Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

The Sedition Act: Certain Crimes Against the United States (5 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

It is impossible to conceal from ourselves or the world what has been before observed, that endeavors have been employed to foster and establish a division between the Government and people of the United States. To investigate the causes which have encouraged this attempt is not necessary; but to repel, by decided and united councils, insinuations so derogatory to the honor and aggressions so dangerous to the Constitution, union, and even independence of the nation is an indispensable duty.
—From John Adams—Special Message to the Senate and the House, May 16, 1797 on the EDSITEment resource The Avalon Project

As the end of the 18th century drew near, relations between the United States and France were deteriorating. President John Adams wanted to preserve American neutrality in conflicts between Britain and France. He sent a minister to France who was not received. President Adams then addressed a joint session of Congress on May 16, 1797, expressing his concern about the possibility of war with France and dissension at home caused by France and its supporters. In October, three commissioners appointed by Adams arrived in Paris in hopes of "restoring mutual confidence" between the countries. French Prime Minister Talleyrand's agents—known only as X, Y, and Z, and assumed to be acting on Talleyrand's orders—refused to receive the diplomats. They demanded a bribe, presumably for Talleyrand himself, and a large loan for France. The American people were incensed. War with France seemed inevitable; in fact, the U.S. is often described as being in an undeclared war with France following the XYZ affair.

At the same time, two opposing political parties were developing in the U.S. Tending to sympathize with France in foreign policy were the Thomas Jefferson-led Democratic-Republicans. Their loyalty was called into question by the Federalists, who dominated Congress during Adams's administration. It was a dangerous time both for the security of the young Republic and the freedoms its citizens enjoyed.

The Federalists clashed frequently with Democratic-Republicans who disagreed sharply with what they regarded as a philosophy of "huge public debt, a standing army, high taxes, and government-subsidized monopolies" (The Birth of Political Parties, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website History Matters). Could the Federalists, the party in control, wield the power necessary to protect America against those who opposed it without wielding that power against those who opposed them?

The Sedition Act touched off a lively debate about the right of free speech. It also presented an early test case to the citizens and government of the United States. In times of war or imminent danger, how do you balance the need for security with the rights of individuals? How can partisan politics affect the process of shaping security policies?

Guiding Questions

  • What conditions provided the impetus for the Sedition Act?
  • What were some applications and consequences of the Act?

Learning Objectives

  • Summarize briefly the international situation during John Adams's presidency.
  • List the concerns that led to the Sedition Act.
  • Describe the Sedition Act.
  • List some objections to the Sedition Act.
  • Discuss the consequences of the Sedition Act.
  • Illustrate the difficulty of balancing security needs and personal freedom using an example from Adams's presidency.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the 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 Master PDF. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.
  • Conflicts with France—largely over maritime rights for the neutral United States—and the contemporaneous development of the first political parties in the U.S. provided the impetus for the Alien and Sedition Acts. The essay John Adams: A Life in Brief, on the EDSITEment resource The American President, provides background for students. Here are some excerpts:

    The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, supported a strong central government that favored industry, landowners, banking interests, merchants, and close ties with England. Opposed to them were the Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson, who advocated limited powers for the federal government. Adams's Federalist leanings and high visibility as vice president positioned him as the leading contender for President in 1796…

    The Adams presidency was characterized by continuing crises in foreign policy, which dramatically affected affairs at home. Suspicious of the French Revolution and its potential for terror and anarchy, Adams opposed close ties with France. Relations between America and France deteriorated to the brink of war, allowing Adams to justify his signing of the extremely controversial Alien and Sedition Acts. Drafted by Federalist lawmakers, these four laws were largely aimed at immigrants, who tended to become Republicans. Furious over Adams's foreign policy and his signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts, Republicans responded with the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which challenged the legitimacy of federal authority over the states.

    Republicans were equally incensed by the heavy taxation necessary for Adams's military buildup; farmers in Pennsylvania staged Fries's Rebellion in protest. At the same time, Adams faced disunity in his own party due to conflict with Hamilton over the undeclared naval war with France. This rivalry with Hamilton and the Federalist Party cost Adams the 1800 election. He lost to Thomas Jefferson, who was backed by the united and far more organized Republicans.

