Monday, April 27, 2009

Plain, Honest Men

Dr. Richard Beeman recreates life in Philadelphia in 1787, in this new narrative of the Constitutional Convention, Plain, Honest Men. Dr. Beeman is a great friend of the National Constitution Center. He has been featured in the Center's permanent exhibit, is a frequent guest lecturer and a returning faculty member in the NEH Summer Teacher Institute. With a bright smile and a distinctive bow tie, Dr. Beeman has helped shape what the National Constitution Center is today- a museum, a classroom, and a resource for educators and students alike.

Dr. Beeman "free(s) our 'Founding Fathers' from their bronze...likeness" of the statues that he so often sees here in Signer's Hall, giving them breath and character as they toil in the summer months of 1787. He stresses that the framers were "mortals - not, as some have characterized them, 'demigods'." As human as they are, their accomplishments become extraordinary when we take into consideration the daunting task of fixing a country in just three months. Plain, Honest Men gives a deep analysis on the deliberation that took place just steps away from the museum and digs deeper into the issues of slavery, representation, and other controversies the framers struggled with each day. It highlights the personal achievements of James Madison, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, three indispensable characters in the story of the Constitution that Dr. Beeman tells in his book.

While the book in its entirety can be used in your classroom, here are some suggested selections that may be used to highlight some specific topics in your classroom:

The Constitution and Slavery (pgs. 308-318): This selection provides a great overview of the dilemma of slavery for the delegates. Students can appreciate the moral challenges that the framers are faced with and can better judge the characters of the framers in the context of the time in which they lived.

The Great Compromise (Chapter 5, "A High-Stakes Gamble"): This longer excerpt is an excellent narrative to help students understand the "greatness" of this compromise. The Great Compromise is told in a story, racked with conflict, tension, and passion, which not only gives students the context of this great deliberation, but also helps them understand the impact of the Compromise.

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