The United States Constitution: Federalists v. Anti-Federalists

by Tim Bailey

Unit Objective

This unit is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core State Standards–based teaching resources. These units were developed to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance. Through a step-by-step process, students will acquire the skills to analyze any primary or secondary source material.

Lesson 1

Objective

Today students will participate as members of a critical thinking group and “read like a detective” in order to analyze the arguments made by the Federalists in favor of ratifying the new US Constitution.

Introduction

Tell the students that after the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, the nation’s new Constitution had to be ratified by the states. The debate over ratification became very heated, especially in New York. This led to a spirited exchange of short essays between the Federalists, who promoted the new Constitution, and the Anti-Federalists, who put forward a variety of objections to the proposed new government. Today we will be closely reading excerpts from four of the Federalist Papers in order to discover what the Federalists’ positions and arguments were. Although the Federalist Papers were written anonymously under the pen name “Publius,” historians generally agree that the essays were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

Materials

Vocabulary

The students will encounter vocabulary that they do not know. There are words in eighteenth-century essays that many adults do not know the meaning of either. It would be overwhelming to give the definition for every unknown word as well as self-defeating when we are trying to get the students to be more independent learners. One benefit of having the students work in groups is that they can reason out the meanings of words in context together. If the students are truly stuck on a word that is critical to the passage, you can open up a class discussion. As a last resort, you can provide the meaning.

Procedure

First, a caution: do not reveal too much to the students about the arguments presented by either the Federalists or Anti-Federalists. The point is to let the students discover them through careful reading of the text and discussion with their classmates. They will then construct their own arguments based on the text. Depending on the length of the class period or other factors, this lesson may carry over into tomorrow as well.

  1. Divide the class into groups of three to five students. These will be the “critical thinking groups” for the next several days.
  2. Discuss the information in the introduction. The students need to at least be familiar with the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention, and the writing of the US Constitution.
  3. Hand out the four excerpts from Federalist Papers #1, #10, #51, and #84. If possible have a copy up on a document projector so that everyone can see it and you can refer to it easily.
  4. “Share read” the Federalist Papers with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English language learners (ELL).
  5. Ask the students a critical-analysis question for each of the Federalist Papers. The students should work together in their groups developing an answer that uses quotations from the document itself as well as an answer in the students’ own words demonstrating their understanding of the document.
    • Critical-Analysis Question 1: Federalist Paper #1 states that “History will teach us. . . .” What words does the author use to tell us what we will be taught? Now put those thoughts into your own words.
      • Answers will vary, but in the end the students should conclude that groups interested in “the rights of the people” more often end up as “tyrants.”
    • Critical-Analysis Question 2: Federalist Paper #10 states “that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.” What “effects” is the author referring to and how are they to be remedied? Now put those thoughts into your own words.
      • Answers will vary, but in the end the students should conclude that the “effects” include “a division of society,” and the remedy is the formation of “a republic.”
    • Critical-Analysis Question 3: Federalist Paper #51 states, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” What does this statement imply when it comes to creating a government? What words does the author use to answer this question? Now put those thoughts into your own words.
      • Answers will vary, but in the end the students should conclude that “such devices [separation of powers] should be necessary to control the abuses of government” and “you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
    • Critical-Analysis Question 4: Federalist Paper #84 states that a bill of rights in the Constitution is not necessary. What arguments does the author make to back up this statement? Now put those thoughts into your own words.
      • Answers will vary, but in the end they should conclude that “the Constitution is itself, in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, A BILL OF RIGHTS . . .”
  6. Wrap-up: Discuss final conclusions and clarify points of confusion. We want students to be challenged, not overwhelmed.

Lesson 2

Objective

Today students will participate as members of a critical thinking group and “read like a detective” in order to analyze the arguments made by the Anti-Federalists in opposition to ratifying the new US Constitution.

Introduction

Review the background information from the last lesson. Today we will be closely reading excerpts from four of the Anti-Federalist Papers in order to discover just what the Anti-Federalists’ positions and arguments were. Although the Anti-Federalists’ essays were written anonymously under various pen names, most famously “Brutus,” historians generally agree that among the authors of the Anti-Federalist essays were Robert Yates, Samuel Bryan, George Clinton, and Richard Henry Lee.

Materials

  • Anti-Federalist Papers #1, #9, #46, and #84 (excerpts). Source: Morton Borden, ed. The Antifederalist Papers (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1965). Unlike the Federalist Papers, the essays by Anti-Federalists were not conceived of as a unified series. Thus historians have imposed different numbering systems as they compiled various essays; the numbers used here are Morton Borden’s chronology.
  • US Constitution, 1787
  • Overhead projector or other display method

Vocabulary

As in the previous lesson, encourage students to reason out the meanings of words they do not know. If the students are truly stuck on a word that is critical to the passage, you can open up a class discussion. As a last resort, you can provide the meaning.

Procedure

First, a caution: do not reveal too much to the students about the arguments presented by either the Federalists or Anti-Federalists. The point is to let the students discover them through careful reading of the text and discussion with their classmates. They will then construct their own arguments based on the text. Depending on the length of the class period or other factors, this lesson may carry over into tomorrow as well.

