American Presidents

John Adams American Presidents Teacher Guide

Voices of Democracy
April 2, 1999 on C-SPAN
Recommended Use:

In this program, impersonators of Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison participate in a panel discussion about their relationship with one another and their roles in the founding and early politics of America.

Note to teachers: Although this program is featured during the American Presidents week spotlighting Thomas Jefferson, it can be used to support a study of President James Madison as well.

Before Viewing American Presidents on C-SPAN
Review with students basic biographical information about Thomas Jefferson from the American Presidents web site and other sources. Have students draw connections between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Hypothesize about how Jefferson might have met the two men. What did they all have in common? Where did they differ? Brainstorm a list of issues and questions you would like to see brought up in a conversation with all three men.

Tell students they are about to view a panel discussion among impersonators of three of the founding fathers. Ask students if they have ever met, or observed a historical impersonator. What can they convey about history that a textbook cannot? How do impersonators prepare for their roles? Can an impersonator convey inaccurate information, or have a bias?

While Viewing American Presidents on C-SPAN
Directions: While watching the American Presidents program, answer the following questions and create an Impersonator’s Guide for others who may want to impersonate Jefferson.

1. How did you meet Madison? How did you meet Hamilton?

2. Explain your participation in the writing of the Constitution.

3. What was your attitude toward the inclusion of the Bill of Rights?

4. Describe your views on the natural inclinations of man, and the rights of individuals.

5. What are your views on the rights of women?

6. Comment on any personal relationships with women, and their relevance to your public life.

7. Add additional information that does not respond specifically to any of the above questions.

8. Write down general observations about your tone, temper, gestures and behavior:

After Viewing American Presidents on C-SPAN
Students can work individually to compile and compare their "Impersonator’s Guides." Have students respond to the following in their guides.

  • Based on the portrayal you just viewed, describe Thomas Jefferson’s personality.
  • What other conclusions can you make about his personality based on the actions and attitudes he was purported to have taken?
  • What did you learn about Thomas Jefferson by watching him portrayed alongside two of his contemporaries?
  • How did the interaction between the three figures provide more or a different type of information?
  • Is this an effective way to learn about the biography of Thomas Jefferson? What other questions do you have? Where might you find the answers?
Students may want to illustrate their guides, write introductions and conclusions.

Additional Activity
1. Add to the "Impersonator’s Guide" by doing some additional research. Identify a primary source document, a speech or letter written by Jefferson (or Madison or Hamilton.) “Test” the guide by preparing a short oral presentation incorporating the text of the primary source woven with information about your character acquired through the C-SPAN program.

2. Lead a short discussion, or have students write a short response to the following question: How compatible are Jefferson’s views with contemporary society? Base your answer on your own, as well as the audience’s reactions to Jefferson’s comments.

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