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The Constitutional Convention — Lesson Plan for Act IV

 

by Natalie Bolton and Gordon Lloyd

Introduction:

To assist teachers in teaching the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Professor Gordon Lloyd has created a website in collaboration with the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University on the Constitutional Convention. Professor Lloyd organizes the content of the Constitutional Convention in various ways on the website. Four lesson plans have been created to align with the content the Constitutional Convention as a Four Act Drama. Within each lesson students will use Madison’s daily Notes of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as their primary source for acquiring content.

Act Four covers the final three weeks of the Convention during the month of September. Despite all the progress that had been made on the structural role of the states and enumerating the powers of Congress, there was much work still to be done on the Presidency. The Brearly Committee came up with the idea of an Electoral College as a sensible compromise to the long and largely fruitless debates on how to elect the President. It had been clear for four months that until the mode of election was settled, no progress could be made on 1) length of term, 2) the issue of re-eligibility, and 3) the powers of the President. The Electoral College was modeled on the Connecticut Compromise: the President would be elected by a combination of people and states.

(Act Four description taken from: www.teachingamericanhistory.org/convention/intro.html)

Guiding Question:

Lesson 4: How did the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 resolve the structure and powers issues related to the office of the presidency?

Learning Objectives:

After completing this lesson, students should be able to:

Background Information for the Teacher:

Establishing the Electoral College and the Presidency

The Virginia Plan, introduced by Edmund Randolph on May 29, called for the creation of a National Executive elected by the Congress. On the initial consideration of the proposal, the delegates on June 1, June 2, and June 4 agreed on a single executive who would serve a seven year term and be ineligible for re-election. Some delegates wanted to settle the issue of 1) re-eligibility first, others wanted to 2) fix the length of term before proceeding further, still other delegates wanted to discuss how 3) the executive would be elected before considering anything else, and still other delegates thought 4) that the powers of the President should be the primary question to be settled.

On the first reading, and every time thereafter, the convention agreed to provide the chief executive with a veto subject to Congressional override. (See Judicial Review Theme.) The biggest issue was how to elect the President. On June 9, the delegates defeated a motion to have the President elected by state executives. On June 18, Hamilton surprised the delegates with a proposal for a President for life.

The delegates revisited the four main issues–without settling any one once and for all–involved in the construction of the executive on July 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, and 26. On July 17, the delegates agreed to a single executive elected by the legislature, and to be re-elected rather than serve during good behavior. On July 18 and 19, the delegates revisited the issue of whether the President should be re-eligible and embraced the idea that perhaps the president should be chosen by electors chosen by state legislatures. On July 20, a proposal permitting the impeachment of the president was approved. On July 24, the delegates returned to the earlier position: the President should be elected by the national legislature. Finally, on July 26, the delegates approved a seven-year term for the President. But he would be ineligible for re-election!

The Committee of Detail Report of August 6, summarized where the delegates stood. On August 24, the delegates turned to the Presidential article and defeated four different modes of electing the President. In the end, the Convention selected members of the Brearly Committee whose objective was to settle outstanding issues. The chief of these was the Presidential clause. On September 4, the Brearly Committee recommended that the Convention support the Electoral College method of choosing a president. On September 6 and 7, the delegates agreed to a four-year renewable term for the President and that he be a natural born citizen. On September 8, the delegates settled the treaty making power and agreed on the impeachment of the President for “high crimes and misdemeanours.” Finally, on September 15, the delegates added “the inferior officers clause.”

To summarize, the Brearly Committee, composed of Gilman, King, Sherman, Brearly, G. Morris, Dickinson, Carroll, Madison, Williamson, Butler, and Baldwin–a veritable cross-section of the delegates–proposed the adoption of an Electoral College in which both the people and the States are represented in the election of the President. This resolution of the difficult matter of Presidential election clearly meant that the partly national-partly federal model had become the deliberate sense of the convention. This structural compromise–Congress is partly federal and partly national–became the deliberate sense of the community by the end of the Convention. It is the model to which the delegates returned for the resolution of the most durable of issues, namely, the election of the President.

