US History Topic 3 Summary: U.S. Constitution

The thirteen United States were far from united when independence was achieved in 1783.  Each state wrote its own constitution to supplement the wartime Articles of Confederation.  Trade was unregulated.  Different currencies were used.  No treaties with native tribes had been established, and western state borders remained in dispute.  Slavery was intact in all thirteen states, despite the tremendous sacrifices African Americans had made in the fight for liberty.  The French government prepared to send thirteen separate ambassadors to America.

Three years of uncertainty passed before the tremendous debts of war prompted a revolt in western Massachusetts.  The brief debtors’ rebellion led by Continental Army veteran Daniel Shays underscored the need for a centralized government.  Led by federalists such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison and supported by national hero George Washington, delegates from all thirteen states met in 1787 in Philadelphia to draft a new constitution.

Many contentious issues challenged the Constitutional Convention as it deliberated in the oppressive summer heat.  The issue of representation was eventually resolved with a bicameral Congress.  Each state would send two senators to six year terms, and representatives would be elected for two year terms to a separate House according to population.

Congress would be the legislative leg of a tripod government, with a President elected to lead the executive branch and a national Supreme Court to arbitrate judicial disputes.  Titles of nobility were abolished and Congress was empowered to regulate trade and naturalization.  The President would be empowered to appoint a cabinet and veto odious laws.  Interstate trade was established on the principle of equality and international trade and credit were placed in the hands of Congress, as was the power of the purse.  The ability to declare war also rested with the Congress, and the right to confirm or deny judicial and diplomatic appointments.

State and federal powers were separated, with the states reserving the right to ratify or reject constitutional amendments.  The moral and economic dilemmas of slavery were left unresolved, with trans-Atlantic slave trading allowed until 1808 and slaveowners retaining the right to reclaim fugitives.  While slaves remained private property and thus disenfranchised under the law, three-fifths of them would be counted in state populations for representative purposes.  The abolitionist movement grew in strength and sectional tensions deepened.

Fierce debates erupted in the new state legislatures when the draft of the Constitution was submitted for ratification in 1788.  Eventually nine of the thirteen states adopted it, with the other four following suit when a Bill of Rights was added in 1791.  These first ten amendments delineated individual rights to freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, property, and due process which would be protected from federal encroachment.

George Washington reluctantly agreed to serve as the first President, with John Adams as his vice president, Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State, and Alexander Hamilton to lead the treasury department.  Hamilton pushed for a strong national bank to regulate trade and currency, but Jefferson and others held out for stronger local government and finance.  By the time Washington left office in 1797 with a farewell address warning against political parties and foreign entanglements, both had become hallmarks of American political life.


  1. Thomas Jefferson once said the Constitution should be rewritten for each successive generation.  Do you agree?  Why or why not?
  2. Which political and economic issues do we have today that have not been easily resolved by the Constitution?
  3. Can you think of any new Amendments that should be added to the Constitution?  If so, what are they?

Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.  All rights reserved.

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Study Strategies

Whenever I had a big exam or assignment due as a student, I usually relaxed and did something fun the night before.  I tried to distract myself from obsessing over what was coming and enjoy myself for a few hours.

This might come as a surprise to you.  A lot of people cram for tests the night before or pull the “all nighter.”  I never found this very effective myself, and recent studies have vindicated my theory.  Rereading the same material over and over again or losing sleep the night before the due date are generally poor approaches to studying.

Studying hard is not the same as studying smart.  In my years as a classroom teacher, I found that the following strategies seemed to work the best for my students:

  1.  Find a study partner.  Two minds are better than one.
  2. Highlight your notes and textbook by topic, and link your topics to the study guide.  Focus on what you need to know.
  3. Devote a few hours each day to study, but do not lose sleep or neglect to eat or otherwise take care of yourself.  Maintain your health and your serenity, and you will do well.
  4. Do something relaxing the night before.  Get plenty of rest.
  5. For written assignments, revise your work.  If you are not happy with your current draft, sleep on it and take it up the next day.
  6. Study in a quiet place, free from distractions.  One thing at a time.

Take school one day at a time, but also think ahead.  Pace yourself.  You will like the results.

Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.  All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at

US History Topic 2 Summary: Revolutionary War Period

The colonial legislatures of North America had grown accustomed to a certain degree of independence from the British crown by 1763, when the Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War.  The Enlightenment ideas of John Locke, Montesquieu and Voltaire were read widely among the educated elites.  Farmers and workers boasted a high degree of literacy and autonomy compared to their British counterparts.  Americans fought bravely in the war against France under the impression that they were fighting to preserve British liberties.

King George III ascended to the throne in 1760 at the crest of British victory over the French.  The enormous costs of the Seven Years War worldwide put tremendous pressure on the royal treasury.  The new king was advised to levy new taxes on the now prosperous American colonies, who were expected to carry their share of colonial defense.

