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Question

Q1: Which of these is not an accurate description of the form of government of the United States?

A. Republic
B. Constitution-based federal republic
C. Representative democracy
D. Direct democracy

Q2: What is the supreme law of the land?

A. the Constitution
B. the Bill of Rights
C. the Declaration of Independence
D. the Articles of Confederation

Question Background Information

Background

The United States’ first attempt at a constitution, the Articles of Confederation, did some things right: it saw the United States through the Revolution, preserved most of the jurisdiction of the state governments, and gave Congress the ability to coin money, declare war, and enter into treaties.

The problem, however, was that it leaned too far toward respecting state sovereignty, depriving Congress of several powers it would need to conduct foreign policy and create a working interstate economy. For example, while Congress could coin money, so could each individual state. Without a single, uniform currency, trade between states and nations was more than a little complicated. Another problem arose due to the fact that while only Congress could declare war, it lacked the authority to raise and maintain its own military. This significantly limited the new nation’s ability to protect itself from threats, both internal and external.

If the new nation was going to survive, then some changes would have to be made, better balancing both the needs of a federal government with the principle of local government. Representatives from each state gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to draft a new constitution that would replace the Articles. The Founding Fathers learned from the Articles’ shortcomings, while continuing its strengths. They developed a document that added essential new powers and enforcement machinery to create a stronger government, but one that still preserved the decentralized system of limited government desired by the liberty-loving American people.

The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land, establishing the federal government, defining that government’s powers and structures, and protecting the basic rights of all Americans.

The Constitution creates the form of government we have in the United States, which is a constitutional and federal republic. A constitutional republic means that it is one in which, rather than directly governing, the people select some of their members to temporarily serve in political office; the constitutional part means that both the citizens and their governing officials are bound to follow the rules established in that Constitution. A federal republic is one in which a federal government is given only limited powers for limited purposes, while state governments retain most powers of government. The Constitution describes this division of power, establishing which specific powers have been given to the federal government, while reiterating that most remain with the state governments.

The Constitution’s status as supreme law of the land works in two ways. As long as an action of the federal government is authorized by the Constitution, that action supersedes any state or local law with which it might conflict. But not every action by the federal government is supreme-- federal activity must also follow from the Constitution or it too would be illegal.

Additional Content

Offline Activity

Introduction 

This activity offers students the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the ways in which it created the government that we know today. In this activity, students will read sections of the Constitution and annotate them, noting words or sections that either stand out to them or that they have questions about.  

Preparation 

  • Divide students into groups of 3-4, mixing support, core, and enrichment students. 
    • Another approach is to assign the students to work in pairs and annotate a single copy of the Constitution. This may work better for older students, as they will have some familiarity with history and the Constitution.  
  • Print a copy of the the Constitution for each group/member as needed.
    • Depending on the students, class size, and time, you may want to use just the Preamble, just one article, or just one section of the Constitution for the lesson. Adjust the worksheet to fit your specific needs.

Instructions 

  • Divide the class into groups of 3-4 based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group who have mastered the material and are prepared to extend their knowledge. Each group should have at least one student from Group A, one from Group B, and one from Group C. 
    • If students are in pairs rather than groups, divide them based on ability as well, pairing those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).  
  • Provide each group/pair with a copy of the Constitution (either the entire document or the specific article or section that you wish to focus on). 
  • Explain that they are to read their assigned section and each group member should annotate their copy.  
    • Tell students to write at least three questions and three comments/observations. The notes should be written in the margins of the document provided.  
      • Examples of questions: 
        • "What does emolument mean?” 
        • “What are the qualifications for representatives?”  
      • Examples of comments: 
        • “Seems like it’s hard to pass an amendment!”  
        • “That was a good idea to create three branches.”
    • Emphasize that there is no “wrong” question or observation, and encourage them to write down any question or observation that comes to mind, even if they go over the required total. 
  • Provide the groups/pairs with time to annotate and discuss, 15-20 minutes depending on the class and the amount of content to annotate.
    • Circulate and talk briefly with each group. If they are having trouble coming up with questions or observations, ask questions to stimulate their conversation.   
  • At the end of the activity, facilitate a class discussion, allowing the students to lead with the questions and comments/observations that they wrote in the margins.  

Discussion Prompts

Prompt 1: 
What is the supreme law of the land? And what kind of government does it create in the United States?

Prompt 2:
According to Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 78, which is part of a series of articles written to promote the Constitution, it is important to ensure an independent judiciary so as to ensure the Constitution’s supremacy is enforced—that the states, Congress, and the president must all follow it. This, he says, “does not suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power. It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former. They ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental.” 


Discuss what this means—why is it important for the Constitution to be enforced as the “supreme law of the land.” What is it enforcing? Use past examples and current events  in your answer.
 

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