Advanced Placement United States History content
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

Abraham Lincoln on the American Union: “A Word Fitly Spoken” (4 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

This unit explores the political thought of Abraham Lincoln on the subject of American union. For him, the union was not just a structure to govern the national interests of American states; it also represented a consensus about the future of freedom in America—a future where slavery would eventually be eliminated and liberty protected as the birthright of every human being. Students will examine Lincoln's three most famous speeches—the Gettysburg Address and the First and Second Inaugural Addresses—in addition to a little known fragment on the Constitution, union, and liberty to see what they say regarding the significance of union to the prospects for American self-government.

Although Lincoln did not attend high school or college, he possessed a logical and inquisitive mind that found clarity in working out legal and political problems on paper. One fragment he wrote after the 1860 presidential election addressed how the Constitution and union were informed by the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln wrote that while America's prosperity was dependent upon the union of the states, "the primary cause" was the principle of "Liberty to all." He believed this central ideal of free government embraced all human beings, and concluded that the American revolution would not have succeeded if its goal was "a mere change of masters." For Lincoln, union meant a particular kind of government of the states, one whose equality principle "clears the path for all—gives hope to all—and, by consequence, enterprize, and industry to all."

As president of the United States, Lincoln used his First and Second Inaugural Addresses to explore the meaning of the American union in the face of a divided country. Upon assuming the presidency for the first time, he spoke at length about the nature of union, why secession was antithetical to self-government, and how the federal constitution imposed a duty upon him to defend the union of the states from rebellious citizens. When he was reelected four years later, and as the Civil War drew to a close, Lincoln transcended both Northern triumphalism and Southern defiance by offering a providential reading of the war and emancipation in hopes of reuniting the country.

In his most famous speech, delivered upon the dedication of a national cemetery at the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Lincoln gave a brief but profound meditation on the meaning of the Civil War and American union. With the Emancipation Proclamation as a new and pivotal development of the federal war effort, Lincoln sought to explain why the war to preserve the Union had to become a war to secure the freedom of former slaves. The nation would need to experience "a new birth of freedom" so that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Upon completing this unit, students should have a better understanding of why Lincoln revered the union of the American states as "the last best, hope of earth."

Guiding Questions

  • How did Lincoln understand the principles of the Declaration of Independence as the goal of the American union?
  • How did Lincoln defend the Union from states seeking to leave or "secede" from the Union?
  • How did Lincoln see the Civil War as an opportunity for the nation to bring forth a "new birth of freedom" (or liberty for all), and why was this necessary for the survival of American self-government?
  • How did Lincoln seek to restore the American union as the Civil War drew to a close?

Learning Objectives

  • Explain what Lincoln thought was the chief cause of America's prosperity.
  • Explain the principles of human equality and government by consent expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
  • Show how the principles of the Declaration represent the aim of the American union and constitution.
  • Articulate how Lincoln used a verse from Proverbs to symbolize the relationship between the principle of individual freedom and the practice of constitutional self-government.
  • Explain provisions of the federal constitution that Lincoln believed empowered him to defend the American union from attempts at secession.
  • Explain how South Carolina, as the first state to try to leave the Union, defended her attempt to secede upon Lincoln's election to the presidency.
  • Articulate why Lincoln thought he had a constitutional obligation as president to preserve the Union from attempts at secession.
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the pro-Union and pro-secession arguments, and decide which argument is the most philosophically defensible.
  • Explain why some Northern Democrats criticized Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
  • Explain why Lincoln thought July 4, 1776, was the birthday of the United States.
  • Articulate the connection Lincoln made between emancipation and preserving the Union.
  • Describe the "unfinished task" that Lincoln presented to the American people at Gettysburg.
  • Describe the historical context for Lincoln's second inauguration as president.
  • Articulate some of the concerns of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, a leader of the Radical Republicans, who controlled Congress after the election of 1864.
  • Describe the mood of the South as reflected in Confederate President Jefferson Davis's rhetoric in early 1865.
  • Explain Lincoln's understanding of how the war began, its relation to slavery, and the role of God in the conflict.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the lesson plans in the unit. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and links from EDSITEment-reviewed websites used in this lesson. Download and print out selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing. Alternatively, excerpted versions of these documents are available as part of the downloadable PDFs listed on the left-hand sidebar under "Additional Student/Teacher Resources."
  • Download the Text Documents for the lessons, available as PDFs. These files contain excerpted versions of the documents used in each lesson, as well as questions for students to answer. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of the handouts you plan to use in class.
Analyzing primary sources

If your students lack experience in dealing with primary sources, you might use one or more preliminary exercises to help them develop these skills. The Learning Page at the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress includes a set of such activities. Another useful resource is the Digital Classroom of the National Archives, which features a set of Document Analysis Worksheets.

Unit Lesson Plans

Each lesson in this unit is designed to stand alone; taken together they present a robust portrait of how Lincoln viewed the American union. If there is not sufficient time to use all four lessons in the unit, either the first or third lesson convey Lincoln's understanding of the American union as a means to securing "Liberty to all"—with the first lesson focusing on the principled connection between the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and the third lesson addressing the practical connection between the Union war effort, the freedom of the newly emancipated slaves, and the preservation of American self-government. Adding the second lesson would show why Lincoln's understanding of the union and Constitution obliged the president to defend the nation from secession. Adding the fourth lesson would explore how Lincoln thought that only a common memory of the war as the chastening of God to both sides for the national (not Southern) sin of slavery could restore national unity.

