Civic Literacy Curriculum
This curriculum guide is intended to cover question 87.
Q87. Which of the following is not something Thomas Jefferson did?
A. Found the University of Virginia
B. Serve as the first Secretary of State and third president of the United States
C. Double the size of the United States (Louisiana Purchase)
D. Write the Constitution
Thomas Jefferson’s accomplishments were such that the famous epitaph on his tombstone omits achievements that would be highlights of most lives. Jefferson believed his three most important accomplishments were writing the Declaration of Independence, founding the University of Virginia, and authoring the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which disestablished an official state church in his home state, guaranteeing religious freedom and eliminating mandatory individual support of a church one did not wish to. In addition to these, he served George Washington as our first Secretary of State, was one of the founders of the Democratic-Republican Party, and became our nation’s third president, during which time his administration doubled the size of the nation when negotiating the Louisiana Purchase.
Jefferson had many views, some of which were in a deep tension he himself recognized. He was firmly committed to states’ rights and carefully enforcing the constitutional limits on the power of the federal government, which led Jefferson and his ally James Madison to fight with Alexander Hamilton’s faction in the early Republic. (That was why they helped create the Democratic-Republican Party). He was an eloquent defender of equality and a sometimes harsh critic of slavery, yet, famously, he remained a slaveowner, and not even one who made any serious effort to emancipate the slaves kept at his home in Monticello. He also had a long friendship with John Adams, dating back to their service in the revolution together. Yet the political bitterness over the 1801 presidential election, in which Jefferson defeated Adams, led to a long estrangement between the two, one finally ended when they resumed their habit of writing letters to one another. Both of them died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence they had both worked on.
[Note: this section pairs with Question 78]
By the start of the 1790s, Thomas Jefferson already had quite the list of accomplishments, but his influence on American politics was far from over. President George Washington chose Jefferson to serve as the United States’ first Secretary of State, a position in which he butted heads with Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury. The conflicts over principles, policies, and constitutional interpretation between Hamilton and Jefferson helped lead to America’s first political parties, with Jefferson leading the Democratic-Republican Party. One such conflict concerned Hamilton’s proposal for the federal government to establish a national bank. For this activity, students will think about the benefits and drawbacks of adopting either Hamilton’s or Jefferson’s position with respect to the creation of a national bank and the proper way to interpret the Constitution, particularly its Necessary and Proper Clause. The arguments of James Madison, who sided with Jefferson against the Bank but used different reasoning somewhere between Jefferson’s ultra-strict construction and Hamilton’s expansive interpretation, have also been provided as an optional third perspective.
- Provide each pair/group with the Pro-Con Worksheet: Debate over a National Bank
- Provide each pair/group with Jefferson and Hamilton on the Bank (1791)
- Optional – Provide each pair/group with Madison on the Bank (1791)
The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes an answer key.
- Divide the class into pairs (or groups of 3-4) based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group that has mastered the material; Group C students are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
- Provide the students with the necessary materials: a copy of Hamilton and Jefferson on the Bank (1791), as well as the Pro-Con Worksheet.
- As an optional additional reading, you may also assign Madison on the Bank (1791), either simply as background in helping formulate a critique of Jefferson or Hamilton or as a third perspective to have students analyze with a pro-con sheet.
- Explain to the students that today they will read Hamilton’s and Jefferson’s (and possibly Madison’s) respective arguments on the question of whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to establish a national bank. Students will consider the pros and cons of adopting one of their positions. Emphasize that they should consider not just the advantages or disadvantages of each position in terms of policy implications – what types of policies could or could not be implemented – but also the reasons for or against interpreting the Constitution in a Hamiltonian or Jeffersonian (or Madisonian) way.
- For the purposes of filling out the worksheet, each pair/group should only list the pros and cons of either Hamilton’s or Jefferson’s (or Madison’s) position. You may wish to assign students to read only one figure in order to promote a balanced discussion of their arguments, and to save sufficient time for discussion. However, students should keep in mind that each thinker points to arguable shortcomings of the other’s position.
- Note to students that the “pros” and “cons” that they list will be matters of interpretation and judgment and thus open to discussion. (In the same way, the sample answers provided for your reference should not be seen as simple factual statements, but evaluative/interpretive ones).
- Allow time for the pairs/groups to fill out their worksheets as they read through Hamilton’s and Jefferson’s (and/or Madison’s) arguments.
- Circulate throughout the room as the students complete their worksheets to check for understanding and help as needed.
- Once the students have completed the worksheet, use it as a springboard for discussion. Ask students to make the case for either Hamilton’s or Jefferson’s (or Madison’s) position. Try to foster an informal “debate” in this way. Through the course of the discussion, encourage the students to explain their reasoning as much as they can and to point to evidence from the Constitution and the readings when possible.
- If you are in need of some additional prompts for this discussion, consider utilizing some of the sample answers from the Pro-Con Worksheet.
- You may wish to encourage students to continue to jot down thoughts on their worksheets during this discussion.
This can be a useful exercise to have students think about the value of debate and critique, and to separate arguments from the speaker. Note to the students that both speakers can be right about some things and wrong about others. For example, perhaps Jefferson’s critique that Hamilton’s substitution of “useful” for “necessary” is unfaithful to the Constitution is correct, at the same time that Hamilton’s similar critique that Jefferson is adding “absolutely” to change the meaning of “necessary” might also be correct, and that neither ends up accurately explaining the true meaning of the “necessary and proper” clause. But having different sides debate each other brings out the weak points in arguments.
Jefferson played an active role in Virginia and American politics from the end of the 1760s through the first decade of the 1800s, authoring historic documents and serving in a variety of public offices. Even after retiring from public life, one of his accomplishments that he considered to be most significant was yet to come – the founding of the University of Virginia.
When we think about historical figures, one or two of their accomplishments often stand out in our minds above the rest. For you, what is the first accomplishment that comes to mind when you think of Thomas Jefferson? Can you think of any others?
The conflict between Jefferson (the first Secretary of State) and Hamilton (the first Secretary of the Treasury) over a national bank was a key moment in the life of the young United States. Over the course of American history, do you think that Hamilton’s or Jefferson’s interpretation of the Constitution has been more dominant than the other’s? Overall, do you think it’s a good or bad thing for one of these approaches to be more influential? Use historical or current examples in your answer.