Alexander Hamilton provides insights into social studies topics including the founding of the American republic, the Federalist papers and the U.S. Constitution, the development of the American economy, partisan politics, the qualities of political leaders, the private lives of public officials, and more. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.
The following activities are grouped into four categories: economics, history, geography, and civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.
Creating a national bank.
Read this brief summary of Hamilton's efforts to create a national bank and watch the featured video segment on the formation of the First Bank of the United States. Then answer the following questions: (1) What was Hamilton's motivation for starting a central bank? (2) Why were some officials opposed to a central bank?
Next, read this history of central banking in the United States provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and answer the following questions: (3) Why do you think it took the United States so long to finally commit to a central bank? (4) In what ways is today's Federal Reserve similar to, and different from, the First and Second Banks of the United States?
A nation of farmers or merchants?
As the film explains, Hamilton and his rival Thomas Jefferson had very different hopes for the United States' future. While Jefferson wanted the United States to remain a rural country with an economy based on farming, Hamilton wanted it to develop into an urban country with an economy based on business and manufacturing.
Which of these visions proved more accurate over the long term? Divide the class into small groups and have each group prepare a graphic (bar graph, line graph, or pie chart) presenting data on this issue. For example, groups might show what share of this country's workers today are in farming as opposed to non-farm industries, or what share of the nation's population live in cities as opposed to rural areas. They also might show changes over time in these or similar measures -- for example, at what point in this nation's history did the number of Americans living in cities first exceed the number living on farms? Or, how has the average American's annual income changed over time?
Groups should draw their graphics on poster-sized paper and display them around the room. Review them as a class. How do you think Hamilton and Jefferson would have reacted to the information shown in the graphics?
The birth of party politics.
Hamilton was at the center of many of the controversies that led to the formation of the Federalist and Republican parties, which were bitter rivals in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Divide the class into two groups, one for each of the two parties. Have each group prepare nine bumper stickers, three for each of the following presidential elections: 1796, 1800, and 1804. The bumper stickers should present the party's position (or attack the rival party's position) on a major issues of the campaign.
When the groups are done, display the bumper stickers for each election side by side. Did both parties focus on the same issues in each election? Did they focus more on presenting a positive message for the party, or on creating a negative impression of the opposition? Did one of the parties appear to have the major issues on its side during these elections?
Hamilton in '08?
If Alexander Hamilton were alive today, do you think his beliefs, accomplishments, and experiences would make him a good president? Imagine that you are a speechwriter for the "Hamilton in 2008" campaign, and your task is to write a ten-minute speech for Hamilton in which he introduces himself to the American people and explains why they should support him for president.
In writing your speech, draw on events from Hamilton's life (including his previous experience in important political and military positions), the many roles he played, and his views on government. Also discuss how those experiences and views equip him to tackle some of the major issues now confronting the United States.
Have volunteers read their speeches for the class. Then vote to see how many students would consider supporting such a candidate.
A capital on the Potomac.
Just as Hamilton's views on government helped shape the development of the United States government, his bargain with Thomas Jefferson in 1790 helped decide where that government would be located. See how well you have absorbed Hamilton's political views by taking this quiz. Then, using that quiz as a model, work as a class to create a quiz that tests your knowledge of our nation's capital, Washington, D.C.
Each student should think up one or more quiz questions related to Washington, D.C.'s origins and growth. Your questions could deal with where the city is located, its best-known government buildings, other sites in D.C. that are often visited by tourists, major events in D.C. history, and so on.
Submit your questions anonymously to your teacher, who will create a "Capital Quiz" using the best 20 questions and then have the entire class take the quiz. (Come up with as many questions as you can, since the more of your questions are selected to appear in the Capital Quiz, the more questions you can be sure of answering correctly.) What new facts about Washington, D.C. did you learn from this activity?
Hamilton's Caribbean roots.
Few Americans know much about Nevis and St. Croix, the Caribbean islands where Hamilton grew up. Divide the class into groups to find out about more about these islands, such as: (a) their location, size, and climate; (b) when and how Britain gained control of them; (c) their role in the British economy -- including the transatlantic slave trade -- during Hamilton's youth; (d) their role in the American Revolution; (e) when and how they emerged from British rule; and (f) their current status (population, main forms of economic activity, etc.).
Have groups report their findings to the class. Now that you know more about Hamilton's roots, have each of the groups select one of the other Founders (such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or John Adams) and find out about his roots. How does Hamilton's background -- both the place and the social class from which he emerged -- differ from those of the other Founders?
Public leaders, private wrongs.
In 1797 Hamilton publicly admitted that he had cheated on his wife Elizabeth, but he denied committing any acts of official corruption. Take this poll on whether you think misdeeds in one's personal life should disqualify a person for public office.
Next, find an example from the present or recent past of a public official who has been charged with some form of private misconduct, and write a brief summary of the situation on an index card. The teacher should collect the cards from each student, review them for appropriateness, and then read them aloud to the class. For each example, have the class vote on whether the person in question should be allowed to remain in public office if the accusation against him or her turns out to be true. On the basis of that vote, tape the card to the wall under one of the following two headings: "Okay to Stay" or "Time to Go."
When you are done, review as a class the cards you placed under each of the headings. Is there a pattern to the class's votes on this issue? Could the results of the votes be used to prepare guidelines for public officials on what kinds of private misdeeds should -- and should not -- disqualify a person from public office?
Today, dueling is not only illegal but would be regarded as uncivilized and even ridiculous. Yet public officials continue to get into bitter disagreements, some of them personal. Is there a more sensible way for them to handle these disagreements?
Working with a partner, develop a non-violent procedure by which public officials can confront one another in order to defend themselves against a personal attack and maybe even begin to resolve their differences. Just as dueling had a set of specific rules, you should develop rules on how your new procedure would operate in practice. You should also come up with a name for your procedure.
Have each group present its idea to the class, then vote to determine the best proposal. How could you make it catch on among our nation's leaders -- or among state, local, or school leaders?
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