Commencement Level Lessons | A Fight is On, How Much Power Will You Don?

One class period

Program Segments
1810 – 1811 Calls for War (7 ½ minutes)

NCSS Themes

V: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
VI: Power, Authority, and Governance
X: Civic Ideals and Practices

Canadian (Ontario) Concepts

Systems and Structures
Interactions and Interdependence
Power and Governance

Canadian (Ontario) Specific Expectations – Seventh Grade

Describe the impact of the War of 1812 on the development of Canada
Describe the different groups of people

Students will be able to:

  • list powers which are granted to the President and Congress based on the Constitution of America
  • discuss why the Constitution has granted more powers to Congress (535 people) rather than giving the President (one person) numerous powers
  • define the system of checks and balances in relation to wartime power

Focus Questions

  1. What powers are granted to the United States Congress during wartime?
  2. What powers are granted to the United States Presidency during wartime?
  3. Are there ever times where these powers overlap?
  4. Has there been a time in history where the President or Congress has overstepped their powers concerning warfare?
  5. If so, when?

Key Concepts
Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances

Instructional Resources

The War of 1812 DVD
Copy of the U.S. Constitution (images with transcript - )
Icon American Government’s wartime powers (28.5 KB)
Icon Information on the students’ roles as being Congressmen or the President (27.7 KB)

Program Segment for Lesson Plan.


  1. The teacher will introduce the lesson by explaining to students that in America, wartime powers are divided amongst the branches of the American Government. During this simulation the students are to play a role in the American government. They represent either Congress or the Presidency.
  2. The teacher will split the class into two large groups and distribute the roles.
  3. The teacher will explain to students that they are going to be given a list of wartime powers. They are to discern how many powers their role will assume. They can choose as many as they want, but for each power they have to explain why their role deserves that power.
  4. After enough time has lapsed, take turns hearing from each side, including their explanations. List, in the classroom, the powers that the students chose. Compare the two lists and look for duplicate answers.
  5. There should be some time during class to debate the duplicate answers; once again students should have reasons why each branch deserves that specific power.
  6. After students have debated, have each student complete a T-Chart to place the correct powers given to each branch based on the Constitution.
  7. Conclude the lesson by watching The War of 1812 segment which shows how Madison felt. The teacher should explain that Madison believed he shouldn’t declare war based on it not being one of his powers.
  8. In the Appendix, you will find the directions splitting the class into two groups. Print out duplicates of these directions and hand them out to each group. These will be the directives which will aid in the beginning of the debate over how much power each role will assume.

Assessment Tasks
After the students have discussed why they feel Congress or the President should receive certain wartime powers, they will complete a T-Chart based on the Constitution of America in order to be certain of which branch of government actually contains the specified powers.

Related PBS Resources

Structure of Congress
Students will begin to understand the roles played by the Democratic and Republican parties, congressional leaders, committees and other groups to which members of Congress belong, as well as the formal process of lawmaking and differences between the House and Senate.

The Decision to Go to War
This lesson may be used to discuss with your students President Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq soon after that decision has been made. This lesson is most appropriate for use in a government or history class but may be used in any social studies class. Government teachers may wish to emphasize the political process leading up to the war and the implications for George Bush as president while History teachers may wish to focus on the relevant historical precedents.

The President: Politician in Chief
In this lesson students will examine the formal and informal powers of the president, as well as the political skills required to win office. They will also assess the personal qualities needed to win office and to carry out the responsibilities of the presidency.


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President James Madison


Proclamation of war