide whether to sign the historical Constitution. Teachers whose classes have
participated in the ConSource simulation can use either Option A, in which students
decide whether to sign the historical Constitution, or Option B, in which students
decide whether to sign the student-generated constitution. They can also choose to
do both lessons.

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The Constitutional Convention: To Sign or Not to Sign (Option A: The Historical Constitution)

NOTE: This lesson depends on a prior study of the Constitution Convention and the
plan it produced, whether that study has been based on ConSource’s Constitutional
Convention Simulation lessons or other curricula. Students will not be able to make
a reasoned decision on whether to sign or not to sign the Constitution unless they
know what it is they are asked to endorse. Classes that have engaged in ConSource’s
Constitutional Convention simulation can engage with both “To Sign or Not to Sign:
Option A,” which asks students to cast a final vote on the Constitution of 1787, and
“To Sign or Not to Sign: Option B,” which asks students to cast a final vote on the
student-generated constitution.

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12