The Constitutional Convention Began 230 Years Ago Today

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Today marks the 230th anniversary of the start of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 25, 1787.  Originally set to begin on May 14, a quorum was not achieved until May 25.

In a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated October 24, 1787, James Madison outlined what was achieved by the Constitutional Convention delegates between May 25 and September 17, 1787:

“[T]he great objects which presented themselves were 1. to unite a proper energy in the Executive and a proper stability in the Legislative departments, with the essential characters of Republican Government. 2. to draw a line of demarkation [sic] which would give to the General Government every power requisite for general purposes, and leave to the States every power which might be most beneficially administered by them. 3. to provide for the different interests of different parts of the Union. 4. to adjust the clashing pretensions of the large and small States. Each of these objects was pregnant with difficulties.

The whole of them together formed a task more difficult than can be well conceived by those who were not concerned in the execution of it. Adding to these considerations the natural diversity of human opinions on all new and complicated subjects, it is impossible to consider the degree of concord which ultimately prevailed as less than a miracle.”

Noah Webster would later perfectly describe why the Constitutional Convention has come to be called the “miracle at Philadelphia”:

“[T]he origin of the American Republic is distinguished by peculiar circumstances. Other nations have been driven together by fear and necessity—the governments have generally been the result of a single man’s observations; or the offspring of particular interests. In the formation of our constitution, the wisdom of all ages is collected—the legislators of antiquity are consulted—as well as the opinions and interests of the millions who are concerned. In short, it is an empire of reason.”

You can learn more about this empire of reason by exploring the records of the Constitutional Convention, available for free in the ConSource digital library.

I’ve provided below a useful timeline of the Constitutional Convention prepared by Ray Raphael for ConSource’s Constitutional Convention simulation for high school students.

September 11-14, 1786: Twelve delegates from 5 states, meeting at Annapolis, call for a larger convention the following year.

February 21, 1787: Congress endorses the Annapolis Convention’s call for a convention, slated to meet in Philadelphia on May 14.

May 14: Delegates from only Pennsylvania and Virginia are present in Philadelphia. This did not constitute a quorum according the standards of the Continental Congress.

May 25: With 29 delegates from 9 states present, the Convention begins. George Washington is chosen to preside.

May 29: Rule of secrecy adopted. Edmund Randolph presents the Virginia Plan.

May 30: Delegates start debating the Virginia Plan. The Delaware delegation threatens “to retire from the Convention” if all states do not have an equal vote in Congress. Convention resolves: “A national government ought to be established consisting of a supreme legislative, executive & judiciary.”

June 2: Convention stipulates that the executive “be chosen by the national legislature for the term of seven years.” This is rescinded on July 19 but reaffirmed on July 26.

June 4: Convention decides on a single executive, 7 states to 3.

June 15: William Paterson introduces the New Jersey Plan, which proposes only to amend the Articles of Confederation and maintains Congress as a unicameral body, each state having one vote.

June 18: Hamilton proposes that the chief executive and senators serve for life, with the executive having absolute veto power over all legislation. He receives no support.

June 19: Virginia Plan, as amended, defeats New Jersey Plan, 7-3 with one divided.
July 12: Convention finalizes the compromise on representation in the House: each slave counts as three-fifths of a person. Vote: 6-2-2.

July 16: Convention finalizes the “Great Compromise”: proportional representation in the House; equal representation of states in the Senate; all money bill originate in the House. Vote: 5-4-1.

July 23: Convention resolves to send its proposed plan to Congress, with a recommendation that it be sent to “assemblies chosen by the people” in each state for ratification. Vote: 9-1.

July 24: Convention appoints a five-member committee “to report a Constitution conformable to the Resolutions passed by the Convention.” (Committee of Detail.)

July 27-August 5: Convention recesses. Committee of Detail prepares the first full draft of the Constitution.

August 6: Committee of Detail submits its report, which enumerates the powers of each branch. Debate on this draft commences.

August 21, 22, 23, and 24: Convention debates whether Congress can prohibit the importation of slaves.

August 24: Popular election of the president is defeated a final time. Vote: 9-2.

August 25: Convention decides there can be no ban on slave importation until 1808. Vote: 7-4.

August 30: Convention decides that ratification by nine states will suffice to place the Constitution into effect. Vote: 8-3.

August 31: Convention appoints an eleven-member committee (one from each state delegation) to consider “such parts of the Constitution as have been postponed, and such parts of Reports as have not been acted on.” (Committee on Remaining Matters.)

September 4: Committee of Remaining Matters issues its report, reversing key provisions that had already been decided: special electors, not Congress choose the president; the president, not the Senate, has treaty-making and appointive powers; a newly created vice- president presides over the Senate.

