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Machine Politics Between the Wars: Kansas City as a Case Study

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
5 Class Periods
Lesson Abstract
Students will research the Internet for information on machine politics in the 1920's and 30's making note of common characteristics. Students will read primary and secondary sources.

Students will research the internet for information on machine politics in the 1920s and 30s making note of common characteristics. They will prepare a Venn diagram illustrating these. They will then read passages from primary and secondary sources relating to the Pendergast Machine in Kansas City. Working with a partner, the students will prepare charts listing the positive and negative aspects of the Pendergast Machine (example: stimulating the local economy through liquor distribution vs. the ties to organized crime that this produced). Since Harry S. Truman's political career was launched by the Pendergasts, students will read primary and secondary accounts of this relationship and determine the extent of the Pendergast influence on him.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Use the internet and print resources to acquire information regarding machine politics.
  • Do a critical analysis of materials read and draw conclusions.
  • Construct a convincing argument presenting conclusions.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • Analyze historic events and evaluate their importance in American history. (SS2: 1.9)
  • Use primary resources to help make historic judgments. (SS2: 1.7)
  • Distinguish between primary and secondary sources, determine reliability and use and interpret other tools of social science inquiry such as maps, charts, and graphs. (SS7: 1.2, 1.8)
  • Be able to evaluate historical events in terms of their causes and effects. (SS6: 1.6)
  • Be able to critically evaluate historical events and personalities as they impacted their time and subsequent history. (SS6,: 1.6)

Missouris Standards

2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

3. Principles and processes of governance systems

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

Kansas Standards

Benchmark 1: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the emergence of the modern United States (1890-1930).

9. (A) analyzes factors that contributed to changes in work, production and the rise of a consumer culture during the 1920’s (e.g., leisure time, technology, communication, travel, assembly line, credit buying).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

3. (A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S. history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating on its meaning (e.g., uses provided primary and secondary sources to interpret a historical-based conclusion).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  1. Tom’s Town by William Reddig.
  2. Conflict and Crisis by Robert J. Donovan
  3. Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman by Alonzo Hamby
  4. "Harry S. Truman and Pendergast Politics" by Willard B. Blanton in Gateway Heritage (11)
  5. "Kansas City Blacks, Harry Truman and the Pendergast Machine" by Larry Grothaus in Missouri Historical Review (69)
  6. "Surprise Victory" in Truman Biography (about 1940 Senate election)
  7. Truman and Pendergast by Robert Ferrell.
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed
Technology Required

Internet Access

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • The students will take notes over a lecture on local politics of the 1920s and 30s, the effects of the Great Depression on politics, and an overview of Kansas City politics and economics in the 1920s and 30s.
  • They will do research in the computer lab, and construct their Venn diagrams using the computer.
  • Following another day of research and reading, they will prepare their comparative charts and share them with the rest of the class.
  • Students will be given different materials to read and then engage in class discussion of what they have learned.
  • The final activity will be reading about Harry Truman’s involvement with the Pendergasts, paying particular attention to the memo of January 1953 by Truman.
Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide
  • Notes from lectures and first session of research will be worth 20 points.
  • Venn diagram will be worth 10 points (5 for correct information; 5 for setting it up correctly)
  • Charts will be worth 10 points each.
  • Class discussion will be worth 25 points. The points awarded will be based upon valid arguments presented on either side.