Federalism Lesson Plans

The United States did not spring into being, fully formed. It took the valiant efforts of patriotic revolutionaries both on and off the battlefield. Creating a government that could unite the colonies into a single nation was a controversial idea when it was proposed. But after many debates and compromises, the US federal government was formed through the development of the Articles of Confederation and the later Constitution.

Student Activities for Federalism: The Evolution of a Democratic Republic

Discussion Questions for Federalism

  1. What are the major influences and ideas that helped create the Articles of Confederation?
  2. How did these ideas permeate through the creation of the Constitution?
  3. How was the early government of the United States structured by the Articles of Confederation?
  4. What problems arose with the Articles of Confederation?
  5. What divisions arose from these debates?
  6. What debates and discussions occurred at the Constitutional Convention?
  7. What was the process of the creation of the Constitution?
  8. How did Federalists eventually win the battle of ratification?
  9. What precedents were set by George Washington and the first generation of leaders?
  10. How can we apply these ideas, ideologies, debates, and political structures today?

What is Federalism?

The evolution of American government was certainly not without issue. After winning independence from Great Britain, many wondered how the new country would succeed in establishing government. Throughout the revolution, the 13 colonies functioned in cooperation, but also very much as separate entities. Each had their own designated state and local governments well before joining the unified nation. State governments reigned supreme, however the idea of voting rights and representative government was very much alive. How, then, would they create a federal government to operate nationally? Attempts at establishing such an entity took much trial and error. The United States, however, would remain steadfast in creating a democratic republic that balanced the many viewpoints of the time, while remaining true to the ideas and ideologies that motivated the revolution.

The evolution of America’s democratic republic began with the ratification of the Articles of Confederation in 1781. Created by the Continental Congress, the document outlined a set of laws and regulations so the colonies could function cooperatively. Much of the power lay in the states, however. With only one branch of government, the legislative, judicial and executive powers remained in state hands and problems quickly arose. Their debt from the revolution was insurmountable. Some believed in a weak national government, while others held a stronger one was needed to regain control. These and many other issues were debated and discussed at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, where the Constitution was born. Throwing the Articles completely aside, state representatives constructed an entire new system of laws and powers. Even so, debate over the ratification of the Constitution raged on.

Using the activities in this lesson plan, students and teachers will be able to analyze the history of Federalism and explain this evolutionary process of government in an historical context. From the initial Articles, to the ratification of the Constitution, many American ideas and ideologies were discussed, debated, and applied to form what is now America’s contemporary government.

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