September 8: Convention approves the Committee of Remaining Matters report with only minor revisions. Convention appoints a five-member committee “to revise the stile of and arrange the articles which had been agreed to by the House.” (Committee of Style.)

September 12: Committee of Style submits its almost-final draft of the Constitution. George Mason and Elbridge Gerry propose “a Committee to prepare a Bill of Rights.” The motion fails, 0-10.

September 15: The Convention approves the Constitution, with all states present voting in favor.

September 17: 39 of the 42 members present sign the Constitution. Congress sends it to Congress.

September 28: Congress sends the Constitution to the state legislatures with instructions to call conventions to consider ratification, as stipulated by the Federal Convention.

Debates over Presidential Impeachment at the Constitutional Convention

Given all the talk of impeachment these days, I thought it might be useful to provide excerpts from the debates over presidential impeachment during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Excerpts are from James Madison’s notes of the Constitutional Convention.

July 19, 1787 

[Gouverneur Morris] The Executive is also to be impeachable. This is a dangerous part of the plan. It will hold him in such dependence that he will be no check on the Legislature, will not be a firm guardian of the people and of the public interest. He will be the tool of a faction, of some leading demagogue in the Legislature. These then are the faults of the Executive establishment as now proposed. Can no better establishmt. be devised? If he is to be the Guardian of the people let him be appointed by the people? If he is to be a check on the Legislature let him not be impeachable. Let him be of short duration, that he may with propriety be re-eligible.–It has been said that the candidates for this office will not be known to the people. If they be known to the Legislature, they must have such a notoriety and eminence of Character, that they cannot possibly be unknown to the people at large. It cannot be possible that a man shall have sufficiently distinguished himself to merit this high trust without having his character proclaimed by fame throughout the Empire. As to the danger from an unimpeachable magistrate he could not regard it as formidable. There must be certain great officers of State; a minister of finance, of war, of foreign affairs &c. These he presumes will exercise their functions in subordination to the Executive, and will be amenable by impeachment to the public Justice. Without these ministers the Executive can do nothing of consequence.

July 20, 1787

“to be removeable on impeachment and conviction for malpractice or neglect of duty”. See Resol: 9:

Mr. Pinkney & Mr Govr. Morris moved to strike out this part of the Resolution. Mr P. observd. he ought not to be impeachable whilst in office

Mr. Davie. If he be not impeachable whilst in office, he will spare no efforts or means whatever to get himself reelected. He considered this as an essential security for the good behaviour of the Executive.

Mr. Wilson concurred in the necessity of making the Executive impeachable whilst in office.

Mr. Govr. Morris. He can do no criminal act without Coadjutors who may be punished. In case he should be reelected, that will be sufficient proof of his innocence. Besides who is to impeach? Is the impeachment to suspend his functions. If it is not the mischief will go on. If it is the impeachment will be nearly equivalent to a displacement, and will render the Executive dependent on those who are to impeach

Col. Mason. No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above Justice? Above all shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice? When great crimes were committed he was for punishing the principal as well as the Coadjutors. There had been much debate & difficulty as to the mode of chusing the Executive. He approved of that which had been adopted at first, namely of referring the appointment to the Natl. Legislature. One objection agst. Electors was the danger of their being corrupted by the Candidates: & this furnished a peculiar reason in favor of impeachments whilst in office. Shall the man who has practised corruption & by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment, by repeating his guilt?

Docr. Franklin was for retaining the clause as favorable to the executive. History furnishes one example only of a first Magistrate being formally brought to public Justice. Every body cried out agst this as unconstitutional. What was the practice before this in cases where the chief Magistrate rendered himself obnoxious? Why recourse was had to assassination in wch. he was not only deprived of his life but of the opportunity of vindicating his character. It wd. be the best way therefore to provide in the Constitution for the regular punishment of the Executive when his misconduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal when he should be unjustly accused.

Mr. Govr Morris admits corruption & some few other offences to be such as ought to be impeachable; but thought the cases ought to be enumerated & defined:

Mr. Madison–thought it indispensable that some provision should be made for defending the Community agst the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate. The limitation of the period of his service, was not a sufficient security. He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers. The case of the Executive Magistracy was very distinguishable, from that of the Legislative or of any other public body, holding offices of limited duration. It could not be presumed that all or even a majority of the members of an Assembly would either lose their capacity for discharging, or be bribed to betray, their trust. Besides the restraints of their personal integrity & honor, the difficulty of acting in concert for purposes of corruption was a security to the public. And if one or a few members only should be seduced, the soundness of the remaining members, would maintain the integrity and fidelity of the body. In the case of the Executive Magistracy which was to be administered by a single man, loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic.

