In this lesson, students learn about how Alexander Hamilton overcame a difficult childhood to become successful lawyer, a military hero and an advisor to George Washington. In the Introductory Activity, students discuss what a mentor is and reflect upon the people who have served as their mentors, as well as other factors which have helped them to be successful. In the Learning Activity, students explore video segments from Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton to learn about different factors that helped Hamilton succeed in life, including the roles Nicholas Cruger, Hugh Knox and George Washington played in helping to advance his career and social life. In the Culminating Activity, students explore Hamilton’s vision of achieving success through talent and hard work, and write reflection pieces.
Students will beable to:
- Define the word mentor;
- Provide examples of how Nicholas Cruger, Hugh Knox and George Washington helped Alexander Hamilton during his life;
- Discuss some of Alexander Hamilton’s strengths;
- Describe Alexander Hamilton’s vision for American society;
- Discuss different factors that contributed to Alexander Hamilton’s success.
(1) 45-minute class period
Part I: Introductory Activity
1. Ask students to think about things they are good at doing (sports, music, school, art, etc.) and to brainstorm how they learned those things (from parents, teachers, friends, on their own, etc.).
2. Ask students to think about people that encourage them to try their best and work hard and people who have helped them feel better when they were sad.
3. Explain to students that today they will be learning about Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was born on the island of Nevis and moved to the island of St. Croix with his parents when he was 8 years old. His father left him and his mom when Alexander was about 9 years old and his mother died when he was 11 years old. Explain that in today’s lesson, students will learn how Alexander Hamilton became very successful despite having a hard childhood.
4. Let students know that in the lesson they will learn about some people who served as mentors to Hamilton. Discuss the meaning of the word “mentor” with your students (a tutor, coach or advisor). Ask students to think about any mentors or role models they have had in their lives. Ask students to discuss how their mentors have helped them.
Part II: Learning Activity
1. Distribute the Alexander Hamilton's Mentors student organizer.
2. Explain that you will now be playing a video from Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton, which shows different people and skills which helped Hamilton become successful. Ask students to identify different factors that helped Hamilton succeed. Explain that the video features two of Hamilton’s mentors. Ask students to use their student organizers to write down the names of the two mentors featured in the segment and to describe what roles they played in helping Hamilton.
3. Play Skills and Connections. After showing the video, ask students to list two men who helped Hamilton (Nicholas Cruger and Hugh Knox). Ask students to describe who each man was and how he helped Hamilton. Refer to the Alexander Hamilton's Mentors Answer Key as needed to facilitate the discussion.
4. Ask students to discuss some things Hamilton was good at doing. (He was a good worker, good at taking on responsibility and had strong writing skills. He was good at making connections with people in positions of power.)
5. Explain that Hamilton came to the United States and attended Kings College in New York City (now known as Columbia University), thanks to the money raised by Cruger and Knox. He left college early to fight in the American Revolution and, in 1777, fought in the Battle of Princeton (in Princeton, NJ), where he and his unit won.
6. Explain that you will now be playing another video which shows one man who was impressed by Hamilton and hired him to work for him two weeks after the Battle of Princeton. Ask students to identify this person as they watch the next video and to fill in the remaining row on their student organizer with details about who this person was and how he helped Hamilton.
7. Play Working for Washington: The Early Years . After showing the video, ask students to identify the man who helped Hamilton (George Washington). Ask students to describe how George Washington helped Hamilton. Refer to the Alexander Hamilton's Mentors Answer Key, as needed, to facilitate the discussion.
8. Explain that Hamilton also worked for George Washington as the first Secretary of the Department of the Treasury, during George Washington’s presidency. Let students know that Hamilton oversaw the US Department of the Treasury, which is responsible for maintaining a strong economy and making sure the United States is financially secure. He was responsible for giving Washington advice on economic and financial issues. Explain that Hamilton died when he was 47 years old in a duel (fight) with a man named Aaron Burr.
Part III: Culminating Activity
1. Explain that Hamilton had a vision for America. Ask students to watch the next video and describe that vision.
2. Play Alexander Hamilton's Vision. After showing the segment, ask students to discuss Alexander Hamilton’s vision. (His vision was to have a mixed economy, including trade, manufacturing and farming. Hamilton wanted a society where all men, including immigrants, could succeed based on hard work and talent.)
3. Ask students to write an essay about one of the following:
- The Key to Hamilton’s Success. Discuss what you think was one of the most important factors in helping Alexander Hamilton succeed and provide reasons to support your view.
- “Do What You Can.” President Theodore Roosevelt, who lived from 1858 to 1919, is quoted as saying, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Even though Roosevelt was not saying this in reference to Alexander Hamilton, write about how this quote could apply to Alexander Hamilton’s life.
- My Mentor : Describe the role that a mentor has played in your life or someone else’s life and how that mentor’s support made a positive influence your (or someone else’s) life.
Hamilton’s Vision Today. Alexander Hamilton wanted a society where individuals can succeed based on hard work and talent. Think of someone you know (in your home, school, community, etc.) who is talented, works hard and is making a positive difference in his or her own life and/or the life of other people. Describe what this person does and what makes him or her successful.
Encourage students to use a variety of resources to gather information to include in their essays, including the following websites:
- Alexander Hamilton: The man who made Modern America
- Alexander Hamilton and the creation of the United States
4. After students have written their essays, ask them to share them with the class.