Opposing Viewpoints on the Ratification of the US Constitution

Lesson Overview

Students will develop a rich understanding of the arguments in favor of and in opposition to the ratification of the US Constitution. They will examine and analyze key excerpts from "Federalist No. 51," George Mason’s Objections to the Constitution, and notes from Alexander Hamilton’s Plan of Government speech. As the students discuss the arguments presented, they will come to understand that Americans did not unilaterally agree on their new form of government.

Lesson Objectives

Students will be able to

  • Read critically and analyze primary sources
  • Develop a clear understanding of arguments in favor of and in opposition to the ratification of the US Constitution
  • Draw logical conclusions
  • Construct supporting arguments for both sides of debate
  • Demonstrate their skills through a class discussion and exit card

Number of Class Periods

One 45-minute class period

Grade Level

8th grade

Common Core State Standards


Essential Question

Would you have supported or opposed the ratification of the US Constitution?

Historical Background

The US Constitution was completed in September 1787 after a three-month Constitutional Convention presided over by George Washington. Congress sent the document to each state for ratification, and the debates began. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay argued in The Federalist Papers that the Constitution would give the federal government the necessary powers to be strong and effective for the country as a whole. Opponents argued that too much power invested in the central government, unrestrained by a bill of rights, would lead to tyranny and corruption.


  • Document Analysis: Should We Ratify?
  • Excerpts from "Federalist No. 51," February 8, 1788, The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, as Agreed Upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787, vol. 2 (New York: J. & A. McLean, 1788), pp. 116–122, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC01551
  • Excerpt from "Objections of the Honorable George Mason . . . to the New Constitution," The Freeman’s Journal; or, the North-American Intelligencer, December 5, 1787, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC00259.01
  • Excerpts from John Lansing’s Notes on Alexander Hamilton’s Plan of Government, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC00819.10


  1. Divide the class into groups of three or four students.
  2. Distribute the excerpts from "Federalist No. 51."
  3. "Share read" the text with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while you begin reading aloud, modeling prosody, inflection, and punctuation. Ask the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while you continue to serve as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English language learners (ELL).
  4. Distribute the document analysis worksheet "Should We Ratify?" You may choose to model the activity with the class for the first text. Otherwise, students should work in their small groups to complete the activity. Key points have been identified in the left column. The students must locate quotations from the text that address those key points and write them in the column on the right.
  5. Once the students have located all the quotations for "Federalist No. 51," distribute the other two texts, "Objections of the Honorable George Mason . . . to the New Constitution" and "Alexander Hamilton’s Plan of Government." Depending on the students’ abilities and the available time, you may share read the texts with the class or have them read the texts aloud in their groups or independently to themselves. Have the students work in their groups to locate appropriate quotations.
  6. Moderate a class discussion as the groups report on their selections. You may also have students ask each other about the documents and their answers. Be sure students fully understand all three arguments.

Assessment and Summary

Students will complete an exit card stating how they would vote on ratification and giving three reasons for their decision. They must cite evidence from the texts to support their decisions.