Jefferson & Washington: The Pursuit of Happiness
a.k.a. Once in a Blue Moon
Challenge/Question: Just a year before his untimely death, on the subject of his relationship with Thomas Jefferson, George Washington wrote: “Nothing short of the Evidence you have adduced … could have shaken my belief in the sincerity of a friendship, which I had conceived was possessed for me.” Once contemporaries with much in common, their friendship was irrevocably broken by the international publication of a letter Jefferson had written privately to a friend which was universally interpreted as an attack on Washington’s values, ambition and character. Sixteen years later, Thomas Jefferson appeared to have had a change of heart: “I think I knew General Washington intimately and thoroughly; and were I called on to delineate his character it should be in terms like these . . . his integrity was most pure . . . he was indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, & a great man . . . on the whole, his character was, in it’s mass perfect . . . never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly.” Had Washington lived longer, would he and Jefferson have eventually reconciled?
Grade Level: designed for a middle school audience (6-8), but readily adaptable for students in grades 9-12
Name: Stacia Bystrowski & CC Costello
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
School: Paxton Center School, Wachusett District & North Middle School, Westfield Public Schools
City, State: Paxton & Westfield, Massachusetts
Lesson Type: Group/Entire Class (guided introductory activity, sharing of final products); Individual/Small Group (hypothesis, research, analysis, product creation)
Duration: 150-180 minutes (we’ve divided the activity into six “30 minute” blocks)
Lesson Plan Overview: At the time of George Washington’s death in 1799, the relationship between ‘Founding Brothers’ Thomas Jefferson and George Washington had disintegrated, primarily as the result of a personal letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to his former neighbor, Philip Mazzei. While the focus of the letter, penned 24 April 1796, “discussed Mazzei’s lingering business affairs in Virginia and relayed news of his old friends, a single paragraph transformed this piece of private correspondence into the notorious ‘Mazzei letter’ that plagued Jefferson for the remainder of his life,” and ultimately destroyed his collegial friendship with Washington. Students will: (1) examine the Mazzei letter and its subsequent translations into newspapers in France and the United States as a guided group activity; (2) independently research and analyze the common acquaintances, cherished peers, Enlightenment ideals and polymath lifestyles Jefferson and Washington shared; then (3) create a differentiated product using the technology of their choice (Mad Lips, Twitter, iMovie, ThingLink, et al.) inferencing/hypothesizing how the Jefferson/Washington split might (or might not) have been mended had Washington lived beyond 14 December 1799.
Prior Knowledge/Selected Vocabulary/Introductory Background Concepts: Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, republic/republican government, monarchy/monarchical, aristocrat, despot/despotism, Enlightenment, polymath, partisanship/political parties, primary source, secondary source, public/private
Massachusetts Curriculum Framework/Incorporating the Common Core –
Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies . . . 6-12
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing – Research to Build and Present Knowledge
Virginia Standards of Learning
US History to 1865
USI.7 The student will demonstrate knowledge of the challenges faced by the new nation by
Virginia and United States History
VUS.6 The student will demonstrate knowledge of the major events from the last decade of the eighteenth century through the first half of the nineteenth century by
Virginia and United States Government
GOVT.17 The student will demonstrate knowledge of personal character traits that facilitate thoughtful and effective participation in civic life by
Objectives/Rationale: 21st century students will appreciate that two of America’s beloved 18th century heroes were very human in that they shared an experience common to us all: the damage (and in their case, loss) of a friendship over comments intended for private ears that ended up in the public arena. This lesson is b0th valuable in the context of the United States’ historical narrative as well as useful in students’ contemporary understanding of the nearly invisible line between public and private information and how our character is shaped by the conflicts and resolutions that we ourselves generate. This lesson works well in the study of Enlightenment ideology, early American history, character development, and communication strategy (literally “lost in translation”).
Outcomes: After completing their research, students will create a digital product using the technology of their choice. This product will reflect their research ideas and show how Jefferson and Washington could (or could not) have reconciled their friendship.
Steps/Time Needed for Each:
CLASS PERIOD ONE:
CLASS PERIOD TWO:
CLASS PERIOD THREE:
CLASS PERIOD FOUR:
CLASS PERIOD FIVE:
30 mins; Creation of Research Products: Student groups use their CREI CHART research to create an original product utilizing the technology of their choice.
CLASS PERIOD SIX:
Materials: A Great Teacher’s Guide: A comprehensive editorial further explaining the background and subsequent consequences of the Mazzei letter; a close read will also reveal additional sources than those listed below: Editorial Note of Jefferson’s Letter to Philip Mazzei
Assessment criteria: See PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS DIRECTIONS AND RUBRIC
Accommodations: This lesson could be easily adapted by giving struggling students more information. For example, supply the Reasons students will need on their CREI CHART, or give them further examples of Evidence they could use for their Interpretations. Our lesson has built in accommodations, the final product allows students to choose how they would like to present their knowledge. This differentiation allows children to decide what works best for them.
Extensions: Foreign Language “Lost In Translation”
Public/Private and 21st Century Technology