Constitutional Convention Part 3: Reading the Federalist Papers


Image from the Nashville Globe, 1918.

Download PDF


Adopted from: “Whose ‘More Perfect Union’?” Role Play from Zinn Education Project

Deepening their study of the U.S. Constitution, students will read the Federalist Paper #10 written by “Father of the Constitution” James Madison. The purpose is to further investigate who actually benefited from the Constitution. Students will think critically about Madison’s endeavor into answering why we have social conflict. Some questions in this lesson plan include, “How should government deal with social conflict?” and “Why is democracy so perilous?” and “Why is the only certain stability in a republic?” This lesson should be given after the role-play, when students have grasped a social understanding of the era.

Oregon Common Core State Standards

Language Arts Standards: 

  • ELA.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • ELA.RH.6-8.3 Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).
  • ELA.RH.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
  • ELA.RH.6-8.5 Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).
  • Additional standards listed in PDF Download

Social Studies Standards: 

  • Historical Knowledge 8.2. Evaluate continuity and change over the course of U.S. history by analyzing key people and the Constitutional Convention, the age of Jefferson, the Industrial Revolution, Westward Expansion, and the Civil War.
  • Historical Thinking 8.6. Use and interpret documents and other relevant primary and secondary sources pertaining to U.S. history from multiple perspectives.
  • Historical Thinking 8.7. Analyze evidence from multiple sources, including those with conflicting accounts about specific events in U.S. history.
  • Historical Thinking 8.8. Evaluate information from a variety of sources and perspectives.
  • Historical Thinking 8.9. Construct or evaluate a written historical argument demonstrating an understanding of primary and secondary sources.
  • Civics and Government 8.14. Explain rights and responsibilities of citizens.
  • Civics and Government 8.15. Contrast the impact of the Articles of Confederation as a form of government to the U.S. Constitution.
  • Civics and Government 8.18. Examine and analyze important U.S. documents, including (but not limited to) the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and 13th-15th
  • Civics and Government 8.21. Analyze important political and ethical values such as freedom, democracy, equality, and justice embodied in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
  • Social Science Analysis 8.25. Critique data for point of view, historical context, distortion, or propaganda and relevance.
  • Social Science Analysis 8.26. Examine a controversial event, issue, or problem from more than one perspective.
  • Additional standards listed in PDF Download


  • Copy of the Federalist Paper #10 (either shortened or complete)
  • Federalist Paper #10 Activity Sheet

Key Vocabulary


  • Introduction: Introduce the Federalist Papers.
    • Students should know there were a series of essays arguing for the ratification of the Constitution.
    • Written by James Madison, referred to as “Father of the Constitution,” Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay.
    • Students will be working with the Federalist Paper #10, written by Madison. In it, Madison claims the structure created from the Constitution is the government for containing social conflict.
    • During discussion about the Federalist Papers, hand out literature from opposing perspectives, such as “William Randolph Hearst Takes Measure of Prof. Woodrow Wilson,” from El Paso Herald, April 10, 1912. Though it was not written during the time Madison was in office, it provides authentic material on perspectives during this time.
    • Go to the Chronicling America or Oregon Historic Newspapers website to search for more resources. Use the advanced search option to find specific articles on these topics.
  • Read the article: It is a dense article to read and can be difficult to comprehend. There are numerous ways to get students involved in the reading. Divide students into smaller groups that would allow them to really digest the reading and discuss it with each other.
    • You may wish to do a read-through as a class before splitting students into small groups.
  • Discussion: When splitting students into small groups, give them discussion questions to talk about and debate.
  • Some discussion questions to consider:
    • Why does society have conflicts?
    • Are all conflicts bad?
    • Can social conflict be eliminated?
    • What do you think was the pre-Constitutional era’s greatest social conflict?
    • You may wish to debate these questions, or debrief these questions after students have read the article and discussed it with each other.
    • Please note: There will be more questions to answer after reading the paper. These are to warm up the students’ minds about papers.
  • Activity: Have students answer the questions on the activity sheet below. Each student must evaluate and write about each question. Students may discuss these questions with their group members. However, the write-ups must be individual.
    • These questions are tough, so reassure students that they will have ample time to come up with a written response for them.
    • Advise students to figure out Madison in the sense of who he was and what he stood for.
    • Monitor students, and offer support when necessary.
  • Questions to consider for discussion, to extend the lesson, or to revise existing questions. These questions may be answered through class discussion or in written form.
    • Hamilton was the initiator of the Federalist Papers. He wanted to convince New Yorkers “of intelligence, patriotism, property, and independent circumstances” to vote for the ratification of the Constitution. Who does this focus on? Who does this ignore?
    • What does Madison mean by “factions”? Is he referring to any social group, or is it specific social groups? Why?
    • What groups do you think Madison saw as “factions”? Why?
    • Madison saw government as the force behind regulating conflicts surrounding property ownership. Can a government do this without taking sides? Consider your role-play.
    • Why did Madison think that faction causation can be eliminated?
    • From this document, what would you conclude to be Madison’s opinions on slaves, workers, and farmers?
    • What is Madison’s argument for a republic over a democracy?
    • “It may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consistent to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves.” What do you think of this statement?
    • Do the people of the representatives make the important decisions? How does the Constitution ensure this?
    • Toward the end of the reading, Madison spoke of “wicked projects.” Would any of the class conventional measure fall into this category?
    • From the viewpoint of a slave owner, what “wicked” projects might Madison have been referring to?
    • From the viewpoint of your role-play character, how would you respond to Madison? Compare and contrast to your personal response to Madison.
    • Do you feel either the poor or the rich would more greatly oppose Madison? Why? 

Extension Activity Ideas

  • Debate: After students have answered the questions and written thoughtful responses, have a debate about each question. Students may wish to present their opinions about each question and open up the floor for rebuttals, questions, and evidence.
Posted in Common Core: English Language Arts Grades 6-8, Common Core: Social Sciences Grades 6-8, K-12 Lesson Plans

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Skip to toolbar