This lesson will examine the most famous speech in American history to understand how Lincoln turned a perfunctory eulogy at a cemetery dedication into a concise and profound meditation on the meaning of the Civil War and American union.
How did Abraham Lincoln understand the relationship between principles of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution? In this lesson students will examine Lincoln's "Fragment on the Constitution and Union" a brief but insightful reflection on the importance of the ideal of individual liberty to the constitutional structure and operation of the American union written in the last days of December 1860 when his election as president had brought the crisis of the American "house divided" to a head.
This lesson focuses on the chief objections of the Anti-federalists, especially The Federal Farmer (Richard Henry Lee), Centinel, and Brutus, regarding the extended republic. Students become familiar with the larger issues surrounding this debate, including the nature of the American Union, the difficulties of uniting such a vast territory with a diverse multitude of regional interests, and the challenges of maintaining a free republic as the American people moved toward becoming a nation rather than a mere confederation of individual states.
This lesson covers two essential aspects of Reconstruction: the condition of the southern states at the close of the war and Lincoln’s plan for restoring them to the Union. In examining the conditions of the southern states, students consider both the physical conditions (i.e., the impact of the devastation of war) and the political condition of these states (i.e., what was the proper relationship between southern states and the Union upon their surrender at Appomattox?)
This lesson plan highlights the importance of First Amendment rights by examining Norman Rockwell’s painting of The Four Freedoms. Students discover the First Amendment in action as they explore their own community and country through newspapers, art, and role playing.
This lesson plan looks at the major ideas in the Declaration of Independence, their origins, the Americans’ key grievances against the King and Parliament, their assertion of sovereignty, and the Declaration’s process of revision. Upon completion of the lesson, students will be familiar with the document’s origins, and the influences that produced Jefferson’s “expression of the American mind.”
In September of 1787, the delegates to the Convention in Philadelphia presented their work to the American public for ratification. The proposed Constitution marked a clear departure from the Articles of Confederation, which had essentially established a federal “league of friendship” between thirteen sovereign and largely independent states. Under the newly proposed plan of government, the union between the states would be strengthened under a national government that derived its authority—at least in part—directly from the American people rather than purely from the state legislatures. And under the new Constitution, the people would be represented equally in the House, regardless of the state in which they lived—unlike the Articles of Confederation, according to which the Continental Congress equally represented the states. In other words, the proposed Constitution would make the United States a nation of one people rather than a loose confederation of states.
The proposed Constitution, and the change it wrought in the nature of the American Union, spawned one of the greatest political debates of all time. In addition to the state ratifying conventions, the debates also took the form of a public conversation, mostly through newspaper editorials, with Anti-federalists on one side objecting to the Constitution, and Federalists on the other supporting it. Writers from both sides tried to persuade the public that precious liberty and self-government, hard-earned during the late Revolution, were at stake in the question.
Anti-federalists such as the Federal Farmer, Centinel, and Brutus argued that the new Constitution would eventually lead to the dissolution of the state governments, the consolidation of the Union into “one great republic” under an unchecked national government, and as a result the loss of free, self-government. Brutus especially believed that in such an extensive and diverse nation, nothing short of despotism “could bind so great a country under one government.” Federalists such as James Madison (writing as Publius) countered that it was precisely a large nation, in conjunction with a well-constructed system of government, which would help to counter the “mortal disease” of popular governments: the “dangerous vice” of majority faction. In an extended republic, interests would be multiplied, Madison argued, making it difficult for a majority animated by one interest to unite and oppress the minority. If such a faction did form, a frame of government that included “auxiliary precautions” such as separation of powers and legislative checks and balances would help to prevent the “factious spirit” from introducing “instability, injustice, and confusion … into the public councils.”
In this unit, students will examine the arguments of Anti-federalists against and Federalists for the extended republic that would result from the new Constitution. They will become familiar with some of the greatest thinkers on both sides of the argument and their reasons for opposing or supporting the Constitution. They will learn why Anti-federalists believed that a large nation could not long preserve liberty and self-government. They will also learn why Federalists such as James Madison believed that a large nation was vital to promote justice and the security of rights for all citizens, majority and minority alike. Finally, students will see the seriousness of the question as one that both sides believed would determine the happiness, liberty, and safety of future generations of Americans.
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.
These Text Documents contain excerpted versions of the documents used in the activities, as well as questions for students to answer.
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.
More Americans lost their lives in the Civil War than in any other conflict. How did the United States arrive at a point at which the South seceded and some families were so fractured that brother fought brother?
A complex series of events led to the Civil War. The lessons in this unit are designed to help students develop a foundation on which to understand the basic disagreements between North and South. Through the investigation of primary source documents —photographs, census information and other archival documents—students gain an appreciation of everyday life in the North and South, changes occurring in the lives of ordinary Americans, and some of the major social and economic issues of the years before the Civil War.
The Civil War erupted after a long history of compromises and sectional debates over representation, federalism, tariffs and territories. Though many of the political differences are beyond the scope of the intermediate curriculum, students can use their analysis of archival documents to begin to appreciate the differences between the North and South and the changes afoot in the United States that contributed to the developing conflict.
