William Jennings Bryan paper hat, 1896.

During the long, sweltering summer of 1787 a delegation of more than fifty men from twelve former British colonies cloistered themselves behind the locked doors of Philadelphia's Independence Hall. The stated purpose of their meeting was to amend the Articles of Confederation, a loose framework for our young nation's government. However, when the delegation adjourned in September its members had instead fashioned an entirely new Constitution and with it the uniquely American institution of the presidency.

The office of the presidency and the informal process of electing the president are the themes of this issue of this lesson plan and are among the many topics visitors can explore in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The activities that follow include objects from that museum and encourage your students to consider the powers of the presidency as well as the informal methods that have evolved to select candidates for America's highest elected office.