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The Ratification Debate

80 min

Guiding Questions

  • Who were the Federalists and Anti-federalists, and what were their differences?
  • What were the essential debates during the ratification period of the newly proposed Constitution after September 1787?


  • Students will describe the differences between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists.
  • Students will identify and describe the essential debates regarding ratifying the Constitution.

  • John Jay
  • liberty
  • Bill of Rights
  • Articles of Confederation
  • Constitution
  • James Madison
  • Federalist Papers
  • Alexander Hamilton

Depending on students’ background knowledge of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, The Ratification Debate Essay may be assigned as pre-reading for the activities provided.

Have students discuss the meaning of this quote:

“When the people once part with power, they can seldom or never resume it again but by force.” – Brutus I

Tell students they will be reading this and putting it in the context of the ratification debates.

Students examine Handout A: A State by State Ratification Summary.  Students should look for patterns and trends. Also, point out the paragraph providing Background on Handouts B – I.

Use Handout E: Excerpts from Federalist No. 10, James Madison, November 22, 1787 and Handout F: Summary of Federalist No. 10, in a whole-class activity to demonstrate the process of reading primary sources with the students.

Break the students into 6 groups and assign each group one of the remaining primary sources from the Federalists and Anti-Federalists: Handouts B, C, D, G, H, I

After each group has read their primary source, reassemble the class into two groups – Federalists and Anti-Federalists based on which of the sources they read. Each group should determine what their side thought about the structure of government, the ratification of the Constitution, and a bill of rights. Have Federalist group and Anti-Federalist group each choose their top 3 arguments for their side.

Ask for a summary report from each side:

  • Opinion of the structure of government
  • Decision on whether to ratify the Constitution
  • Decision on whether to add a bill of rights to the Constitution
  • Top three arguments for their side

Ask the students what the Brutus quote at the beginning now means more specifically in the context of the ratification debates.

Students complete additional research on any of the figures and/or debates and prepare to take a side in a class debate.

Hold a more structured debate between the Federalists and Anti-federalists after additional research and homework.

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

The Bill of Rights – Docs of Freedom

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