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Thomas Jefferson and the Rewards of Humility

55 min

Guiding Questions

  • How does humility relate to moments of glory?
  • How does it relate to moments of defeat?


Students will learn about the virtue of humility, how Thomas Jefferson exemplified this virtue, and how they can develop the quality of humility within themselves, and encourage it in others.

Depending on school policy regarding use of personally identifiable images of students, teachers need to prepare a slideshow of students in performing arts and athletics, and in these slides, show both “the thrill of victory” and “the agony of defeat.” If school policy prohibits using student images, the teacher could use clips of applicable current events videos, or simply ask students to describe situations in which they themselves have experienced both victory and defeat. Students will need a pen and extra writing paper.

Student Handouts

Educator Resources

  • Humility
  • “republican simplicity”


Adams, Henry. History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. 1891-96; New York: Library of America, 1986.

Malone, Dumas. Jefferson and His Time, 6 vols. Boston: Little, Brown, 1948-81.

Randall, Henry S. The Life of Thomas Jefferson, 3 vols. New York: Derby and Jackson, 1858.

Randolph, Sarah N. The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1871.

There is also a section making cross-curricular applications to the concept of virtue, with related resources and discussion questions.

Students will view the teacher-created slideshow or current events sample and discuss what was happening in the crucial moments of defeat and victory. Note that the people in the photos played a role in the action, but perhaps didn’t get the recognition that they deserved.

A brief discussion will follow, regarding how we handle victory and defeat, and how good sportsmanship – part of humility – is a quality appreciated by all.

The teacher posts two definitions of humility on the board, which students read and discuss.

Remembering that one’s ignorance is far greater than one’s knowledge.

Readily giving praise to those who earn it.


The “Close Read – Thomas Jefferson” page is guided by the teacher. Then, in pairs, students will read the article on Humility and discuss the six questions on the Discussion Guide.

Students should select a spokesperson for each pair and share their answers to one of the questions with the class.

Students should complete the Humility Essay prompt found at the end of the section.

Students will read the “Virtue in Action” shaded box, and commit for one month to working diligently on the development of humility in their life.

Student Handouts

Related Resources