American Presidents

George Washington American President Teacher Guide

Presidential Assessments: Washington, Adams, Jefferson
Lesson Plan provided by Steve Armstrong, Bob Lyons and John Bolger from Adali E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL.
C-SPAN is provided to their area by TCI.

Goal: To assess to what extent the first three presidential administrations contributed to the establishment of a democratic society.

Students will be able to:

  • Analyze and assess the ways Presidents George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson exerted the power of the presidency to establish what they viewed as "Stable Democracy"
  • Recall historical events from the time period (1732-1826)
  • Utilize debate skills to argue a point of view

(These texts were used by Mr. Armstrong; any other similar texts can be substituted.)

  • Davidsonís Nation of Nations - Chapters 8, 9 and 10
  • Bailey's American Spirit (documentary reader) - Chapters 10, 11, and 12
  • Encyclopedias
  • C-SPAN's American Presidents programs featuring George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
  • Internet resources on presidential history such as C-SPAN's American Presidents web site (

Time Frame
This activity will require one class to discuss assignments and provide short topic discussions about the first three presidents. Library time can be used to fulfill research requirements. Depending on class size, presentation of projects will vary - each group should be limited to ten minutes.


1. Instruct students to watch selected portions from C-SPAN's American Presidents: Life Portraits in class or at home focusing on Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Encourage students to take note of early influences in the lives of the presidents as well as their years as president. Invite students to voice their opinions on what they viewed.

2. Divide the class into three groups, with each group focusing on either Washington, Adams or Jefferson. Tell students that each group is responsible for presenting an outline on how each president tried to fulfill the promise of the revolution by preserving individual liberties and establishing a "stable democratic society."

Each project should include historical detail, as well as an analysis and assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of each presidential administration. Students can conduct research using C-SPAN's American Presidents web site.

Students should assess the administrations according to the following (you may add additional guidelines):

a. Domestic Issues - political parties, Hamiltonian economic policies, interpreting the Constitution, internal rebellions, specific legislation

b. Foreign Policy Issues - Anglo-French (Problem more specific) 1789-1809, treaties and agreements, expansionism

3. Hold presentations. Each group will present a forum for approximately 10 minutes to defend the actions and policies of their selected president. Each group should be prepared to defend its position in an open debate with the other two groups.

4. After presentations, challenge groups to respond to the following questions:

a. During the 1790's, two opposing political parties arose. Both had their roots in the era governed under the Articles of Confederation, but unlike competing groups during that period, both parties claimed to support the Constitution. If both believed that the Constitution created the best form of government, what was the basis for their disagreement? Compare and contrast the two parties-their goals, methods and philosophies.

b. During the Federalist era, events in other countries shaped political party growth and domestic policy in the United States. Look at American relations with England, Spain and France. Analyze how these relations affected the two political parties that emerged during this time period; and explain how the American government responded to this foreign influence on the parties.

c. Jefferson and the Republicans championed the rights of the states and advocated a strict adherence to the Constitution. Assess the validity of this statement: Once in office, these men encountered situations that demanded governmental actions that, in some cases, went beyond what the Federalists had done.

Additional Activities
1. Hold a panel discussion with one representative from each group. (Rotate other students in as appropriate.) Each panelist should answer the following questions, and take questions from the rest of the class:

  • What were the strengths and weaknesses of each of the presidents? How did the forming of political parties affect the presidency of each of these men?
  • How/why do you think these differing political ideologies formed?
  • How are the ideologies different now?
  • 2. As a class, select the president who best represented the democratic ideals sought as a result of the Revolutionary War based on the discussion and debate presented in class. Was it difficult for the class to agree on an answer? Was it easy?

    3. Finally, each student will:

    • Hand in an outline addressing the key points of the presidential discussion
    • Contribute to the group research as well as the presentation of the material
    • Write a five-paragraph essay that responds to the statement posed in the goal statement of the guide (To what extent the first three presidential administrations contributed to the establishment of a democratic society.)

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