  • Though the Alien and Sedition Acts are often discussed together, they are only two of four distinct, complementary acts passed in the summer of 1798. To enable a sharper focus, this lesson concentrates on the Sedition Act. Remember that these acts were passed at the same time that political parties were developing in the U.S. According to the seventh edition of The Encyclopedia of American History, pages 146-147 (Morris and Morris, Harper Collins, 1996):

    Several of the leading Republican publicists were European refugees. The threat of war with France sharpened hostility to aliens and gave Federalists an opportunity to impose severe restrictions…

    25 June (1798) The Alien Act authorized the president to order out of the U.S. all aliens regarded as dangerous to the public peace and safety, or suspected of "treasonable or secret" inclinations. It expired in 1800…

    14 July. Sedition Act made it a high misdemeanor, punishable by fine and imprisonment, for citizens or aliens to enter into unlawful combinations opposing execution of the national laws; to prevent a federal officer from performing his duties; and to aid or attempt "any insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination." A fine of not more than $2,000 and imprisonment not exceeding 2 years were provided for persons convicted of publishing "any false, scandalous and malicious writing" bringing into disrepute the U.S. government, Congress, or the president; in force until 3 March 1801.

    The Sedition Act was aimed at repressing political opposition…

    Republicans attacked the Alien and Sedition Acts as unnecessary, despotic, and unconstitutional.

  • Any discussion of the Sedition Act must include a discussion of the First Amendment. How that amendment was understood in 1798 differs from our current understanding after 200 years of interpretation. For some early history of the amendment, read the first page of the essay Freedom of Expression—Speech and Press Adoption and the Common Law Background on Findlaw, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Oyez.
  • EDSITEment offers Jefferson, Hamilton, and the Development of the Party System, a lesson plan that complements Certain Crimes Against the United States: The Sedition Act by providing background on the partisan politics central to the enactment of the Sedition Act.
  • In Annals of Congress, on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory, to each student or to pairs of students. The excerpts are taken directly from the text of the debates but have been converted back to first person and present tense, as they would have been in the debate. Some spelling has been standardized. A few words have been inserted in parentheses to be read as part of the excerpt. Separate the excerpts from one another before the lesson begins. All of the excerpts are brief, but some are as short as one sentence. Assign them accordingly. The name of the speaker precedes each quote.
  • Lesson Five offers the teacher the option to use the lesson United States v. Thomas Cooper—A Violation of the Sedition Law (on the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom), which draws on many authentic documents. Click on the title to find everything you need to prepare for the lesson. It should be noted that documents used in the lesson are originals and not transcriptions, though they are high-quality digitized versions. Some students may find it difficult to read the material. Lesson Five offers other options—excerpts from a modern essay on the trial that contain brief quotes from the trial transcript; an "Historical Minute" from the U.S. Senate about a trial in the Senate; examples of other original documents from the prosecutions of newspaper editors under the Sedition Act.
  • In this unit, students read and analyze a variety of primary documents. The following materials from EDSITEment resources may be useful to teachers seeking expert advice on the use of primary documents:

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
Skills
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Debate
  • Discussion
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

James Madison: From Father of the Constitution to President (4 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

Q. Who was called the "Father of the Constitution"? A. James Madison, of Virginia, because in point of erudition and actual contributions to the formation of the Constitution, he was preeminent.
—From Constitution Q and A on the EDSITEment-reviewed Educator Resources section of the National Archives website. 

…if the letter of the Constitution is strictly adhered to, and if no flexibility is allowed, no power could be exercised by Congress, and all the good that might be reasonably expected from an efficient government would be entirely frustrated.
— James Madison, February 2, 1791 (PDF of Madison's full remarks here)

The Framers gave us a document durable and flexible enough to take us from the agrarian land of the 18th century, of the musket, the axe and the plow-to the country we know today, of the Internet and the human genome and a thousand different cultures living together in one nation like a glittering mosaic.
—Michael Beschloss at the ceremony to unveil page two of the Constitution in its new encasement, September 15, 2000, in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

Even in its first 30 years of existence, the U.S. Constitution had to prove its durability and flexibility in a variety of disputes. More often than not, James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," took part in the discussion. Madison had been present at the document's birth as the mastermind behind the so-called Virginia Plan. He had worked tirelessly for its ratification including authoring 29 Federalist Papers, and he continued to be a concerned guardian of the Constitution as it matured. However, it should be noted that Madison chose not to allow his notes from the Constitutional Convention to be published until after his death,

In the early years of the Republic, Madison held a variety of offices, both appointed and elected. At other times, he was part of the loyal opposition. Both in office and out, he played an important role in the continuing debate [stet]. Virtually every important event was precedent-setting, raising crucial questions about how the constitution should be interpreted and implemented. How should the Constitution be applied to situations not specified in the text? How can balance be achieved between the power of the states and that of the federal government? How can a balance of power be achieved among the three branches of the federal government? In this curriculum unit, Madison's words will help students understand the constitutional issues involved in some controversies that arose during Madison's presidency.

