Approach II. Topic lessons based on selected documents across the site
These topics fit into a general study of the Early Republic as part of the narrative for a survey class. This approach groups the fourteen topics into seven (7) sections which pulls readings from several units. Analysis of the documents rests in the hands of the students, guided mainly by the topic heading. The commonly used "expert" technique for student group study is appropriate for these sections with a final demonstration of learning to be presented to the entire class.
Time frame: 3-5 days if using small groups
Student group topics:
How did the First Federal Congress (FFC) put meat on our Constitutional skeleton? The three branches of government became fully functional through resolutions and acts of the FFC. Consider: Public access to Congressional activity. Senate? House?How? Why? (Compare with present: link to Congressional sites, view C-Span)
Who has what power? What evidence exists that the branches were in conflict? Creation of the departments, appointment and removal.
What were the issues of contention over the Judiciary?
How did money issues affect the early government? The fiscal responsibility of the nation was part of critical debates on several levels: 1) national: particularly having funds to run the government; 2) state: notably the debate over assuming state debts from the Revolutionary War; and 3) personal:, credit, individually held federal and state debt certificates, impost (tariffs), excise taxes and ransoms.
Students research to find evidence of each of the three levels. Consider what the different advocacy groups were and what was their motivation for arguing their position. What role did concerns for the nation play in satisfying the issues of individuals, regions and special interest groups? What clout do groups have, then or today? (Create a list of groups then and now that can be identified as "special interests") What role do special interest groups play in economic decisions today? ( National Health Care, Trade with China, etc.)
OR (also on fiscal issues of government)
What role did the FFC play in mapping out the future of the nation? The FFC
was involved in funding the government, establishing confidence in the nations
fiscal responsibilities, repayment of debts, looking to the future.
What was involved in locating the Capital? The decision to place the Capital on the Potomac was not quick or uncontested.
Have students research how the issues (political theories like classical
republicanism, sectionalism, planning, style) and special interests impacted
How secure was the Union/federal government as the government actually formed? There were critical tensions between Federalists and Antifederalists, quasi-monarchists and republicans, formal rules and personal and popular practice which set the precedents which define the Presidency and our democracy even today.
Students research the controversies and practices which developed as the
constitutional form of the executive became functional. Compare 18th century
style with the styles of Andrew Jackson, JFK, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill
Clinton. Consider ceremonies like inaugurations (link American Memory
Collection, Library of Congress), weddings, First Lady styles (Jackie Kennedy,
Rosalyn Carter, Pat Nixon). What evidence is there of elitism and egalitarianism
can be found in their style?
How did Americans get heard? What kind of voice did they project? From the Bill of Rights to petitions to printed criticism, Americans were vocal participants in the functioning of the government under the FFC.
Students read letters written by citizens on a wide variety of issues.
These letters include public criticism of national figures (Rep. James
Madison, VA), requests for payment of debts, job applications, and outcry over
taxes and rescue by payment of ransom.
What was the relationship between the new American nation and the Indians? Treaties, resolutions, policy statements and military opportunities all illuminate this topic.
In exploring the readings, students will discover a "disconnect" between the official position of the government and what was actually occurring. Were attitudes and actions in conflict with official policy? What was the motivation behind the interaction with the Indians?