The Stamp Act fixed a tax on paper goods and proved to be tremendously unpopular.  Violent protests led to its withdrawal, but new measures brought taxes on tea and sugar and allowed for quartering of British troops in American homes.  Parliament’s refusal to negotiate with American leaders led to conflict, and British troops soon occupied Boston.  American militias organized, and tensions erupted in open warfare at Lexington and Concord in 1775.

The thirteen colonies formed a Continental Congress and elected George Washington of Virginia to lead a new army.  Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, and Ben Franklin of Pennsylvania were selected to draft a Declaration of Independence, which was published on July 4, 1776.  The fighting spread to New York and Philadelphia.  The British enticed the native tribes of the Appalachian frontier to attack American settlements.

British defeat at Saratoga in New York in 1777 led to a Franco-American alliance, which turned the tide of the war.  British efforts to enlist American slaves in exchange for their freedom backfired, as most free African Americans enlisted on the patriot side.  Many colonists chose to remain loyal to the crown and fought on the British side; others fled to England or Canada.

British strategy to bring the war to the Carolinas quickly led to guerrilla warfare.  The main British force under Lord Cornwallis was trapped at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781 by a joint Franco-American army and forced to surrender.  This effectively ended the fighting while peace negotiations began in Paris.

The Treaty of Paris of 1783 established the United States of America from the Great Lakes on the north to Spanish Florida in the South, and from the Mississippi River in the West to the Atlantic seaboard in the East.  The British retained Canada and their forts on the Great Lakes.  The new nation now faced enormous war debts and began soliciting European credit.

There was yet no national constitution, no common currency, no single national leader, and no uniform policies for trade or westward expansion.  The issue of slavery remained unresolved.  Only the loose 1777 Articles of Confederation held the thirteen new States together.  Only with great struggle and sacrifice would they become truly united.


  1. Who benefited the most from the American Revolution?  Who gained the least?
  2. How do you think African Americans understood the Revolution, compared to their white counterparts?  What about women as compared to men?
  3. How much of the Declaration of Independence is still relevant today?  Does America need to rewrite it, and if so, what would it sound like?

Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.  All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at

US History Topic 1 Summary: Colonial America

America was a melting pot of many cultures from its beginning.  Native American tribes developed complex civilizations from the Arctic to Patagonia centuries ago, trading and warring and intermingling with one another.  From the woodland hunting and gathering societies of the Atlantic seaboard to the nomadic tribes of the Great Plains, from the ice hunters of Alaska to the great Mayan cities of Central America, millions of people lived in concert with the abundant natural world and cultivated their own livelihoods, traditions, families, and beliefs.

Europeans arrived in the fifteenth century, beginning with Columbus’s landing in the Caribbean and continuing with Cabot, Vespucci, Cartier, and many others.  The first permanent settlements of the three great colonial powers in North America were founded within a year of one another:  Jamestown, Virginia for England; Quebec, Canada for France; and Santa Fe, New Mexico for Spain.  All three nations brought their language, their faith, and their economic ambitions with them.

Conflict was inevitable, both among the Europeans and between them and the native cultures.  By 1750, Spain controlled the West as well as Mexico, Central and South America.  France had Canada, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi Valley.  England had the Atlantic seaboard to the Appalachians.  All three vied for supremacy in the Caribbean and Atlantic sea lanes.  Native populations had been decimated by disease and war but tried valiantly to preserve their cultures and lands through alliances and trade with the Europeans.

A century of warfare culminated in the 1750s with the French and Indian War, which resulted in British victory and annexation of Canada.  The Proclamation of 1763 prohibited British settlement in Indian territory west of the Appalachians, but a burgeoning and diverse population in the thirteen English-speaking colonies led to westward expansion.  The Great Awakening spread religious fervor and democratization among a multicultural populace possessed by great ambition.  Slavery grew in the tobacco and shipping based economy, but so did land ownership, entrepreneurship, and freedom from indentured servitude.

The war with France had imposed enormous tax burdens on the British colonists in America.  Conflict over the nature and administration of these taxes would grow and fester and lead to talk of revolution.


  1. Did Columbus “discover” America?  Why do you think many Native Americans and their allies have criticized the observance of Columbus Day on October 12?
  2. What evidence of Native American influence do you see in American culture and language today?  What about European influence?
  3. Does America need a new “Great Awakening?”  If so, what kind in your opinion?

Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.  All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at



Writing in history and the social sciences is different than writing in your language arts class.  While there is creativity in historical writing, the more apt analogy is that of a legal brief.  You are the attorney and your teacher (or class) is the jury.  The stronger the evidence you present, the more convincing your argument will be.

Today’s Common Core standards for the social sciences are oriented primarily toward writing and research skills.  While state content standards remain, the ability to think critically and process information is paramount.

