Celebrate Constitution Day By Exploring the 1787 Constitutional Convention Debates

Over the last several months, ConSource has detailed on our Blog the key debates that occurred during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia from May 25, 1787 to September 17, 1787. We hope you will join us in re-exploring the Constitutional Convention debates in honor of Constitution Day on September 17!

The Constitutional Convention of 1787

In this unit, students will examine the roles that key American founders played in creating the Constitution, and the challenges they faced in the process. They will learn why many Americans in the 1780s believed that reforms to the Articles of Confederation were necessary, and the steps taken to authorize the 1787 Convention in Philadelphia. They will become familiar with the main issues that divided delegates at the Convention, particularly the questions of representation in Congress and the office of the presidency. Finally, they will see how a spirit of compromise, in the end, was necessary for the Convention to fulfill its task of improving the American political system.

Grades 9-12
Foundations of Democracy
Lesson Plans

The Constitutional Convention: Lesson 1: The Road to the Constitutional Convention

In February of 1787, Congress authorized a convention, to be held in Philadelphia in May of that year, for the purpose of recommending changes to the Articles of Confederation. In what has come to be known as the Constitutional Convention of 1787, all of the states—with the exception of Rhode Island—sent delegates to debate how to amend the Articles of Confederation in order to alleviate several problems experienced by the United States after the War for Independence.

This lesson focuses on the problems under the Articles of Confederation between 1783 and 1786 leading to the 1787 Convention. Through examination of primary sources, students will see why some prominent American founders, more than others, believed that the United States faced a serious crisis, and that drastic changes, rather than minor amendments, to the Articles were necessary.

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 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.

The Constitutional Convention: Fine Tuning the Balance of Powers

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific contexts. This simulation places students in the midst of the Constitutional Convention, after the Committee of Detail has submitted its draft for a new Constitution on August 6. With that draft’s concrete proposals on the floor, students will ponder questions such as: Is this the Constitution we want? Are the people adequately represented? Are the branches well structured? By engaging with these questions mid-stream, before the Convention reached its final conclusions, students will experience the Constitutional Convention as process, a supreme example of collective decision-making.

Grade 9-12 Civic Discourse at the Constitutional Convention

The purpose of this lesson is to engage students in a discussion of the Constitutional Convention. Students will explore the key disputes that arose during the convention, including most prominently how power would be divided between the federal and state governments and the various branches of government. Furthermore, students with understand the importance of compromise during the Constitutional Convention.

The Constitutional Convention: Lesson 2: The Question of Representation at the 1787 Convention

When the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention convened in May of 1787 to recommend amendments to the Articles of Confederation, one of the first issues they addressed was the plan for representation in Congress. This lesson will focus on the various plans for representation debated during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Recreating the Constitutional Convention

Through this simulation, students will understand that the Founders knew and accepted their Constitution despite its flaws, and that they all understood that some issues (i.e. slavery) would need to be resolved in the future. In this way, they can analyze the Constitution not as a “perfect” document created by fifty-five friends, but a true reflection of the period, the people, and the issues dividing those who struggled within it.

Grades 6-12
Federal Government

The Constitutional Convention: Amendments and Ratification

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific contexts. This simulation places students at the Constitutional Convention and asks them to engage in two overarching questions: How would the proposed plan be placed into effect, and how might it be changed in the future? These issues place the proceedings of the Convention in context: Without the assent of the people, the new plan would come to naught, and unless people believed they had workable ways to amend it, they would never grant their assent. Specifically, students will address the nuts-and-bolts of amendment and ratification procedures.