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Teaching Guide

Teaching Jefferson's Revolution of 1800

You say you want a revolution?


Jefferson started a revolution in 1800, but we can help you spearhead a riveting discussion of this guy's ideologies and methods.

In this guide you will find

  • lessons on Jefferson's moral sense (or lack thereof, according to some people).
  • an activity implementing Jefferson's educational plan.
  • current resources on Jefferson's legacy.

He's more than just the dude on the two-dollar bill, and our teaching guide provides you with our two cents on the matter.

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Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

In this question-and-response writing activity, your students will explore Jefferson's views on moral sense its role within his democratic philosophy.

1. First, share this quotation and ask your students to write a short (no more than one paragraph) response:

"State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules."
— Thomas Jefferson, 1787

The following might assist them in their responses, or provide the basis for a follow-up discussion:

  • Is this true?
  • Can an uneducated person judge right from wrong better than an educated person?
  • What enables us to tell right from wrong?
  • Are we born with this sense? Is morality intuitive? Or must it be taught?

2. Next, share this additional excerpt from the same 1787 letter and ask your students (1) to explain, in simpler terms, Jefferson's views on the basis of our ability to make moral judgments, and (2) to discuss whether they agree or disagree with Jefferson.

"He who made us would have been a pitiful bungler, if he had made the rules of our moral conduct a matter of science. For one man of science, there are thousands who are not. What would have become of them? Man was destined for society. His morality, therefore, was to be formed to this object. He was endowed with a sense of right and wrong merely relative to this. This sense is as much a part of his nature, as the sense of hearing, seeing, feeling; it is the true foundation of morality... The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree. It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body. This sense is submitted indeed in some degree to the guidance of reason; but it is a small stock which is required for this: even a less one than what we call Common sense."
– Thomas Jefferson, 1787

3. Discuss with your students their conclusions. Then ask them to write a final paragraph explaining why Jefferson's beliefs about the "moral sense" were central to his political philosophy. If they need direction, remind them that Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican Party that formed around him placed more confidence in the political capacity of common people than did Jefferson's Federalist opponents.

4. You might choose to follow this document analysis with our legislative activity, implementing "Jefferson's Educational Plan."

Instructions for Your Students

Among all the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson placed the greatest confidence in the ability of common people to play important roles in the political process. Do you know where he gained this confidence? Read this quote and think about the connection between Jefferson's moral philosophy and political ideology:

"State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules."
— Thomas Jefferson, 1787

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