Observing Constitution Day
This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.
- Era 3-Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
- Standard 3A-Demonstrate understanding of the issues involved in the creation and ratification of the United States Constitution and the new government it established.
- Standard 3B-Demonstrate understanding of the guarantees of the Bill of Rights and its continuing significance.
This lesson also correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.
- Standard I. C. 3: Evaluate, take, and defend positions on what conditions contribute to the establishment and maintenance of constitutional government.
- Standard II. A. 1: Explain central ideas of American constitutional government and their history.
- Standard III. A. 1: Explain how the U.S. Constitution grants and distributes power to national and state government and how it seeks to prevent the abuse of power.
Share this exercise with your history, government, language arts, and math colleagues.
- Prepare students to work with a 200-year-old document by discussing such unique qualities as handwriting, spelling, formation of the letter "s," vocabulary, style, and the use of parchment and iron-based ink (which bleeds through in time). Distribute copies of the document. Read aloud the first two lines of the transcription as the students read the document silently. As a group activity, the students should continue reading the document aloud. You may help them if they stumble. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of working with a handwritten original source.
- Provide a copy of the Constitution for each student. Ask students to consult Articles V and VII along with the Delaware ratification document and compare point-by-point the procedures for ratifying the Constitution with the procedures for ratifying amendments to the Constitution.
- Instruct the students to research the arguments of the debate over ratification. You could share the information in this article with your class. Ask the students to list the arguments of the Antifederalists and the counterarguments of the Federalists and then write a paragraph in response to these questions: What has been the outcome of these arguments? Are the arguments still significant today?
- Consider the Constitution as a framework of government. On the chalkboard make a list with your students of practical steps needed to activate the Constitution and institute a government, beginning with the ratification procedures, election of the President, selection of a capital site, and other requirements. The Resolution of Transmittal to the Continental Congress on September 17, 1787, sometimes referred to as the fifth page of the Constitution, is a good source for this activity. In a discussion of these steps, lead your students to recognize the difference between the theory in a document written to describe a government and the reality of putting a government into action.
- Assign your students to research the ratification story in specific states (their own home states and states selected as case studies). Set up a storytelling day in which each student tells the best stories they found in their research.
- The delegates of the Delaware convention whose names appear on the ratification document provide the basis for an interesting sociological study. Ask your students to look carefully at the names and describe the patterns or categories they recognize. Note: Your students should observe the emerging patterns of ethnic groups, the sex, and the national origin of the names listed.
|State||Date||Order||Votes For||Votes Against|
|Delaware||December 7, 1787||1||30||0|
|Pennsylvania||December 12, 1787||2||46||23|
|New Jersey||December 18, 1787||3||38||0|
|Georgia||January 2, 1788||4||26||0|
|Connecticut||January 9, 1788||5||128||40|
|Massachusetts||February 6, 1788||6||187||168|
|Maryland||April 28, 1788||7||63||11|
|South Carolina||May 23, 1788||8||149||73|
|New Hampshire||June 21, 1788||9||57||47|
|Virginia||June 25, 1788||10||89||79|
|New York||July 26, 1788||11||30||27|
|North Carolina||November 21, 1789||12||194||77|
|Rhode Island||May 29, 1790||13||34||32|
A teaching packet containing a detailed Teacher's Guide and a set of 34 document reproductions that highlight the making of the Constitution, the beginning of the Government, and the evolution of a constitutional issue is available for purchase from the National Archives.