Lesson Plans

Early National

The Best Way to Govern? Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists
Author: Wes Yokoyama
School: Silver Spring International Middle
Grade Level: 8th
Time Estimated: 2 days (90 minute periods)

Enduring Understanding

The context of this lesson is the debate over the ratification of the Constitution between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. Central to this debate is the question of whether the newly written Constitution has created a government that looks out for the interest of its citizens or a government so powerful that individual citizens need protection from it. This debate captures the historical background of the country moving from a confederation of states to a federal union of states led by a central or national government.

The writings of James Madison and Patrick Henry exemplify this debate. Madison believes that the liberty afforded to a representative government will prevent the threat of injustice within the nation. Henry, on the other hand, believes that the might of the majority will oppress the minority and create injustice throughout the land. This debate over the ratification of the Constitution brings the concept of liberty into question and how much of it is to be afforded to the government and its citizens.


Determine the best way to govern by analyzing the writings of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists and apply their ideas during a Socratic Seminar.


Unit 8.2: "Creating a National Political System and Culture, 1783–1815"
Lesson 2.5: "The Constitution and the Bill of Rights"



Day 1

  1. Warm-Up: How are decisions made in the classroom and school building? Is this the best way to make govern within the school?
  2. Activate prior knowledge: Review Constitution and the powers of the federal government. Based on responses from the warm-up, who in the school represents the federal government and who represents the states?
  3. Developing background knowledge of the federalists and anti-federalists:
    • Working in groups of 2-3, students should use their Creating America textbooks, chapter 8, to complete the graphic organizer, "Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists." (see differentiating opportunities)
  4. Analyzing Primary Sources: Working in the same groups of 2-3, students will read the excerpts of the Patrick Henry address to the Virginia ratifying convention and Federalist #51 and complete the written analysis graphic organizers for each.

Day 2

  1. Warm-Up: Show the cartoon, "Congressional Pugilists." This should give the students an understanding of the "fighting" between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists (which later became the Democratic-Republicans). Depending on time, you can have the students complete the cartoon analysis graphic organizer or discuss as an entire group.
  2. Participate in a Socratic Seminar: Distribute and review "The Socratic Seminar" instructions. Allow 20 minutes to plan out their arguments on one index card. They should argue using concepts of Federalists and Anti-Federalists but from the perspective of the modern-day, using examples from the past and present. *You may wish to show the You Tube video of the disorderly conduct of certain members of Congress during the health care debate as an example of what not to do during the seminar discussion (or you can save the video for afterward).


Day 1 Prompt: In your opinion, who has a better explanation for the Protection of Rights and the Rule of Law in the United States under the new Constitution, Patrick Henry or James Madison? Provide at least 2 pieces of evidence from your graphic organizer(s) to support your answer.


  • Scaffolded versions of the Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist worksheet.
  • Groupings for completing the worksheet and also the Primary Source written analysis graphic organizers can be varied based on reading level.
  • Provide definitions or a glossary of terms for words in the readings.
  • Allow students to work in teams during the Socratic Seminars to focus points of discussion each student can share during the discussion.
  • During the Socratic Seminars, students can be assigned roles as observers who track the commentary seminar participants during the discussion.


  • In-depth completion of the graphic organizer
  • Application of Federalist or Anti-Federalist viewpoint during the Socratic Seminar. Evaluate the students by keeping a tally of points accumulated by making insightful and/or evidence based comments during the seminar.
  • Extension assessment: Show students "A Peep Into the Antifederalists Club." Have students complete their own satire of the Federalists or Anti-Federalists by completing the thought bubbles with more modern wording of federalists or anti-federalist arguments.

References: Web

"A Peep into the Anti-Federalists Club."http://historyproject.ucdavis.edu/marchandslides.bak/warren_louis/images/Federalists_and_Unity19.jpg
"Congressional Pugilists."http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwpugilr.html
"Unruly Republicans disrupt healthcare debate."http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMdlcnK_MI4
National Archives and Records Administration. "Written Analysis Worksheet."http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/worksheets/written_document_analysis_worksheet.pdf
National Archives and Records Administration. "Cartoon Analysis Worksheet."http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/worksheets/cartoon_analysis_worksheet.pdf
James Madison. "The Federalist No. 51: "The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments." 1788.Source: http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa51.htm
James Madison. "The Federalist No. 41: General View of the Powers Conferred by The Constitution." 1788.Source: http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa41.htm
James Madison. "The Federalist No. 10: The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection (continued)." 1787.Source: http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa10.htm
James Madison. "The Federalist No. 14: Objections to the Proposed Constitution From Extent of Territory Answered." 1787.Source: http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa14.htm
This website provides written documentation of the speeches of many anti-federalists during the Virginia ratifying convention.