Before you begin to teach this unit, review the suggested activities and familiarize yourself with the websites involved. Select, download and duplicate, as necessary, any documents you want the class to use.
For the census activity in Lesson 3, either the teacher or students will need to keep a calculator at hand.
You may wish to provide students with a copy of the Document Analysis Worksheet, available through the EDSITEment resource The Digital Classroom, to guide them as they review the documents in this unit.
The purpose of this lesson is to prepare students with background information for understanding the causes of the Civil War. You can find information on the causes of the Civil War, accessible through a link from the EDSITEment resource The Internet Public Library.
In 1845 Frederick Douglass published what was to be the first of his three autobiographies: the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. As the title suggests, Douglass wished not only to highlight the irony that a land founded on freedom would permit slavery to exist within its midst, but also to establish that he, an American slave with no formal education, was the sole author of the work. Written in the years following his 1838 escape from his Maryland slaveholder, the narrative reveals numerous instances of Douglass's courage on his journey from slave to free man. Douglass himself punctuates this route by sharing with the reader his tenacious and ingenious efforts at learning how to read and write, his risky physical opposition to a "nigger-breaker," and his escape to New York. These courageous acts pale, however, beside his most overt and possibly dangerous act: the publishing of his autobiography before his freedom had been purchased. Indeed, in 1845 Douglass was still legally a slave; at any time he could have been betrayed, hunted down, captured and returned to his master who, more than likely, would have sold Douglass further down South as punishment. It was not until 1847, while Douglass was traveling and lecturing in England that friends bought his freedom. For Douglass, however, his personal declaration of freedom and independence occurred two years earlier with his Narrative.
The Narrative in itself is remarkable for the views on slavery and slaveholders that Douglass bravely presents. First, Douglass asserts his humanity in the face of the dehumanizing institution of slavery. In doing so, he sets an example to other slaves to insist upon their humanity, and he persuades his reading audience to acknowledge this humanity, too. He claims as his intellectual birthright the opportunity to learn to read and write. He refuses to accept anything less than his own physical, spiritual, and intellectual freedom. Moreover, he never hesitates to criticize directly—often with withering irony—those who uphold slavery and those who prefer a romanticized version of it. Pitilessly, Douglass offers the reader a first-hand account of the pain, humiliation and brutality of the South's "peculiar institution." His is not an account of moonlight, magnolias, and happily singing workers. Instead, he points out the cruelty and the corrupting influence of power not only on the victim, but also on the perpetrator—the slave holder. Lastly, Douglass's Narrative is a courageous work because it confronts the misuse of Christianity in perpetuating the widely held belief in the slave owner's "God-given" right to own or sell other human beings.
In this curriculum unit, students will read Douglass's narrative with particular attention devoted to chapters 1, 2, 6, 7, 9, and 10. They will analyze Douglass's vivid first-hand accounts of the lives of slaves and the behavior of slave owners to see how he successfully contrasts reality with romanticism and powerfully uses imagery, irony, connotative and denotative language, strong active verbs, repetition, and rhetorical appeals to persuade the reader of slavery's evil. Students will also identify and discuss Douglass's acts of physical and intellectual courage on his journey towards freedom.
Our political problem now is “Can we, as a nation, continue together permanently—forever—half slave, and half free?” The problem is too mighty for me. May God, in his mercy, superintend the solution.
—Abraham Lincoln to George Robertson, August 15, 1855
In this unit, students will trace the development of sectionalism in the United States as it was driven by the growing dependence upon, and defense of, black slavery in the southern states. Initially seen as contrary to freedom but tolerated in order to produce the U.S. Constitution, by the 1830s the "peculiar institution" found advocates who saw it as a "positive good." Its expansion into Missouri, southern outrage over federal tariffs, and westward expansion into new territory produced a volatile and persistent debate over slavery that increasingly threatened to divide the American union. By 1860, the nation found an old Democratic Party split over the right to extend slavery into federal territory, and a new Republican Party nominating an anti-slavery, though not abolitionist, president. When Abraham Lincoln's election produced no national consensus to settle the matter of slavery's future, a southern "secession" sealed the fate of the Union.
What characterized the debates over American slavery and the power of the federal government for the first half of the 19th century? How did regional economies and political events produce a widening split between free and slaveholding states in antebellum America? Who were the key figures and what were their arguments regarding the legitimacy of slavery and the proper role of the national government in resolving its future in the American republic? This unit of study will equip students to answer these questions through the use of interactive maps, primary texts, and comparative biographies.
Upon completing the lessons in this unit, students should be able to do the following:
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.
Each activity in this unit of study is designed for use as a stand-alone lesson, comprising three forty-five minute class periods. Taken all together, the lessons provide an overview of the causes of sectionalism that led to the American Civil War. Since available time and curriculum needs vary by classroom, the following guidelines for use are provided:
Another approach you can use is to skim each lesson plan to see what specific activities each offers and choose only those that suit specific course objectives and content. Each lesson plan indicates how best to streamline that lesson's content and will suggest essential versus more rigorous treatment of a given subject.