THIS IS AMERICA CHARLIE BROWN
THE BIRTH OF THE CONSTITUTION
SUBJECTS — U.S./Creating the Nation;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Citizenship.
AGE: Age: 9 – 12
No MPAA Rating; Animated; 24 minutes; 1988; Color; Available from Amazon.com.
Linus organizes the Peanuts characters to keep Independence Hall clean and functioning during the Constitutional Convention. They are able to watch some of the debates as they go about their duties. They loan Ben Franklin a kite for his famous experiment with lightning. During breaks in their work, Charlie Brown invents baseball, stickball, and basketball.
Children will enjoy this film even if they are not familiar with the Peanuts characters.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
This short film will introduce children to the Constitutional Convention, the delegates to the Convention, and some of the issues that were debated during the creation of the U.S. Constitution.
Minor. The combination of Franklin’s lightning experiment and the invention of various games with the Constitutional Convention is fictitious. Franklin’s experiments with lightning took place long before the Constitutional Convention. Baseball and basketball were developed in places other than Philadelphia and much later than 1787. These points are tangential to the film. It is probably best to ignore them and stress the historical topics.
Your child will be intrigued to learn that this cartoon has some relationship to real events. Review the Helpful Background section and talk about the Continental Congress, Ben Franklin and the other Founding Fathers. You will not be able to cover everything but do the best you can. Immediately after the movie, or at odd times over the next week (for example at the dinner table or in the car on the way to school) bring up some of the Discussion Questions, starting with the Quick Discussion Question in the sidebar. Don’t worry if you can only get through a few questions. Just taking the film seriously and discussing it is the key. Allow your child to watch the movie several times and continue to ask and help him or her answer more discussion questions.
To enhance the educational value of this cartoon, parents need only watch the film with their children and comment on two or three of the points that it makes. Some additional background is set out below.
The United States Constitution created a strong national government consisting of three branches: the Legislative, the Executive and the Judicial. Under the principle of “separation of powers” each of the branches was designed to check any excesses by the others. The federal government was to be supreme in the areas delegated to it. The plan for a strong federal government with a strong chief executive was initially proposed by delegates from the state of Virginia and it was called “the Virginia Plan.”
How is the Constitution different than the Articles of Confederation? The Articles created a federation among thirteen sovereign states. The federation was weak. It had no means of imposing policies necessary for the good of the entire nation on reluctant states.
Was there opposition to the Virginia Plan? Yes. Small states feared that the large states would dominate the federal government. They proposed the “New Jersey Plan” which provided for a revision of the Articles of Confederation to permit Congress to raise revenues and regulate commerce between the states. There was also resistance to a strong chief executive with many delegates wanting the chief executive to be elected by and beholden to Congress.
George Washington (1732 – 1799) was elected President of the Convention. In 1787 Washington was the most respected and popular public figure in the United States. Washington agreed that the Articles of Confederation were not working and he knew that his reputation, prestige, and support would be an important factor in the success of the effort to write and adopt a new constitution.
James Madison (1751 – 1836), a delegate from Virginia, was the “Father of the Constitution” and the primary author of the “Virginia Plan.” He was a leader of those favoring a strong executive. Madison acted as the recorder of the convention. Madison and Alexander Hamilton were the primary authors of the “Federalist Papers.” In the new government, Madison served as Congressman, Secretary of State, and as the fourth President of the United States.
Ben Franklin (1706 – 1790), the delegate from Pennsylvania, unsuccessfully advocated a single chamber congress. He helped construct the compromises that brought the Constitution into being and forcefully advocated its adoption by the states. Franklin was one of the most remarkable men of his age, excelling in science, literature, business, and statesmanship.
Alexander Hamilton (1757 – 1804) was the only delegate from New York to remain at the convention until the end. He was an advocate of the wealthy and “aristocratic” interests in the new republic. Hamilton served as Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury. His economic policies were instrumental in the long-term growth of the country.
2. Why doesn’t the U.S. confer any aristocratic honors, such as knighthood, on its leading citizens?
3. Several interesting questions are answered in the Helpful Background Section. These can be used as discussion questions.
4. What is the difference between a “republic” and a “democracy?” Is the United States a republic or a democracy?
5. What were the powers retained by the states under the Constitution?
6. Can a state secede from the Union? As a practical matter, why could the U.S. Government not survive if states could secede at will?
7. The adoption of the Constitution was an act by the state legislatures. However, the Preamble to the Constitution reads “We the people of the United States” rather than “We the people of Massachusetts, Virginia, New Hampshire, …” Why was the Preamble written in this manner?
8. Which of the “Founding Fathers” were not delegates to the Constitutional Convention and why?
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and John Jay were in Europe serving as ministers to France or England.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)
(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)
1. What would have happened to our country if Washington, Madison, Franklin, and Hamilton had not done more than their share to help make their country better?
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
This Snippet Lesson Plan was last updated on December 17, 2009.