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Lesson Plans - Shays’ Rebellion: Its Impact on the Constitutional Convention

NAME OF LESSON:

Shays’ Rebellion: Its Impact on the Constitutional Convention. 

GRADE(S) DESIGNED FOR: 5
TIME REQUIRED: four days, 40 minutes per periods

NAME OF AUTHOR:

Victoria Shams
PRIMARY SALEM in History CORE THEME ADDRESSED:

American Political Thought: The Constitution and American Democratic Institutions

ADDITIONAL SALEM in History CORE THEME(S) ADDRESSED:

SALEM in History Topic Addressed:

The Constitutional Convention and the Debate over Ratification

Lesson Summary | Frameworks | Essential Question(s) | Lesson Objectives
Historical Background Essay | Materials List and Pre-Arrangements/Preparations Needed
Vocabulary | Lesson Activities | Student Product or Performance
Assessment Criteria | Possible Modifications | Possible Extension Activities
Cross Curricular/Interdisciplinary Links/Activities | Sources and Resources
Additional Resources for Students and Teachers


LESSON SUMMARY:

This lesson is intended to help students understand that the national government created under the Articles of Confederation, despite its successes, was seriously flawed.  The flaws of the articles were exposed by Shays’ Rebellion, which ultimately led to the Constitutional Convention.  The students will examine the product of the Constitutional Convention and begin to see it as a “living document.”

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PRIMARY SOURCES & SOURCE TYPES USED in LESSON:

Hancock, John. A Proclamation. Boston: Adams and Nourse, 1787. [Broadside] Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Abaigeal Duda. www.saleminhistory.org

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, 1937
Howard Chandler Christy
Oil on Canvas
http://teachingamericanhistory.org/convention/christy

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ESSENTIAL QUESTION(S):

How does Shays’ Rebellion affect the drafting of the Constitution? Who was represented at the Constitutional Convention? Does this show that the people in power understood Shays’ problems?

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LESSON OBJECTIVES

LEARNING/CONTENT OBJECTIVES:

  • Students will be able to read and understand the Articles of Confederation, highlight the provisions, successes, and weaknesses of the document.
  • Students will learn the problems faced by the United States under the Articles of Confederation in the following categories: foreign policy, western lands, political issues, and economic concerns.
  • Students will analyze the significance of the Articles of Confederation in relation to the time period and be able to explain why a Constitutional Convention was necessary in 1787.

CONCEPT/SKILLS OBJECTIVES:

  • Students will be able to analyze and interpret primary sources.
  • Students will choose historically accurate and significant primary sources as part of the DBQ activity.
  • Students will write a coherent DBQ essay on the Articles of Confederation and the 1780’s.

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CORRELATION WITH HISTORY STANDARDS FROM the 2003 MASSACHUSETTS HISTORY AND SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULUM FRAMEWORK

MA FRAMEWORK STRAND: US History 1

MA FRAMEWORK UNIT/THEME ADDRESSED:

The Political and Intellectual Origins of the American Nation: The Revolution and the Constitution, 1763-1789

MA FRAMEWORK LEARNING STANDARD(S) ADDRESSED:

USI.6: Explain the reasons for the adoption of the Articles of Confederation in 1781, including why its drafters created a weak central government; analyze the shortcomings of the national government under the Articles; and describe the crucial events (e.g., Shays’ Rebellion) leading to the Constitutional Convention. (H, C)

USI.7: Explain the roles of various founders at the Constitutional Convention. Describe the major debates that occurred at the Convention and the “Great Compromise” that was reached. (H, C)

            Major Debates:

  • the distribution of political power
  • the rights of individuals
  • the rights of states
  • slavery

Founders:

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Alexander Hamilton
  • James Madison
  • George Washington

USI.8 Describe the debate over the ratification of the Constitution between Federalists and Anti-Federalists and explain the key ideas contained in the Federalists Papers on federalism, factions, checks and balances, and the importance of an independent judiciary. (H, C)

MA FRAMEWORK CONCEPT AND SKILLS STANDARD(S) ADDRESSED

GRADE AND SUBJECT: United States History 1 - Grade 11

NUMBER(S) AND DESCRIPTION(S): 