Mr. Pinkney did not see the necessity of impeachments. He was sure they ought not to issue from the Legislature who would in that case hold them as a rod over the Executive and by that means effectually destroy his independence. His revisionary power in particular would be rendered altogether insignificant.

Mr. Gerry urged the necessity of impeachments. A good magistrate will not fear them. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them. He hoped the maxim would never be adopted here that the chief Magistrate could do no wrong.

Mr. King expressed his apprehensions that an extreme caution in favor of liberty might enervate the Government we were forming. He wished the House to recur to the primitive axiom that the three great departments of Govts. should be separate & independent: that the Executive & Judiciary should be so as well as the Legislative: that the Executive should be so equally with the Judiciary. Would this be the case if the Executive should be impeachable? It had been said that the Judiciary would be impeachable. But it should have been remembered at the same time that the Judiciary hold their places not for a limited time, but during good behaviour. It is necessary therefore that a forum should be established for trying misbehaviour. Was the Executive to hold his place during good behaviour?–The Executive was to hold his place for a limited term like the members of the Legislature; Like them particularly the Senate whose members would continue in appointmt the same term of 6 years. he would periodically be tried for his behaviour by his electors, who would continue or discontinue him in trust according to the manner in which he had discharged it. Like them therefore, he ought to be subject to no intermediate trial, by impeachment. He ought not to be impeachable unless he hold his office during good behavior, a tenure which would be most agreeable to him; provided an independent and effectual forum could be devised; But under no circumstances ought he to be impeachable by the Legislature. This would be destructive of his independence and of the principles of the Constitution. He relied on the vigor of the Executive as a great security for the public liberties.

Mr. Randolph. The propriety of impeachments was a favorite principle with him; Guilt wherever found ought to be punished. The Executive will have great opportunitys of abusing his power; particularly in time of war when the military force, and in some respects the public money will be in his hands. Should no regular punishment be provided, it will be irregularly inflicted by tumults & insurrections. He is aware of the necessity of proceeding with a cautious hand, and of excluding as much as possible the influence of the Legislature from the business. He suggested for consideration an idea which had fallen (from Col Hamilton) of composing a forum out of the Judges belonging to the States: and even of requiring some preliminary inquest whether just grounds of impeachment existed.

Doctr. Franklin mentioned the case of the Prince of Orange during the late war. An agreement was made between France & Holland; by which their two fleets were to unite at a certain time & place. The Dutch fleet did not appear. Every body began to wonder at it. At length it was suspected that the Statholder was at the bottom of the matter. This suspicion prevailed more & more. Yet as he could not be impeached and no regular examination took place, he remained in his office, and strengtheing his own party, as the party opposed to him became formidable, he gave birth to the most violent animosities & contentions. Had he been impeachable, a regular & peaceable inquiry would have taken place and he would if guilty have been duly punished, if innocent restored to the confidence of the public.

Mr. King remarked that the case of the Statholder was not applicable. He held his place for life, and was not periodically elected. In the former case impeachments are proper to secure good behaviour. In the latter they are unnecessary; the periodical responsibility to the electors being an equivalent security.

Mr. Wilson observed that if the idea were to be pursued, the Senators who are to hold their places during the same term with the Executive. ought to be subject to impeachment & removal.

Mr. Pinkney apprehended that some gentlemen reasoned on a supposition that the Executive was to have powers which would not be committed to him: He presumed that his powers would be so circumscribed as to render impeachments unnecessary.

Mr. Govr. Morris,’s opinion had been changed by the arguments used in the discussion. He was now sensible of the necessity of impeachments, if the Executive was to continue for any time in office. Our Executive was not like a Magistrate having a life interest, much less like one having an hereditary interest in his office. He may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust; and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate in foreign pay without being able to guard agst it by displacing him. One would think the King of England well secured agst bribery. He has as it were a fee simple in the whole Kingdom. Yet Charles II was bribed by Louis XIV. The Executive ought therefore to be impeachable for treachery; Corrupting his electors, and incapacity were other causes of impeachment. For the latter he should be punished not as a man, but as an officer, and punished only by degradation from his office. This Magistrate is not the King but the prime-Minister. The people are the King. When we make him amenable to Justice however we should take care to provide some mode that will not make him dependent on the Legislature.

It was moved & 2ded. to postpone the question of impeachments which was negatived. Mas. & S. Carolina only being ay.

On ye. Question, Shall the Executive be removeable on impeachments?

Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo-ay- [Ayes–8; noes–2.]

August 27, 1787

The clause for removing the President on impeachment by the House of Reps and conviction in the supreme Court, of Treason, Bribery or corruption, was postponed nem: con: at the instance of Mr. Govr. Morris, who thought the Tribunal an improper one, particularly, if the first judge was to be of the privy Council.

Mr. Govr. Morris objected also to the President of the Senate being provisional successor to the President, and suggested a designation of the Chief Justice.

