HIST 120 Getting to Union: Navigating Differences in the Constitutional Convention

In this course, you will explore how the Constitutional Convention delegates created a government that united them despite their social, economic, political, and religious differences. Look to this historic moment as a model for navigating our contemporary differences and help keep alive our Union.

Historical Context

During the summer of 1787, delegates came to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia intensely worried about the future of the United States. The fragile new experiment in self-government appeared to be headed down the road to failure. States were divided by their economic interests, religious beliefs, and reliance on slavery. The Articles of Confederation had created a confederation government during the Revolutionary War, but Congress’ inability to collect taxes or call-in state debts left Continental Army soldiers unsupplied, cold, and hungry. 

A few years after victory in the Revolutionary War, states bickered over boundary disputes, printed their own currencies (causing inflation), and violated the peace treaty that ended the war. Britain watched and waited patiently for the American experiment to collapse, ready to move back in and regain some of its resources lost in the war.  

As the delegates came to the Constitutional Convention, they knew they had monumental problems to solve. How would they navigate their differences and save the American experiment? They knew there would be no United States unless they could find ways to accommodate one another across their differences.

About the Course

In steps 2-6, you will learn about the dire condition of the American Union soon after the Revolutionary War. You will learn about some issues dividing the nation and the challenges facing the delegates of the Constitutional Convention as they gathered to save their country from failure. 

In steps 6-7, you will learn how the delegates agreed to a process of giving space to work through issues. You will learn about the rules for debates in the Convention. Following this process built trust among the delegates. 

In steps 8-12, you will learn about some of the critical agreements the delegates navigated across their differences, including representation in the national legislature and negotiations over slavery. 

Finally, in step 13, you will be guided in a class discussion exploring how we can look to the Constitutional Convention as a model for how to navigate our deep differences today. Successfully navigating our differences makes it possible for our experiment in liberty to continue and keep our Union.  

Learning Objectives

By using Getting to Union: Navigating Differences in the Constitutional Convention, you will…

  1. Understand the fragile state of the United States at the time of the creation of the U.S. Constitution, including deep divisions across the states.
  2. Explore how the delegates in the Constitutional Convention created a space to address issues where they disagreed.  
  3. Identify that creating a space in the Constitutional Convention to address issues built trust among the delegates and made linchpin compromises over representation and slavery possible. 
  4. Discuss possible ways today we can navigate our differences to keep our Union. 

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Civic Education for a Common Good

We apply the U.S. Department of Education’s Consensus Statements about Constitutional Approaches for Teaching about Religion

▸ Our approach to religion is academic, not devotional;
▸ We strive for student awareness of religions, but do not press for student acceptance of any religion;
▸ We sponsor the study about religion, not the practice of religion;
▸ We expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose any particular view;
▸ We educate about all religions, we do not promote or denigrate any religion;
▸ We inform students about religious beliefs and practices, it does not seek to conform students to any particular belief or practice.

We apply the American Academy of Religion’s “Religious Literacy Guidelines”

▸ “Religious Literacy Guidelines for College Students.” American Academy of Religion, 2019.
▸ “Teaching About Religion: AAR Guidelines for K-12 Public Schools.” American Academy of Religion, April 2010.

We apply the National Council for the Social Studies C3 Frameworks for Religious Studies

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards, “Religious Studies Companion Document for the C3 Framework.” Silver Spring, MD: National Council for the Social Studies, 2017.

We also apply the following Utah State Learning Standards

U.S. Government and Citizenship, Standard 2.1 (High School): Students will use historic and modern case studies, including Supreme Court cases, amendment initiatives, and legislation to trace the application of civil liberties, civil rights, and responsibilities spelled out in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other amendments.

U.S. History II, Standard 7.5 (High School): Students will use evidence to demonstrate how technological developments (such as television and social media), government policies (such as Supreme Court decisions), trends (such as rock ‘n’ roll or environmental conservation), and/or demographic changes (such as the growth of suburbs and modern immigration) have influenced American culture.