7. Show connections, causal and otherwise, between particular historical events and ideas and larger social, economic, and political trends and developments. (H, G, C, E)

8. Interpret the past within its own historical context rather than in terms of present-day norms and values. (H, E, C)

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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND/CONTEXT ESSAY: 

In the1780s, ninety percent of white Americans were farmers.  New England was a particularly close-knit rural community where members of the community were expected to be self-sufficient.  Most of the farms in New England were 30-acre plots, tiny when compared to giant southern plantations with thousands of acres.  Partly due to this subsistence level of farming, the people of rural New England were fiercely independent and “developed the knowledge and skills to provide for themselves.” (1)

As they were so self-sufficient, they valued their freedom highly.  In the years following the Revolution, Americans were even more sensitive to any attempts to limit their freedom, especially in rural communities in New England that were independent minded and community oriented. After the American Revolution, they were very concerned with protecting the rights they had just won.

After declaring independence in 1776, the Continental Congress formed a committee to write a plan of government for the country. The result was our first national constitution, the Articles of Confederation. (2) Between the adoption of the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and the new Constitution in 1787, the new nation experienced a period of weakness, internal conflict, and turmoil.  Many people feared that giving too much power to a central government would bring back the tyranny they felt they had under the British.  They also feared that if some states had too much power in the national government, they would dominate the others.

Under the Articles of Confederation, there were no executive branches to enforce the laws.  Instead, the country was run by congressional committees, which caused much confusion and gave too much power to the states.  Congress had no power to prevent unfair competition among the states, and it became almost impossible to trade among the states and sometimes with other countries as well.  States kept most of the power, and any action taken by Congress had to be with the consent and approval of the states.

Massachusetts’ legislature began to adopt strong economical policies, centralize its power and to control “the lives of its people through commercial regulation, high taxes, and an energized court system.” (3) Farmers in western Massachusetts were furious at the state’s attempt to pay off debt and claimed that the new state taxes had put them in debt.  Farm prices were low, and they could not pay their debts.  Many lost their farms and homes.  Some were even put in debtor’s prison.  As a result, they felt that the state failed to protect their interests.  In November 1786, Daniel Shays, a thirty nine year old farmer who served at the Battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill, organized and led several hundred angry farmers to demand the closing of the courts, a postponement of taxes, and elimination of unfair mortgages.  The national government had not been able to put down the rebellion because it had no power to put down an insurrection within one of the individual states.  It could not command enough troops to crush the growing disorder.

Shays’ Rebellion drove conservative merchants and other wealthy property owners to seek refugee in a “stronger central government, capable of providing the security and financial stability they perceived to be lacking at the state level.” (4) Such a statement seems to suggest that Shays’ Rebellion “had direct influence leading to the calling of the federal convention and the writing of a new constitution.” (5)

For the Federalists, Shays’ Rebellion “symbolized their worst fears about democratic element in their society…” (6) This insurrection brought the attention of the states.  In response, Governor Hancock issued a Proclamation forgiving the rebels if they took a vow of loyalty to the Commonwealth, but they were never pardoned from their actions.

With Shays’ Rebellion of desperate farmers in 1786, clearly in mind, 

George Washington warned, “There are combustibles in every state which a spark might set fire to…” (7)  This sense of potential disaster and the need for drastic changes infused the movement for a Constitutional Convention with new energy.  A convention for a new government began its deliberation on May 25, 1787.  All the delegates were convinced that an effective central government with a wide range of enforceable powers must replace the impotent Congress established by the Articles of Confederation.

            There were no women among the delegates.  There were no black men or slaves present.  Poor farmers, like those who took part in Shays’ Rebellion were not present.  The framers were making important decisions for the whole nation even though not everyone was represented.  When the Constitution took effect, many unresolved problems remained to be worked out.

1. We the People. Citizen and the Constitution. A Project of the Center for

 Civic Education. Founded by the U.S. Department of Education by act  of Congress, (Center for Civic Education, California, 1988), 36.

2. We the People, 40-44.

3. Stephen E. Patterson, “The Federalists’ Reaction to Shays’ Rebellion,” in What Did the Constitution Mean to Early Americans?, ed. Edward Countryman (Boston:  Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1992), 72.