Mr. Madison added as a ground of objection that the Senate might retard the appointment of a President in order to carry points whilst the revisionary power was in the President of their own body, but suggested that the Executive powers during a vacancy, be administered by the persons composing the Council to the President.

Mr. Williamson suggested that the Legislature ought to have power to provide for occasional successors. & moved that the last clause (of 2 sect. X art:) relating to a provisional successor to the President be postponed.

Mr. Dickinson 2ded. the postponement. remarking that it was too vague. What is the extent of the term “disability” & who is to be the judge of it?

September 4, 1787

(9) “He shall be removed from his office on impeachment by the House of Representatives, and conviction by the Senate, for Treason, or bribery, and in case of his removal as aforesaid, death, absence, resignation or inability to discharge the powers or duties of his office, the vice-president shall exercise those powers and duties until another President be chosen, or until the inability of the President be removed.”

September 8, 1787

The clause referring to the Senate, the trial of impeachments agst. the President, for Treason & bribery, was taken up.

Col. Mason. Why is the provision restrained to Treason & bribery only? Treason as defined in the Constitution will not reach many great and dangerous offences. Hastings is not guilty of Treason. Attempts to subvert the Constitution may not be Treason as above defined–As bills of attainder which have saved the British Constitution are forbidden, it is the more necessary to extend: the power of impeachments. He movd. to add after “bribery” “or maladministration”. Mr. Gerry seconded him–

Mr Madison So vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate.

Mr Govr Morris, it will not be put in force & can do no harm– An election of every four years will prevent maladministration.

Col. Mason withdrew “maladministration” & substitutes “other high crimes & misdemeanors” agst. the State”

On the question thus altered

N. H– ay. Mas. ay– Ct. ay. N. J. no Pa no. Del. no. Md ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. [Ayes–8; noes–3.]

Mr. Madison, objected to a trial of the President by the Senate, especially as he was to be impeached by the other branch of the Legislature, and for any act which might be called a misdemesnor. The President under these circumstances was made improperly dependent. He would prefer the supreme Court for the trial of impeachments, or rather a tribunal of which that should form a part.

Mr Govr Morris thought no other tribunal than the Senate could be trusted. The Supreme Court were too few in number and might be warped or corrupted. He was agst. a dependence of the Executive on the Legislature, considering the Legislative tyranny the great danger to be apprehended; but there could be no danger that the Senate would say untruly on their oaths that the President was guilty of crimes or facts, especially as in four years he can be turned out.–

Mr. Pinkney disapproved of making the Senate the Court of Impeachments, as rendering the President too dependent on the Legislature. If he opposes a favorite law, the two Houses will combine agst him, and under the influence of heat and faction throw him out of office.

Mr. Williamson thought there was more danger of too much lenity than of too much rigour towards the President, considering the number of cases in which the Senate was associated with the President–

Mr Sherman regarded the Supreme Court as improper to try the President, because the Judges would be appointed by him.

On motion by Mr. Madison to strike out the words–“by the Senate” after the word “Conviction”

N–H. no. Mas–no. Ct. no. N. J. no–Pa. ay–Del–no. Md. no. Va. ay–N. C. no. S–C–no. Geo. no. [Ayes–2; noes–9.]

In the amendment of Col: Mason just agreed to, the word “State” after the words misdemeanors against” was struck out, and the words “United States” inserted, unanimously in order to remove ambiguity–

On the question to agree to clause as amended,

N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Cont ay N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. ay Md. ay– Va. ay. N– C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay [Ayes–10; noes–1.]

On motion “The vice-President and other Civil officers of the U. S. shall be removed from office on impeachment and conviction as aforesaid” was added to the clause on the subject of impeachments.

. . . . .

Mr. Govr Morris moved to add to clause (3) of the report made on Sept. 4. the words “and every member shall be on oath” which being agreed to, and a question taken on the clause so amended viz–“The Senate of the U. S. shall have power to try all impeachments: but no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present: and every member shall be on oath”

N. H. ay– Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J– ay. Pa. no– Del–ay–Md ay. Va. no. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. [Ayes–9; noes–2.]

September 14, 1787

Mr Rutlidge and Mr. Govr. Morris moved “that persons impeached be suspended from their office until they be tried and acquitted”

Mr. Madison– The President is made too dependent already on the Legislature, by the power of one branch to try him in consequence of an impeachment by the other. This intermediate suspension, will put him in the power of one branch only–They can at any moment, in order to make way for the functions of another who will be more favorable to their views, vote a temporary removal of the existing magistrate–

Mr. King concurred in the opposition to the amendment

On the question to agree to it

N–H. no. Mas. no–Ct. ay–N–J. no. Pa. no. Del–no. Md no. Va. no. N–C. no. S. C. ay, Geo. ay, [Ayes–3; noes–8.]

