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Federalism: The Evolution of a Democratic Republic

Lesson Plans by Richard Cleggett

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Federalism Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Federalism: The Evolution of a Democratic Republic Include:

The United States did not spring into being, fully formed. It took the valiant efforts of patriotic revolutionaries, and not only on the battlefield. The creation of a government that could unite the colonies into a single nation was a controversial idea. After many debates and compromises, however, the US federal government came to be.


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Federalism: The Evolution of a Democratic Republic Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Early American Government

Federalism - Ideas, Ideologies and Influences
Federalism - Ideas, Ideologies and Influences

Example

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Using a grid storyboard, students will summarize and explain influences on early American government. This will provide a deeper, historical context for early American government, through the ratification of the Constitution. Students will be able to explain and analyze these influences and ideas, as well as their relation to government. By putting each topic on one axis, students will summarize what defines each topic, and provide the influence it had on government on the other axis.


Extended Activity

Have students create a grid storyboard for America’s current government. Have them define topics they believe influence government today, making connections to the influences on early American government. Some topics can even be the same, with students directly connecting its past and current influence.


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State Government vs. Articles of Confederation

Federalism - State Governments vs. the Articles of Confederation
Federalism - State Governments vs. the Articles of Confederation

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A T-Chart storyboard will separate and identify the respective powers and ideas surrounding the function and power of state governments and those of a federal government should be. By comparing and contrasting how each government functioned, students will be able to explain the differences between the two and evaluate how strong state governments were compared to the weak federal government under the Articles of Confederation. This will allow students to see the divisions among leaders that exist all the way to the ratification of the Constitution.



Extended Activity

Have students create a T-Chart storyboard to compare and contrast the powers of state governments and federal government of today. Have them pinpoint the same separation of powers in the past, and how such powers have evolved now. Use your own state government to show specific state law and how it contrasts or is the same as federal law.


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Solving the Problems the Articles of Confederation

Federalism - The Constitutional Convention
Federalism - The Constitutional Convention

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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.



Extended Activity

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.


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Compromise at the Convention

Federalism - Compromises of the Constitution
Federalism - Compromises of the Constitution

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Using a T-Chart storyboard, students will summarize and explain the problems debated at the Constitutional Convention and how representatives compromised on the issues. It will function as a cause and effect organizer to demonstrate how issues and problems were solved at the dawn of American government. Furthermore, students will be able to explain how the Constitution was constructed and what it called for. Students will also be able to further describe divisions over how the federal government would operate.



Extended Activity

Have students create a T-Chart with one column depicting issues concerning today’s government. In the other column, have students detail a solution to that issue, or a proposed solution. Teachers may also add a column for what students would do if the issue were presented to them.


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Major Elements of the Constitution

Federalism - Structure of the Constitution
Federalism - Structure of the Constitution

Example

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Using a spider map, have students create a web of the major elements of the Constitution, including its ratification and the Bill of Rights. Other topics that could be included are the structure of powers, the role of the President, and the debate between Federalists and Anti-Federalists. Students will be able to explain and summarize what made up the Constitution and how it balanced powers, as well as how it came to be ratified.



Extended Activity

Have students create a spider map on one branch of the government, either the Executive, Judicial, or Legislative Branch. Students should include what powers each branch holds, positions within the branch, and how the branch checks and balances powers with the other two branches.



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Early American Government Timeline

Federalism - Timeline of Events to the Constitution
Federalism - Timeline of Events to the Constitution

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Students will explain and analyze the evolution of America’s democratic republic through a timeline storyboard. They will summarize and explain each step leading up to the eventual ratification of the Constitution. In addition to this, students will be able to analyze and illustrate how government evolved over time, as well as the debates that took place in terms of how the federal government should function, its relation to state governments, and the early evolvement of political parties. Teachers can pre-determine topics for students to cover.



Extended Activity

Have students continue their timeline to include major changes in government. Students can use a wide range of topics and subtopics, including supreme court cases, presidential actions, and changes in legislation. Teachers may condense the wide range of possible topics to ensure a desired structure of government evolution into its present form.


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What is Federalism?

The evolution of American government was certainly not one 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? Many questions remained, and 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 ratifying 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. Problems arose quickly. 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 Storyboard That, students and teachers will be able to analyze the history of Federalism and explain this evolutionary process of government in an historical context. From our initial Articles, to the ratification of the Constitution, many American ideas and ideologies were discussed, debated, and applied to become America’s contemporary government.


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?


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•   (English) Federalism: The Evolution of a Democratic Republic   •   (Español) Federalismo: la Evolución de una República Democrática   •   (Français) Le Fédéralisme: L'évolution D'une République Démocratique   •   (Deutsch) Föderalismus: Die Entwicklung Einer Demokratischen Republik   •   (Italiana) Federalismo: L'evoluzione di una Repubblica Democratica   •   (Nederlands) Federalisme: De Evolutie van een Democratische Republiek   •   (Português) Federalismo: a Evolução de uma República Democrática   •   (עברית) פדרליזם: האבולוציה של רפובליקה דמוקרטית   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الفدرالية: تطور في جمهورية الكونغو الديمقراطية   •   (हिन्दी) संघवाद: एक लोकतांत्रिक गणराज्य की विकास   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Федерализм: Эволюция Демократической Республики   •   (Dansk) Føderalisme: Udviklingen af ​​et Demokratiske Republik   •   (Svenska) Federalism: Utvecklingen av en Demokratisk Republik   •   (Suomi) Federalismi: Evolution Demokraattisen Tasavallan   •   (Norsk) Føderalisme: Utviklingen av en Demokratisk Republikk   •   (Türkçe) Federalizm: Demokratik Bir Cumhuriyetin Evrimi   •   (Polski) Federalizm: Ewolucja Republiki Demokratycznej   •   (Româna) Federalizarea: Evoluția Unei Republici Democrate   •   (Ceština) Federalismus: Evoluce v Demokratické Republice   •   (Slovenský) Federalizmus: Vývoj Demokratickej Republiky   •   (Magyar) Föderalizmus: Az Evolution egy Demokratikus Köztársaság   •   (Hrvatski) Federalizam: Evolucija Demokratske Republike   •   (български) Федерализъм: Еволюцията на Демократична Република   •   (Lietuvos) Federalizmas: Demokratinės Respublikos Evoliucija   •   (Slovenščina) Federalizem: Razvoj v Demokratični Republiki   •   (Latvijas) Federālisms: Evolution Demokrātiskās Republikas   •   (eesti) Föderalism: Evolutsioon Demokraatliku Vabariigi