Today’s post is another idea starter for teachers. Here is some background for an exercise in colonial political debate for grade school students. In the weeks following the first presidential election, the issue of how to address the President, what his official title should be, arose in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The vote in the House was swift with the members casting the topic of titles aside and recommending that George Washington be referred to simply as “President of the United States”. The situation in the Senate was far different. Vice President John Adams, President of the Senate, became deeply involved in the debate believing that the highest of elected officials should have a title that showed the proper respect for the office and the individual holding it. Early suggestions included: “His Elective Majesty”; “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of the Rights of the Same”; and “His Excellency the Supreme Commander in Chief”. One of John Adams’ main adversaries in the process was William Maclay, senator from the state of Pennsylvania. Senator Maclay was against any titles that denoted nobility, as the Constitution strictly forbade this, while Adams argued that the titles suggested denoted nothing of the sort. David McCullough addresses this debate in the Senate and its impact on the Vice President in his Pulitzer-Prize winning book John Adams. On May 14, 1789, after a few weeks of passionate deliberation, the Senate decided to agree with the House of Representatives and voted that George Washington’s title should be “President of the United States”. The original article pictured in this post is from the May 23, 1789 issue of the Massachusetts Centinel. It is a wonderful primary source document. When your students view it, you might have them picture how people holding and reading this actual paper the day it came out could have reacted to the news. Have half of the students write why they agree with the Resolve adopted by the Senate while the other half writes why they support the opinion of John Adams, perhaps coming up with their own honorable titles for the President. Then – have both sides debate the issue on the Senate (classroom) floor.
Teachers are always looking for great idea starters that can help them formulate better and more interesting lesson plans. Today’s idea starter uses modern technology to do the impossible – it enables your students to sign the Declaration of Independence. Before they actually sign and print their own personal copy of the document, it is important that students understand more about its history and the risks the original 56 signers took when they affixed their own signatures. All of this is possible thanks to the Charters of Freedom Exhibit online at the National Archives website. Here you can download high resolution versions of the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and The Bill of Rights and get a better understanding of these all important American documents. There is a wonderful link called The Declaration of Independence: A History that contains information on where the document has traveled over the course of its lifetime, how it was copied and how it is preserved today. Also, be sure to visit the Declaration Timeline. You can learn more about the signers of the Declaration at the Signers Gallery and while you’re there, don’t miss the Signers Fact Sheet (PDF). There is also an excellent Declaration Facts link and not surprisingly, with the popularity of the movie National Treasure, the first question asked and answered there is “Is anything written on the back of the Declaration of Independence?” The answer to that question is Yes – more on that below.
In order for your students to sign the Declaration, have them click on the “sign the Declaration of Independence” link above. They will need to choose a printer type (color or black and white), and after a brief on screen introduction students can select the quill pen they prefer (each produces a different style of writing). Then have each student type their name into the box provided and click the Submit button. Now the most important part of all – up on the screen comes the following message: “Are you sure you want to sign the Declaration of Independence? If you had been a member of the Second Continental Congress in 1776, you were a rebel and considered a traitor by the King. You knew that a reward had been posted for the capture of certain prominent rebel leaders and the largest British armada ever assembled was just outside New York harbor. Affixing your name to the document meant that you pledged your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor to the cause of freedom.” In order for your students to get a better feel for the pressure the members of the Second Continental Congress were feeling, view the video below called John Adams – Declaration of Independence from the HBO miniseries John Adams.
If your students elect to sign, each will view their own signature along with all the other signers on the Declaration of Independence. When they print the document, the following will appear along the bottom: “This image comes from William J. Stone’s 1823 copper plate engraving produced by direct impression from the original Declaration itself.” To learn more about the Stone engraving of the Declaration and see an original copy from 1823 view the video below called The Declaration of Independence – July 4, 1776. The video features author, public speaker, and historic document and manuscript collector Stan Klos and items from his Rebels with a Vision exhibit. In this excellent video you will learn how the Stone engraving was produced and how long it took William J. Stone to engrave the copper plate. Your students will be stunned by the answer. Before I wrap up this post, let’s return to the back of the Declaration of Independence. The National Archives website tells us what is on the back – the words “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776”. I still cling to the hope that there is an invisible treasure map though – how about you? With that hope in mind, a link to the National Treasure trailer is listed below.
Video link: John Adams – Declaration of Independence (embedded above)
Video link: The Declaration of Independence – July 4, 1776
Video link: National Treasure Trailer
Last week, on a beautiful fall day, I traveled out to Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts 10 miles south of Boston. If you are a teacher visiting Boston to learn more about Colonial American History and the Revolution, I highly recommend adding the Adams NHP to your trip’s itinerary. It is convenient to visit – from Boston the Adams NHP can be reached by the MBTA “T” Subway System – take the Red Line Braintree train to the Quincy Center stop. The ride took me under 25 minutes. When you exit the subway, the National Park Service Visitor Center is located a short distance away in the Galleria at President’s Place at 1250 Hancock Street. Guided tours leave from the Visitor Center on a regular basis and participants are taken by trolley to the presidential birthplace homes of John Adams and John Quincy Adams as well as Peace field – the home and farm purchased by John and Abigail Adams in 1788. The park is open for tours from April 19 to November 10.
