Debates, The Constitution, and Teaching History (by Joshua Arbogast)

[Note: Mr. Joshua Arbogast is an eight-year veteran teacher of the Great Hearts network, having taught in elementary and prep schools, both in Arizona and Texas. His classroom acumen is nimble enough to synchronize grade-schoolers in a Spalding phonetic chant as easily as he shepherds high schoolers through a close reading of Plato’s Republic. And, as of this year, Josh is working part-time as the Institute’s communications manager. To borrow the baseball idiom, Josh is what we call a “multi-tool player.”]

“Unprecedented,” “conspiratorial,” “exhausting,” here is a litany of phrases, now trite, used to describe this election season. Pundits seem to throw these terms around as they make predictions about America’s future. In contrast to this pessimism, I wanted to look to the past as reason to be optimistic.

In preparing to teach my students about the Constitutional Convention, I discovered a remarkable resource entitled The Founder’s Constitution. A collaboration between the Liberty Fund and the University of Chicago, this site provides specific texts that contextualize each section of our constitution. This includes the familiar Federalist Papers along with letters between more obscure founding fathers.

I was particularly interested to know their thoughts on Article 2, Section 2. What did the Founders think about the selection of the President. Reading James Madison’s notes, it is apparent that the delegates profoundly disagreed with one another. Their disagreements, more importantly, are backed up by their knowledge of history. The delegates describe the political machinations of Poland, and refer to the ruling authority of Prussian officers, to narrow and expand the role of the President.

This is one of the joys of history. It is the earnest investigation of past thoughts. I recommend looking through this resource in full knowledge that this convention at times seemed “unprecedented,” “conspiratorial,” and “exhausting.”


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