Legacy of Republicanism
In this lesson, students trace the major debates regarding representation that occurred at the Constitutional Convention and during the ratification process, analyzing the constitutional principles that animated the deliberations. These debates included whether the legislature would be unicameral or bicameral, the method of electing representatives, whether states would be represented equally or proportionally by population in the legislature, and whether enslaved individuals would be included in the population count. After completion of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, the debates continued as Anti-Federalists argued that the form of government created by the Constitution was insufficiently representative, and the liberties of the people would be in danger. Federalists defended the Constitution’s structure and insisted that the people would hold their elected representatives to high standards. Students participate in role play activities based on primary sources including James Madison’s The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, and the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers.
The Nature of Representation in the U.S. Congress
The framers of the Constitution set up a system of representation for the United States, which although informed by the experiences of other republics, was different from them. Outside the U.S. today, the main system of representation in republics is the parliamentary system, which lacks separation between the executive and the legislative branch. Under a parliamentary system, the chief executive, usually called a prime minister, is a member of parliament, but the Constitution establishes the legislature and the executive as two independent, but closely connected, branches. Members of the U.S. Congress experience a fundamental tension between being a trustee for the interests of the people and being their delegate. They also must balance the demands of the district with the interest of the nation, as well as determining the appropriate level of political party loyalty.