America’s Founding: The Constitutional Convention

Game in Development | Available to Download

America’s Founding is a game about what surely is the most important legal event in American history—the Constitutional Convention of 1787.  Students gather as members of state delegations sent to Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation or to replace it with something better.  Familiar elements, such as the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Great Compromise, structure the first half of the game.  Here the principal theoretical divide is between large-republic advocates, called nationalists, and small-republic advocates, called confederalists.  In order to give prominence to these competing visions of republican government, the game deviates from the historical original in one significant respect:  it incorporates, in concert with the Convention’s examination of the New Jersey Plan, arguments articulated in the state ratification debates and in Federalist and Antifederalist writings.

In the second half of the game, the Convention responds to reports written by committees attempting to resolve delayed matters and to put the constitution in its finished form.  How to elect the president, what to do about slavery, and whether to include a bill of rights are just a few of the issues that come up at this time.  The game ends in a vote to accept or reject the constitution.

The constitution drafted by students need not replicate the one produced in Philadelphia; however, freedom of action is constrained by the fact many of the same structural problems and historical contingencies are in place.  Thus students will find improving upon the Electoral College, for example, to be not that easy.

About the Designer:

J. Patrick Coby is professor of Government at Smith College where he teaches courses in political theory. He is author ofSocrates and the Sophistic Enlightenment:  A Commentary on Plato’s Protagoras, Machiavelli’s Romans:  Liberty and Greatness in the Discourses on Livy; Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament (“Reacting to the Past”); Thomas Cromwell: Machiavellian Statecraft and the English Reformation; and of over eighty articles and reviews.