Grade Level: 8
Lesson Length: 7-10 class periods, plus homework
H/SS Standard: 8.3.4 & 8.3.6 "Students understand the foundation of the American political system and the ways in which citizens participate in, in terms of:
....the conflicts between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton that resulted in the emergence of two political parties.
....how the design of the Constitution provides numerous opportunities for citizens to participate in the political process..."
Teacher Materials: Teachers may want to download the "Political Parties Matrix", the "Centennial Election Issues", and the "Presidential Memo" for students prior to beginning this lesson. This will allow the educator to establish groups and assure that various components are addressed. In an ideal world, teachers would have access to a technology lab for this lesson. Our lab is set up for one computer per 2-3 students. However, this lesson could also be accomplished by jig-sawing the textual resources.
Interdisciplinary Connections: Because of the high volume of technical reading involved in this lesson, literacy and Language Arts are a natural match for integration on this assignment. Additionally, when students write their editorials, the writing component of literacy is also addressed. For the teacher who wanted to use some of the suggested extensions, there could also be a strong performing arts connection. Educators who would be up for the political survey and analysis would definitely weave a strong math component into their curriculum.
Adaptations for Special Needs: GATE students should find this lesson interesting and challenging as they learn about our political heritage and make connections to our present day issues, which will become their future resolutions. For our Special Education and/or ELL students, teachers may want to modify the written component away from the editorial to more of summarization of the issue. Educators of these special students may also want to forego the 1900 election of the Centennial Issues Chart. This may prove to be too much of an abstraction for students with limited language and/or abilities. However, these students would probably do fine with the more contemporary issues of the year 2000 elections. I also think all students will enjoy the "Donkey-Elephant" quest part of this activity.
Background Information: The rift that would eventually result in the birth of political parties actually began when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution. Some of the men wanted a strong central government, while others insisted on provisions for individual liberties. These philosophical differences would spill over into President Washington's Cabinet. Washington wanted nothing more than to provide stability and wise leadership for the new nation. Thus, he enlisted the best and brightest minds of the day to be in his Cabinet. Alexander Hamilton served as the Secretary of Treasury, while Thomas Jefferson served as the Secretary of State. One of the greatest problems facing the new nation was the debt incurred during the Revolutionary War and economic depression. The United States began its formal sovereignty approximately $50 million on debt. During the war, the government had raised money by selling public bonds and promising to repay them with interest. By the end of the war, many speculators had purchased the bonds from the original owners, a problem that caused further conflicts. A decision needed to be made. Should the original owner (who believed in the Cause) be deprived, while the exploiting speculators get rewarded? That was one point of view. The other was that the speculators were the ones who really believed in America and put their money where their beliefs lay. Indeed, every issue, great and small that faced the young nation brought about a similar philosophical debate.
With economics a major problem in the New country, Hamilton's position wielded much power. He oversaw over 1000 employees in various Treasury operations and also had the rapt attention of the President. Hamilton envisioned a strong America, with a centralized economy that courted the interests of the wealthy elite. He also thought it was in America's best interest to rebuild an alliance with England to avoid the possibility of a trade or shooting war. Hamilton believed that a national debt would attach the citizens to the interests of the government, thereby providing an added incentive for the wealthy to participate in government.
Jefferson, on the other hand, thought America would be made strong at the hands of the agrarian yeoman citizens. Jefferson and other early Republicans saw Hamilton's plans as usurping American's liberties and leading to a return to monarchy. Many Jeffersonians also favored France over England in foreign affairs. When the French Revolution erupted, Jeffersonians thought the French were going after their liberty in much the same way as the colonists had only two decades earlier. They also thought this would further assure Americans their freedom. The Federalists thought the French Revolution was anarchy and nothing like our own battle for independence.
With two such visible and capable men leading the nation and advising the President, it is no wonder that an irreparable rift split Americans into two basic factions. Much like today, this split became a battle of words and ideologies. Initially there was a pro-Administration newspaper, the Gazette of the United States. Jefferson and Madison began a newspaper, the National Gazette, to offer counter-opinions. This began the war of words all too familiar in American politics. (It is because of these newspapers that it made sense for students to write editorials.) Much mud was slung and accusations were made about both factions trying to destroy the new nation. Hamilton did not believe that common people were capable of understanding intricate matters such as government and finance. Therefore, he rarely tried to fight off the attacks or explain complex economic issues to "common people". He was too busy trying to set up policies and programs that he hoped would salvage the new nation. Jefferson thought the future of America lay with honoring the rights of the people.
As long as Washington was President, the rift was kept somewhat subtle. However, when Federalist John Adams became our second President, with Jefferson as the Vice President, the conflict became even more intense. A variety of issues that threatened to rip apart America before the new nation could really ever become established. Foreign powers watched the events unfold like patient chess players. Indeed the fate of the young America and the course of history were at stake in the ideological debates being held "across the pond."
Some would say that political parties have strengthened America, while others would claim the opposite. Some scholars would also contend that the philosophical distinctions between the two major political parties of the 18th century are still pretty much inherent in today's Democrats and Republicans. As you use this lesson with your students, I'd love to hear your conclusions.
EXTENSION ACTIVITIES: This assignment easily lends itself to a variety of extension activities such as skits, newspaper projects, poster reports, political survey & analysis, simulated "on the spot" news reports, web pages, debates, or Hyperstudio or PowerPoint presentations. An educator would be able to implement these extension activities because the kids already have a base of knowledge from which to proceed. Using some of the more verbal activities would also allow teachers the freedom to modify this assignment to be most appropriate for their students. Similarly, with so many options for extension, teachers can address varying learning modalities and abilities.
CREDITS: Freda Kelly email@example.com
Fontana USD: Truman Middle School