4. Stephen, 84-85.

5. Stephen, 74-75.

6. Stephen, 84.

7. Library of Congress, “Letter from George Washington to Henry Knox, December 26, 1786” in George Washington Papers, 1741-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.  (Washington D.C.:  Library of Congress, 2002) [Internet]; available from http://memory.loc.gov/learn/lessons/gw/knox2.html;

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MATERIALS LIST AND PRE-ARRANGEMENTS/PREPARATION NEEDED

MATERIALS LIST:

PREPARATION:

  • Teacher must find appropriate/relevant links for students to utilize when searching for primary sources.
  • Prepare/copy worksheets/rubrics

 

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VOCABULARY:

Articles of Confederation            Treaty of Paris
Land Ordinance of 1785            Northwest Ordinance of 1787
Shays’ Rebellion           
unicameral legislature
Judiciary                       
Annapolis Convention
Taxation                     

Inflation           
debt
Constitutional Convention    
state constitutions
John Dickinson           
Republican Motherhood
Foreign relations   
representation
tariffs

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LESSON ACTIVITIES:

DAY 1:

1) Background: Teacher provides historical overview on the development of the Articles of Confederation and the adoption/implementation of state constitutions.

2) Students will read Articles of Confederation and fill out graphic organizer on the main tenets of the Articles.

3) Discussion of Articles of Confederation using guiding questions.

    • What is a “confederation”?
    • Why is the phrase “United States in Congress assembled” used more frequently than “United States of America”?
    • Why were states given equal representation in Congress, regardless of population?
    • How was the national government to be funded? Can you foresee any potential problems with this? What other economic issues might occur under the Articles?
    • Why was there no executive under the Articles? Judiciary?
    • In order to make a new law, how many states were required to approve it?
    • How many states were required to approve any amendments to the Articles?  What are some potential problems with this?
    • How do the Articles represent the needs of the colonists?
    • How were the Articles a reaction to British colonial rule?
    • What did the Articles accomplish?

4) Students will fill out a chart highlighting the successes and weakness of the Articles.

5) Discussion of problems faced by the United States under the Articles. Students fill in chart.

Categories: Western Lands, Foreign Policy, Native Americans, Economics, Soldiers/Demobilization

6) Homework: Read and outline chapter in “The American Pageant” (Bailey) on the 1780’s.

DAY 2:

1) “Write Your Own DBQ” assignment. Go over directions, how to find primary sources, and evaluation rubrics.

2) Students should spend most of their class-time looking for relevant primary sources and shortening them to excerpt form.

3) For each document, students should fill out questionnaire.

4) By the end of class, students should have completed all primary source worksheets and completed the DBQ.

5) Homework: Write the DBQ!

 
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ASSESSMENT/STUDENT PRODUCT or PERFORMANCE:

At the end of the lesson, students will gain an understanding the Articles of Confederation in the context of the 1780’s. They will choose relevant sources that show insight and historically pertinent information. They will have read, interpreted, and analyzed the primary sources that they have chosen. In addition, they will have written a Document-Based Question, which requires a sophisticated level of historical analysis. The attached assignment/rubric outlines the goals of the primary source activity and the DBQ.  Lastly, the students will have thought about and discussed the essential question: To what extent did the Articles of Confederation address the problems faced by the young nation and effectively set up a new government? This lesson will provide detailed information and background for understanding the development of the Constitution in 1787.

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ASSESSMENT CRITERIA:

    • Students will be assessed on their analysis and discussion of the Articles of Confederation.
    • Students will be assessed on their choice of primary sources and their ability to justify their answers. See attached rubric.
    • Students will be graded using the standard AP College Board rubric for the DBQ. See attached rubric.

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POSSIBLE MODIFICATIONS:

    • The second part of this lesson could be completed as a group activity.  Each group member could have a specific topic, such as foreign policy to research.  Collectively, they would create a DBQ.
    • If used as a group activity, it could also be a competition between groups. The DBQ that has the most effective primary sources would be the one used for homework.
    • If students are having difficulty finding documents, the teacher could provide a list of sources that could be used.  The student would then have to find the documents and decide which ones to use.            

