The Great Federal Constitution Forum of 1787

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The Great Federal Constitution Forum of 1787

(i.e. Federalist/Anti-Federalist Debate)
The History: At the end of the Constitutional Convention, delegates returned to their home states with varying degrees of support for the new constitution. Most men, as they left the convention, were not fully satisfied with the final product and none knew if this new constitution would work, but most bought into the notion that this new document was better than the Articles of Confederation. However, the men attending the Constitutional Convention did not have the authority to give final approval of the Constitution. Each state had defined a ratification process. Generally, state conventions were used by states to ratify the Constitution because state legislatures had an interest in voting the Constitution down since it limited their powers. In order for the Constitution to be implemented, nine of thirteen states had to ratify it. Heated debates ensued in the states over the controversial aspects of the Constitution. Supporters of the Constitution were called Federalists and opponents, Anti-Federalists.
The Setting: In order to make this exercise a more robust debate over the issues, we are going to alter history a little bit. We are going to create a federal forum, which never happened in reality, where pro-Constitution and anti-Constitution leaders from all regions of the country will convene for a debate over the issues surrounding the Constitution. The forum will be set directly after the Constitutional Convention ends but prior to the state ratification process and will act as an advisory commission to the states as they enter into their ratification process.
The Mechanics: The room will be configured with six desks in the center of the room in two groups of three (the hot seats). The two sets of three desks will face each other. All other classroom desks will be placed in rows in the back of the room. One set of desks will represent Federalists and another desk will represent Anti-Federalists. Six students will fill those hot seats at the beginning of class. The moderator of the forum, Mr. S, will introduce a topic of debate. Students within the hot seats will vigorously debate the issue based on the role they are playing. Anyone sitting in a hot seat should feel free to chime in at anytime to make a point. Two things to keep in mind: first, allow guys to finish their thoughts before you respond (do not interrupt) – and second, if you can't seem to get a word in, simply raise your hand and you can make your point after the current guy has finished. At some point the moderator will ask for new guys to occupy the hot seats. Those new guys would then follow the moderator's instruction on how the debate should continue. The moderator will change hot seat guys for the following reasons…

  1. The topic has been fully debated.

  2. There is still more to discuss on the topic but the current hot seat guys have been in there a sufficient amount of time.

  3. One guy has spoken a lot and it’s time to hear someone else's ideas.

When it is time to switch hot seats, anyone sitting in the rows may feel free to occupy any open hot seat. Even if you've already played the role of a federalist, you can play the role of an anti-federalist later.

Guys in the Forum: You will be listening to the debates and assessing how persuasive each side has been for a given topic. The moderator will provide you with a forum assessment form to fill out. Be thorough in your assessment. Tell me how you feel about a debate and more importantly, why.

Role Playing: Students are encouraged to role play … by taking a more moderate or more radical approach to their role, maybe by choosing a section of the country if you feel that has bearing on how you answer, or even dressing the part. The more that you play the role, the more interesting the activity is. Having said that, understand that you can go overboard with role playing, so please be mindful of getting too carried away.
End of the Debate: At the end of the class period we will take a vote to see if the federalist or anti-federalist side was more persuasive in their arguments and thus give our recommendation to the states as to whether the Constitution should or should not be ratified.
Preparation: You will be given a day of classroom time to work in groups to prepare. You will read Lessons 15-17 in the We the People book. You will also have take home readings from which you can draw ideas. Feel free to use the internet to supplement your reading. I will provide you with a research sheet to guide you in researching some of the more important topics.
Grading: You will be graded mainly on your debate participation. You should shoot for playing both a Federalist and an Anti-Federalist and sitting in a hot seat at least twice. The quality of your response and its accuracy, given your role, are the main grading criterion. You will also turn in your forum assessment form, which will be graded based on your impressions of the debate and the thoughtfulness you put into the responses – tell me why you feel the way you do.

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