Just in time for Constitution Day, the Library’s newest primary source set centers on Alexander Hamilton, a key contributor to the shaping and debate surrounding the U.S. Constitution. Your students may already know Hamilton as the nation’s first treasury secretary, the face on the $10 bill, or the leader of the Federalist Party (one of America’s earliest political parties), among other notable roles. This primary source set invites students to explore the life, influence, and legacy of Hamilton through manuscripts written in his own hand, illustrations (historical and modern-day), maps, newspapers, books (including Thomas Jefferson’s copy of The Federalist), and more. Also included in the set are suggested approaches to primary source analysis, which you may wish to introduce in your classroom.
This Hamilton primary source set is also highlighted, alongside the dozens of other sets curated by the Library of Congress, in the “Sources and Strategies” section of the September 2018 issue of the National Council for the Social Studies’ journal, Social Education.
Using a note written by Thomas Jefferson as an access point, the article offers some insight into the production of the Federalist Papers, the collection of 85 political essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, that were designed to coax New York voters to support passage of the Constitution. Moreover, the article explores some of the deliberate mystery that surrounded the essays’ authorship—that is, the fact that the authors wrote under the pseudonym “Publius.”
When the essays began appearing in New York newspapers in October 1787 (about six weeks after the Constitutional Convention), curiosity about their authorship seized many readers—including Thomas Jefferson. And so, in his copy of The Federalist (the printed collection of the Federalist Papers), which he had received in 1788 (presumably from Angelica Schuyler Church, the sister-in-law of Alexander Hamilton), Jefferson did something he rarely did in books: he wrote a note. In it, he attributed authors to each of the 85 essays.
Using Jefferson’s note as a lens, the article offers suggestions for teachers on how to help their students develop a more nuanced understanding of the debates that surrounded not only the Federalist Papers, but the Constitution itself. In addition, it invites students to explore the varying political positions and perspectives that were at play—including those of the Federalists, anti-Federalists, as well as those of the essays’ authors themselves.
Overall, through primary source analysis, the article aims to inspire students to investigate this influential compilation of essays further; gain a deeper grasp of its concept; and also, broaden their appreciation for its impact on American politics, government, and society.
Please let us know if you use any of these resources or approaches in your classroom!