The Early Federal Period Documents Lesson

I divided the class up into four stations. At each station I placed one to three documents for students to examine. The documents focused on four themes/branches of the period and have a concrete activity the students must perform that accompanies each station. The purpose of the accompanying activities is to direct students' thinking regarding the theme/purpose of the station as well as the documents.

The four stations are as follows:

  • Station One: Excerpts from the Articles of Confederation(1781): Students are to discuss the structure of our first attempt at a National Government, including potential reasons for the design and potential failings they notice might be inherent to that structure.
  • Station Two: Patrick Henry's Address against the ratification of the Constitution to the Virginia State Legislature (1787): Students are to examine the arguments of the anti federalists, noting the biases inherent in Henry's argument.
  • Station Three: Excerpts regarding the future of the United States potential success as a nation: Students are to note both the pro and con arguments of the writers, the writers' reasoning, the writers' potential biases, and evaluate the arguments for truth.
  • Station Four: Excerpts from writing and speeches of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson: Students are to examine the reasoning behind the two founding fathers' arguments for different styles of government, noting their different views of the masses and different opinions about the tyranny of the minority or majority.

This lesson should be prefaced with a discussion of bias as well as deliberate versus ephemeral evidence.

Teacher's Notes: Although I had intended for each station to last for about ten minutes, the students needed more time to digest and analyze each work, which contained fairly complicated arguments. It really helped too when I joined several groups and modeled how such a discussion should take place. In many cases, as in Station One, the documents needed to be examined holistically and line by line. Taking notes from each station was a must and this also slowed the students down. The discussion at each station seemed to be particularly valuable. In hindsight, I might accompany each station with specific questions to be answered and discussed by the group, although I believe this would depend on the age level. While such a support would be necessary for some more concrete learners, at the AP level for which this lesson was designed, this lesson became an important experience at individual analysis. The use of direct questions at that level might inhibit the students' abilities to critically take apart historical documents and analyze/interpret them on their own. In this case, modeling appropriate discussions of the documents seemed to be most successful. Assessment of the students abilities to examine these documents was done both through moving around and listening to their discussions and thinking as well as the accompanying activities for each station, which served to direct their thinking as well as to have them personalize the arguments/themes.