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The American Experience
Suggestions for the Classroom



Themes: government, civics, media, conflict resolution, politics, law



Before Viewing Discussion:

  1. Discuss the concept of historical and social context with your class. How does or how should the particular historical and social context surrounding particular customs or events affect how people judge these occurrences? Why might some acts (dueling, slave-owning, suffrage-denying) be acceptable at certain times in history and not at others? Why might such acts become acceptable or unacceptable over time? Are any acts universally condemned at all times? Respected at all times? What actions or customs are accepted today in some societies and condemned in others? How do students feel about such actions?

  2. Discuss the role of journalism in airing political grievances. What sorts of allegations or negative opinions are appropriate for media coverage? What makes them appropriate? Who decides? When, if ever, are details from personal lives appropriate for media coverage? How might such a case hurt a politician? What recourse might a politician have?



After Viewing Discussion:

  1. Discuss the nature of dueling: Do students believe dueling to be an ethical practice? Under some circumstances? Under no circumstances? Do students believe the duel solved anything? How do they think Hamilton and Burr might have otherwise settled their argument? How are such arguments settled today? Does any problem-solving mechanism analogous to dueling exist today?

  2. Discuss the effects of the duel on the United States: What were the political outcomes? Did Alexander Hamilton’s ideas continue to affect American government after his death? What did Aaron Burr lose and/or gain politically?



Activities:

  1. Has political scandal mongering in the media changed? Ask students to research instances where political figures of the late 1700s and early 1800s aired each other’s personal lives in newspapers and pamphlets to gain political advantage. Students can find some cases in the People and Events section. Then ask them to look for similar media items from the 2000 presidential race, whether from newspapers, television, or Internet news sources. Have students consider the following: What are the intentions of perpetrators of such news items, then and now? How have methods changed? How have they remained the same? Do students believe such news stories serve a valid purpose? Why or why not?

  2. Ask students to describe a Constitution based on Alexander Hamilton’s proposal to the Constitutional Convention. They can use the Hamilton section in their research. How might it be different from the solution arrived at by the delegates? What would the role of federal government be? Of states? Which would have more power? Which public offices would operate differently? How would citizens be represented?

  3. What led Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr to become deadly enemies? Ask students to compare and contrast the men using two columns headed "Hamilton" and "Burr," with the following categories listed at the left for consideration: family background, education, military service, political allegiance, political aspirations, political methods, public office held. Each category may be covered in a paragraph within each column. Students may use the People and Events and Timeline sections of the Web site for reference. When they have finished, ask them to draw conclusions from their findings, whether in a discussion or a report: What evidence, if any, might lead you to expect that the two would become enemies? How were they alike? How were they different? How were they at odds? Were they representative of larger antagonistic social and political groups? Do their differences echo in contentious American society and politics today?

  4. Alexander Hamilton said of Aaron Burr as vice president, "He is an isolated man, totally without influence." Divide the class in half, and have the two groups debate the importance of the office of the American vice president. Ask students to consider the following questions in their pre-debate research: What are the duties of the vice president? What power does he hold? What potential power? Who is directly affected by his actions? Which vice presidents have dramatically affected history while holding this office? How?

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