"We, the People. . .": Lafayette's Study of the American Constitution

"We, the People. . .": Lafayette's Study of the American Constitution
Martha Jefferson: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Two or three class periods


In 1777, when Martha Jefferson was living at Monticello in Virginia, a 20-year-old French nobleman, the Marquis de Lafayette (whose real name was Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier), purchased a ship and sailed to America to offer his services to George Washington and the American struggle for independence.  Lafayette was profoundly interested in the cause for liberty, and was involved in that same struggle in France.  He was especially interested in how the Americans would lay the political and legal foundation for independence.


The purpose of this lesson is to allow students to assume specific responsibilities within a cooperative group in order to discover facts and apply them to a “new” situation, as well as to study the story of the American  Constitution.    

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet.  Access to print reference materials.  Maps (historical atlas as well as standard).


1.  Divide class into groups of four or five students.  Either assign or allow students to choose a specific role within the group (geographer, historian, archivist, or biographer [may be 2 people]).

2.  Tell the students that they represent groups brought to the United States by the Marquis de Lafayette to discover the story of the American Constitution, for the purpose of reporting back to the French people on what might be done there after their Revolution is over.  Their report can take any form, written or technological.

Extending the Lesson:

The teacher may insert a step prior to the reporting out of the groups and have each of the four roles meet together (all geographers meet to compare notes, all historians, all archivists, all biographers).

Sources & Resources:


        The Marquis de Lafayette
        The Constitution of the United States
        Biographies of the Founding Fathers
        Timeline: from Confederation to Constitution

This lesson was developed by Dr. Averil McClelland and adapted by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.