Congratulations to the Winners of the Harlan Institute – ConSource Virtual Supreme Court Competition

Connecticut Students Win the National Harlan Institute – ConSource Virtual Supreme Court Competition for High School Students; Oregon Team Places Second



On May 18, 2017, The Harlan Institute and The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource) hosted the championship round of the fifth annual National Virtual Supreme Court Competition for high school students. The competition was hosted in the Supreme Court Institute Moot Court Room at Georgetown University Law Center, where two teams of talented high school students argued the case of Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer in front of a panel of nine judges in a small-scale replica of the courtroom at the United States Supreme Court.

Lucy Mini and Arjun Ahuja from Greenwich High School in Greenwich, Connecticut, argued on behalf of the petitioners, and Jacklin Chang and Emma Austin from Lake Oswego High School in Lake Oswego, Oregon argued on behalf of the respondents. To reach the championship round, these outstanding students had to compete against dozens of teams from all corners of the continental United States. Ahuha and Mini and Chang and Austin not only submitted the best-written appellate briefs, but also proved to be the most able oral advocates in the preliminary oral argument rounds.

Their skills were put to the test during the championship round where, during oral argument in front of a lively panel of nine distinguished judges, the students had to respond to rapid fire and complex legal questions. The competition was judged by Honorable Andre Davis, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit; Honorable Meg Ryan, United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces; Honorable Royce Lamberth, United States District Court for the District of Columbia​; Ilya Shapiro, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute; Elizabeth Wydra, President of the Constitutional Accountability Center​; Shon Hopwood, Georgetown University Law Center; Gregory Lipper, Clinton Brook & Peed​; Josh Blackman, President of the Harlan Institute; and Julie Silverbrook, Executive Director of The Constitutional Sources Project.



​The competition was fierce, but Lucy Mini and Arjun Ahuja from Greenwich High School prevailed in the end and were named the champions of the Virtual Supreme Court Competition.

Their coach, Aaron Hull, a model civic educator, shared how his students prepared for the competition: “Lucy prepared for the competition in the middle of AP Exams, and Arjun had graduated, moved on to Senior Internship, and could have mailed it in. Instead, both dug deep to develop Petitioners’ argument at a substantive and nuanced level, attempting, as we often strive to find in our Republic, a balance between the safety of all of our citizens and excessive governmental entanglement in the religious beliefs of a sect of them. After we arrived in DC, settled in, had our dinner, and toured the monuments, they then continued to work into the night to deepen their understanding of the facts of the case. What a pair of citizen scholars.”

Arjun Ahuja said of the Virtual Supreme Court Competition: “There are few time periods in US history where it would be more important to be constitutionally literate than right now. I find the law and the legal field to be interesting so it’s easy, but things like the Virtual Supreme Court keep the flame alive. I hope to continue with events like this to help advance the ideals that the Constitution represents.”

His teammate, Lucy Mini, added: “The Constitution is no where near as black and white as it may seem in a traditional classroom setting. Taking a stand on what those broad words mean, and then being battered by judges looking for any cracks in your argument, that is what the Founders intended when they wrote the Constitution, which is exactly what this competition provides for.”

Ilya Shapiro, one of this year’s judges, said of the competition: “Constitutional education is so important and it’s heartening to see such a high level of constitutional facility from high schoolers. I would love to see this program become a standard part of social-science classes nationwide.”

Julie Silverbrook, Executive Director of ConSource, said of the student competitors: “These students represent the very best of America. They are a testament to what can be achieved when thought leaders, public officials, schools, teachers, and parents invest in the civic education of our young people!”

Reflecting on how the competition has grown over the last five years, Harlan Institute President, Josh Blackman, shared: “The top two teams were absolutely amazing. They fielded difficult and probing questions from a panel of nine judges with poise and sophistication. Watching these students’ impressive performance gives me faith for the future of the Republic. In less than five years, the Harlan Institute-ConSource Virtual Supreme Court grew from an idea Julie and I hatched to, what I hope, will remain as a venerable institution for many years to come. I am grateful for everyone involved, and can’t wait to see how the tournament flourishes next year.”

Coach Aaron Hull expressed his appreciation for the Virtual Supreme Court Competition: “What [The Harlan Institute and ConSource] have achieved has motivated my students [by] placing a rigorous, demanding, achievable, and open-ended goal in front of [them] that will propel them to find their excellence, within themselves. Thank you for motivating and inspiring- its the core of education more broadly, and the key to inspiring the civic engagement our Constitutional Republic so desperately needs. My students will pay it forward, I can assure you.”

