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Explore with your students how George Washington’s first presidential cabinet was created and how its members’ varying political views and compromises affected their decision-making. Through small groups and analysis of primary source excerpts, this resource illustrates the value and productivity that came from civic friendship and civil disagreement in the past, and invites the students to reflect on their responsibilities today.

Lesson Narrative (5Es)

This learning experience is inquiry-based and built on the 5E model. Students will engage by reading and researching individual cabinet members. Students will then explore and explain their cabinet members biographies and views while presenting their findings to others, based on the primary and secondary sources given. They will play the Be Washington game to discuss and evaluate their understanding of the content. Finally, learning can extend as students apply civic friendship to other presidential cabinets and today’s political leaders.

  • This learning experience can be modified to fit a range of grade levels.
  • This learning experience could fit one class session or be extended to fit multiple sessions.
  • This learning experience integrates reading, writing, speaking, listening, technology, social-emotional, and civics learning skills.
  • This learning experience has student web pages and handouts that accompany the lesson. These documents can be printed or students can simply use notebook paper.


  • Encourage the students to think about friendship. Ask: do all of your friends agree with you about everything? Do they offer you good advice? Who should give the president advice?
  • Explain to the students that the Constitutional Convention delegates did not create the cabinet or cabinet meetings in the U.S. Constitution. Washington himself was inspired to create a cabinet, modeling it on his military war councils.


  • Move students into “jigsaw groups” - groups of four - to do an activity involving the original cabinet members
    • Provide biographies and portraits to the students, and ask each student in each group to research a different cabinet member. Give students time to read their biography and become familiar with it.
  • Create temporary “expert groups” of students assigned the same cabinet member
    • Give students time in these expert groups to discuss the main points of their biography, complete their section of the graphic organizer, and rehearse the presentations they will make to their jigsaw group
  • Have the students return to their jigsaw groups and present their findings to their group members. Tell the students to complete the organizer as each person presents. When all four students have shared, the graphic organizer will be complete.
  • Discuss what they have learned about Hamilton, Jefferson, Knox, and Randolph.
  •  Play Be Washington: Genet Affair
    • Select the Genet Affair scenario and allow students to compete the interactive experience 


  • Discuss the outcomes of the scenario with the following questions: 
    • From the interactive game and the readings, do you think both sides of the issue were represented?
    • What was Washington’s role in the discussions?
    • How did the cabinet members agree and disagree?
  • Do you think the disagreements were part of a productive conversation?
    • Do you think the opposing views would keep the men from working together in the future?
  • Explain that President Washington made the decision to release the Proclamation of Neutrality four days after the meeting. The nation would remain neutral.
    • Congress passed the Neutrality Act in June 1794 making it illegal for an American citizen to wage war against any other country at peace with the U.S.
  • Final Discussion: Choose one of the following discussion questions on Be Washington and the biographies.

    • Why are civil disagreement and toleration of differing views important? Were there “sides” to the discussion? How did Jefferson and Hamilton relate to one another during the meeting and privately? How did they work together as a group? How did they compromise?
    • Did the cabinet members and Washington display civic friendship? Give examples.
    • Should today’s political leaders work with people with varying opinions? Why or why not?
    • Name a time when you accomplished something when working with people of different backgrounds and viewpoints.
    • How can you have civic friendships with people you disagree with?


  • Read Thomas Jefferson's minutes and personal notes on a cabinet meeting; write a paragraph citing examples how Jefferson agreed and disagreed with other cabinet members.
    • What were his opinions about the other cabinet members and their ideas?

Student Portal

Students can explore the timeline to learn more about the creation of the cabinet, the Genet Affair, and the ways that Washington handled heated discussions amongst his cabinet members.

Explore the Timeline

Civic Connections: Civic Participation

This lesson focuses on the ideas of civic participation and civic friendship. Both of these have definitions within the Educating for American Democracy framework. Here are the specific civic components that connect to this lesson: 

K-5 Key Concept: Learn about civic friendship and the benefit of compromise

6-12 Key Concept: Build civic friendship through informed civic dialogue and productive disagreement

Driving Questions:

History: HDQ1.2 A. Why and how do people take action in order to solve problems that affect them and others?

Civics: CDQ1.2 B. Why might you question decisions that are made for/in your community?

Design Challenge 1: Motivating Agency, Sustaining the Republic

DC1.1. How can we help students understand the full context for their roles as civic participants without creating paralysis or a sense of the insignificance of their own agency in relation to the magnitude of our society, the globe, and shared challenges? 

Educating for American Democracy