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Debate on Ratification: Assignment

Should We Ratify the New Constitution?- The Setting...

After spending  a hot summer in Philadelphia arguing, compromising, writing, and finally finishing the new Constitution, only 40 of the original 55 delegates (or deputies) actually signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787. When it went to the states for their ratification votes (remember it would take a vote 3/4s of the states to ratify), the debates were intense. The Federalists led by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay argued in favor of ratification, while Antifederalists, George Mason, Patrick Henry, Luther Martin and Richard Henry Lee argued against ratification. 

Your Task...

You will "become" one of these famous men, research their arguments, and stage a debate in front of your state's legislature (the class). The class will then vote whether or not to ratify the new Constitution, based upon the success of your debate. 

As one of the 7 men listed above... 

  • Begin your research by using the sites specifically designated for your man, but be sure to also review the general information sites as well. 
  • As you research, use the following questions to guide you through the information:
    • Why would he be considered a Federalist or an Antifederalist?
    • What in his background would lead you to believe he would take the stand he did? 
    • What were his main arguments?
    • How did he rebut his opponent's arguments?
    • Did he concede any arguments to his opponents?
    • What made his speeches so persuasive? Technique or content or? 
    • What was he like as a speaker? (e.g., bold & strong, or quiet & soft spoken?) 
  • Write a four minute prepared speech giving your man's best arguments in a most persuasive manner. Remember to start your speech with an attention grabbing statement. Organize it so your conclusion restates the most important points of your argument. These men all felt very strongly about their positions, so a little emotion may be in order!
  • Create a costume and any props you feel will make your presentation more effective. 
  • Stage a debate - each of you will have time to do your four minute prepared presentation alternating between Federalists and Antifederalists, and then each of you will have one minute for your rebuttal of points and restatement of your own position. A time keeper will be appointed, and you will need to adhere to the time limitations. 

If you're not in a debate...

You will be writing a 2-3 page letter to the editor of a Virginia newspaper dated 1787 in which you sign the letter with one of the 7 participants' names. You should include, your reasons as to why you think the Constitution should be put into practice or not. You must also anticipate counter arguments of the other framers of the document. 

Include your sources within and at the end of your letter. You should write with emotion because as you know the framers were pretty pumped up about this.

Subject Guide