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Classroom Activities on Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist

by Suzy Kerr

In United States history, the intellectual battles between Federalists and Anti-Federalists are among our most important ideological struggles, as they shaped the writing of the Constitution. Federalists believed America should be subject to a strong, centralized government, while Anti-Federalists, concerned about the dangers of centralized government after the Revolutionary War, hoped to establish strong states' rights, overseen by a limited central government. Contemporary students can expect curriculum focusing on these debates throughout their academic careers.

Write Your Own Constitution

The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution as a concession to the Anti-Federalists, who considered it a means of returning power to the American people. This classroom activity is well-suited to the needs of younger students. After discussing the importance of the rights outlined in the Bill of Rights and later amendments, ask your students to write a new Constitution for the United States. As students discuss what they want to include, they will likely find their own arguments over describing the roles of local and federal government. After they’ve finished their Constitution, ask each student to explain how the draft compares and contrasts with the real Constitution.

Centralized and Local Governments Around the World

While studying the Revolutionary War, students will learn about the impact of America’s fight for freedom on the rise of democracy throughout the world. This activity is best assigned in a middle school classroom. After choosing a country outside of the U.S., each student will research and describe that country’s system of government. Remind them to pay careful attention to the ways in which the country’s governmental system is similar to and different than the one in the United States. After describing the country, ask your class which group, the Federalists or the Anti-Federalists, would approve of that chosen country’s system -- and explain why.

Hold a Debate

This classroom activity, designed for high school freshman, combines the study of history with a better understanding of how rhetorical devices help to shape an argument. Divide the class in half and hold a debate between the Federalists, one half of the classroom, and the Anti-Federalists, the other half. Regardless of personal beliefs, each student has to argue on behalf of the side assigned to them. At the end of class, ask your students which position they believe made a stronger argument and why. Had your class made their arguments during the drafting of the Constitution, would our governmental system look different than the one we ended up with?

Determine Position

As students prepare for tests like the SAT and the ACT in their junior year of high school, being able to analyze a text for a position quickly will become an increasingly useful skill. Choose four arguments made at the New York State Convention, remove the names of the speakers, and pass out a single argument to each student. Ask the class to determine their speaker’s position, Federalist or Anti-Federalist, through textual evidence that supports their claim. After finishing a short in-class essay, organize students into groups based on speaker, and ask them to compare their arguments. Did they agree on the speaker’s position? Why or why not?

About the Author

Suzy Kerr graduated from Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia. She completed her Master's degree in Nutrition Sciences, also at the University of Georgia. Suzy has been a successful health, fitness and nutrition writer for more than 10 years, and has been published in various print and online publications.

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