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The Constitutional Convention — Lesson Plan for Act II

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by Natalie Bolton and Gordon Lloyd


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 Two portrays the Convention in crisis, in the sense that the delegates were at a stalemate. However, the delegates were able to “solve” the crisis through compromise. Far from the wholly national republican Virginia Plan (as amended), being accepted, as we might very well anticipate when the curtain fell at the end of Act One, the delegates from Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, and Mr. Martin from Maryland –the defenders of the New Jersey Plan, the old style federalism of the Articles, and the old fashioned republicanism of the state constitutions–insisted on questioning the validity of the Virginia Plan. They argued that the Convention had exceeded the Congressional mandate because the Articles had in fact been scrapped rather than revised. Thus the Convention had violated the rule of law. Moreover, the Convention was about to propose a novelty–a large country under one republican form of government–that would never be accepted by the electorate. These delegates knew their Locke and Montesquieu and they relied on their own political experience which was remarkably extensive: republican government could only exist in areas of small extent where the people kept close watch over their representatives.

A breakthrough occurs at the end of June when Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut suggests that we are neither wholly national nor wholly federal but a mixture of both. Several delegates echo this theme and the Convention decides to move beyond the exclusively national or federal paradigms. The Gerry Committee is created to explore the ramifications of this suggestion that the people be represented in the House and the states be represented in the Senate. This recommendation–the Connecticut Compromise–is accepted over Madison’s objections in mid-July.

(Act Two description taken from:

Guiding Question:

Lesson 2: Why did the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 compromise on a system of government that is partly federal and partly national?

Learning Objectives:

After completing this lesson, students should be able to:

  1. Define compromise and provide real world examples of compromise.
  2. Explain how the conflict over representation was resolved by the Connecticut Compromise.

Background Information for the Teacher:

The Connecticut Compromise

The Virginia Plan, introduced on May 29, was “wholly national.” Of particular importance is the absence of any structural representation for the states. According to Resolutions 3, 4, and 5, the general government shall have a bicameral legislative structure with neither branch elected by the states and with neither representing the states.

On June 11, the delegates overwhelmingly agreed that the lower house should be based on population and elected by the people. By a 6-5 vote, the delegates rejected a proposal by Roger Sherman that supported popular representation in the lower house and equal representation for the states in the upper branch. Thus on June 15, William Paterson submitted the New Jersey Plan, one that scrapped all the popular representation provisions of the Virginia Plan.

On June 19, the New Jersey Plan was defeated 7-3-1. For the remainder of June, however, the delegates returned repeatedly to the compromise proposal of June 11. And on June 29, Ellsworth reintroduced the motion of June 11: equal representation for the states in the upper house with proportional representation in the lower house.

For the first time, the case for the representation of the states was elevated from one of convenience to one of principle. Ellsworth declared, “We were partly national; partly federal. He trusted that on this middle ground a compromise would take place.” On June 30, the youngest delegate, Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey–until then a pretty staunch nationalist–spoke for the first time: “We were partly federal, partly national in our Union,” he declared. “And he did not see why the Govt. might (not) in some respects operate on the States, in others on the people.”

On July 2, the Ellsworth proposal was defeated on a tie vote: 5-5-1. Nevertheless, a Committee of 11–one delegate from each state–was created to seek a compromise on the representation question. The composition of the committee reveals that Madison’s attempt to exclude the states from the structure of the general government had been halted in its tracks. Gerry was chosen over King from Massachusetts, Yates over Hamilton from New York, Franklin over Wilson from Pennsylvania, Davie over Williamson from North Carolina, Rutledge over Pinckney from South Carolina, and Mason over Madison from Virginia.

From July 5 to July 7, the Gerry Committee defended equal representation for the states in the Senate and popular representation in the House. We need to put theoretical niceties to one side, Gerry said, and think about “accommodation.” “We were… in a peculiar situation. We were neither the same Nation nor different Nations. If no compromise should take place what will be the consequence?” Mason concurred: “There must be some accommodation.” Paterson, also on the committee, urged adoption of the report for “there was no other ground of accommodation.”

The key to the Compromise was winning over such former wholly national supporters like Gerry and Mason. An often-overlooked component of the Compromise was the agreement that money bills would originate in the House and could not be amended in the Senate. This feature was vital in winning over Mason and Gerry, as well as Randolph who introduced the wholly national Virginia Plan. These three delegates were willing to buy into the partly national (popular representation in the House), partly federal (equal representation for the states in the Senate) arrangement if the principle of no taxation without popular representation was adhered to.

On July 16, the delegates agreed (5-4-1) to the Gerry Committee Report, also known as the Connecticut Compromise. The losing delegates, Madison, Wilson, G. Morris, Pinckney, and King, decided not to challenge the outcome.

