For Teachers

The Structure of Liberty

The best account of the Philadelphia Convention may be found in Richard Beeman, Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (New York: Random House, 2010). See also David O. Stewart, The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008). The indispensible background book is Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1993).

Class One

Questions : Were the Articles of Confederation “broken.” In what respect was a loose association of state more protective of liberty, and in what respect was it less efficient than a federal system? How did the procedural decisions in the first days of the Convention shape its outcome? How was the government of the 1776 Virginia Constitution different from that of today’s federal government?

Class Two

Questions : Madison had read Hume at college in Princeton. How much of the Vices essay, and the Virginia Plan, was taken from Hume? How would the Virginia Plan have reduced gridlock? Why did Madison and Randolph want judges as members of the Council of Revision? How would the Virginia Plan have struck a balance between the power of the federal government and that of the states? What did the delegates have to say about democracy, and what did they mean by it? What role did the delegates see for the president? Was this a plan for a parliamentary government?

Class Three

Questions : What does the vote about a plural executive say about the delegates’ beliefs about the presidency? How did the delegates refine their thoughts about democracy and representation? Did the delegates think that sovereignty could be divided? Which was most to be feared: states encroaching on the federal power, or vice versa?

Class Four

Questions : Would the New Jersey Plan have reduced gridlock? In what respect was it a decentralizing document? What were Hamilton’s thoughts on government?

Class Five

Questions : Just how was the compromise arrived at? Who gave up what? What were the dissenters opposed to, and who were they? Why was the compromise just what one would have expected to emerge from the debates? Who cut the deals, and who was left out? On the debate about states’ rights, who had the better of the argument?

Class Six

Questions : Who attended the breakfast on the morning on July 17, and what did they say?

Why did Gouverneur Morris oppose the national veto? To which constituencies did he appeal in arguing for an elected president? When did Madison turn on the issue, and what changed his mind? How important was the fear of corruption to the delegates?

Class Seven

Questions : How did the arguments about how to elect a president affect how delegates felt about limits on the office?

Class Eight

Questions : How did the delegates expect the president to be chosen? What discretion were the electors to exercise? How often did the delegates think that a president would fail to get a majority of the electoral vote? To what extend would politics be centered at the state level? How did they arrive at their test for impeachment?