Gerrit Koepping, who coached second place finalists Jacklin Chang and Emma Austin, and has participated in the Virtual Supreme Court Competition for three years, added “This competition provides students with meaningful insight into how the courts work and how our constitution is interpreted. It is hard not to be inspired by the work and dedication of these students.”

If you are interested in registering your students for next year’s competition, please email or to get on the mailing list for next year’s competition, which will be announced in the fall.

Please consider supporting the Virtual Supreme Court Competition by making a tax-deductible contribution to ConSource today.

#NationalTeachersDay: Interviews with Outstanding Civic Educators

Several months ago, I put a note on Twitter asking to speak with outstanding civic educators. I wanted to hear their stories and spotlight the amazing and hard work they do every day to educate our nation’s young people about the Constitution, our nation’s history and system of government. Below, are the resulting interviews. John Jay famously said “Knowledge is the soul of a Republic.” Civics and history teachers nourish that soul. On National Teachers Day, join me in celebrating these outstanding teachers. Read and share their stories!


(1) Gary Neuzil

Iowa City West High School, 30th year

Iowa City, Iowa

Iowa City Community School District

High School: Grades 11 and 12

US Government, Psychology, and Sociology

Q: What led to your decision to become a civics teacher?

A: My Dad was a lawyer and a veteran and growing up in a family of 6 kids and somehow along the way I became the “chosen one” to follow in his footsteps in the law profession, so growing up and being aware of and respecting our Country, our Flag, our service men and women was just part of the culture we were raised in. I had inspiring Social Studies teachers in my junior high and high school years which I gravitated towards and the importance of our history and citizenship became more than just what was to be taught, it became a part of who I felt I was supposed to be as a citizen. Studying at the University of Iowa as an undergraduate my course work was in Political Science and Sociology, again leading in the direction of law, but it was in late October of my senior year when I just had a spur of the moment reckoning that my direction in life was not to be a lawyer, but to be a teacher. Dropping that bombshell on my parents was difficult, but the next day, I was in the Office of Education and making the arrangements to enter into the Social Studies Education program. Why in the end? Probably two teachers, one in junior high that made the connection between history and government directly to my life and the other in high school, a typing teacher who basically said that if I kept looking at the keyboard I would never learn how to type and that was a decision I had to make and he could not make it for me.

Q: Why do you think civics education is so important?

A: Our job as educators is to provide the opportunity for students to leave our classrooms as intelligent and productive members of our society. I cannot think of anything more important than civics education that allows for this to happen. To do so, it is not just a matter of memorizing the Preamble to our Constitution or being able to sing “I’m Just a Bill on Capitol Hill” (although I do love that one), it is a matter of understanding the political and historical background, the philosophies behind our Declaration of Independence, why the Articles of Confederation was the first organization of the national government, and how its weaknesses created the demand for the Constitutional Convention. Students need to know that what we have today, our freedoms, our rights, and our liberties did not just pop out of thin air, nor out of one person’s mind, but it was a process, and it is a continual process. And without this understanding and appreciation, these freedoms, rights, and liberties could be lost if not maintained.

Q:  How often do you discuss the Constitution in your classroom? 

A: In my US Government class, daily, or as I like to tell my students, “all roads lead back to the US Constitution.”

Q: What topics or projects do your students get most excited about? 

I encourage and emphasize students paying attention to the current events, at the local, state, national, and world levels. When news events warrant class discussion focuses on those stories and then I like to bring the stories impact into the lives of the students whenever possible. Making the connection between the here and now to the principles and concepts of our government and our Constitution. In particular, the election process, the primaries, the caucuses (particularly for my students living in Iowa), and the elections. I do emphasize the importance of being an informed citizen to my students, and that to be so, not any one source but multiple sources of the media is required to get a better understanding of today’s news. I do not shy away from the controversial topics, but balance of both sides, and sometimes multiples sides of view is always a requirement.

Q:  In an ideal world, what would civics education look like in this country?

A: I would like to see the same emphasis, excitement, and focus on the teaching of civics to our students as we are seeing in areas such as Math and Sciences in programs such as STEM. We need to increase the amount of requirements for graduation in this area, with specialized courses in civics and government to allow more time to practice the meaning behind the Constitutional principles. In this ideal world, more time or course work would be specific to local and state government, civic participation, political philosophy, the Founding Period, politics and elections, the media and current events. Many of these of course are units of study, but instead of just being units, they could become specialized courses to allow for a more interactive and meaningful experience for students in order for them to leave school better prepared to become active citizens in our society.

 Q: If you could say anything to our nation’s young people, what would you say?

