This exhibit contains extensive opportunities for using primary documents to explore the actions, issues and significance of the First Federal Congress (FFC), which, as the exhibit explains, was a virtual "second sitting" of the Federal Constitutional Convention. Many issues that were too divisive or too specific to be included in the Constitution, the framers left for this First Federal Congress to flesh out in its three sessions.
Often US History courses focus on the Revolution, including the making of the Constitution, but do not consider how the government that was created actually came to function. This exhibit provides a wonderful exercise in history, political science and civics because it explores the creation of our governmental structure and allows students both to see how our government worked at its inception, and to understand that our government today functions in very similar ways. There are individual interpretations and insights that put the form and function of that early government into personal and vivid focus.
The site itself is clearly structured and easy to navigate. There are fourteen topics (units), each having around ten images and documents which explore issues. (see the Table of Contents at the site) Each topic opens with a section of the Constitution to which the group of documents relate.
There are numerous ways to use the topics (units), depending on the grade
level, time frame and objectives of the instruction. Because of the sometimes
complex and sophisticated language of the documents, the exhibit is probably
most appropriate for high school students.
A good discussion about using primary sources can be found at the Library of Congress American Memory collection. The Library of Congress Learning Page provides lesson framework on the use of primary sources, includes rationale for using primary sources, selecting sources, organizing instruction, focus, inquiry, application, assessment and activities. http://memory.loc.gov/ndlpedu/lessons/fw.html#organize
Birth of the Nation: The First Federal Congress 1789-1791, by Charlene Bangs Bickford and Kenneth R. Bowling (Madison House, Madison, WI, 1989) is a brief but informative exploration of the FFC suitable for classroom use.
Creating the Bill of Rights: The Documenary Record from the First Federal Congress, edited by Helen E. Veit, Charlene Bangs Bickford, and Kenneth R. Bowling (The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1991) presents all the documents relating to the First Federal Congress's passage of the Bill of Rights
The Diary of William Maclay Volume 9 of the Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, 1789-1791, edited by Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit (The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1989) is the only surviving diary by a member of the first Senate, which met in secret. The diary is filled with "insider" information, comments on colleagues, and human interest.
Model Editions Partnership site on the Internet presents documents on the subject of creating the first three executive departments including the tremendously important debate on the power of removal.