The Bill of Rights and Federalism

Explores the powers reserved to the states as provided by the Tenth Amendment. Explains the Founders’ understanding of a federalist system and the expansion and contraction of the federal government’s power.

What is a Federal Republic?

Clock 100 minutes

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention embraced the difficult duty of crafting a government that appropriately distributed the power between the national government and the states. For the Founders, the principle of federalism was a means of protecting liberty by limiting and dividing government power. This lesson explores the principle of federalism, how it is constructed in the Constitution, and  the relationship between national and state powers.

Founding Principles

Federalism image

Federalism

The people delegate certain powers to the national government, while the states retain other powers; and the people, who authorize the states and national government, retain all freedoms not delegated to the governing bodies.

Inalienable / Natural Rights image

Inalienable / Natural Rights

Freedoms which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.

Limited Government image

Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

Representative / Republican Government image

Representative / Republican Government

Form of government in which the people are sovereign (the ultimate source of power) and authorize representatives to make and carry out laws.

Separation of Powers image

Separation of Powers

A system of distinct powers built into the Constitution to prevent an accumulation of power in one branch.

Overview

The constitutional principle of federalism holds that the people delegate certain powers to the national government in the Constitution. All those powers not delegated to the national government remain with the states and the people. For the Founders, the principle of federalism was a means of protecting liberty by limiting and dividing government power. People seized upon incidents such as Shays’s Rebellion as evidence of the failure of the Articles of Confederation, a growing number of Americans saw a need for a stronger central  government. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention embraced the difficult duty of crafting a government that appropriately distributed the power between the national government and states.

Objectives

Students will:

  • Identify powers belonging to the national government, state government, and shared by both.
  • Understand Article I, Section 8 and the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.
  • Understand Federalist and Anti-Federalist views of the power-sharing relationship between the national government and the states.
  • Analyze current events in the context of federalism.ƒƒ Evaluate issues and determine if they would be best dealt with at the national level, state level, or neither.

Materials

  • Highlighter Pens in Blue, Yellow, and Green
  • Key Terms
  • Handout A: Background Essay—What Is a Federal Republic?
  • Handout B: Federalism Venn Diagram
  • Handout C: Article I, Sections 8, 9, 10 of the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment
  • Handout D: State Power – Criticisms and Responses

Standards

  • NCHS (9-12): Era III, Standards 2A, 3B, and 3C
  • CCE (9-12): IB1, IIA1, IID3, IIIA1, IIIA2, IIIB1, IIIC1, IIIC3
  • NCSS: Strands 6 and 10

Background 20 minutes the day before

On the day prior to the lesson, have students read Handout A: Background Essay—What Is a Federal Republic? Instruct students to answer the questions at the end of the essay.

Activities 45-60 min.

  1. Divide students into groups of four and have them read Handout C: Article I, Sections 8, 9, 10 of the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment.
  2. Have students complete Handout B: Federalism Venn Diagram individually.
  3. While in groups, students should identify any similarities or differences between what they wrote on Handout B and the powers listed in the Constitution on Handout C.
  4. Have students continue to work in their groups using Handout C to identify additional ways in which the people’s rights are protected by limits on the powers of the national government.
  5. As a class, briefly discuss their results and observations about the similarities and differences between their Venn diagrams and the Constitution.
    • How did the Founders view the size of the federal government and its relationship with the state governments?
    • How did the Founders dictate limits on government power to protect the rights of the people?

Wrap-up 10 min.

  1. As a large group, ask students to share their responses to the final critical thinking question from Handout A: To what extent should the national government make laws concerning the controversial topics listed below? Use the Constitution to frame your response:
    • ƒƒHealth insurance
    • ƒƒEducation standards
    • ƒƒMarriage and family law
    • ƒƒMedical marijuana
    • ƒƒAssisted suicide
  2. As you think about the history of the United States and the state of these current issues, is the principle of federalism still strong in the United States? Why or why not?

Homework

  1. Using the local newspaper, television coverage, or an online news source, have students identify a current federalism issue and write an abstract for one of the reports they find. The abstract should address the “reporter questions”: who, what, why, when, where, results, and analysis. In the “analysis” section, have students explain why the issue is an example of federalism, and how they think it should be resolved.
  2. Have students identify a portion(s) of Article I, Sections 8, 9, and the Tenth Amendment that they would like to revise to clearly specify the duties of Congress, powers denied to Congress, and/or the powers of the states. After revising the relevant portions, answer the following questions:
    • ƒƒWhy did you make the changes?
    • ƒƒHow would the proposed changes affect the country today?
    • ƒƒHow do your revisions reflect the principles of federalism and limited government?
  3. Have students research current issues of federalism such as same-sex marriages, health care, or national standards in education. Are these issues best left to individual states, or should the national government be involved? Ask students to take a position on whether the federal government or state governments would best handle their topic and prepare to defend the chosen position in a debate.
  4. Have students complete Handout D: State Power – Criticisms and Responses as a bridge between this lesson and lesson two of this unit.

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