Guiding Questions

  • How was Madison involved in the creation and implementation of the Constitution?
  • What events during Madison's presidency raised constitutional questions?
  • What were the constitutional issues that arose during his presidency?
  • What positions did Madison take on each of these issues?
  • Did his thinking evolve and, if so, what factors influenced his thinking and actions?

Learning Objectives

  • List reasons why Madison is called the "Father of the Constitution."
  • Summarize three significant issues during Madison's presidency that raised constitutional questions.
  • Explain the constitutional questions raised by these events.
  • Discuss Madison's opinions on the constitutional questions.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the 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 Master PDF. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.
  • In Lesson One, a graphic organizer helps students see how involved James Madison was in the major events of his time. Though the lesson can stand alone, it works to demonstrate Madison's importance and to show why his opinions are so central to understanding the on-going process of creating a working democracy based on the Constitution. EDSITEment offers the following complementary lessons you may want to use in part or whole:
  • Lesson One helps students see that James Madison had connections to many of the important events of the day. Among other things, he:
    • served in the Continental Congress before and while the Articles of Confederation were in effect;
    • conceived the Virginia Plan, which became the foundation of the Constitution;
    • worked to get the Constitution ratified (by writing many Federalist Papers, for example);
    • became the principal author of the Bill of Rights while serving in the House of Representatives;
    • served as Secretary of State during Jefferson's administrations;
    • as Secretary of State, supported Jefferson with the Louisiana Purchase;
    • co-founded the Democratic-Republican Party, which favored a strict interpretation of the Constitution and less power for the central government;
    • raised serious objections to the Alien and Sedition Acts in the Virginia Resolutions and elsewhere;
    • served as President during the War of 1812;
    • signed the act establishing the Second National Bank;
    • supported internal improvements, such as the Cumberland Road and the Erie Canal, but felt there should be a constitutional amendment making it clear that the central government had the authority to raise money for and administer such projects.

      The focus here is not an in-depth understanding of the specifics (such as the Virginia Resolutions), though many of those issues are covered in the related EDSITEment lessons listed above. This lesson asks students to understand how the Constitution has been applied and to appreciate the depth of Madison's involvement with that document and many controversies surrounding its interpretation.
  • There are a variety of ways in which this curriculum unit can be used. Lessons Two, Three, and Four each deal with a single event during Madison's presidency that raised constitutional questions—the chartering of the Second National Bank, the raising of an army for the War of 1812, and the need for the country to make internal improvements. You can complete all three lessons in a whole-class setting. You might choose only one for your class as an example of constitutional interpretation. Each lesson strives to raise the level of student appreciation for the relevance of the Constitution to the events in Madison's presidency and the importance of Madison's opinions, even though he did not always prevail. Each event raises constitutional issues of interest. Another option is to split the class into three or six groups, each of which takes on Lessons Two, Three, and Four and then reports back to the class.

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
Skills
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Textual analysis
  • Using archival documents
  • Using primary sources
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

The Monroe Doctrine: Origin and Early American Foreign Policy (4 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

[This document is] the most momentous [pronouncement] which has been . . . offered . . . since that of Independence. That made us a nation. This sets our compass and points the course.
Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, October 24, 1823 from the EDSITEment resource American Memory, from correspondence in which the authors discussed ideas eventually incorporated into the Monroe Doctrine.

In Monroe's message to Congress on December 2, 1823, [the President] delivered what we have always called the Monroe Doctrine, although in truth it should have been called the Adams Doctrine.
The Monroe Doctrine from Information USA, an exhibit of the U.S. Department of State, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Internet Public Library.

James Monroe spent most of his life in public office, devoting a significant portion of his career to foreign affairs. He served as George Washington's Minister to France, but was eventually recalled by the President. Thomas Jefferson appointed Monroe as a special envoy for negotiating the purchase of New Orleans and West Florida. He and principal negotiator Robert Livingston exceeded their authority and all expectations by acquiring the entire Louisiana Territory as well as a claim to all of Florida. Next, Monroe became Minister to Great Britain. Under James Madison, he served as Secretary of State and Secretary of War.

