Solving the Problems the Articles of Confederation
Have students summarize and explain the several problems that existed under the Articles of Confederation and where such issues were debated: the Constitutional Convention. Focus on the issues that existed, and also how divisions arose in finding a solution. Students will be able to explain and analyze the problems of a weak federal government, and how early politicians aimed to correct them and preserve the new nation.
The Constitutional Convention
Divisions at the Convention
Divisions existed among the delegates at the convention. One group, the Nationalists, argued for a stronger federal government to resolve many issues. The other group, the Anti-federalists, were still supportive of states' power. In addition, smaller states were pitted against larger states over how each would be represented in the federal government.
Amending the Articles
The first order of business stemmed from whether, and how, to alter the Articles of Confederation. For some, change was enough, however, many wanted to start from scratch. Eventually, the delegates, in secrecy, agreed to throw out the Articles entirely and start anew in creating the Constitution.
Structure of Government
Delegates debated the manner in which this new government would be structured. First, the federal government as a whole would hold more powers, including the power to tax and regulate commerce. The Executive Branch was strengthened, with Washington being elected president. Federal Courts were also established as part of the Judicial Branch.
The Virginia Plan
James Madison of Virginia came to the convention with a structured plan to help aid the overhaul of government. In his Virginia Plan, Madison proposed three branches of government. The Legislative Branch would also be a bicameral, or two house, legislature. Representation would be based off of state population.
The New Jersey Plan
Fearing that larger states would dominate government, smaller states proposed the New Jersey Plan in response to Madison's plan. Ultimately, it called for three branches, legislative powers, but a unicameral house. In this one house, each state would hold an equal vote, thus giving smaller states the same voting power as larger states.
The Great Compromise
In order to resolve differences between the Virginia and New Jersey plans, the Great Compromise was presented. It created a two house legislature, made up of the Senate and House of Representatives. The Senate would call for two representatives from each state. The House would base representation off state population. This satisfied small and large states.
Have students create a spider map or a character map about figures who participated in the Constitutional Convention. Students should detail who they were, their ideas, and where they stood on the status of federal government. Students could also detail their beliefs on state governments.