Law Professor Stewart Harris provides background information on this founding document from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitutional Convention and debates surrounding the ratification of the document.
The Articles of Confederation, ratified on March 1, 1781, created a loose confederation of sovereign states along with a weak central government. After several years living under the provisions of this document, the idea of establishing a stronger central government emerged. This led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Debates surrounding the ratification of the new document followed, with the Federalists supporting the ratification of the Constitution, and the Anti-Federalists opposing it, concerned it provided too much power to a central government. In this lesson, students will view videos of Virginian Founding Fathers James Madison and George Mason debating issues related to the Constitution.
This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or students can move at their own pace and complete the activities independently.
You can post links to the videos in the lesson along with the related handouts and engage in discussion to share responses on a discussion board or learning management system.
You can also save and share the following Google resources for students to use with this lesson.
Vocabulary Chart: Constitutional Debate - George Mason vs James Madison (Google Doc)
Note-taking Chart: Constitutional Debate - George Mason vs James Madison (Google Doc)
Handout with Questions: Constitutional Debate - George Mason vs James Madison (Google Doc)
Choice Board: Constitutional Debate - George Mason vs James Madison (Google Slides)
In Google, choose "File" then "Make a Copy" to get your own copy. You can make any needed adjustments in the instructions such as which activities students need to complete, when it is due, etc. and then make it available to them via Google.
As a class, view the following video clip and engage in class discussion to establish background information and clear up any misconceptions.
VIDEO CLIP 1: Introduction to the US Constitution (2:22)
Law Professor Stewart Harris provides background information on this founding document, from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitutional Convention, and debates surrounding the ratification of the document.
Have students view the following two video clips of portrayers representing James Madison and George Mason making opening remarks in their debate. They can use the accompanying handout to take notes. As a class, discuss the positions of each speaker.
**VIDEO CLIP 2: Constitutional Debate: James Madison Opening Remarks (2:15)
**VIDEO CLIP 3: Constitutional Debate: George Mason Opening Remarks (3:07)
Students can view the following collection of videos independently, with a partner or group, or as a jigsaw activity in class or through an online platform. They can preview the vocabulary associated with each clip on the handout prior to watching the video and then respond to the accompanying questions.
DEBATE TOPIC 1
Is it wise for Virginia to surrender her preeminence and sovereignty to a body of men (Congress) who have little in common with the people of Virginia? What would happen if Congress enacted a law that was unfavorable to the people of Virginia? Could Virginia nullify that law?
VIDEO CLIP 4: James Madison and George Mason Debate Congress and Sovereignty (7:25)
Cite one reason each speaker discusses, in support of, or opposed to, ratifying the US Constitution. Explain the reasoning for their position.
DEBATE TOPIC 2
Can you discuss the similarities and differences between the Constitution and the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and why or how any changes were made from the first document to the second?
VIDEO CLIP 5: James Madison and George Mason Debate the Bill of Rights (7:52)
Explain each speaker's position on adding the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution as they debate the ratification of the document.
DEBATE TOPIC 3
Why is a Bill of Rights necessary and is there one specific amendment that you would say is most important?
VIDEO CLIP 6: James Madison and George Mason Debate the Liberties in Our Founding Documents (2:55)
Considering the liberties identified in the founding documents, and those proposed in the Bill of Rights, explain the liberty each speaker contends is the most important.
DEBATE TOPIC 4
VIDEO CLIP 7: James Madison and George Mason Discuss the Executive Branch (6:25)
Explain the position of each speaker regarding establishment of the Executive branch of the federal government.
DEBATE TOPIC 5
VIDEO CLIP 8: James Madison and George Mason Address Slavery (6:57)
How does each speaker view the institution of slavery, as slaveowners themselves who are debating the ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?
As a class, have students present the issue and position of each speaker in the clips they viewed.
Then, as a class, view the following two video clips featuring the closing remarks of James Madison and George Mason. Students can use the accompanying handout to take notes. Discuss the positions of each speaker.
VIDEO CLIP 9: Constitutional Debate: George Mason Closing Remarks (2:03)
George Mason, portrayed by Joseph Ziarko, makes closing remarks in his debate with James Madison over key components of the US Constitution.
VIDEO CLIP 10: Constitutional Debate: James Madison Closing Remarks (2:35) James Madison, portrayed by Bryan Austin, makes opening remarks in his debate with George Mason over key components of the US Constitution.
Have students consider the information from the videos and class discussion to determine who they would support if they were considering the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
Have students respond to the question on their handout:
Explain which speaker you would support if you were considering the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Cite issues that were debated in the videos. Be prepared to discuss one issue as part of a class debate.
Divide students into teams to debate one of the issues discussed in this lesson.