Monroe brought a vision of an expanded America to his presidency—a vision that helped facilitate the formulation of what has become known as the Monroe Doctrine. Because this Doctrine bears his name, the general public is not inclined to recognize the significant contributions made by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and unofficial presidential advisor Thomas Jefferson.

In this unit, students will review the Monroe Doctrine against a background of United States foreign relations in the early years of the republic. In particular, they will examine Monroe's involvement in American diplomacy while serving in a variety of positions before he was elected president. They will become familiar with Monroe's beliefs in an expanded United States as well as an expanded role for the United States in the Americas. Students will also read primary source material reflecting the independence movement in South America, which served as the direct impetus for the Monroe Doctrine. Finally, small groups will analyze some documentary evidence of Adams's role and Jefferson's advice regarding the Monroe Doctrine. The class will debate how credit for the Doctrine should be "allocated."

This unit of study prepares students to reflect on the Doctrine. What were its most significant goals? In what ways, if any, was it intended to provide peace and safety for the United States, protect the newly independent Latin American states, and/or promote expansionist goals of the United States in the Western Hemisphere?

Guiding Questions

  • What were the circumstances leading to the formulation of the Monroe Doctrine?
  • What were its major provisions?
  • What were Monroe's contributions to American foreign policy prior to and during his terms as president?
  • What contributions did John Quincy Adams and Thomas Jefferson make to the formulation of the Monroe Doctrine?

Learning Objectives

  • List events in early American diplomatic history that contributed to the formulation of the Monroe Doctrine.
  • Discuss the reasons President Monroe used when recommending that Congress recognize the revolutionary governments of Spanish America.
  • Paraphrase the central points of the Monroe Doctrine.
  • Weigh the relative contributions to the Monroe Doctrine of President Monroe, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, and former President and unofficial advisor Thomas Jefferson.
  • Decide whether the Doctrine was intended to provide peace and safety for the United States, protect the newly independent Latin American states, and/or promote expansionist goals of the United States in the Western Hemisphere.

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 Master PDF for this lesson. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.
  • Each activity in this unit of study is designed for use as a stand-alone lesson. Taken all together, the lessons provide a fairly comprehensive review of U.S. diplomacy before 1823. Since available time and curriculum needs vary by classroom, the following guidelines for use are provided:
  • According to Information USA, an exhibit of the website of the U.S. Department of State (a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library):

    In Monroe's message to Congress on December 2, 1823, he delivered what we have always called the Monroe Doctrine, although in truth it should have been called the Adams Doctrine.

    Information USA should not be regarded as an authoritative scholarly source. However, the suggestion that John Quincy Adams—Monroe's Secretary of State—has received insufficient credit for his role in formulating the Monroe Doctrine is not unique. In this lesson, the suggestion provides a motive for students to take a closer look at the Monroe Doctrine, as well as some of the international events and domestic ideas that provided the impetus for it.

    When students read correspondence between Monroe and former President Thomas Jefferson, they also will note Jefferson's apparent influence on Monroe. In the culminating lesson of this unit of study, students will decide for themselves if the famous Doctrine has been correctly or incorrectly named. Any well-reasoned conclusion based on evidence will be fine because this unit has a different underlying purpose: As students explore the relative influence of Monroe, Adams, and Jefferson on the Monroe Doctrine, they also will be analyzing the Monroe Doctrine itself and events contemporary to it.

  • Throughout this unit, students will read and analyze a variety of primary documents. The following materials from EDSITEment resources may be useful to teachers seeking expert advice on the use of primary documents:

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
  • History and Social Studies > People > Native American
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Immigration/Migration
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Debate
  • Discussion
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Logical reasoning
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Using primary sources
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 (3 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

On the last day of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin observed that he had often wondered whether the design on the president's chair depicted a rising or a setting sun. "Now at length," he remarked, "I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun."

Franklin's optimism came only after many months of debate and argumentation over the form of government that would best secure the future safety and happiness of the young American republic. At times it seemed that the Convention would fail as a result of seemingly irreconcilable views between the delegates, especially on the questions of selecting representatives to Congress, the relationship of the national and state governments, and the powers of the president. After a month of deadlock over the issue of representation, Franklin himself had called for a prayer because "mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom."