The presidential birthplace homes stand in their original locations on Franklin Street, once part of the Old Coast Road (the main route from Boston to Plymouth) in what was then called Braintree. The John Adams Birthplace (pictured in this post) was built in 1681. The saltbox style home with six surrounding acres was purchased by John’s father Deacon John Adams in 1720 and here the future second president was born on October 30, 1735. In 1744 Deacon John Adams purchased a second saltbox style home, built in 1663, located next door along with a substantial amount of land. On about 188 acres of property, Deacon Adams worked as a farmer in the summer and cordwainer in the winter. His oldest son John and younger boys Peter and Elihu helped their father around the farm, where the main crop was corn. Deacon Adams wanted John to focus on his education instead of farming and John went on to attend Harvard and become a lawyer. When Deacon Adams died in 1761, the home that John was born in was given to his brother Peter and John received the home and land his father had purchased in 1744.
After John Adams married Abigail Smith on October 25, 1764, they moved into the home John had inherited from his father. In this home, John and Abigail Adams raised four children including the future 6th president John Quincy Adams. Today this building is referred to as the John Quincy Adams Birthplace. John Adams ran his law practice here and during the tour of this historic home you will see the room he worked in. In that room he wrote the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In this home, Abigail educated the children, ran the family farm and did her best to make ends meet while John was away for long periods of time working for the government both in Philadelphia and in Europe. Throughout this time, Abigail wrote letters to John updating him on the latest news from the home front. On Saturday June 17, 1775, Abigail and the children could hear the guns of Bunker Hill as the battle raged miles away. Abigail took her seven-year-old son John Quincy to the top of nearby Penn’s Hill where they witnessed the bombardment and saw the smoke as the British burned Charlestown. Today the spot where they stood is marked by the Abigail Adams cairn. The cairn was constructed in 1896; rebuilt from the original stones this past year; and rededicated on July 11, 2009. It is located at the corner of Franklin Street and Viden Road.
David McCullough’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book John Adams published in 2001 and the HBO miniseries John Adams that aired in 2008 have elevated interest in the second president and dramatically increased attendance at the Adams NHP. The favorite stop for many of these visitors has been Peace field – the home and farm purchased by John and Abigail Adams in 1788. It was here that John Adams learned he had been elected the first Vice President of the United States, as this original article from the April 11, 1789 issue of the Massachusetts Centinel notes. Peace field was the home of four generations of the Adams family and during that time it grew from a small home to one with twenty-one rooms. It contains more than 78,000 artifacts, including furniture that belonged to John and Abigail, paintings, china and John Adams’ personal copy of the Declaration of Independence. Next to the home is the Stone Library built in 1870 – the Presidential Library of John Quincy Adams. To learn more, read the excellent article The Farm of a Patriot (PDF) that appeared in the September 2008 issue of South Shore Living Magazine.
As I completed my tour, I strolled around the property admiring a tree planted by John Quincy Adams and marveled at a rose bush planted by his mother Abigail Adams in 1788. She brought the York rose back from England and remarkably it still blooms today. I tried to imagine how beautiful the property and gardens would look during the summer months and what John and Abigail would say if they could speak to us today. No need to imagine any longer – just check out the videos below. I’ve added a link to a personal favorite of mine as well – The Making of John Adams.
Video link: The Old House at Peace field (embedded above)
Video link: John Adams – Legacy
Video link: The Making of John Adams (HBO)
On Friday October 30, there was a ceremony at United First Parish Church in Quincy, Massachusetts celebrating the 274th birthday of President John Adams. United First Parish Church is also known as The Church of the Presidents because a tomb beneath the church contains the remains of our second president John Adams and his wife Abigail Adams; and their son, our sixth president John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa Catherine Adams. United First Parish Church is built of granite from the Adams family property donated by John Adams. It was completed in 1828. There is a pew inside where President John Quincy Adams and future generations of the Adams family have sat. View the interior of the church. During the ceremony for John Adams, speeches were given and the crew of USS Constitution was in attendance. On behalf of the President of the United States, sailors from the ship participated in laying the Presidential Wreath sent by the White House on the granite sarcophagus of President John Adams. A similar Presidential Wreath-laying ceremony occurred on July 11, the 242nd birthday of President John Quincy Adams. The tradition of sending flowers/wreaths to mark the birthdays of deceased former presidents was begun in 1967 by President Lyndon Johnson.
The ceremony had special meaning for the crew of USS Constitution. President Adams had attended the launching ceremony for the ship on September 20, 1797. On that day, USS Constitution moved only a short distance and it wasn’t until a third attempt on October 21, 1797 that the ship finally settled into Boston Harbor. On April 30, 1798, President Adams signed an act establishing the Department of the Navy and on May 18, he nominated Benjamin Stoddert as the first Secretary of the Navy. This primary source document signed by Adams indicates that fact. Because of this, John Adams is sometimes referred to as “the Father of the United States Navy”.
On the same day that I visited the Adams Tomb and saw the Presidential Wreath, I headed out to Peace field – the home where Abigail Adams and her “dearest friend” John celebrated many birthdays together from 1788 until Abigail’s death in 1818. John Adams died on July 4, 1826 — the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. On my trip to Peace field, I unexpectedly ran into the President (pictured in this post). Our conversation took us back to younger days, like his 64th birthday, a mere 210 years ago. You can read the news of how that birthday was reported in this original article from the October 30, 1799 issue of the Columbian Centinel and Massachusetts Federalist. By the time our brief talk ended, I was even more certain of one thing – I really do admire John Adams. Happy Birthday Mr. President.
Update: October 30, 2010