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Who Were the Founders?

Introduction

In 1787, twelve of the thirteen states sent delegates to a "Grand Convention" to discuss the weaknesses of the existing frame of government, the Articles of Confederation. Soon the delegates were framing a brand-new government. These 55 men planned out and wrote the Constitution, the document that governs the United States today. But who where these men who created the framework for our nation? In this lesson, students read biographies of selected attendees of the Constitutional Convention. The students will take turns impersonating the people from their bios and interviewing each other for the job of framing the Constitution. Then they discuss the qualifications and demographics of the men commonly called the founders.

Objectives

In this lesson, students:

  • Read biographies of the founders for key facts
  • Analyze data to draw conclusions
  • Imagine and defend how they would have chosen representatives for the Constitutional Convention

Materials

    Download Lesson Materials (PDF)

  • Optional: Wig Directions
    • Paper bags
    • Cotton balls
    • Scissors
    • Glue
  • Biographies of Founders
  • Interview Questions
  • "Fakebook" template for lesson extension

Strategy

  1. Ensure that students understand the purposes of the Constitutional Convention. The Convention was an assembly of leaders from twelve states (Rhode Island refused to send delegates) who gathered in 1787 to revise the national government, which wasn't operating smoothly under the Articles of Confederation. The delegates decided to create a new Constitution, and through much debate and compromise, they created the framework of government we still use today.
  2. Explain to students that they will pretend to be the founders. They will hold "job interviews" to be hired for the job of writing the Constitution. Half the students will be founders and half will be interviewers, and then they will switch.
  3. Optional: to get students better into the mindset of the founders, and to give them something to take home, have students make "powdered wigs" which they can wear while being interviewed.
      a. Give each student a copy of the Wig Directions and a paper bag.
      b. Arrange students in groups of 4-6. Give each group scissors, glue, and a bag of cotton balls.
      c. Walk students through the Wig Directions step by step.
  4. Divide the class in half. Give half the students the Interview Questions. Tell these students they will each interview one founder as a candidate for the job of framing the Constitution. Remind students that they are looking for education, previous experience, and commitment to the new nation. Tell these students to hold onto their wigs, because they will get a chance to wear them when they switch roles with the other half of the class.
  5. Give the other half of the class one biography per student. Tell these students they will be playing eighteenth-century gentlemen applying for the job of framing the Constitution. They should wear their wigs!
  6. Give students a few minutes to review their questions or biographies. Then give the class time to do the activity. Each interviewer should interview one founder.
  7. Have students switch roles. Now the interviewers have a chance to be founders and wear their wigs. Hand out interview questions and biographies to the appropriate students. Different interviewers and candidates should pair up for this part of the activity.
  8. Lead a class discussion about the activity. Ask students whom they would hire and why. Ask:
      a. Which founders had previous political experience? What kinds of activities or occupations did they do, and why was that important?
      b. Which founders had been part of a militia?
      c. Which founders were lawyers, or had a law education? Why might that be important?
  9. Reveal to students that the men in these biographies were 15 of the 55 founders who attended the Constitutional Convention. Tell students the delegates were not actually interviewed in this way, but were chosen by their states. (Note: for information about the education and political experience of the other founders, please see http://teachingamericanhistory.org/convention/delegates/experience.html).
  10. Ask students:
      a. How many of you were men?
      b. How many were not enslaved?
      c. How many were wealthy?
    Discuss with students why this was the case. Remind students that in the eighteenth century, only white men who owned property had an opportunity to be involved with politics or have a good education.

Lesson Extensions

  1. Have students complete the “Which Founding Father Are You?” quiz on the Constitution Center website, either in class or at home. http://www.constitutioncenter.org/FoundersQuiz/

  2. Have students make “Fakebook” pages for their founders using the provided template.


This lesson was written by Dee Besl, Cincinnati, OH, Sharon Sobierajski, Buffalo, NY, and contributing editor Claire Gould.

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