The delegates at the 1787 Convention faced a challenge as arduous as those who worked throughout the 1780s to initiate reforms to the American political system. Even before the Convention was authorized to convene, the road to reform was paved with resistance, especially from those who believed that the Articles of Confederation were in little or no need of amendment. In the end, the Convention met, and by the almost miraculous "Connecticut Compromise" was able to fulfill its task of recommending improvements to the American form of government, with only three delegates refusing to sign the final document. Although many challenges to ratification lay ahead, the work of the Convention placed the Union on a more stable basis, and the Constitution continues to be the foundation of American government and political thought to this day.

In this unit, students will examine the roles that key American founders played in creating the Constitution, and the challenges they faced in the process. They will learn why many Americans in the 1780s believed that reforms to the Articles of Confederation were necessary, and the steps taken to authorize the 1787 Convention in Philadelphia. They will become familiar with the main issues that divided delegates at the Convention, particularly the questions of representation in Congress and the office of the presidency. Finally, they will see how a spirit of compromise, in the end, was necessary for the Convention to fulfill its task of improving the American political system.

Guiding Questions

  • Was the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, called for by Congress to recommend amendments to the Articles of Confederation, necessary to preserve the Union?
  • Why was the question of representation such an important issue to the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and what led them to eventually compromise on the question?
  • Why was creating the office of the presidency such an important and difficult task for the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787?

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the steps taken by Americans to bring about the 1787 Convention by placing key events in historical order in a timeline.
  • Discuss actions by several state governments that violated the Articles of Confederation and acts of Congress.
  • Identify the powers of Congress under the Articles of Confederation, and explain why those powers were insufficient to ensure the prosperity and security of the United States.
  • Articulate the views of several American founders about the problems of the American political system in the 1780s.
  • Explain and discuss the schemes of representation in the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Hamilton Plan.
  • Explain the significance of the Connecticut Compromise in resolving the question of representation.
  • Understand and discuss the proposals for the office of the presidency in the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Hamilton Plan, and how these differed from but contributed to the office of the presidency as established by the U.S. Constitution.
  • Articulate how the debates over the office of the presidency often revolved around the American rejection of monarchy.
  • Understand the significance of the Brearly Committee's recommendations in resolving disagreements over the office of the presidency.
  • Explain the tension between the need to give the president sufficient "energy" (i.e., power and independence) and at the same time establish sufficient limitations and controls to prevent the abuse of executive power.

Preparation Instructions

Review each lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and links from EDSITEment-reviewed websites. Download the PDFs for each lesson, such as this one for Lesson Plan One. This file contains excerpted versions of the documents used in the first and second activities, 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.

Working with 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. This page from the Library of Congress includes a set of such activities. Another useful resource is the Educator Resources section of the National Archives website, which features a set of Document Analysis Worksheets. Finally, History Matters offers pages on "Making Sense of Maps" and "Making Sense of Oral History" which give helpful advice to teachers in getting their students to use such sources effectively.

The Lessons

  • Lesson 1: The Road to the Constitutional Convention

    Signing of Constitution, by Howard C. Cristy

    This lesson focuses on the problems under the Articles of Confederation between 1783 and 1786 leading to the 1787 Convention. Through examination of primary sources, students will see why some prominent American founders, more than others, believed that the United States faced a serious crisis, and that drastic changes, rather than minor amendments, to the Articles were necessary.

  • Lesson 2: The Question of Representation at the 1787 Convention

    Signing of Constitution, by Howard C. Cristy

    When the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention convened in May of 1787 to recommend amendments to the Articles of Confederation, one of the first issues they addressed was the plan for representation in Congress. This lesson will focus on the various plans for representation debated during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

  • Lesson 3: Creating the Office of the Presidency

    Signing of Constitution, by Howard C. Cristy

    As the delegates at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 continued to develop a plan of government that would remedy the defects of the Articles of Confederation, one of the most difficult challenges was creating the office of the presidency. This lesson will focus on the arguments over the various characteristics and powers of the office of president as debated during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

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
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Historical analysis
  • Internet skills
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Online research
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
  • Writing skills
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

Civil War: A "Terrible Swift Sword" (3 Lessons)

Created July 17, 2010

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The Unit

Overview

Whether it be called the Civil War, the War between the States, the War of the Rebellion, or the War for Southern Independence, the events of the years 1861-1865 were the most traumatic in the nation's history. The secession of the southern states, and President Lincoln's decision to prevent them forcibly from leaving the Union, triggered a conflict that would see fighting on battlefields as far apart as Pennsylvania and Texas, Missouri and Florida, and would leave nearly a million Americans on both sides dead or wounded. Indeed, casualties in the Civil War exceeded those of every other war in which the United States has ever participated, combined.

