American Portraits

The American Success Story of Alexander Hamilton and Diligence

In this lesson, students will understand the importance of being diligent in their lives by examining the life of Alexander Hamilton. They will read a narrative about Hamilton and discuss the ways in which he remained diligent in different periods of his life. They will analyze Hamilton quotations to understand how he acted with diligence and how they can act with diligence in their own lives. Finally, students will create a plan about how to act diligently regarding a project, task, or situation in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Civic Virtue image

Civic Virtue

A set of actions and habits necessary for the safe, effective, and mutually beneficial participation in a society.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.

Narrative

Alexander Hamilton was born and raised in the Caribbean and had a very difficult childhood.  His father, James Hamilton, abandoned his family when Alexander was ten years old. The young man did not receive much of an education and was forced to work at an import-export business to help support his mother.  Tragically, she succumbed to a tropical fever when he was thirteen years old, leaving him and his brother to make their own way in the world….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

Why is it important to be diligent in life?

Virtue Defined

Diligence is intrinsic energy for completing good work.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will understand the importance of being diligent in their lives by examining the life of Alexander Hamilton. They will read a narrative about Hamilton and discuss the ways in which he remained diligent in different periods of his life. They will analyze Hamilton quotations to understand how he acted with diligence and how they can act with diligence in their own lives. Finally, students will create a plan about how to act diligently regarding a project, task, or situation in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Understand the definition of diligence and the importance of being diligent in one’s life.
  • Examine how Alexander Hamilton acted diligently during each period of his life.
  • Discuss ways in which they can act diligently in their own lives.
  • Apply knowledge of diligence and examples of diligent behavior in creating a plan for acting diligently in their own lives.

Background

The Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. After the delegates produced a new framework of government, they sent it to state ratifying conventions for approval. During 1787 and 1788, the representatives of the people assembled in each of the states to debate the Constitution.

Those who supported the Constitution were called Federalists and those opposed were known as Anti-Federalists. The Federalists included Alexander Hamilton, who wrote Federalist essays in defense of the Constitution that were published in New York and the other states. In an incredibly diligent effort, Hamilton produced over fifty essays that served as successful political propaganda for the Federalist effort of ratifying the Constitution.

Vocabulary

  • Succumbed
  • Enlightenment
  • Intervened
  • Siege
  • Mercenaries
  • Tenacious
  • Confidant
  • Audacious

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • How did Alexander Hamilton’s diligence advance the freedom of himself and others?
  • What was Hamilton’s identity as a child? As a young man? As a student? As a member of the Continental Army? As a Founder?
  • What was Hamilton’s purpose at the different stages of his life? How did that affect his diligence?
  • Hamilton faced many difficulties throughout his life. How did his diligence help to define his performance in each role he had throughout life?
  • What is the link between Hamilton’s identity and purpose throughout his life?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress, 1774, by Alexander Hamilton
  • The Farmer Refuted, 1775, by Alexander Hamilton
  • The Federalist Papers, 1787-1788, by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison
  • Speech at the New York Ratifying Convention, 1788, by Alexander Hamilton
  • Report on Manufactures, 1791, by Alexander Hamilton
  • The Pacificus-Helvidius Debates, 1793-1794, by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison
  • Alexander Hamilton Biography, com, http://www.biography.com/people/alexander-hamilton-9326481
  • The American Experience: The Duel (film)
  • Alexander Hamilton: A Life, by Willard Sterne Randall

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