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Democracy and the US Constitution

Joel M. Sipress
Series Editors: Joel M. Sipress and David J. Voelker

Publication Date - 15 July 2019

ISBN: 9780190057091

144 pages
7-1/2 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

Encourage your students to participate in a contested, evidence-based discourse about the human past


Embracing an argument-based model for teaching history, the Debating American History series encourages students to participate in a contested, evidence-based discourse about the human past. Each book poses a question that historians debate--How democratic was the U.S. Constitution? or Why did civil war erupt in the United States in 1861?--and provides abundant primary sources so that students can make their own efforts at interpreting the evidence. They can then use that analysis to construct answers to the big question that frames the debate and argue in support of their position.

Democracy and the US Constitution poses this big question: How democratic was the U.S. Constitution?


  • Organized around a big question about which historians themselves disagree: How democratic is the US Constitution?
  • Exposes students to rival positions about which they must make informed judgments
  • Asks students to judge the relative merits of rival positions on the basis of historical evidence
  • Requires students to develop their own positions, for which they must argue on the basis of historical evidence
  • Offers an alternative to the "coverage model" that has dominated History classrooms since the late nineteenth century, and which has consistently fallen short of its own goals since its inception
  • Concise and flexible format allows for inclusion in a variety of classroom settings
  • Each title in the Series is edited by Joel M. Sipress and David J. Voelker, award-winning teachers who have published and lectured extensively on reform in the teaching of History
  • The enhanced ebook offers short video clips, flashcards, animated maps, interactive timelines, and additional primary sources

About the Author(s)

Joel M. Sipress received his PhD in US History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where he teaches US and Latin American History. He serves as coeditor of the Debating American History series with David J. Voelker.


"The advantage that Debating American History has over other projects and texts currently available is that it brings a very clear and focused organization to the notion of classroom debate. The terms of each debate are clear. The books introduce students to historiography and primary sources. Most of all, the project re-envisions the way that US history should be taught. No other textbook or set of teaching materials does what these books do when taken together as the sum of their parts."--Ian Hartman, University of Alaska

"Debating American History repositions the discipline of history as one that is rooted in discovery, investigation, and interpretation."--Ingrid Dineen-Wimberly, University of California, Santa Barbara

"Debating American History is an excellent replacement for a 'big assignment' in a course. Offering a way to add discussion to a class, it is also a perfect 'active learning' assignment, in a convenient package."--Gene Rhea Tucker, Temple College

"The question 'How democratic was the Constitution?' fits perfectly with my course, which centers on the evolving and contested nature of freedom in US History. Students will enjoy arguing this question and it will be an eye-opener for those who have studied a more traditional version of US history that largely ignores the limited nature of freedom in early America."--Amani Marshall, Georgia State University

"Students will find interesting the 'big' question about the degree to which the US Constitution is a democratic document. Many students will probably be surprised to discover that there is argument over whether or not the Constitution is democratic."--Christian Gonzales, University of Rhode Island

Table of Contents

    List of Figures
    About the Author
    I. The Big Question
    II. Timeline
    III. Historian's Conversations
    Position #1: We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident": The Creation of a Democratic Republic
    Position #2: An Excess of Democracy: The Federalist Assault on Popular Self-Government
    Position #3: A Republic of Propertied Men: The Constitution in Historical Context
    IV. Debating the Question
    A. Declarations and Constitutions
    1.1 The Declaration of Independence (1776)
    1.2 The Articles of Confederation (1777)
    1.3 The Constitution of the United States (1787)
    1.4 The Constitutions of Virginia (1776) and Pennsylvania (1776)
    1.5 The Bill of Rights (1789)
    B. Federalist Documents
    2.1 Letter of Alexander Hamilton to James Duane (1780)
    2.2 Alexander Hamilton, "Conjectures about the Constitution" (1787)
    2.3 James Madison, "Vices of the Political System of the United States" (1787)
    2.4 James Madison, "Federalist No. 10" (1787)
    2.5 James Madison, "Federalist No. 51" (1788)
    C. Documents from Shay's Rebellion
    3.1 Daniel Gray, "An Address to the People of the Several Towns in the County of Hampshire, Now at Arms" (1786) and Thomas Grover, "To the Printer of the Hampshire Herald" (1786)
    D. Anti-Federalist Documents
    4.1 Essay by Montezuma (1787)
    4.2 "Political Creed of Every Federalist" (1787)
    4.3 Mercy Otis Warren, "Observations on the New Constitution, And on the Federal and State Conventions by a Columbian Patriot" (1788)
    4.4 Virginia Convention Recommends Amendments to the Constitution (1788)
    E. Voting Restriction and Slave Laws in the Thirteen Original States
    F. Biographies of Key Federalists
    6.1 Alexander Hamilton
    6.2 James Madison
    V. Additional Resources

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