Ratifying the Constitution

This lesson introduces students to the vigorous debates between the Federalist and the Anti-Federalists surrounding the ratification of the Constitution that took place in the state conventions.

In the state ratification conventions, delegates argued the wisdom of adopting the Constitution. Elected specifically to serve in these conventions, they came from a range of backgrounds, from the very elite and highly educated, to those of humbler birth and station. State delegates grappled with questions about the nature of democracy, the distribution of wealth and power in society, the rights of individuals and minority groups, and the role of dissent in a republic.

  • Resource Type: Essays, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

Decoding Elections: Chaotic Conventions

National conventions are supposed to be a show of party power and solidarity, but there’s always the potential for dissent. See how they have evolved and how they can impact candidates and the electorate. Registration on NewseumED is required to view resource.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Primary Sources, Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Voting, Elections, Politics
  • Grades: 7, 8, 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, should amendments be placed at the end of the Constitution or woven into the body of the text, as Madison preferred?

  • 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. Only by looking at the full sweep of amendments offered by the states can students understand the historical context of the Bill of Rights.

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

Congress Creates the Bill of Rights

Within the half-billion pages of records in the care of the Center for Legislative Archives, there are some special treasures from the First Congress that show how the ratification of the Constitution necessitated the creation of the Bill of Rights, and how the creation of the Bill of Rights, in turn, completed the Constitution. This remarkable story is told in Congress Creates the Bill of Rights, which consists of a mobile app, an ebook, and online resources for teachers and students.

  • Resource Type: Primary Sources
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Challenges to Ratification of the Constitution

This video examines the need for and the challenges faced by the new Constitution. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention, originally an ad hoc gathering to revise the Articles of Confederation, quickly realized the need for a new political structure to strengthen the federal government. Professor John Kaminksi notes the role played by George Washington in legitimizing the Convention, as well as the significance of the decision to require ratification through conventions in 9/13 states.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 11, 12

Popular Sovereignty and Constitutional Ratification

This short video highlights the importance of popular sovereignty in the ratification debates. The people themselves, through their elected delegates in specially-called conventions, voted up or down on the new Constitution. Professor John Kaminksi notes how the Antifederalists also used the principle of popular sovereignty to justify their call for constitutional amendments.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 11, 12