Preparing to Teach this Lesson:

Prior to teaching the teacher should have covered content related to the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation and the structure and powers of an executive. The teacher should familiarize her/him self with Madison’s Notes on the Constitutional Convention of 1787 on the following days outlined below. Gordon Lloyd has presented the content of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as a Four Act Drama. This lesson focuses on actions taken place during Act Four related to the presidency but content related to Acts One, Two, and Three are also covered.

May 29: Virginia Plan introduced and defended by Randolph
June 1: Debated and postponed Resolution 7 on the Presidency
June 2: Further lengthy deliberation of Resolution 7
June 4: More deliberation of Resolution 7
June 9: Reconsideration of Resolution 7
June 15: New Jersey Plan introduced
June 18: Neither the Virginia Plan nor the New Jersey Plan is adequate to secure “good government”
July 2: Creation of the Gerry Committee
July 17: The Supreme Law of the Land and the Independence of the Presidency
July 18: Appointing Federal judges
July 19: Reconsideration of the Independent Presidency
July 20: More disputation over the Independent Presidency
July 21: Appointment by Executive or Congress?
July 24: Controversy over the Presidency
July 26: Constitutional Convention adjourns with the creating of a 5-member Committee of Detail
August 17: The power to “make” but not “declare war”
August 24: Committee of 11 reports on slavery
September 4: Brearly Committee reports 9 propositions
September 5: Brearly Committee reports 5 more propositions
September 6: Brearly Committee and the Electoral College
September 7: Shared appointment power accepted
September 8: Treaties, Impeachment and Money Bills

Analyzing Primary Sources:

If your students lack experience in dealing with primary sources, you might use one or more preliminary exercises to help them develop these skills. The Learning Page at the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress includes a set of such activities. Another useful resource is the Digital Classroom of the National Archives, which features a set of Document Analysis Worksheets. Finally, History Matters offers pages on “Making Sense of Maps” and “Making Sense of Oral History” which give helpful advice to teachers in getting their students to use such sources effectively.

Suggested Activities:

Introductory Activity:

Time required for activity: In class reading assignment, completing graphic organizer, portfolio and oral presentation, five 45-minute class periods.

Students will complete a KWL chart to determine what students know about the Executive branch in relation to how often the President can be elected, the term length of the office of the President, how the President is elected, and the powers of the President.

Students should record their responses on the KWL graphic organizer (see Act IV KWL chart lesson resource). First, students should complete the K column to demonstrate what they know about the office of the President. The teacher should debrief with students and then provide students time to complete the W portion of the graphic organizer. The W portion of the graphic organizer allows students to reflect on what they additionally would like to know about the office of the President. After the activity on the presidency has been completed, students should complete the L section of the graphic organizer to indicate what they learned about the office of the presidency during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Depending on student content vocabulary readiness the teacher may need to review vocabulary used in Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. One way to review is to use a word wall. The teacher will tell students that the class will be adding several words to the word wall today. Word walls are a literacy strategy that may be used before reading (explicit teaching and modeling, during reading (guided practice) and after reading (guided practice). For proper use of “word walls” please see: http://www.ccsso.org/projects/secondary_school_redesign/adolescent_literacy_toolkit/resources_for_teachers/10620.cfm

Activity:

Time required for activity: In class activity two to three 45 minute class periods.

The purpose of the activity is to provide students with an understanding of how the delegates debated and came to an agreement on the length of term, shared and exclusive powers, a unitary or plural executive, and the mode of election (states or people or a combination) of the President.

The teacher will have students form small groups to explore the issues related to the office of the executive during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Students will complete a problem-solving graphic organizer related to their assigned readings on the executive. Students are completing the graphic organizers in order to answer the lesson assessment question.

The problem-solving graphic organizer has students consider:

Step One: The status of the presidency in the plans originally considered during Act I of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Step Two: Alternative suggestions that were made on later dates during Act II and Act III.

Step Three: How delegates justified the suggested structure and powers of the executive in Act IV. Students will note which delegates advocated for and against the finalized structure and powers of the executive.

