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The Constitutional Powers of Congress

55 min
  • Students will examine the principles of republican government, popular sovereignty, limited government and enumerated powers, and federalism through the study of Congress in the creation and ratification of the Constitution.
  • Students will compare and contrast the powers of the Confederation Congress under the Articles of Confederation to the Congress created by the Constitution.
  • Students will analyze the Federalist and Anti-Federalist debates over the powers of Congress during the ratification process.

  • Students will examine the principles of republican government, popular sovereignty, limited government and enumerated powers, and federalism through the study of Congress in the creation and ratification of the Constitution.
  • Students will compare and contrast the powers of the Confederation Congress under the Articles of Confederation to the Congress created by the Constitution.
  • Students will analyze the Federalist and Anti-Federalist debates over the powers of Congress during the ratification process.

  • Unicameralism
  • Bicameralism
  • Representation
  • Proportional representation
  • Enumerated powers
  • Suffrage
  • Federalism
  • Interstate commerce
  • Regulation
  • Federal supremacy
  • Ratification
  • Federalists
  • Anti-Federalists

Activity I » 20 minutes

  1. Have students read Handout B: Articles of Confederation: Legislative Powers and Handout C: The Powers of Congress in the U.S. Constitution.
  2. Assign the students to groups of four. Have them briefly compare and contrast the respective legislative powers in the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution from Handout B and Handout C.
  3. Each group will complete Handout D: The Powers of the Articles of Confederation and U.S. Constitution Venn Diagram using the primary sources in Handout B and Handout C.

Activity II » 20 minutes

  1. Assign students parts for the Constitutional Convention Role-Play which is divided into six sections related to different debates on the powers of Congress at the Convention. One student each will play Edmund Randolph, William Paterson, Charles Pinckney, Pierce Butler, James Madison, Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson, Elbridge Gerry, George Mason, and Roger Sherman. The role of narrator can be played by one student or by several students who each read one section for the narrator.
  2. Have the members of each section stand and read the provided script from Handout E: Constitutional Convention Role-Play. After each section, briefly discuss with the class how that section of the role-play relates to the powers of Congress. Perform and discuss all six.
  3. After students have performed the role-play, discuss two important themes. First, the importance of deliberation at the Constitutional Convention and the need for debate to hear different points of view in order to come to a conclusion about a topic, in addition to persuading others to adopt your viewpoint. Second, discuss the themes that were raised during the Convention about the powers of Congress.

  1. Assign the students into pairs and have the groups read the quote cards from Handout F: Federalists and Anti-Federalists on the Powers of Congress to each other. The pairs should then discuss whether the author of the quote is a Federalist or Anti-Federalist based upon the content of the quote and then place the card into a Federalist or Anti-Federalist pile on their desk.
  2. Once the groups have assigned all of their quote cards to the Federalists or Anti-Federalists, poll the class and ask different groups which pile they assigned the individual quote cards and their reasoning.

Have the students complete ONE of the following brief writing assignments:

  1. Write a 5-7 sentence paragraph comparing and contrasting the powers of Congress under the Articles of Confederation with those of the Constitution. Students can use Handout B: Articles of Confederation: Legislative Powers and Handout C: Powers of Congress in the U.S. Constitution.
  2. Write a journal entry of 5-7 sentences as if they were a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and describe a debate on the floor of the Convention related to a power of Congress. (Students can use Handout E: Constitutional Convention Role-Play to complete the journal entry.)
  3. Write a newspaper editorial supporting either the arguments of the Federalists or the Anti-Federalists during the ratification debate on the powers of Congress and explaining why the editor defends the particular view. (Students can use Handout F: Federalists and Anti-Federalists on the Powers of Congress to complete the editorial.)
  4. Write an exchange on a Twitter or Facebook feed about a debate on ONE of the following:
    1. A supporter of the Articles of Confederation and a supporter of the new Constitution. (Students can use Handout B: Articles of Confederation: Legislative Powers and Handout C: Powers of Congress in the U.S. Constitution.)
    2. Two delegates at the Constitutional Convention who disagreed on the powers of Congress. (Students can use Handout E: Constitutional Convention Role-Play.)
    3. A Federalist and an Anti-Federalist. (Students can use Handout F: Federalists and Anti-Federalists on the Powers of Congress.)

Direct students to the House of Representatives website http://history.house.gov/HistoricalHighlight/Search/ and have them create a timeline of five events related to the House of Representatives exercising its powers, and find the related constitutional clause for the exercise of those powers. Then go to the Senate website at http://www.senate.gov/history/chronology.htm#chronology=y1787_1800 and create a timeline of five events related to the Senate exercising its powers and list the related constitutional clause for the exercise of those powers.