Jefferson v. Hamilton and the Idea of Liberty

by Fred Raphael

Lesson Overview

In this lesson students will begin to examine the foundations of American liberty and the differing points of view expressed by people who were on the same side in the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were both ardent patriots, but their writings show differences between them as well as similarities. Through analyzing primary sources, students will get a firsthand view of how those with very different ideals had the same interest in American independence.

Lesson Objectives

Students will be able to

  • develop a clear understanding of different viewpoints presented in primary sources
  • compare and contrast the ideas expressed in two primary sources
  • demonstrate their skills through a class discussion, a Venn diagram, and an exit card

Number of Class Periods

One 45-minute class period

Grade Level

5th–8th grades

Common Core State Standards


Historical Background

The French and Indian War (or the Seven Years’ War) bankrupted the British government. Parliament authorized the collection of new taxes in the North American colonies to rebuild the economy. To them it was justified because the war had benefited the North American colonists the most. However, the colonists resented paying those taxes, in part because they were not represented in Parliament, where decisions were made. “No taxation without representation” became a popular rallying cry among the colonists. Speeches, protests, and political maneuvering erupted into violence at the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775. More than a year later, on July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted for independence. Two days later Congress finalized the Declaration of Independence, which set out the colonists’ charges against the king and Parliament and established a new country.

Essential Question

To what extent did Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson agree (or disagree) on the meaning of liberty and on independence from Great Britain?



  1. Students answer the questions written on the board:
    • Describe a moment when a person “in power” pushed you around too much.
    • Does might make right?
    • Think of your nemesis/worst enemy. Do you think there is anything you could agree on?
  2. Have the students think-pair-share their answers.
  3. Discuss events that led up to the Declaration of independence. Students should know some basic background information:
    • “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” This phrase is generally attributed to James Otis. It reflects the resentment American colonists felt when they were taxed although they had no representatives in Parliament. The phrase became an anti-British slogan before the American Revolution.
    • John Locke’s ideas were based on the theory of natural rights. Focusing their claims on Locke’s writings, the colonists claimed that Parliament had the power to make laws in the interest of the entire British Empire, but that it could only tax those actually represented in Parliament.
    • Official acts such as the Sugar Act and Stamp Act that colonists considered infringements upon their rights had previously led to the Stamp Act Congress. Representatives from the colonies gathered in 1765 to express their grievances about these taxes.
  4. Explain to the class that the Declaration is an indictment of George III for willfully infringing upon the colonists’ rights in order to establish an “absolute Tyranny” over the colonies. In it the colonists claim that tyranny forced them to declare independence.
  5. Distribute copies of the excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and the accompanying student activity sheet, Investigating the Declaration of Independence.
  6. Read the first paragraph aloud with the class.
  7. Divide the class into groups of three or four students. The groups will close read the excerpts from the Declaration two times, working together to answer a different set of questions each time.
  8. Briefly discuss Thomas Jefferson’s authorship of the Declaration of Independence.
  9. Introduce Alexander Hamilton and the pamphlets he published supporting the colonists’ cause against the king and Parliament. One of those pamphlets is The Farmer Refuted, printed in 1775.
  10. Distribute the excerpts from The Farmer Refuted and the student activity sheet, Investigating Hamilton’s The Farmer Refuted. The students will work with their groups to answer the questions.
  11. Distribute the Jefferson v. Hamilton and the Idea of Liberty Venn diagram for students to complete with their groups. They are to fill in the diagram based on the arguments in the two texts they read.

Assessment and Summary

Students will complete an exit card by answering two questions:

  1. What is one difference between Jefferson’s and Hamilton’s arguments? Support your answer with evidence from the text.
  2. What is one similarity in Jefferson’s and Hamilton’s arguments? Support your answer with evidence from the text.

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