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The Early Commercial Republic, 1789-1815

65 min

Guiding Questions:

  • How did the arguments over the National Bank shape the economic policies of the young republic?


  • Students will analyze the arguments during the early years of the republic between the Federalists, who favored policies of federal economic promotion, and Republicans, who favored strict interpretation of the Constitution’s enumerated powers of Congress.

  • James Madison
  • Alexander Hamilton
  • John Adams
  • George Washington
  • republic
  • justice
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • John Jay
  • property
  • Constitution
  • debt
  • bank
  • amendment

Have students skim Article 1 Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution concerning the powers of Congress. As they skim, students should list what they consider the 5 most important powers of Congress. Call for a few students to share their top 5 and briefly explain their reasoning. Keep a tally on the board of their choices.

If it has not come up in student discussion, point out Clause 18, concerning the Necessary and Proper Clause. Ask, “What does ‘necessary and proper’ mean?”

Divide the class in half, and tell them they will study two different interpretations of necessary and proper. One group will read Handout A: Excerpts from Jefferson’s “Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank” (1791), and the other will read Handout B: Excerpts from Hamilton’s Opinion as to the Constitutionality of the Bank of the United States (1791).

You might want to subdivide each half into workgroups of 4 – 5, making sure that each workgroup includes at least one strong reader. Have each group make a list of the main arguments in their assigned document.   They should work together and come up with a consensus response, and each side should select a spokesperson or two.

Class discussion: Teacher moderates as the two (2) groups, mainly the leaders, debate the issue of the National Bank. As always, maintaining civility in the discussion is key. Students should support their positions with direct quotes from their respective documents.

Refer to the top 5 powers of Congress as discussed in the beginning of this lesson. Ask, Who would move the power “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper…” into their top 5 or higher on their personal list?

Distribute Handout C: The Constitutionality of a National Bank, and have students write the one-page essay as directed on Handout C.

  • Opinion on constitutional interpretation – Strict interpretation or loose interpretation? In at least three (3) paragraphs, explain and defend your position on constitutional interpretation.  You must cite at least one Supreme Court case to support your position.
  • Research the term, “living Constitution.”

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

The Commercial Republic Before the Civil War, 1815-1860