This makes utilization of resources particularly important in achieving success in the social sciences.  Most of the assignments I gave as a teacher involved this reliance on thorough research.  Socratic seminars, essays on document-based questions, targeted notes, and test writing prompts all provide opportunities to demonstrate your skill in employing effective research.

When I hosted Socratic seminars in my history and economics classes, I had my students pair off and come up with a position on the assigned prompt.  They used the excellent Opposing Viewpoints in Context database by Gale, which my last school district had purchased for our library.  It included a myriad of historical and contemporary topics with the latest articles and essays uploaded on a regular basis.

There are many outstanding online databases which can help you in your research.  My personal favorite is, the database of the Library of Congress.  Another is of the National Archives.  Find out what resources your school and your local library have to offer.  And remember to cite your sources correctly when you submit your work.

In my day, research was done with books and magazines and work was submitted in typewritten form.  Corrections were made by hand and new drafts had to be retyped.  The advent of online classrooms and research has changed all that and expanded the possibilities for improvement and opportunities for learning.

Take advantage of the resources at your fingertips.  You can never have too many sources for your work.  And remember, your voice is unique.  Believe in that voice.

Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.  All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at

Setting Priorities

School can be overwhelming.  The experience of trying to learn in a large mainstream class is stressful enough.  Add to this extracurricular commitments such as athletics and clubs, and you are facing a formidable array of responsibilities every day.  It’s hard to know where to begin to focus your energies in order to achieve success.

When I was a student, I always found that being proactive was better than being reactive.  The first step was choosing the right class schedule.  I was fortunate to have two parents who were both supportive of my academic success.  My home life was anything but a tranquil place in which to study, but my father was a teacher and my mother helped me select my courses with my school counselor.  If you don’t have someone at home who can help you do this, work with your counselor directly.  They are there to help.

Once you have firmed up your schedule, pay close attention in the beginning of the semester to what your teacher wants.  Figure out what you need to do to achieve the grade you want, and start doing that from the beginning.  Procrastination is a great enemy to guard against.

Then focus on the subjects that you find more difficult.  If history and language arts come easy, for example, do what you need to do to stay in good standing, and then devote more time and energy to math and science.

Those four are the core subjects and demand your greatest attention.  There is some wiggle room with electives, and sports and clubs should always be seen as pursuits for spare time only.  If you can manage all your classes well and still have resources to give to football or performing arts or clubs, then by all means do what you want to do.  But be careful not to overextend yourself.

It is often said that colleges pay the most attention to your junior year of high school.  I would argue that every year of school is equally important in your academic profile.  Strive for excellence in everything you do, and allow yourself the time and space to achieve that excellence.  Find a quiet place to do your work and create a schedule for yourself in which your coursework can be completed without distraction.

Success starts with small steps.  Setting priorities is a first step.

Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.  All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at


Find Your Connection

Here is a photograph from the year 1890 I was given by my maternal grandmother when I was around 12 years old.  It is an image of her father (at left) when he was five.  The man to his right is his father, Michael Schneider, who served as a Union soldier in Company G of the 27th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War.

We always knew my great-grandfather as “Pop,” but you can see from the inscribed names in this picture, taken at a GAR (Union veterans) reunion in Cleveland, Ohio, that he was named both for his father and his father’s general, William Tecumseh Sherman, with whom Michael Schneider had marched through the Atlanta Campaign and March to the Sea in 1864 and the Carolinas Campaign in 1865.

My grandmother also passed on her grandfather’s Civil War campaign medals and ribbons, wrapped carefully in tissue paper and stored in a shoe box.  In 1996 I had these mounted and framed and now they hang in my home.  By that time, I had spent the good part of a decade compiling a genealogy scrapbook on both my paternal and maternal ancestors.

History is more than a subject we have to take in school in order to graduate.  It is the story of people – your people and mine.  Making a personal connection with the past is important in bringing history alive.  It also helps us understand ourselves and our place in the world.  The more we know of where we come from, the more ably we can decide which traditions to continue and which to leave behind.  To paraphrase John Quincy Adams, we must come to understand that who we are is fundamentally who we were.

If you are new to genealogy, there are some basic places to start.  Start with your living relatives who know the most and have the largest collections of artifacts.  Find out what countries your ancestors came from, and what parts of the United States they settled in.  Birth, death, land and marriage records can be obtained online at the county level.  Military records are housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  The internet now has several excellent websites with which to begin your search.

The more you can discover, the more you will understand the historical events and contexts in which your ancestors lived, and the role they played in shaping the history of this great nation.  America has always been the story of innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers, and every person who made the decision to come here has contributed something to that story.  Discovering your people’s contributions is an exciting adventure that awaits you.