Do not simplify your interpretation of our government and society by what you might be reading on your social media…there is so much more out there. Today, we have more access to more information than ever before in human history. You have more access on your cell phone and on the internet than ever before in human history. There are more forms of media than ever before in human history. Use it. Analyze it. Think about it. Remember there are more than one side of any one story. If compelled, do something about it. But, you must be informed first. You must understand the guiding principles of our Constitution, the history of our Country, and the rights and freedoms that others have fought for. Never take any of those for granted. And never assume that they could not be taken away.

(2) John Tierney

Teacher at Adobe Middle School, Elko Nevada

8th Grade Civics Instructor

2016 Nevada Teacher of the Year

2017 NEA Affiliate Teacher of the Year

Q: What led to your decision to become a civics teacher?

A: Watching the assassination of President Kennedy while I was in class in the third grade got me interested in studying American politics. I could not understand why anyone would want to kill a president so I began researching. Throughout high school I studied foreign and American governments, especially apartheid in South Africa then studies political science and journalism in college.

After college, I went to work for the Employment Development Department CETA program but with the election of Reagan the job disappeared. My dad taught biology for 31 years and suggested I try teaching as a profession. I started in the Bay Area of California as a teacher of at risk students and found most of them were very bright but lacked academic skills to be successful in school so skill acquisition became a focus.

I moved to Elko Nevada 27 years ago, when my grant expired in California and became a full time middle school teacher of US History where I found my students knew next to nothing about the government of the country or their local government. I was asked to design a class to get students involved with both and this class has become my full-time learning position. The class, called Junior Leadership, is under constant construction as we incorporate technology and explore as many aspects of local, state and national government as we can during a semester.

Q: Why do you think civics education is so important?

A: Students need to know, at a young age, government is not all about one vote and being done; all politics are local. They need to understand the process for getting things done and for getting involved at the local level while understanding the bigger picture of American government. They need to understand they can influence the process in a significant way by getting involved, using the telephone, emailing and staying in touch with what is happening in their community and nationally beyond a presidential election.

As a citizen, they are the ones who hold an elected official accountable and these elected officials are reachable. Students need to understand most of these officials want to do well by their constituents and their voice can be heard. These officials are, for the most part, hardworking people just like them and will listen. We don’t need term limits what we need are knowledgeable voters and this responsibility lies with “We The People.”

Q: How often do you discuss the Constitution in your classroom? 

We rarely discuss the Constitution, we engage with the document in its’ original form. This semester my students engaged in a simulation regarding Article II. Students read then worked with a DBQ to understand the document better. Once we had some understanding each class elected a president to deal with a domestic or foreign policy issue in a simulation then we proceeded to work through it forming a cabinet and attempting to solve the problem

Their final for the semester is working through cases involving the First Amendment Freedom of Speech in public schools and learning how to break a case down into a legal brief while providing a supported opinion as an official 8th grade Supreme Court justice. WE will see what next semester brings.

Q: What topics or projects do your students get most excited about? 

A: My students seem to engage at the highest level when they are forced to argue/debate a stance. In the beginning, they hate to research information for this practice but they begin to find research is the ammunition they need to win and most of my students are competitive enough they want to be challenged and to win the challenge. The Supreme Court decisions regarding First and Fourth Amendments in school totally pique their interest and engage them in active debate and support.

Q: In an ideal world, what would civics education look like in this country?

A civics class should be a place where students can engage in active debate, exploration of current and past issues and get involved in government at the local level. Civics should be a required part of any public-school experience and students should be able to meet and interact with their elected and appointed officials. Government should not be an entity which is separate from daily living, it needs to be understood as aspect of daily life which a citizen can access and influence. The classes need to be engaging, interactive and involved in the community. Government is not a static entity to be studied, it is a living breathing being which they can learn to understand and influence.

Q: If you could say anything to our nation’s young people, what would you say?

Reach out and get to know your local leaders. They are shop keepers, electricians, and workers just like you. Try to be engaged with your community in a positive way and make a difference for you, your children and your future.

Thanks for the opportunity. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you. After teaching for 35 years I am going to be retiring at the end of this school year. I am going to get involved with advocating for the profession and for my students. The emphasis on standardized testing is killing public schools and I do not want to see this happen. I have no idea right now what this will look like but it is the direction I am headed.

(3) Richard Clark

Reno High School – Reno, NV.

12th Grade AP US Government  & We the People

Q: What led to your decision to become a civics teacher?

A: I have wanted to be a teacher since I was in 2nd grade, Mrs. Douglas was my inspiration.  I had the unique experience of having my grandparents live with me from the time I was born until they both passed away. It was there stories of growing up during the Depression and experiencing World War II that inspired my love for history. But it was not until I started teaching government my first year that I fell in love with civic education.

Q: Why do you think civics education is so important?

“We the People of the United States, in order to make a more perfect union…” This is why civic education is so important.  We cannot have a functioning republic without an educated citizenry. The more I teach more I realize how important this is and how uneducated much of the country is about our system of government.

