Civic Literacy Curriculum
This curriculum guide is intended to cover question 81.
Q81: There were 13 original states. Name five.
A. California, Maine, New Mexico, Virginia, Massachusetts
B. Canada, England, Mexico, Virginia, Massachusetts
C. North Dakota, Kentucky, Texas, Virginia, Massachusetts
D. New Hampshire, Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, Massachusetts
Politics, like geography, shaped the development of the colonies that became states. Although we tend to think of the first 13 colonies as permanent parts of America, at the time of the ratification of the Constitution, the borders of some of them were not the same as they are today. Many of the southern and middle colonies theoretically extended far to the west—for example, Kentucky was land claimed by Virginia, Tennessee by North Carolina, etc. What is now West Virginia was part of Virginia itself; so too, Maine was a part of Massachusetts. Vermont was land claimed by both New York and New Hampshire.
Out of the original thirteen states, two of them, North Carolina and Rhode Island, were each briefly out of the Union and technically independent nations when they refused to ratify the Constitution before seeing it go into effect. North Carolina eventually ratified the Constitution in November of 1789, late in the same year in which the federal government began to operate under the Constitution. Rhode Island, which was the only state that declined to send any delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, did not ratify the Constitution until 1790, more than a year after it had gone into effect.
As the independent American states began to enjoy self-government outside the British empire, many experimented with constitutional innovations that reacted to the ideas they held and the events they had experienced. In particular, many of them utilized elements that promoted more direct democracy, such as unicameral legislatures, weak governors, and brief terms (or even a type of term limits that they called rotation in office.) In this exercise, students will read excerpts from revolutionary and Founding era state constitutions, from six of the thirteen Founding states, and learn about how they differed from or influenced later state constitutions.
The worksheet includes excerpts from revolutionary era state constitutions from seven of the original thirteen states: Pennsylvania (1776), Virginia (1776), New York (1777), Georgia (1777), South Carolina (1778), Massachusetts (1780), and New Hampshire (1784). About half the states were included, with a balance in terms of geography as well as political philosophy, representing the more directly democratic versus more aristocratic models.
(Note: this exercise continues themes raised from Question 61.)
- This activity works well as an individual assignment. However, depending on the age and/or skill level of the students, you may want to have them work in larger groups.
- If that is the case, divide the class into pairs 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 that has mastered the material; Group C students are prepared to extend their knowledge.
- When using pairs, assign those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
- Groups of three or more should have at least one student from each group.
- Explain to each student that they will be looking at institutional features of early state constitutions. You can assign each student or pair one constitution, or depending on the level of the class, you might instead want each individual or group doing multiple constitutions.
- Give each student a copy of the Making Revolutionary State Constitutions worksheet. You might also provide a copy of or have students review the Introduction to Federalism and State Constitutions beforehand.
- Have the students fill out the worksheet.
- Circulate throughout the room to help students as needed.
- Once everyone is finished, have the students describe the differences they identified in their respective constitutions (you can write them up on the board). Some features you will want to note:
- The veto is eliminated in most states—of these, only New York keeps a weak version, and Massachusetts institutes a strong one akin to the present
- Annual terms for most legislators and governors
- The chief executive is usually chosen by the state legislature.
- Most are bicameral, but both Pennsylvania and Georgia, which borrowed from Pennsylvania, used a unicameral legislature. (Vermont, which joined the Union as the fourteenth state, would also use this.)
- The New Hampshire Constitution is very closely based on the Massachusetts one, and would become even more so. Indeed, New Hampshire amended the constitution in 1792 to replace the title of president with the more typical “governor”, as well as to add a veto taken almost word for word from Chapter I, Section I, Article II of the MA Constitution.]
- You can use this activity as a springboard into a class discussion once the students have finished.
- Once you have identified the different features of the various constitutions, you can have the students discuss which versions they prefer and why (e.g., whether they think it is better to have the voters or legislature pick the governor, or to have or not have a veto by which the governor can check the legislature, etc.) The American founders quickly decided that they needed to put more institutional checks in -- was this a mistake?
- You might consider having them vote on the version of each they think best, or alternatively, if your state’s governorship is in the list, whether they prefer your own state’s version or another’s.
By the time of the American Revolution, the New World had changed significantly. It had grown from a few small settlements where the inhabitants struggled to survive each winter into a confederation of 13 states, a thriving economy, local governments, and a distinct culture. In some ways, they had come too far and grown too much to remain under England’s rule for much longer.
When the American Revolution was over and independence from Great Britain achieved, the new nation consisted of 13 states. How many original states can you name?
Many of the states that were admitted to the Union after the first 13 states had been parts of those other states. For example, Kentucky was land claimed by Virginia, Tennessee by North Carolina, etc. What is now West Virginia was part of Virginia itself; so too, Maine was a part of Massachusetts. Vermont was land claimed by both New York and New Hampshire. If you were an American living in the area that is now Kentucky, or Vermont, etc., do you think you would rather be a part of the original larger state, or your own smaller state? What factors would you consider or information would you need to know to decide? Use history and current events in your answer.