The National Bank Debate


This lesson is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core State Standards–based teaching resources. These resources were developed to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance. Through a step-by-step process, students will acquire the skills to analyze any primary or secondary source material.

This activity can be used in most US history, economics, or civics classrooms. I would recommend that this lesson/unit in its current form be used in 11th- and 12th-grade classes. The document analysis templates (In His Own Words) and the debate chart (Difference of Opinion) can work in every grade level from elementary to AP classes if adapted with different documents or appropriate curriculum level activities.

This activity should take between three and four class periods depending on time allotted by the teacher for pre-activity curriculum-based learning, document analysis, and follow-up activity.


Students will use two conflicting primary sources from the debate over the creation of a national bank during the Washington Administration. Students will analyze two primary documents that express some of the arguments for and against the creation of a national bank. After analyzing each document, students will create a T-chart to clearly cite and list the differences between both sources. Students will then have to research a contemporary political issue that is being debated and understand the major positions held by each party involved.


This lesson could work well at the end of several different units in American history, economics, or civics. The history of the national bank touches upon many themes, such as Constitutional power, the early republic, assumption of national debt, the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention, checks and balances, federalism, northern interests vs. southern interests, Federalists vs. Democratic Republicans, public opinion, federal vs. state power, presidential power, congressional overreach, national currency, the role of the Necessary and Proper and Commerce Clauses, and several other related topics.



The students will use the Primary Document Analysis activities to locate and cite specific vocabulary.


  1. The teacher will lay the groundwork for the historical debate over the creation of a national bank. Students should have a good understanding of the problems of the United States under the Articles of Confederation and the debates at the Constitutional Convention prior to this activity. It would also help if students had previous knowledge of the differences between the developing parties of the Federalists and Democratic Republicans.
  2. The teacher will pair up the students (count off or pre-organized the pairs).
  3. The teacher will hand out Primary Document Analysis - Hamilton in His Own Words: Report on a National Bank to one student in each pair).
  4. The teacher will hand out Primary Document Analysis - Jefferson in His Own Words: Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank to the remainder of the class.
  5. The teacher will allot a certain amount of time for the students to analyze their primary documents and fill in the worksheets. All of the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians in the class should band together to work cooperatively as a group on the document and worksheet.
  6. Teacher should explain to the students that it is vital that they base their ideas directly on words in the original text and that they use quotations from their source to provide evidence for those ideas when they are filling in the charts. They must form a clear understanding of the text in order to teach their document to their partners.
  7. After students have had a reasonable amount of time to work on their documents and worksheets, they will go back to their original partners to share their information. The students will share documents and answers with their specific partners in a THINK, PAIR, SHARE activity.
  8. The Key Ideas, Symbols & Meanings, Significant "Quotes" and Interpretations, Questions I Still Have, and I Think Hamilton’s/Jefferson’s Document Was . . . sections of the worksheet should be covered in great detail by the partners in order to allow them to successfully complete the next activity.
  9. After the teacher has circulated around the classroom and is satisfied with the students’ discussion and document analysis, the teacher should ask the students to exchange Primary Document Analysis - Jefferson/Hamilton in His Own Words documents and worksheets. This means the Hamiltonian students are now Jeffersonian and Jeffersonian students will now be Hamiltonian.
  10. Teacher will hand out the Chart - Difference of Opinion worksheet. Each student will have to fill in the Difference of Opinion chart based on their partner’s document and worksheet. This will ensure that students will have to work collaboratively since the only knowledge they have of the document is from their partner.
  11. The teacher will let students know that they may travel around the room to learn more about their new document from other classmates. This will ensure that students can collaborate cooperatively to find or understand their new document and worksheet with other students in addition to their partners.
  12. Students and teacher should be able to present their answers on the Smartboard, ELMO, or overhead projector and begin classroom discussions on the third page of the original Primary Document Analysis - Jefferson/Hamilton in His Own Words documents and worksheets.
  13. The teacher should pose questions based on the documents and the names of the parties. For example:
    • Can Hamilton’s document show us why his political party was known as the Federalist Party? Where do you find this specific evidence?
    • How can Jefferson’s document show us why he was one of the major leaders of the Democratic-Republicans?
    • Which parts of these documents show us specifically how Hamilton and Jefferson feel about federal power? State power?
    • Using specific evidence from the documents, how did Jefferson and Hamilton differ over the constitutionality of the national bank?
  14. Once the class has discussed these answers, the class should share their answers and citations on the Difference of Opinion chart. Once the students have properly cited quotations from the documents and debated their meanings, they should be able to clearly see the differences in opinion between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on the issue of a creation of a national bank. They should also be able to cite specific evidence to prove why their political parties were known as Democratic-Republicans and Federalists.
  15. As a follow-up activity, the teacher could assign students a research-based task. He/she will hand out another blank copy of the Difference of Opinion chart.
  16. The teacher should discuss with the students and write on the board a list of issues that our contemporary political parties, interest groups, and individuals disagree about. Many of these issues should or may include foreign policy actions, the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate, immigration policy, deficit spending, same-sex marriage, Second Amendment rights, environmental policies, entitlement programs, etc.
  17. It is vital that the teacher discusses with the students that the opinions expressed on all of these hot-button issues will be respected by all members of the classroom. Students will also be required to research BOTH sides of the issue, regardless of their own personal feelings.
  18. Students must visit and to find a contemporary issue that current political parties and interest groups are debating.
  19. Students will use the Republican Party and Democratic Party websites as well as any other news or media agency, interest groups, etc. to fill in a new Difference of Opinion chart with six carefully cited quotations from each partisan position.