Preparing to Teach this Lesson:

Prior to teaching this lesson the teacher should cover content related to representation of the people and/or the states in the Virginia Plan, New Jersey Plan, and Hamilton Plan. 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 Act Two which contains six scenes. Some scenes have been omitted from Act Two in order to focus on the most critical content that aligns with lesson two on the Connecticut Compromise.

Scene 2: Contours of Compromise: Partly Federal, Partly National

June 29: Ellsworth: “we were partly national; partly federal”

June 30: Loose talk of division and disunion

July 2: Creation of the Gerry Committee

Scene 4: The Gerry Committee Compromise Proposal Discussed

July 5: The Compromise Proposal has three components

July 6: Debating the merits of proportional representation

July 7: Sherman reinforces case for equal representation of States

Scene 5: Decision Day on the Connecticut Compromise

July 16: Connecticut Compromise accepted (5 – 4 – 1)

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 activity 20 minutes.

This activity serves as an introduction to the lesson focusing on student understanding of the word compromise. The teacher will ask students to move to a designated corner of the room based on their interest in completing one of the following products: illustration/drawing, mime/monument, Public Service Announcement (PSA), and written flyer. Each corner of the classroom will represent a product.

The teacher will tell students they have 10 minutes to create their designated product. All students will respond to the same question, “What is a compromise?” Students will answer the question as an individual, in a small group, or whole group based on their interests and readiness. Students should use any resources they have available to assist in completing the activity. Students will then be asked to share their products with the class.

The teacher will then debrief the activity with students as they complete a verbal and visual word association on compromise as a reflection activity (see handout). The teacher can use this completed task as a formative assessment for student understanding of the meaning of compromise.


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

Students should read Madison’s Notes on the Convention of the following days to complete the activity: June 29, June 30, July 2, July 5, July 6, July 7, and July 16.

Required readings from Madison’s Notes have been copied from the website and included as resources for the teacher to use to modify to address different needs of students.

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:

Students will be divided into six groups. The six groups will all get a starting question to answer before they move around and “blog”. By participating in the blog students will gain an understanding of how a compromise was reached relating to the representation of people and the representation of states in Congress.

As students read the Notes, they should prepare responses to the following six blog questions. These questions will be posted for students to respond to utilizing a classroom blog.

Note: The classroom blog can be set up using technology or can be done using chart paper and post it notes and/or markers.

Six blog questions for students to prepare responses: share with students and post in blog or on chart paper.

Blog question 1: What were some of the arguments given by the Framers on June 29 related to states having independent and sovereign powers to govern themselves or being governed by a national/federal government?

Blog question 2: Why does Ellsworth move on June 29th that a compromise was needed regarding the rule of suffrage of the second branch of Congress so the United States would have a partly national; partly federal government?

Blog question 3: Madison concludes on June 30th that states were not divided by size but by climate and having or not having slaves. Why would proportional votes of States in both branches be an issue for states with or without slaves?

Blog question 4: Why was the Gerry committee formed on July 2?

Blog question 5: On July 5th explain the meaning of Gerry’s statement, “We were neither the same nation nor different nations.”

Blog question 6: Summarize how the Gerry Committee Report, also known as the Connecticut Compromise, reflected a compromise with a 5-4-1 vote.

Step 1: Each student group should generate a response to each blog question. Each response should be 100-150 words in length and incorporate content and/or quotes from the readings. If using paper method, students should respond on a designated color of large post-it note or be assigned a designated color of marker to write response on a white sheet of paper and then post response on chart paper.

Step 2: Each student group should then reply to two other student group Step 1 responses. Replies should be 50-75 words in length and state agreements and disagreements and explain why. If using paper method, students should respond on a different designated color of large post-it note or be assigned a designated color of marker to write response on a white sheet of paper and then post response on chart paper.

Step 3: Student groups will return to the first blog question the group answered. Student groups should review and summarize the class responses and replies in 200 words.


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

  • Explain how a compromise was reached relating to the representation of people and the representation of states in Congress.
  • Explain how a 5-4-1 vote, like the one made during the Connecticut Compromise, is an example of a compromise.

Option 2: Have students compose a letter to the editor describing the Great Compromise from the point of view of a delegate. The letters should contain the following elements:

  • Identification of the state the writer is from
  • A description of the issue (small state vs. large state, national vs. federal union, north vs. south)
  • Their position on the issue
  • The details of the compromise (consider how the state and delegate voted)
  • An explanation of the advantages and disadvantages of the compromise from their perspective.

Students can use the following website to research biographical information on each delegate by state:

Extending the Lesson:

Extension 1: Students may use Committee Assignments Chart to explore who was on the Gerry Committee and the influence of each individual in creating the Connecticut Compromise.

Extension 2: Evaluate the significance of the Great Compromise for Congress today by completing the think dot activity. See Constitutional Convention Think Dot Resource.

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.