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.

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

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.

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

Constitution Day Scavenger Hunt with 60-Second Civics

Fifty-five delegates attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Most students can identify George Washington or James Madison. But what about the 53 other delegates? Who were they? How did they influence the convention? In this lesson, students will familiarize themselves with the delegates by listening to a series of 60-Second Civics podcast episodes devoted to the Framers of the Constitution.

  • Resource Type: Audio
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

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.

  • Resource Type: Essays, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Voting, Elections, Politics
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The Constitutional Convention: Lesson 3: Creating the Office of the Presidency

This lesson focuses on the arguments over the various characteristics and powers of the office of president as debated at Constitutional Convention of 1787. By examining the views of delegates as recorded in James Madison’s Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, students will understand the arguments of those who supported either a strong, independent executive, or a very limited and highly controlled executive. Students will also see why, in the end, the delegates compromised.

  • Resource Type: Essays, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources, Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Executive Branch/Presidency
  • Grades: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Constitutional Convention

This article focuses on George Washington’s role in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia from May 14 to September 17. Delegates were gathering to correct the various problems that had arisen while the newly-independent nation was operating under the Articles of Confederation, but Washington had to be persuaded to even attend.

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

The Constitutional Convention: Slavery and the Constitution

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 the most problematic issue the framers faced: how to deal with slavery. Although most delegates believed slavery was deplorable, it was so deeply entrenched that any attempt to abolish it would likely keep several states from approving the proposed Constitution. By confronting this issue, students will experience for themselves the influence of socioeconomic factors in the political arena, and they will see how political discourse is shaped by arguments based on morality, interest, and pragmatic considerations, often intertwined.

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

The Constitutional Convention: Reform or Revolution?

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific contexts. This simulation places students at the opening of the Constitutional Convention and asks them to deliberate on the overarching question delegates faced at that moment: Should they propose alterations to the Articles of Confederation, or should they construct an entirely different plan that would supplant the Articles? By engaging with this momentous issue, students will understand the enormity of the “revolution in favor of government” that occurred in 1787.

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

Choosing to Make a Nation: Constitutional Convention Simulation

The Choosing to Make a Nation Curriculum Project developed by award-winning author Ray Raphael is a student-centered, primary source-rich approach to teaching about American history and our nation‘s founding documents.

An 8-lesson simulation in which students become delegates from specific states and address the same issues the framers faced. Unit includes the following lesson plans –

(1) Reform or Revolution?
(2) Composition of Congress
(3) Creating an Executive Branch
(4) Should Judges Judge Laws?
(5) Balance of Powers
(6) Slavery and the Constitution
(7) Amendments and Ratification
(8) To Sign or Not to Sign?
Option A: The historical Constitution
Option B: Student-generated constitution

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

Act IV: How Did the Constitutional Convention Conclude

This short video analyzes the final days of the Convention, when the delegates were eager to leave but also mindful of the work they had accomplished. They were “smart people who had learned from spending 88 days together” and even those opposed to the Constitution (Randolph, Mason, and Gerry) had the opportunity to dissent. Professor Gordon Lloyd agrees with Franklin that the Constitution did not achieve perfection but, rather, created a “more perfect union.”

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 10, 11, 12