Great individuals, those whom were once said to have "made" history, continue to capture students' attention, especially individuals like Thomas Jefferson, whose impact on all aspects of his society was profound. Through Jefferson's life, students can follow the story of the American people from colonial days through the early decades of national government to the first stirrings of dissent that would lead to civil war. In him, they can find both the sense of promise that pulled Americans westward and the senseless prejudice that held Americans in slavery. Our most eloquent spokesman for the ideals of our society, Jefferson is at the same time plainspoken and direct, a voice still resonant with personality and still able to touch the heart.

The Jefferson Web site can be a valuable tool to help students explore concepts central to Thomas Jefferson, develop critical thinking skills, express themselves through photography and online forums, and apply these ideas to modern times. The following resources are available on the Jefferson Web site:

  The Pursuit of Happiness Student Photography Contest

  Does Jefferson Matter? Online Forum

  Archive with Photographs and Transcripts of Original Jefferson Writings

  Student Study Sheets

  Defining Freedom in the Supreme Court

  Related Internet Links

Using the Student Study Sheets in the Classroom

The study sheets exploring political, religious, social, intellectual, and personal freedom can be printed out and distributed to students. (Study sheets are provided on PBS ONLINE courtesy of General Motors.)

When using the study sheets in conjunction with the series Thomas Jefferson (PBS airdate: February 18-19, 1997), it is recommended that the sheets discussing political and religious freedom be used to enhance your students' viewing of the first part of the series. The study sheets on social and intellectual freedom are designed for use in conjunction with the second part of the series; and the study sheet on personal freedom is suggested as a review.

An overview of each study sheet and suggested responses to the discussion questions posed in each sheet are provided here:

Political Freedom: An Expression of the American Mind

This study sheet focuses on the pivotal event of Jefferson's early years in public life, his authorship of The Declaration of Independence. The sheet calls attention to Jefferson's writing style as the most distinctive feature of the Declaration, which for the most part, as Jefferson acknowledged, restated ideas that were commonplace at the time.

A comparison between the most memorable passage of Jefferson's document and a parallel passage from George Mason's nearly simultaneous "Declaration of Rights" should help students appreciate that Jefferson was but one voice in a chorus reciting the reasons for self-government and, more importantly, help them tune into the special music of his voice, which has made his words seem the incantation that called our nation into being. A transcript of Jefferson's original draft for this passage is provided to illustrate for students that Jefferson worked hard to achieve the "tone and spirit" that have made his words immortal. You might underscore this point by having a member of the class read Jefferson's first draft aloud.


Religious Freedom: Almighty God Hath Created the Mind Free

This study sheet examines Jefferson's Statute of Religious Freedom, which finally gained passage while he was serving as minister to France. Students are asked to consider why Jefferson had a reputation as an enemy to religion depite his lifelong commitment to freedom of conscience. Because Jefferson so frequently mentions God in his writings, students may find it hard to believe that his contemporaries could call him an atheist or infidel. You might sharpen the situation with this anecdote from John Adams: During the whole time I sat with him in [the Continental] Congress...the most of a speech he ever made in my hearing was a gross insult on religion...for which I gave him immediately the reprehension which he richly merited. What sort of "gross insult" could have come from this man who seems so deeply conscious of God? An excerpt from Jefferson's statute and a series of guided questions are provided to help students find an answer.

Students may also wish to consider the Supreme Court case Engel v. Vitale in the course of the discussion on religious freedom.


Social Freedom: The Age of Experiments in Government

This study sheet highlights Jefferson's struggle against the advocates of a strong centralized federal government in the 1790s and his success in establishing a more democratic and limited form of government through his organization of the Republican party.

The underlying principle here is social freedom, the liberty which we exercise as self-governing members of a local community and which safeguards our pursuit of economic opportunity. In this context, students might see the Federalist philosophy of Alexander Hamilton as based on social control while Jefferson's Republican philosophy was based on social change (though this is only one of many important points of contrast). These two tendencies revealed their self-destructive potential in 1798, when the Federalists exerted control by imprisoning their opponents and Jefferson, in his Kentucky Resolutions, encouraged change almost to the point of dissolving the Union itself. The study sheet presents an excerpt from this legislation showing Jefferson's reaction to the governmental crisis of 1798, and a contrasting excerpt from his first inaugural address in 1800, showing his view when the crisis had passed.

Students may also wish to consider the Supreme Court case United States v. Eichman in the course of the discussion on social freedom.


Intellectual Freedom: The Illimitable Freedom of the Human Mind

This study sheet focuses on Jefferson's final great accomplishment, founding the University of Virginia in the decades after he left the Presidency, the culmination of his forty-year-long effort to establish public education in his home state.

The sheet provides an excerpt from Jefferson's 1818 report on plans for the University of Virginia, in which he stresses the role education plays in moral and social improvement. Finally, the sheet introduces students to some of the innovative features Jefferson incorporated in his university, and draws attention to some of the ways his thoughts on the purpose and nature of higher education are reflected in his design for the Charlottesville campus. By all these avenues, students are led to recognize the central importance of intellectual freedom in Jefferson's philosophy, its vital function as the enabling force behind the exercise of freedom in politics, religion and society.

Students may also wish to consider the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in the course of the discussion on intellectual freedom.


Personal Freedom: The Pursuit of Happiness

This study sheet provides an opportunity to review Jefferson's character and career by highlighting the most constant preoccupation of his life, his mountaintop home, Monticello.

The sheet presents Monticello as the meeting place for two tragically intertwined aspects of Jefferson's existence, his exuberant pursuit of happiness through intellectual exploration and social exchange, and his appalling acceptance of slavery as the foundation of his domestic economy. Students are provided with an excerpt from Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia where he unflinchingly examines the moral destructiveness of slavery on both sides of the master/slave relationship. And they are asked to ponder how this peerless advocate of human freedom in all its forms could so deeply violate his most cherished principle.

Students may also wish to consider the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in the course of the discussion on personal freedom.


Bibliography for the Student Study Sheets:

Thomas Jefferson, Writings, ed. Merrill D. Peterson, The Library of America 17 (1984).
Andrew Burstein, The Inner Jefferson: Portrait of a Grieving Optimist (1995).
Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Times, 6 vols. (1948-81).
John C. Miller, The Wolf by the Ears (1980).
Merrill D. Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation (1970).

Using the Supreme Court Cases in the Classroom

Since the founding documents of the United States were penned, there have been conflicts over how these documents should be interpreted in everyday life. Three Supreme Court cases are presented here to illustrate how judicial review serves to clarify issues in such disputes:

Engel v. Vitale - Prayer in the Public Schools
United States v. Eichman - Burning the American Flag
Brown v. Board of Education - Racial Segregation in Public Schools

The cases have been summarized to highlight key concepts, and links have been provided to relevant Web sites for supporting material and transcripts of the court opinions. The material presented online can serve as a reference for the educator or as an exploration activity for students. The cases can also be used with discussions introduced in the Student Study Sheets. At the end of Engel V. Vitale and United States v. Eichman, students can share their opinions online by indicating whether or not they agree with the Supreme Court's ruling in each of these cases.