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > People > African American
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Culture
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > People > Women
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Reform
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Religion
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Slavery
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Developing a hypothesis
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
  • Writing skills
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

The 1828 Campaign of Andrew Jackson and the Growth of Party Politics (4 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

Changes in voting qualifications and participation, the election of Andrew Jackson, and the formation of the Democratic Party—due largely to the organizational skills of Martin Van Buren—all contributed to making the election of 1828 and Jackson's presidency a watershed in the evolution of the American political system. The campaign of 1828 was a crucial event in a period that saw the development of a two-party system akin to our modern system, presidential electioneering bearing a closer resemblance to modern political campaigning, and the strengthening of the power of the executive branch.

In this unit, students analyze changes in voter participation and regional power, and review archival campaign documents reflecting the dawn of politics as we know it during the critical years from 1824 to 1832.

Guiding Questions

  • How did changes in the electorate affect the election of 1828?
  • How were party politics reflected in the campaign of 1828?
  • What was the source of Andrew Jackson's popularity?
  • What was the importance of Andrew Jackson's popularity?
  • What were the positions of the fledgling Democratic Party and its opposition?

Learning Objectives

  • Give examples to indicate how the franchise was extended in the first half of the 19th century.
  • Discuss possible effects of the extension of the franchise on the election of 1828.
  • Make a connection between changes in voting participation and the election of 1828.
  • Describe regional factors evidenced by the voting results in the election of 1828.
  • Analyze campaign materials from 1828.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review each lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
  • Download the blackline masters for this lesson, available here as a PDF. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.
  • This unit is one of a series of complementary EDSITEment lessons on the early growth of political parties in the United States. Some student knowledge of the events and issues covered in the following complementary lessons is essential to a complete understanding of the presidential election of 1828.
    • The Growth of Political Parties covers such issues and events as the negative attitude among the Founders toward political parties, as reflected in Washington's Farewell Address; the differences in philosophy and policy between followers of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (who favored a less active federal government and eventually formed the Democratic-Republican Party) and the followers of Alexander Hamilton (who espoused a more powerful and active federal government and eventually formed the Federalist Party).
    • Certain Crimes Against the United States: The Sedition Act deals with—among other issues and events—foreign affairs during the Federalist presidency of John Adams, and the political differences that contributed to the creation of the Sedition Act, which led, in turn, to the demise of the Federalist Party.
    • The Election Is in the House: The Presidential Election of 1824 touches on events in the presidential campaign of 1824, in which every candidate belonged to the Democratic-Republican Party, throwing the election into the House of Representatives, and thus setting the stage for the election of 1828. The lesson also discusses the Electoral College and the procedure to be used when an election is thrown into the House of Representatives.
  • The first three lessons in this unit look at different aspects of the changes in the electorate that were occurring in the first half of the 19th century. With that background, students are better prepared to study the election campaign of 1828 in the final lesson. It is also important for students to have some knowledge of the controversial election of 1824. For relatively brief yet comprehensive background on the election of 1824 and the election of 1828 and its aftermath, read the following one-page articles from Digital History, a project of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed resource History Matters:

If time permits, some students would benefit from the background gained through reading the essays as well.

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > People > African American
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
  • History and Social Studies > People > Native American
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Reform
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
Skills
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical thinking
  • Historical analysis
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Using primary sources
  • Visual analysis
  • John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison, and Judicial Review—How the Court Became Supreme

    Chief Justice John Marshall (r.) and Associate Justice Joseph Story

    If James Madison was the "father" of the Constitution" John Marshall was the "father of the Supreme Court"—almost single-handedly clarifying its powers. This new lesson is designed to help students understand Marshall's brilliant strategy in issuing his decision on Marbury v. Madison, the significance of the concept of judicial review, and the language of this watershed case.

  • Lesson 2. The Debate in the United States over the League of Nations: Disagreement Over the League

    Woodrow Wilson for League of Nations

    American foreign policy debate over U.S. entry into the League of Nations-collective security versus national sovereignty, idealism versus pragmatism, the responsibilities of powerful nations, the use of force to accomplish idealistic goals, the idea of America. Understanding the debate over the League and the consequences of its failure provides insight into international affairs in the years since Great War. In this lesson, students read the words and listen to the voices of some central participants in the debate over the League of Nations.

  • Lesson 3: George Washington on the Sedition Act

    George Washington.

    What arguments were offered in support of the Sedition Act? Washington's favorable attitude toward the Sedition Act illustrates that reasonable men in 1798 could support what most modern Americans would regard as an unjust law.

  • Lesson 1: James Madison: Madison Was There

    James Madison.

    Why is James Madison such an important figure? Why is he known as the "Father of the Constitution"? How involved was James Madison in the most important events in America from 1775 to 1817? The answers to these questions provide context for understanding the importance of James Madison's opinions on constitutional issues.

  • Lesson 3: The First American Party System: Federalists and Democratic-Republicans: The Platforms They Never Had

    Thomas Jefferson, Democratic-Republican, and Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 3

    The rivalry between the Federalists and Republicans in the early days of the American Republic was bitter. What were the key positions of the parties? How important to the parties' positions were their basic attitudes toward constitutional interpretation (Federalists, broad interpretation / Democratic-Republicans, strict interpretation)? Which positions of either party resonate in the politics of today?

  • Lesson 2: The First American Party System: A Documentary Timeline of Important Events (1787–1800)

    Thomas Jefferson, Democratic-Republican, and Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 2

    In this lesson, students examine the critical factors leading to the development of the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans and look at the timeline of key events and issues caused the differences in opinion.

  • Lesson 1: The First American Party System: U.S. Political Parties: The Principle of Legitimate Opposition

    Thomas Jefferson, Democratic-Republican, and Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 4

    Before the birth of opposition political parties, divisions among U.S. leaders developed over the ratification of the Constitution.

  • Lesson 2: People and Places in the North and South

    Anti-slavery poster form the 1850s

    Students develop a foundation on which to understand the basic disagreements between North and South.