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Teaching Guide

Teaching Jefferson's Revolution of 1800

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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.

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

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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

Objective: 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.

In this question-and-response writing activity, your students will explore Jefferson's views on moral sense its role within his democratic philosophy. They'll respond to two quotes from Jefferson by analyzing each and then deciding whether or not their views of common and moral sense align closely with Jefferson's.

Length of Lesson: One class period.

Materials Needed:

  • Quotations provided below in Steps One and Three
  • Writing (or typing/keyboarding) materials

Step One: First, share the quotation below with your students, either in hard copy, via the student instructions, or by writing it on the board. 

"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

Once everyone has read it, give students 5-8 minutes to respond to the quote in writing. 

Step Two: Give students a chance to share some of their ideas from their writings. You can use the questions below to help guide this follow up discussion if necessary. 

  • Is Jefferson's assertion 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?

Step Three: Next, share this additional excerpt from the same 1787 letter. Again, be sure to offer it in written format (online, on paper, on the board) in addition to reading it aloud.

"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

After everyone has read/heard the quote, ask your students to do the following as part of a class discussion.

  1. Explain, in simpler terms, Jefferson's views on the basis of our ability to make moral judgments. 
  2. Discuss whether they agree or disagree with Jefferson.

Step Four: Following this discussion, ask students 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.

Step Five (Optional): 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. (Thanks, Jefferson.)

Today you'll take a look at a few quotes from Jefferson to help you explore his views on "moral sense" and its role within his democratic philosophy. 

Step One: First, take a look the quotation below with your teacher and classmates.

"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

Once everyone has read the quote, take 5-8 minutes to respond to it in writing. What do you think of this quote? What, exactly, is Jefferson saying? Do you think he's right? Why or why not?

Don't answer out loud—write it down!

Step Two: Shake out your hand cramps and share some of the ideas from your writing with your class. If the discussion dies before it gets started, you can use the questions below to make sure you cover all the bases. 

  • Is Jefferson's assertion 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?

Step Three: Next, read this additional excerpt from the same 1787 letter. 

"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

After everyone has read/heard the quote, work together to do the following:

  1. Explain, in simpler terms, Jefferson's views on the basis of our ability to make moral judgments. 
  2. Discuss whether you and your classmates agree or disagree with Jefferson.

Step Four: Following this discussion, take a few minutes (5-10) to write a final paragraph explaining why Jefferson's beliefs about the "moral sense" were central to his political philosophy. If you need direction, you can always review the Ideology section of this Shmoop guide and consider the differences between Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party and his Federalist opponents. 

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING JEFFERSON'S REVOLUTION OF 1800?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

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