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POSSIBLE EXTENSION ACTIVITIES:

  • Students could grade their own DBQ/ peer grading using the rubric. This exercise would help them better understand the grading process and what an AP reader/ AP teacher is looking for in the DBQ.
  • Compare the student created DBQ’s with actual DBQ’s written by the College Board. 
  • Compare and contrast the Articles with other systems of government. (also the Constitution)

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CROSS CURRICULAR/INTERDISCIPLINARY LINKS/ACTIVITIES:

  • Many of the problems faced by the United States under the Articles were economic in origin.  It might be interesting/useful to link this to a basic economic lesson and define some key vocabulary such as inflation, depression, panic, supply, demand, etc.
  • Reading literature from the time period to understand the vision of the “founding fathers” in establishing a new government. (such as the Federalist Papers)

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SOURCES AND RESOURCES

PRIMARY SOURCES USED USED IN LESSON:

Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union Between the States of New Hampshire [et.al] printed 1777 Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

The Articles of Confederation were the first attempt to create an independent government in the colonies during the American Revolution. The Articles are a valuable source for understanding the motives, goals, and needs of the colonists in the 1780’s.  However, the Articles also highlight several key weaknesses in the system of government. The Articles of Confederation are important for understanding the problems of the 1780’s and the reasons behind the development of the Constitution in 1787.

Miscellaneous Primary Sources included in the DBQ’s created by students.

SECONDARY (PRINT) SOURCES USED IN LESSON:

Bailey, Cohen, Kennedy. The American Pageant. 13th Ed. Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.

This is the textbook used by many AP classes in United States History.  It provides a coherent overview of historical facts and analysis.

“A More Perfect Union: Shaping American Government.” Choices for the 21st Century Education Program. Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, 2003.

This is a teaching unit on the Constitution. It provides both student and teacher resources on a variety of topics relating to the Constitutional Convention and formation of a new government.

WEB RESOURCES USED IN LESSON:

American Memoryhttp://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html [visited 5/11/2006].

This website is a good search tool for primary sources. You can search under specific categories, such as culture, war, maps, or literature. Specifically, a search for “Articles of Confederation” provides a vast number of sources, including proposals for the Articles of Confederation, notes on the proceedings of the Continental Congress, and letters written by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

“From Revolution to Reconstruction” Department of Humanities Computing, University of Groningen, The Netherlandshttp://www.let.rug.nl/usa/D/index.htm [visited 5/11/2006].

This website includes several important primary sources that would be useful for the DBQ assignment.

Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/index.html [visited 5/11/2006].

This website holds many primary sources. There is a great search engine for the catalogues, and it lets you find a variety of sources.  The Library Catalogues are extremely useful in finding multimedia and print sources. The Library of Congress site provides many sources, such as an online exhibit on Benjamin Franklin and the Continental Congress.  Similarly, there is an online exhibit on James Madison with transcripts of his works.

National Archives and Records Administration. http://www.archives.gov/index.html [visited 5/11/2006].

This site has many useful primary sources that are pertinent to the 1780’s and the Articles of Confederation including Benjamin Franklin’s “Sketch of Articles of Confederation,” an area dedicated to the Articles of Confederation, and the “emerging nation project.”

Salem in History Website. www.saleminhistory.org[visited 5/11/2006].

This website could be a useful tool in helping students find primary sources for their DBQ. The site uses local sources and connects them to larger themes in United States history. There are a wide variety of sources on the site.

 

SECONDARY (PRINT) SOURCES USED TO CREATE LESSON:

“Patterson, Stephen, “Federalist Reaction to Shays’ Rebellion” in Countryman, Edward. Ed. What Did the Constitution Mean to Early Americans? Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

This article provides a historical background for the causes of Shays’ Rebellion and highlights the significance of Shays’ Rebellion in the desire to revise the Articles of Confederation.

WEB RESOURCES USED TO CREATE LESSON:

“Albany Plan of Union” The Avalon Project at Yale Law School http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/amerdoc/albany.htm [visited 5/11/2006].

This document outlines the Albany Plan of Union in 1756. It is significant because it is one of the first attempts to organize the colonies under one government.

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ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS AND/OR STUDENTS:

(none suggested)

 
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