Step Back in Time - into History; Fifth-Graders Get to 'Meet' Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton

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Byline: SANDY STRICKLAND

The repartee began as soon as the two men dressed in waistcoats walked out on stage.

On one side was Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, the nation's third president and father of the University of Virginia.

On the other was Alexander Hamilton, treasury secretary under George Washington and a self-proclaimed proud New Yorker.

"I hardly think New York is anything to brag about," Jefferson said.

"Nobody asked you," Hamilton said.

And so it continued with the two injecting humor into their opposing views on how the United States should be governed and how much power given to the states and how much to the federal government.

The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Florida brought Jefferson, played by Steve Edenbo, and Hamilton, played by Ian Rose, to the Main Library recently for two days of performances underwritten by the Roger L. and Rochelle S. Main Charitable Trust.

About 1,560 fifth-graders, chaperones and teachers from 17 public and private schools heard them speak at the downtown library. This is the fifth year the society has brought historic interpreters to Jacksonville, said Winfield Duss, program chairman.

The banter made history come alive for the students, some of whom were brought on stage to play Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and William Paterson. They were among the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia called to address problems in governing the new nation, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation. The result was the Constitution. Although Jefferson was in Paris at the time, he made his position known via letters.

"The states are more important," Jefferson said.

"The states have their place, but it's the nation that's more important," Hamilton said.

"States."

"Nation."

"States."

"Nation."

You get the picture. The students did too.

"They were very funny and gave us a lot of good information on what they thought," said Lindsay Schmitt, a fifth-grader at Mandarin Oaks Elementary School. "They both have very opposite views from each other, and I didn't know that. We learned that Thomas Jefferson was an anti-federalist and that Hamilton was a federalist."

Edie Bates, a fifth-grader at The Bolles School's Whitehurst Campus, said she liked the fact that students got to participate.

For instance, a petite girl was selected to play Franklin, and the students were told to imagine she was 10 times her size. They learned that Franklin was the friendliest of the delegates and thought the national bird should be the turkey.

"It was hilarious," Edie said. "What I didn't know about Jefferson and Hamilton from social studies class was that they didn't agree on anything and that Alexander Hamilton was an elitist. Thomas Jefferson believed in the people, but Hamilton didn't think the people were capable of making decisions about the states. …