Conversations on Democracy Programs
Shaping the World: Conversations on Democracy brings together Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries with bright young minds from local classrooms. Elementary and middle school students interview Thomas Jefferson and a historical guest, hearing first hand about daily life, politics and culture in early America. The program is filmed in conjunction with Poplar Forest’s annual “Conversations with Thomas Jefferson” event and is generously supported by the Greater Lynchburg Community Trust.
Thomas Jefferson is played by renowned interpreter Bill Barker, courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Barker has been Poplar Forest’s Jefferson since the beginning of the Democracy programs and is certainly no stranger to Poplar Forest student and adult audiences. He has performed as Jefferson for more than 20 years, appearing at the White House and the Palace of Versailles as well as in programs aired on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and C-SPAN.
Jefferson and Jackson
In 1815, General Andrew Jackson made a surprise visit to Poplar Forest while on his way to Washington, DC, where he would be greeted as the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. In honor of that visit more than 200 years ago, Mr. Jefferson invited Jackson back to his retreat.
During his visit, Jefferson and Jackson were put on the hot seat in a wide-ranging interview conducted by students from Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School in Lynchburg, VA. The students, on a tour of Poplar Forest, stumbled into Jackson and Jefferson. Being the steady and budding reporters of the school’s TV station, WDMS, the students parlayed their encounter into a once-in-a-lifetime interview. The students touched on questions central to founding of our country, as well as on national defense, banking, Native Americans and civility in politics.
Jefferson and Madison
What happens when children in an after-school program meet with Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and James Madison? You have lively conversation. The children are participants in WordWorks!, a nonprofit in Lynchburg, Virginia focused on helping kids become better writers. Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest brought Jefferson and Madison to WordWorks! to help the children learn and write about civics and American history.
After the conversation with the Founding Fathers, the children wrote their own Declaration of Independence. Jefferson says it was a letter outlining complaints. What would you complain about?
“Dear Mr. Jefferson” is a 3-part program. In Part 1 (24:07) the children ask Jefferson and Madison about the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and how the nation has changed since they were presidents; in Part 2 (17:39) they discuss the Boston Tea Party and the importance of civility; and in Part 3 (14:55) the children ask Jefferson and Madison about the Boston Massacre, the power of words, and what it means to be a good leader.
Jefferson and Henry
Presented by Poplar Forest, Blue Ridge PBS, Virginia Department of Education
Seven years his junior and still a student of law in Williamsburg, Thomas Jefferson witnessed Patrick Henry’s defiant stand in opposition to Great Britain’s Stamp Act during the May 1765 session in the House of Burgesses. Jefferson later wrote that he “heard the splendid display of Mr. Henry’s talents as a popular orator. They were great, indeed: such as I have never heard from any other man. He appeared to me to speak as Homer wrote.”
Both men championed the colonists’ rights as English citizens, Henry—vocally in fiery and passionate language and Jefferson—on paper, writing with elegance, succinctness, and essence. Both served in public office: Henry 30 years and Jefferson 40 years. They held the office of Governor of Virginia, elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, served as delegates to the Continental Congress (Henry 1774-1775, Jefferson 1775-1776) and each were national symbols of the American fight for liberty against British tyranny.
They began as friends and close collaborators, together drafting the “Proclamation for a day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer” in 1774, and to draw together a consensus of their fellow Burgesses. After the beginning of the war for independence Jefferson and Henry began to differ in opinions relative to a central government versus states rights (especially of Virginia), relationships between church and state, and what generally became known as the conflict in Federalist versus Anti-Federalist politics.
In the video, fifth grade students from Brookneal Elementary School have taken up the challenge to learn more about these two extraordinary men. The students inquire into their early life and career as lawyers, how they became acquainted with one another, their reactions to the Stamp Act and the Boston Tea Party, Henry’s “give me liberty, or give me death” speech, their role as war time Governors, their issues and concerns once independence was won, and what they see as the future of the 13 United States of America.
Additional Resources for Teachers
- Research Bibliography
- Lesson Plan: Interpreting a Primary Source Document
- School Group Field Trips Info Sheet
Additional Resources for Students
“If the children [* * *] are untaught, their ignorance and vices will, in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences, than it would have done, in their correction, by a good education.” Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell. 1818