  1. Students should sit with their critical thinking groups from the last lesson.
  2. Discuss the information in the introduction.
  3. Hand out the four excerpts from Anti-Federalist Papers #1, #9, #46, and #84. If possible have a copy up on a document projector so that everyone can see it and you can refer to it easily.
  4. “Share read” the Anti-Federalist Papers with the students.
  5. The teacher now asks the students a critical analysis question for each of the Anti-Federalist Papers. Ask the students a critical-analysis question for each of the Federalist Papers. The students should work together in their groups developing an answer that uses quotations from the document itself as well as an answer in the students’ own words demonstrating their understanding of the document.
    • Critical-Analysis Question 1: Anti-Federalist Paper #1 states that “In order to deceive them. . . .” According to the author, who is deceiving whom and for what purpose? After using the author’s arguments, put those thoughts into your own words.
      • Answers will vary, but in the end the students should conclude that the “Aristocracy” and “Lawyers” are out to deceive “The People” in order to “satiate their voracious stomachs with the golden bait.”
    • Critical-Analysis Question 2: Anti-Federalist Paper #9 begins by stating, “We the Aristocratic party of the United States.” Why would Anti-Federalists write from the point of view of the aristocrats? What evidence in this document shows the aristocrats’ supposed contempt for the average citizen? Now put those thoughts into your own words.
      • Answers will vary, but in the end the students should conclude that this Anti-Federalist Paper is a satire and that the evidence includes statements such as “totally incapable of thinking or acting” and “have power over little else than yoking hogs.”
    • Critical Analysis Question 3: Anti-Federalist Paper #46 states, “We are left wholly dependent on the wisdom and virtue of the men who shall from time to time be the members of Congress.” How are the Anti-Federalists making this argument? Now put those thoughts into your own words.
      • Answers will vary, but in the end the students should conclude that “the Congress are therefore vested with the supreme legislative powers” and “undefined, unbounded and immense power.”
    • Critical-Analysis Question 4: Anti-Federalist Paper #84 states that the Constitution needs to be “founded on a declaration or bill of rights.” What evidence is presented to make this argument? Now put those thoughts into your own words.
      • Answers will vary but in the end they should conclude that “but rulers have the same propensities as other men, they are likely to use the power with which they are vested, for private purposes” and “grand security to the rights of the people is not to be found in this Constitution.”
  6. Wrap-up: Discuss final conclusions and clarify points of confusion. We want students to be challenged, not overwhelmed.

Lesson 3

Objective

The students will deeply understand the major arguments concerning the ratification of the US Constitution. This understanding will be built upon close analysis of the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers. The students will demonstrate their understanding in both writing and speaking.

Introduction

Tell the students that now they get to apply their knowledge and understanding of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist arguments. They will need to select a debate moderator from within their group and divide the remaining students into Federalists and Anti-Federalists. As a group they will write questions based on the issues presented in the primary documents. They will also script responses from both sides based solely on what is written in the documents. This is not an actual debate but rather a scripted presentation for the sake of making arguments that the authors of these documents would have made in a debate format. In the next lesson the groups will present their debates for the class.

Materials

Procedure

Students will be sitting with the same critical thinking group as in the previous two lessons. All of the students should have copies of the excerpts from the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers as well as the United States Constitution as reference materials.

  1. Tell the students that they need to choose one person to be a debate moderator and then divide the rest of the group into Federalists and Anti-Federalists.
  2. Inform the students that they will be writing a script for a debate based on the issues raised in the primary documents that you have been studying. This script is to be written as a team effort, and everyone in the group will have a copy of the final script.
  3. The teacher will provide three questions that all groups must address during the debate. However, the students should add another two to four questions that can be answered directly from the primary source material.
  4. It is important that the students portraying both the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists use the actual text from the documents to make their arguments.
  5. Give the students the following questions to be asked by the moderator and addressed by both Federalists and Anti-Federalists:
    • What is your position on a bill of rights being added to the Constitution?
    • How would you address concerns about the “powers of government” under this new Constitution?
    • Can you explain why this Constitution is or is not in the best interests of our nation as a whole?
  6. Students can then construct their own questions to be directed to either side with the opportunity for rebuttal from the other side.
  7. Remind the students again that everyone needs to work on the script and the responses must be taken directly from the text of the documents introduced in class.
  8. Wrap-up: If students have time, let them rehearse their presentations for the next lesson.

Lesson 4

Objective

The students will deeply understand the major arguments concerning the ratification of the US Constitution. This understanding will be built upon close analysis of the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers. The students will demonstrate their understanding in both writing and speaking.

Introduction

The students will demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist arguments. This is not an actual debate but a scripted presentation making arguments that the authors of these documents would have made in a debate format.

Materials

Procedure

Students will be sitting with the same critical thinking groups as in the previous three lessons. All of the students should have copies of the excerpts from the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers as well as the United States Constitution as reference materials.

  1. Tell the students that they will be presenting the debates between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists that they scripted in the last lesson.
  2. The Moderator should begin the debate by introducing both sides and setting out the protocol for the “debate.” (Actually watching a clip of a debate might be helpful as well.)
  3. In evaluating the student work you should measure the following: Did the students effectively address all three mandatory questions using text-based evidence? Did the additional questions developed by the students address pertinent issues? Were all of the students in a group involved in the process?
  4. Wrap-up: As time allows, have students debrief the last four lessons and what they learned.
  5. OPTIONAL: If you believe that you need to evaluate more individualized understanding of the issues presented over the past four lessons you can have students write a short essay addressing the three mandatory questions that they were given as a group.

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