Brief Review in United States History and Government

Constitutional Foundations for the United States Democratic Republic

Document-Based Essay

This task is designed to test your ability to work with historical documents and is based on the accompanying documents (1–6). Some of the documents have been edited for the purposes of this question. As you analyze the documents, take into account both the source of each document and any point of view that may be presented in the document.

Directions: This document-based question consists of two parts: Part A and Part B. In Part A, you are to read each document and answer the question or questions that follow the document. In Part B, you are to write an essay based on the information in the documents and your knowledge of United States history.

Your first name only:

Your teacher's e-mail address:

Obtain the correct e-mail address from your teacher
(e.g., "teachers_name@somewhere.com")

Historical Context: In May 1787, 55 delegates came together in Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation. What they did was create a new Constitution, a plan of government designed to solve the governmental problems experienced under the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution they created has remained a flexible, living document that continues to guide this nation today.

Task: Using information from the documents and your knowledge of United States history and government, answer the questions that follow each document in Part A. Your answers to the questions will help you write the Part B essay in which you will be asked to discuss how the Constitution was both (a) a product of its time, and (b) a document that has had enough flexibility to meet the challenges of the future.

PART A: SHORT ANSWER

Document #1

"The United States in Congress assembled shall never engage in a war, … nor enter into any treaties or alliances, nor coin money, nor regulate the value thereof, … nor borrow money on the credit of the United States, nor appropriate money, … nor appoint a commander in chief of the army or navy, unless nine States assent [agree]."
—The Articles of Confederation

1. Why might it be difficult for the government under the Articles of Confederation to be effective?

Document #2

Year
Ratified
Amendment
Number
Excerpt from the Amendment
1870 15 "The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged…on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
1920 19 "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged…on account of sex"
1971 26 "The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged…"
2. How do these amendments demonstrate the ability of the Constitution to adapt to a change in attitude about who should have the right vote?

Document #3

"Representatives…shall be determined by adding to the…number of free persons…three fifths of all other persons [slaves]."
—U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2

3. How was the debate over the counting of slaves for representation resolved in the Constitution?

Document #4

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether one, a few, or many…may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny [cruel or unjust use of power]."
—James Madison, The Federalist, No. 47

4. How might the system of checks and balances address the fears expressed in the quote by James Madison?

Document #5

"So if a law be in opposition to the Constitution, if both the law and the Constitution apply to a particular case … the court must decide that case conformably [in agreement] to the law, disregarding the Constitution or conformably to the Constitution, disregarding the law, the court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case. This is the very essence of judicial duty. If, then, the courts are to regard the Constitution, and the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act, the Constitution and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which both apply."
Marbury v. Madison (1803)

5. How did the ruling in Marbury v. Madison expand the power of the Supreme Court?

Document #6

The Missouri Compromise
map of the Missouri Compromise

6. How does the map above demonstrate Congress's ability to make laws to deal with the extension of slavery?

PART B: ESSAY

Directions: Using information from the documents provided, and your knowledge of United States history, write a well-organized essay that includes an introduction, several paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Historical Context: In May 1787, 55 delegates came together in Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation. What they did was create a new Constitution, a plan of government designed to solve the governmental problems experienced under the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution they created has remained a flexible, living document that continues to guide this nation today.

Task: Using information from the documents and your knowledge of United States history and government, write an essay in which you:

Discuss how the Constitution was both (a) a product of its time, and (b) a document that has had enough flexibility to meet the challenges of the future.

Guidelines: When writing your essay, be sure to

  • address all aspects of the Task by accurately analyzing and interpreting at least four documents.
  • incorporate information from the documents in the body of the essay.
  • incorporate relevant outside information throughout the essay.
  • richly support the theme with relevant facts, examples, and details.
  • write a well-developed essay that consistently demonstrates a logical and clean plan of organization.
  • introduce the theme by establishing a framework that is beyond a simple restatement of the Task or Historical Context and conclude the essay with a summation of the theme.

When you're done, your answers to your teacher.