A Conversation with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams
I. Writing History
When historians write history they research their topics using primary sources (such as letters, diaries, newspapers, accounts from individuals who witnessed or participated in the event, or government documents and illustrations/photographs from the time period) and secondary sources. Often the writing reflects the perspective, ideas and biases of the writer.
Review the biographies of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams written in1848, (twenty years after the death of Jefferson and Adams) by Benson John Lossing for a book commissioned by Congress on the lives of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Review the biography on Mr. Lossing as well. Your task is to research the lives of Jefferson and Adams using primary and secondary sources and to determine if what Mr. Lossing wrote is reliable and bias free. Create a table to show the strengths and/or weaknesses of the facts in the Lossing biographies of Jefferson and Adams.
Rewrite the biographies of Jefferson and Adams based on your research and in a modern day language and style.
Write a modern day obituary for Jefferson; for Adams.
II. Declaration of Independence
In writing the Declaration of Independence Jefferson called upon the writings of John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau, and other philosophers of the 18th century European Enlightenment Movement. He was acquainted with his fellow countrymen’s arguments and ideas on liberty: Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and John Adams’ Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Laws. Using a copy of the Declaration of Independence (Click and print out Declaration of Independence) highlight the areas that reflect the words of Locke (use yellow), Rousseau (orange), Paine (purple), and Adams (green).
Be a newspaper reporter and report on the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Use the illustration of the painting by John Trunbull of the signing as your illustration accompanying your article.
Using your copy of the Declaration of Independence highlight the grievances presented to King George III. Draft a petition or declaration outlining a modern day grievance that you would like to address.
Examine the Declaration of Independence and list the key elements that should be used to direct government’s laws, deeds, and policies. Using this list, compare to see if these elements are in fact in the Constitution. In class discuss the findings.
The writing process is a long one full of many revisions and editing. Use the rough draft that Jefferson submitted to the continental Congress and the final document to highlight and discuss changes. Discuss why these changes were made. (Courtesy of GHS, adapted.)
The language used in the Declaration of Independence is much different than our everyday language. List and define unfamiliar words. Look for unusual usage of grammar. (Courtesy of GHS, adapted.)
Click here for a Declaration of Independence Worksheet to assist with your study of the document.
III. Whigs and Tories
Using primary and secondary sources create a list of Jefferson’s and Adams’ contemporaries who were Whigs? List those who where Tories. In class discuss the meaning of each word and create a profile in words of a Whig; of a Tory.
Write and orally present a speech answering the questions:
Why I would choose to be a Whig? Why I would choose to be a Tory?
Trace the evolution of the Whig and Tory parties to the political parties today. Diagram your findings.
Review the Call to Liberty Date Sheet (courtesy of The Georgia Historical Society, adapted) and discuss the events of 1765-1776 that made the colonists more determined to fight for independence.
Write or tape the time line dates on the Board. Distribute sheets of paper, each containing an event, have the students illustrate the event or briefly describe the event on the paper. Each students should then place the event with illustration on the Board under the date it occurred.
Look up definitions of the word Liberty. In your own words write your definition of Liberty. Examine the Declaration of Independence to see if your ideas/philosophy of Liberty are in fact in the Declaration of Independence. Discuss how the King was going to limit the Liberty of his colonial subjects?
Debate with classmates the issues of government, taxation and economics as regulated by the Acts of Parliament on the thirteen colonies. Some students should be advocates of Parliament and the King while other students should be colonial resisters. Can a compromise be reached?
Interpret the quotation in the context in which it was written/spoken and discuss with the class its relevancy today.
“And for support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on Divine Providence we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, & our sacred Honor.”
Declaration of Independence
“You and I, my dear friend, have been sent into life at a time when the greatest lawgivers of antiquity would have wished to live. How few of the human race have ever enjoyed an opportunity of making an election of government, more than of air, soil, or climate, for themselves or their children! When, before the present epocha, had three millions of people full power and a fair opportunity to form and establish the wisest and happiest government that human wisdom can contrive?”
Thoughts on Government “The President can be re-elected every four years for life! Even if he loses an election, he still controls the army! So how will you get him off the throne?”
“We have it in our power to begin the world anew. It is the opportunity to bring forward a new system of government in which the rights of all men should be preserved, that gives value to independence. O ye that love mankind! Ye that dares oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! America shall make a stand, not for herself alone, but for the world.”
“We have an old Mother who peevish is grown.
She snubs us like children that scarce walk alone.
She forgets that we’re grown with sense of our own.
If we don’t obey orders, whatever the case.
She frowns and she chides and loses all patience.
And sometimes she hits us a slap in the face.
Her orders are so, we often suspect,
That age has impaired her of sound intellect:
But still, an old Mother should have due respect...”