Grade 3-5 Passing the Constitution, A Lesson in State Ratification

The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the ratification period that followed the Federal Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Through various activities to understand the what, why, who, where, and when of state ratification debates, students will see that state ratification of the Constitution was a critical element of establishing the new government’s legitimacy. Student activities throughout the day will help to build a State Ratification Bulletin Board.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 3, 4, 5

Massachusetts and Constitutional Ratification

This video presents an overview of the crucial role played by Massachusetts in ratification of the Constitution. Federalists approached Governor John Hancock, and offered to support his political ambitions if he would support the new Constitution. At their behest, he offered—and the state constitution accepted—unconditional ratification with nine recommendatory amendments. Professor John Kaminiski notes this strategy was adopted by 6/7 of the remaining states, thus ensuring ratification.

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

Women Participate in the Ratification Debate

This short video assesses the role of “female politicians”: women who were interested in discussing the ratification politics and processes. The most visible of these was Mercy Otis Warren who, writing as “a Columbian Patriot,” opposed many aspects of the Constitution as undermining liberty. Professor Rosemarie Zagarri notes that many women throughout the country were thinking, talking, and reading about the ratification debates.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Voting, Elections, Politics
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

George Washington and Ratification

This short video suggests that George Washington’s vision for an American empire was intimately connected to his desire for constitutional ratification. Though he played no public role in the ratification debates, he was in constant contact with the Federalist supporters of the Constitution. As Professor W.B. Allen points out, Washington was aware of all the debates, but his influence was completely invisible to the public.

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

The Printers’ Role in Constitutional Ratification

This short video examines the role played by America’s newspaper printers in the ratification debates. Over 80% of all papers supported the new Constitution and played a significant role in supporting the Federalist cause. Professor John Kaminski explains how and why the newspapers helped to drive the ratification debates.

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

Key Individuals in Constitutional Ratification

This short video offers insights as to who were the most significant individuals in the ratification debates. Each state had its standouts: John Hancock in Massachusetts, Melancton Smith and Alexander Hamilton in New York; James Madison in Virginia. However, Professor John Kaminski concludes that George Washington, despite his reservations about becoming involved in the debate, was the most influential figure in securing ratification of the Constitution.

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

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.

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

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