Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the Declaration of Independence, and publicly acknowledged that slavery was “a great political and moral evil.” Yet the same man who wrote that all men were entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” acquired and maintained his wealth, status and power from the bondage of others – many others. This, of course, raises the question: was Jefferson a hypocrite who should be condemned, or simply a man in authority who should be judged by the standards of his day and time?
The answer to that question is not that simple: arguments can be (and have been) made both ways. In this activity, students will examine both the historical and ethical questions that should be considered when judging the behavior of people from the past, analyze the arguments made for and against the claim of hypocrisy, and then then use what they have learned to write a persuasive essay arguing whichever side they choose – as long as they back their argument up with evidence.
* four pages of informative text (the chapter “Was Jefferson a Hypocrite,” from my textbook “We Take Nothing by Conquest”
* an inquiry based study guide for students to record their analysis of the two sides;
* essay instructions;
* an essay outline for students to use to organize their essay;
* teacher’s guide which includes sample study guide and outline responses;
Materials are provided in one zip file.
This activity is part of a complete and comprehensive unit
on the American Revolution.
I’ve used this activity with my 8th grade class for years, and it never fails to engage and interest students.
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