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American Founding Toolkit: Suggested Answers

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  1. Answers should begin by considering the list of grievances against King George enumerated in the Declaration of Independence that shed light on what colonists considered to be unacceptable actions by a ruler. From those negative examples, one can then review the structures of the new state constitutions and the Articles of Confederation to see what kinds of (and how much or how little) power was given to governors and executives and how that reflected the Revolutionary experiences. Answers should then continue with the revised thinking about executive leadership that became part of the critique of the Articles, the discussion of the office of the President in the Constitutional Convention, and reflect on Washington’s first inaugural address to provide some sense of his expectations of the office and of what he intended to do. Well-formed answers will reveal the arc of thinking about executives and leaders from the Revolution to the new nation.
  2. Answers should consider the conflicting impulses of different groups of Americans who valued different ideals at the same time and who also valued some goals (security) more in particular situations (frontier threats from natives and foreign nations) while valuing freedom (uninhibited settlement, grassroots participation in government) in different circumstances. Answers might also consider, from documentary examples, the ways that some consistently valued one goal over others and how and why that was expressed and justified. Thoughtful answers might also treat the way the Constitution was designed in part to reconcile these goals and make it possible to pursue some of each (liberty and union, freedom and security) in varying degrees, rather than having to choose one goal over all others. Answers might also trace the way particular leaders and individuals stressed certain goals and ideals either above others or suggested innovative ways to achieve several simultaneously.
  3. Successful answers will trace the ways that Americans thought about themselves and their nation in the 1780s in terms of how well they were upholding the shared visions of the Revolution. Responses should consider the ways that Articles government left many prominent Americans convinced of a decay and decline in virtue and responsibility and good government and how they pushed for a new Constitution to address those problems. At the same time, many objected to the new Constitution because they saw it as undermining the principles that they identified with the Revolution, and answers might focus on responsive, local, limited governments and protection of basic rights. Answers might also include the ways that these issues were discussed in the debates both in the Philadelphia convention and in the state ratifying conventions and the nation’s newspapers.
  4. Answers should focus on the broad and bold promises of the Declaration and the way that subsequent debates in the 1780s tended to be about either extending or curtailing or delaying the application of those principles to all. Answers might also take up particular documents and individual writers to see how they addressed these questions and spoke—positively or negatively—about counterbalancing themes such as order, responsibility, and stability in response to calls for liberty, freedom, and opportunity. Many of the Founding era debates were, at root, about how far to extend the Revolution and how sweeping its reforms should be. Strong answers will reflect on how the debates over political leadership and participation and on the Constitution itself echoed the contested meanings of the Revolution and struggles over how and where and when to apply or extend its principles.