Below is a photo of me in 1995 at my paternal great-great-grandparents’ graves near Salem, Oregon.  They fled famine and persecution in their native Ireland, sailed in disease-ridden ships to Canada, crossed the border at night into the United States, and settled in a poor immigrant neighborhood in Chicago around 1850.  By 1874 they had bought 300 acres in Oregon and gone west to settle them.  My grandfather was born there in 1900 and later became the first Finney to attend college.

Find your part in the story.  It starts with discovering where you came from.  Only then can you best decide where to go from here.

Posing in the uniform of a Civil War Union color corporal of Meagher’s Irish Brigade at my Irish ancestors’ graves in Gervais, Oregon in July of 1997. Photo Copyright (c) Torin Finney.

Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.  All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at

On Excellence

Becoming an outstanding student is not the exclusive territory of those to whom it comes naturally.  Diligence and discipline are just as important as talent and aptitude.  Success in learning works, if you work it.

I know this is true from 20 years as a classroom teacher.  More importantly, I know because I was a successful student.  I received the DAR Excellence in History Award in junior high school, graduated at the top of my high school class, scored a 5 on the APUSH exam, and was awarded the Medal of Merit in Social Studies, making me the top history student in a class of over 700.

Can you achieve this as a student?  Absolutely.  The key to my success in school was not genius, but discipline.  Let me share with you what worked for me.

First and most important, I became a devoted reader.  Books, newspapers, magazines, stories – whatever I could get in the subjects that interested me.  The more you read, the more your comprehensive knowledge of a subject increases.  You become an authority.

Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in the school library.  But I also spent hours outside of school in the public library.  I even worked as a library page at several local branches in my junior year of high school.

I also listened to the news.  Network television and newspapers as a kid, and National Public Radio and cable news channels as an adult.  The more you listen to what is going on the world, the more informed your essay responses on tests will sound.  The internet, of course, brings the entire world to your fingertips.  Take advantage of it.

Finally, I wrote.  Not just papers and assignments for school, but original fiction and nonfiction.  It is a well-known fact that more reading leads to better writing.  As you get to know your favorite authors, take some time to write your own stuff.  You will be pleasantly surprised at the voice you discover.

I leave you with a photo of me as a high school senior, working at my typewriter on my latest story.  This picture is almost 40 years old, before the internet and personal computers and cable television, but the principles of excellence that drove me then and challenge you today have remained unchanged.  Your success in learning depends, in the end, on you.

Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.  All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at

Welcome Parents, Students, and New Teachers!

Welcome to Mr. Finney’s Tutoring Blog.  I hope you will find these entries helpful as you strive toward success in learning.  Parents of middle school and high school students may schedule tutoring sessions for your student by clicking here or on the link below and filling out the online form.  Please include your student’s name, school, course to be tutored, and required textbook.  Those of you enrolled in community college classes may use the same form.

I am a certificated teacher and award-winning author with twenty years classroom experience in both private and public schools.  During that time I taught every grade level from middle school to community college and most of the subjects in the social science curriculum, including United States History (grades 8 and 11), World History (grades 7 and 10), Economics and Government (grade 12), Geography (grade 9), and World Religions.  I served as faculty advisor for several student clubs and worked extensively with Spanish-speaking parents.

My services include test preparation (college preparatory classes as well as Advanced Placement tests in U.S. and European History), reading and study strategies, and help with homework and essay assignments.  Entries on this blog are sorted by topic in the “Entry Categories” menu (at top right on a desktop computer and at the bottom of the page on your smartphone).  I also post educational items of interest regularly on Instagram.

In addition to tutoring, I provide mentoring services for new teachers.  I served as master teacher for several student teachers over the years and hosted scores of observers from teaching credential programs.  Those of you completing your credential program, student teaching, or new to your own classroom (less than five years of experience) can sign up for mentoring by completing the tutoring contact form.  Please include any relevant details to your particular needs in the section marked “Additional Information.”

I entered the teaching profession in 1998 and earned my credential from the University of La Verne.  After seven years teaching in Bakersfield, California, I taught high school geography, history, government and economics for thirteen years in Orange County.  I also participated for many years in living history programs and presentations across the United States, in which I portrayed an artist correspondent for Harper’s Weekly and created a portfolio of more than 70 original charcoal and pencil sketches.

I believe in creative learning, focusing on interdisciplinary connections and grounding comprehension in reading and artistic expression.  My own academic background is in the field of American Studies and I served for many years as the social science teacher in an innovative Digital Arts and Humanities program.  Now I bring my experience and enthusiasm to one-on-one learning with my tutoring pupils and new teachers.

When I learned as an adult that Thomas Jefferson read up to fifteen hours a day, I was inspired to dust off my calligraphy skills from my years as a junior high school student in Virginia and create this poster.  It hung on the wall in my classroom for 18 years and was seen by thousands of students and adults.  I now share it with you:  read it, believe it and live it!

Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.  All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at