But the sheer costs of the war were matched by its importance. It was fought over two basic questions-whether it was legal under the U.S. Constitution for a state to leave the constitution, and whether the practice of chattel slavery was consistent with the nation's founding principles. The Union victory established that the answer to both questions was no.

This curriculum unit will introduce students to several important questions pertaining to the war. In the first, they will examine original documents and statistics in an attempt to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each side at the start of the conflict. The second addresses the two turning points of the war-the concurrent battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg-as well as the morality of the Union's use of "total war" tactics against the population of the South. Finally, in the third lesson students will examine a series of case studies in Abraham Lincoln's wartime leadership; by using primary sources they will be asked to assess whether, based on his performance during his first term of office, he deserved a second.

Guiding Questions

  • Which side possessed the overall advantage at the start of the Civil War?
  • How did the Union win the war?
  • Did Lincoln's performance as a wartime president during his first term of office justify his reelection in 1864?

Learning Objectives

  • Compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of the North and South using various primary source documents.
  • Analyze the economic advantages possessed by both sides on the eve of the Civil War.
  • Compare and contrast each side's strategic objectives for the war.
  • Explain Great Britain's interests in the Civil War, and how they might have affected the balance of forces between the two sides.
  • Explain why the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg were the turning points of the war.
  • Evaluate the role of Sherman's "total war" tactics in bringing about a Union victory.
  • Argue whether it was necessary for Abraham Lincoln to suspend habeas corpus.
  • Assess whether the Emancipation Proclamation was sound wartime policy.
  • Explain why the decision to arm slaves was so controversial in the North.
  • Evaluate Lincoln's refusal to conclude a compromise peace with the Confederacy.
  • Identify the major issues in the 1864 presidential election, and make an overall judgment as to whether Lincoln deserved a second term.

Preparation Instructions

Review each lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and links from EDSITEment-reviewed websites. 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 PDF, such as this one for Lesson Plan One.

Download the Text Documents for each lesson, available as PDFs, such as this one for Lesson Plan One. This file contains excerpted versions of the documents used in the first and second activities, 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.

Working with 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. Finally, History Matters offers pages on "Making Sense of Maps" and "Making Sense of Oral History" which give helpful advice to teachers in getting their students to use such sources effectively.

The Lessons

  • Lesson 1: On the Eve of War: North vs. South

    Created July 17, 2010
    A Confederate artillery battery at Charleston, South Carolina

    This lesson will examine the economic, military and diplomatic strengths and weaknesses of the North and South on the eve of the Civil War. In making these comparisons students will use maps and read original documents to decide which side, if any, had an overall advantage at the start of the war.

  • Lesson 2: The Battles of the Civil War

    Created July 17, 2010
    "A Harvest of Death."

    Through the use of maps and original documents, this lesson will focus on the key battles of the Civil War, Gettysburg and Vicksburg and show how the battles contributed to its outcome. It will also examine the "total war" strategy of General Sherman, and the role of naval warfare in bringing about a Union victory.

  • Lesson 3: Abraham Lincoln and Wartime Politics

    Created July 17, 2010
    The re-election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency in 1864

    This lesson will look at the partisan political issues which emerged in the election of 1864 around Abraham Lincoln's role as a wartime president. Through an examination of primary documents, students will focus on Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, the Emancipation Proclamation, his decision to arm the freed slaves, his refusal to accept a compromise peace with the South, and the election of 1864.

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > People > African American
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
  • 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 > Themes > Demographic Changes
  • History and Social Studies > People > Women
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Economic Transformation
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Globalization
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Immigration/Migration
  • 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
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Debate
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Internet skills
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Online research
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
  • Visual analysis
  • Vocabulary
  • Writing skills
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
  • African-American Communities in the North Before the Civil War

    St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, Pa.

    One of the heroes of the Battle of Bunker Hill was Salem Poor, a free African American.  Black people fought on both sides during the American Revolution. Census data also reveal that there were slaves and free Blacks living in the North in 1790 and after. What do we know about African-American communities in the North in the years after the American Revolution?

  • 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 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.