Step Four: The effectiveness of the finalized structure and powers of the executive made during Act IV for a democratic republican government. Students will note who would support and oppose the structure and powers of the executive.

Student groups will then prepare a portfolio replicating their problem-solving graphic organizer. The portfolio will consist of four panels that provide the same information on the graphic organizer. Each student group will then present their panel of their portfolio to the class within a five-minute time. The total presentation will be 20 minutes. Students will be given all group graphic organizers so that they may record main ideas from each group presentation. Follow-up questions can be asked to students after each presentation.

Summarized readings are included as a lesson resource, Act IV Readings, or complete versions of the readings can be accessed from the website.

Group 1 Readings: Why do we need an Executive and how many Executives are needed? (Graphic Organizer)

Need:

May 29: Virginia Plan introduced and defended by Randolph
June 15: New Jersey Plan introduced
June 18: Neither the Virginia Plan nor the New Jersey Plan is adequate to secure “good government”

How many:

June 1: Debated and postponed Resolution 7 on the Presidency
June 2: Further lengthy deliberation of Resolution 7
June 4: More deliberation of Resolution 7

Group 2 Readings: How to elect the Executive? (Graphic Organizer)

Alternative suggestions first round:

June 1: Debated and postponed Resolution 7 on the Presidency
June 2: Further lengthy deliberation of Resolution 7
June 9: Reconsideration of Resolution 7

Alternative suggestions second round:

July 17: The Supreme Law of the Land and the Independence of the Presidency
July 19: Reconsideration of the Independent Presidency
July 24: Controversy over the Presidency
July 26: Constitutional Convention adjourns with the creating of a 5-member Committee of Detail
August 24: Committee of 11 reports on slavery

Eliminating the alternatives:

September 4: Brearly Committee reports 9 propositions
September 5: Brearly Committee reports 5 more propositions
September 6: Four year term accepted

Group 3 Readings: Term of office (Graphic Organizer)

Alternative suggestions first round:

June 1: Debated and postponed Resolution 7 on the Presidency
June 2: Further lengthy deliberation of Resolution 7
June 18: Neither the Virginia Plan nor the New Jersey Plan is adequate to secure “good government”

Alternative suggestions second round:

July 17: The Supreme Law of the Land and the Independence of the Presidency
July 19: Reconsideration of the Independent Presidency
July 20: More disputation over the Independent Presidency
July 24: Controversy over the Presidency

Eliminating the alternatives:

September 4: Brearly Committee reports 9 propositions
September 6: Four year term accepted
September 8: Treaties, Impeachment and Money Bills

Group 4 Readings: Powers of the Executive (Graphic Organizer)

Alternative suggestions first round:

June 4: Absolute veto rejected
June 15: Foreign policy and treaty-making powers

Alternative suggestions second round:

July 18: Appointing Federal judges
July 21: Appointment by Executive or Congress?
August 17: The power to “make” but not “declare war”

Eliminating the alternatives:

September 4: Brearly Committee reports 9 propositions
September 7: Shared appointment power accepted

Assessment:

After completing this lesson, students should individually be able to write brief (1-2 paragraphs) responses to the following questions:

What arguments were made at the Constitutional Convention in relation to the structure and powers of the President and how were they resolved in relation to

a. how often the President can be elected,
b. the term length of the office of the President,
c. how the President is elected,
d. the powers (shared and exclusive) of the President, and
e. is a strong executive compatible with a republican government?

Extending the Lesson:

Extension 1: How did the Brearly Committee involve both the people and the states in the election of the president? What conflicts exist today around the Electoral College?

Extension 2: Students may use the Slavery Extension resource to explore who was on the Brearly Committee and what decisions did they make in relation to the executive during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Related EDSITEment Lesson Plans:

Selected EDSITEment Websites:

 

Standards Alignment:

  • NCSS-10
    Civic ideals and practices.
  • NCSS-5
    Individuals, groups, and institutions.
  • NCSS-6
    Power, authority, and governance.

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