Q: How often do you discuss the Constitution in your classroom? 

– Everyday, it is almost impossible not to.

Q: What topics or projects do your students get most excited about? 

To quote one of my students last year “The Commerce clause, I love talking about the commerce clause.”  To each their own.  I have a student who loves political philosophy, another who loves the 4th Amendment and technology, another who lives for the 14th Amendment.

Q: In an ideal world, what would civics education look like in this country?

It would be for students to experience government in action more.  To go and see policy being made, to talk to elected officials from their state, city or county governments.  Talk to judges, and prosecutors and public defenders.  It would be for elementary teachers to teach more history and more civic education.

Q: If you could say anything to our nation’s young people, what would you say?

I say it to my students all the time, I am sorry for the 2016 Presidential election.  This has been a mockery of our system. Civil discourse is important, disagreement is important, but we need to have officials who are willing to sit and do the dirty work; not insult, blame, or obstruct.

I think President Obama said it well during his Farewell Address: So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional — not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change and make life better for those who follow. Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard. It’s always been contentious. Sometimes it’s been bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some.

(4) Andrew Conneen

Adlai E. Stevenson High School

AP American Government and AP Comparative Government for seniors.

Q: What led to your decision to become a civics teacher?

Looking back at, when I was able to get my government and history teacher passes to a George H.W. Bush rally in 1988, I probably set my fate to become a civics teacher committed to finding fun political events to take students to observe. My involvement with local journalism during undergrad cemented my interest in trying to communicate how government operates.

Q: Why do you think civics education is so important?

Through teaching about other governments in Comparative government, I’ve developed a much stronger appreciation about the role of a robust civil society to strengthen any country’s democratic culture.

Knowing the statistics about the weakening of American social capital, I find it essential that schools teach and encourage our students to understand the importance of making civics more than a class. We have to vigilantly encourage students to make civics a lifestyle in order to grow civil society groups here.

Q: How often do you discuss the Constitution in your classroom? 

I’m constantly teaching the Constitution and, particularly, how much of our government process operates outside of the words of the Constitution. I’m fascinated about thinking of the biggest changes in American government in the last 60 years and trying to have students connect these changes to words of the Constitution. It’s certainly not the easiest task.

Q: What topics or projects do your students get most excited about?

With encouragement and support from Mikva Challenge, we’ve implemented a service learning program called Action Civics. We’ve had incredible turnout for our afterschool civics events that we’re able to wed with AP government curriculum. From election judge training to local campaign expos to our marching band leading early voters on a parade to the polls, we’ve mananged to find outside activities for all 700+ of our AP government students.

Q: In an ideal world, what would civics education look like in this country?

In an ideal world, I’d alternate between weekly simulations of Iowa caucus-style deliberations about the most pertinent issues in the community and Model UN-style simulations.

Q: If you could say anything to our nation’s young people, what would you say?

Learn how to “get into the room” and advocate. Develop relationships with your local government officials. Compliment their successes. Criticize their failures. Make suggestions for changes and consider joining them in public service some day.

(5) Merri Weir

Not teaching now but was at the Academy of Medical Arts @ Carson mainly grade 9 & 11 but 12thfor any years


Q: What led to your decision to become a civics teacher?

Teaching civics just seemed like the most natural logical thing.  No matter the grade level or subject Civics is built into the curriculum and something I emphasized.

Q: Why do you think civics education is so important?

Civics education in a way tackles the question What does it mean to be an American?  Civics is our guiding light for how we should live our lives, treat our fellow man & support / challenge government.
Q: How often do you discuss the Constitution in your classroom? 

When I was in the classroom almost every day – we started by dissecting the Preamble and went from there. I would to have a National reading of the Constitution original with changes and follow it with a teach-in and then ensure it is brought back to the all grade levels so ALL citizens understand this amazing document instead of soundbite Constitution.

Q: What topics or projects do your students get most excited about? 

Students enjoyed Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists pitch your plan – turning the ideas into an ad Campaign

Committee of Correspondence twitter

TCI Constitution Activity – hard but rewarding

TCI History Alive Balancing the Budget – hard but rewarding

DBQ Project any of the lessons from but the Preamble activity and Search & Seizure were favorites

Madison Bill of Rights not just 10

Thomas Paine Common Sense

iCivics games

CRF Civics Action Project

Center for Civics Ed Project Citizen

Q: In an ideal world, what would civics education look like in this country?

For me it would be a 13 year roll out starting in K and building each grade level with a 12 grade capstone project like CAP or Project Citizen tied to their own community.


Q: If you could say anything to our nation’s young people, what would you say?

Don’t lose hope, find your passion, start local, get involved!  It has always been the young who move the nation forward.