sunshinecavalluzzi Thumbnail
User-Created Content
By sunshinecavalluzzi
On July 27, 2017

Lesson Plan: Federalist 78

"The Whole Philosophy of American Government in a Few Paragraphs"

Jeffrey Rosen, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center, discusses Federalist 78


In Federalist 78, Alexander Hamilton (writing as Publius) outlined the justification for judicial life terms and for judicial review. This lesson provides students with an opportunity to analyze the document and consider how subsequent American historical events both supported and countered its assertions.


  • Document Analysis:

    Handout: Federalist 78 Analysis handout (Google Doc)

  • Have students watch the following video clip:

    Video Clip: “The Whole Philosophy of American Government in a Few Paragraphs” (1:32)

    Jeffrey Rosen, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center, discusses Federalist 78

  • Discussion Questions/Writing Prompts:

    • To what extent do you agree with Hamilton’s assertion that “the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them”? Justify your position!

    • What is a historical example that retroactively supports Hamilton’s assertion that the standard of good behavior (i.e. life terms) “is the best expedient which can be devised in any government, to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws”? What is a historical example that retroactively calls it into question?

    • Consider the below excerpt from Federalist 78. What is a historical example that retroactively supports this assertion and what is a historical example that retroactively calls it into question? “[The judiciary] may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments. This...proves incontestably, that the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power; that it can never attack with success either of the other two; and that all possible care is requisite to enable it to defend itself against their attacks. It equally proves, that though individual oppression may now and then proceed from the courts of justice, the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter; I mean so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct from both the legislature and the Executive.”
  • Extension Activity Options:

    Argumentative Essay Free Response Question- Respond to this writing prompt (Google Doc) presented in the style of the Argumentative Question component of the redesigned AP Government and Politics exam.

    Thank-You Cards: Identify a party to a court case who benefited from a politically independent judiciary. Write a thank-you note that might have been sent from that party to the Supreme Court following their decision

    Shade Thrown, Federalist Style: If Twitter and mass-production T-shirts had been available to our Founding Fathers, they might have been used in response to the aspersions that Hamilton cast upon the motivations of opponents of life terms: “[The] propriety [of life terms] having been drawn into question by the adversaries of that plan, is no light symptom of the rage for objection, which disorders their imaginations and judgments.” Compose three tweets and design one T-shirt that someone objecting to that sentence might have created.

    Political Cartooning: Create a political cartoon that either supports or counters this assertion of Fed 78: “The standard of good behavior for the continuance in office of the judicial magistracy, is certainly one of the most valuable of the modern improvements in the practice of government. In a monarchy it is an excellent barrier to the despotism of the prince; in a republic it is a no less excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body.”

    Federalist 78 Reverse Caption Contest: Choose one of the quotes from Federalist 78 that foreshadows later historical events. Find a picture of that event and use the quote to caption the picture

    C-SPAN Bell-Ringer: Why Trust the Supreme Court?

    C-SPAN Lesson Plan: The Federalist Papers

    C-SPAN Video of Q&A With Professor Robert Scigliano, discussing the new edition of The Federalist, published by Modern Library, which he edited with an introduction.

Additional Resource


  • Alexander Hamilton
  • Branches Of Government
  • Constitution
  • Federalist Papers
  • Judicial Independence
  • Judiciary
  • Life Terms
  • Publius
  • Supreme Court


Constitutional FoundationJudicial BranchU.S. History


Middle SchoolHigh School