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The Political Career of John Sharp Williams lesson plan


Considered by many as a statesman politician, John Sharp Williams represented Mississippi at different times as a member of both houses of the U.S. Congress. After a distinguished career in the national House of Representatives from 1893 to 1909, he then served 12 years as a United States senator. A study of his life can offer insights into the career of a highly respected public servant.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1 and 5


Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12


Mississippi History Now article, The Political Career of John Sharp Williams


Students will:

• determine qualities and experiences that shaped the life and political career of John Sharp Williams;

• evaluate Williams’s effectiveness as a representative of the state and its citizens;

• compare Williams’s political career with that of a member of Mississippi’s current Congressional delegation.


Lead students in a conversation regarding qualities and experiences, both good and bad, they have noticed in political leaders. Put these on the board as they are mentioned, then ask students to categorize them as POSITIVE/NEGATIVE in their notes.


1. Divide the class into three groups, assigning one of the first three sections of the Mississippi History Now article to each group. As students read their assignment, they will list in their notes personal qualities and experiences demonstrated by John Sharp Williams during both his early life and his political career.

2. As each group makes a brief report, all students will make a “master list.” At this point, ask students to compare the “master list” with the POSITIVE/NEGATIVE qualities mentioned earlier. Let them discuss their findings.

3. Ask students to draw a rating scale on notebook paper, numbered 0 – 10, with 10 being the MOST EFFECTIVE.

4. As students read the entire article, they will write brief notes on Williams’s work in the U.S. Congress. As they conclude the assignment, they will then mark how well they think he represented the state on their rating scale and prepare to defend their decision. In groups of four to five, have students discuss their ratings. Give them a chance to change their mark if they can justify it, write a three-sentence paragraph explaining their decision, and turn their paper in.


1. From a list of the current members of Mississippi’s delegation to the U.S. Congress, students will select one member to research. Teacher should provide a rubric, listing the information to be collected. The assignment can be completed at school or possibly assigned as homework.

2. Students will write an essay comparing the life, experiences, and abilities of their “current” member of Congress with that of John Sharp Williams and indicating how effective their “modern” representative or senator might be.


1. Participation in large-group discussion

2. Participation in small-group assignment

3. Completion of rating and explanation paragraph

4. Comparison essay


1. Students may wish to construct the “IDEAL” member of Congress. Have them draw a life-size figure on butcher paper and insert attributes, experiences, etc. they think would be beneficial.

2. Ask a current member of Congress to visit and to lead a discussion about the life and work of John Sharp Williams and compare them to his abilities and experiences.

3. After a careful study of the issues supported by Williams in the Congress, students will “agree” or “disagree” with his position. If they don’t always agree, ask if they can still respect the work that he did and they way he handled his career. Ask them to apply that to the modern political scene.

3. Encourage students to discuss the current state of “politics,” asking them how they would change things, and if they would be willing to try.


Obviously, there will be many differences between the opportunities of an early 20th century politician and those of today. The focus of this lesson is to encourage students to look at those timeless qualities that are beneficial to most any career. Examples are listed:

a. a good education
b. travel opportunities
c. intellect
d. articulate
e. parliamentary courtesy
f. loyalty
g. principled
h. leadership skills
i. broad perspective on issues

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