• The Preamble to the Constitution: How Do You Make a More Perfect Union?

    Constitution thumb

    Students will learn how the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution was shaped by historical events and how it reflected the fundamental values and principles of a newly independent nation.

  • Lesson 3: Religion and the Fight for American Independence

    Commander of the Continental Army, George Washington

    Using primary documents, this lesson explores how religion aided and hindered the American war effort; specifically, it explores how Anglican loyalists and Quaker pacifists responded to the outbreak of hostilities and how the American revolutionaries enlisted religion in support of the fight for independence.

  • Lesson 4: The Second Inaugural Address (1865)—Restoring the American Union

    Photograph of Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural. Lincoln is at the very center  of the picture surrounded by dignitaries.

    The newly re-elected Abraham Lincoln sought to unite the American people by interpreting the waning conflict as a divine judgment upon both sides of the war. This lesson will examine Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address to determine how he sought to reunite a divided country through a providential interpretation of the Civil War.

  • 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 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 Plans: Grades 6-8
    Curriculum Unit

    Who Was Really Our First President? A Lost Hero (3 Lessons)

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    The Unit

    Overview

    From 1781 to 1782 he was “President of the United States in Congress Assembled” under the Articles of Confederation. As the presiding officer of Congress, Hanson was responsible for initiating a number of programs that helped America gain a world position.
    John Hanson Statue on the website The Architect of the Capitol, a link from the EDSITEment resource CongressLink

    At the time the Founders were shaping the future of a new country, John Adams suggested the President should be addressed as “His Excellency.” Happily, others recognized that such a title was inappropriate. Though the proper form of address represents only a small detail, defining everything about the Presidency was central to the idea of America that was a work-in-progress when the nation was young.

    In this lesson, students look at the role of President as defined in the Articles of Confederation and consider the precedent-setting accomplishments of John Hanson, the first full-term “President of the United States in Congress Assembled.”

    Guiding Questions

    • How was the role of “President” defined in the Articles of Confederation?
    • What important developments occurred during John Hanson's term as the first full-term “President of the United States in Congress Assembled”?
    • How did they affect the future of the U.S. and the office of the President?

    Learning Objectives

    • Describe the role of “President of the United States in Congress Assembled” under the Articles of Confederation and explain how the President was elected.
    • Describe some of the actions of John Hanson in his role as “President of the United States in Congress Assembled.”
    • List some of the problems and accomplishments that occurred under the Articles of Confederation.

    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.
    • Students with an understanding of the fears of the Founders regarding a powerful executive will benefit the most from this lesson. When discussing the structure of the Executive sketched in the Articles of Confederation, it is useful to refer back to the complaints of the colonists as summarized by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Help students understand why and how the Founders were cautious. Consult the following EDSITEment lessons for grades 6-8 for more information on:
    • On March 1, 1781, the Articles of Confederation, which had been passed by the Continental Congress in 1777, finally came into force with ratification by Maryland. On October 19 of the same year, British General Cornwallis surrendered a large army to General George Washington, effectively ending the Revolutionary War. Days later, the Continental Congress elected John Hanson of Maryland the "President of the United States in Congress Assembled" with no dissenting votes. On paper, the role was largely ceremonial, with its only specified duty being presiding over the Congress; however, some people believe Hanson was integral to a number of important actions. Many of the initiatives begun during Hanson's term in office were realized later when Washington was Chief Executive (for example, the census and Postal Service).
    • The EDSITEment reviewed website Digital Classroom offers The Declaration of Independence: A History and The Constitution: A History for background on those fundamental documents as well as the Articles of Confederation.
    • Unless otherwise specified, historic documents referred to in the lesson plan are available on the EDSITEment resource Avalon Project at the Yale Law School.
    • The handout "Documents for John Hanson's Term as President of the United States in Congress Assembled," on pages 3-8 of the PDF file (see download instructions, above), uses very brief excerpts from the records of the Continental Congress. The documents are intended to represent a sample of the problems and accomplishments of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation during John Hanson's tenure as President. The interesting but relatively inconsequential question about Hanson's place in history serves in this lesson as a hinge into the more important question of the problems with the Articles of Confederation that eventually led to the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

      The records of the Continental Congress are presented to students in their original language. Some difficult terms, indicated by underlining, are defined in parentheses. Some grammar and spelling has been standardized. In many classes, students will be able to understand the text sufficiently for the requirements of this lesson; some classes will benefit by simply going through a few (or all) of the documents as a whole class. The passages are all short but vary in length; if students will be looking at them in groups, assign groups and passages accordingly. There are 12 documents; use all of them or choose those most appropriate for your class. Some representing defects in the Articles and accomplishments of the Congress are marked.
    • For further reading, consult the Recommended Reading List provided here as a PDF.

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    6-8

    Subject Areas
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
    Skills
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Discussion
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Historical analysis
    • Interpretation
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Using primary sources
    Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8
    Curriculum Unit

    Before and Beyond the Constitution: What Should a President do? (3 Lessons)

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    The Unit

    Overview

    Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington

    Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington

    Credit: Courtesy of American Memory

    “… the executive authority, with few exceptions, is to be vested in a single magistrate. This will scarcely, however, be considered as a point upon which any comparison can be grounded; for if, in this particular, there be a resemblance to the king of Great Britain, there is not less a resemblance to the … khan of Tartary, to the Man of the Seven Mountains....”
    —Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers 69 on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Avalon Project at the Yale Law School

    “if you adopt this government, you will incline to an arbitrary and odious aristocracy or monarchy…” —Anti-Federalist Paper Cato #5 Executive Power on the Constitution Society website, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library

    At the time the Founders were shaping the future of a new country, John Adams suggested the President should be addressed as "His Excellency." Happily, others recognized that such a title was inappropriate. Though the proper form of address represents only a small detail, defining everything about the Presidency was central to the idea of America that was a work-in-progress when the nation was young.

    In this curriculum unit, students look at the role of President as defined in the Constitution and consider the precedent-setting accomplishments of George Washington.

    Note: This unit may be taught either as a stand-alone unit or as a sequel to the complementary EDSITEment curriculum units, Background on the Patriot Attitude Toward the Monarchy and Lost Hero: Who Was Really Our First President?

    Guiding Questions

    • How was the role of "President" defined in the Constitution?
    • What important developments occurred during George Washington's tenure as the first "President of the United States"?
    • How did they affect the future of the U.S. and the office of President?

    Learning Objectives

    • Discuss the powers and responsibilities of the President as defined by the Constitution.
    • List some of the precedents set during George Washington's term in office.
    • Match an action of a President with a power or responsibility of the Chief Executive.

    Preparation Instructions

    • Review the lesson plans in this unit. 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.
    • Unless otherwise specified, historic documents referred to in the lesson plan are available on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Avalon Project at the Yale Law School.
    • The EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom offers The Declaration of Independence: A History and The Constitution: A History for background on those fundamental documents.
    • The Founders were faced with a difficult decision-fix the flawed Articles of Confederation or develop a new system. Essays in favor of the passage of the Constitution and discussing weaknesses in the Articles (written by the likes of Madison and Hamilton) were published in the Federalist Papers. About the Federalist Papers, on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory, explains:
      …the Federalist Papers, is a series of 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison between October 1787 and May 1788. The essays were published anonymously, under the pen name "Publius," in various New York state newspapers of the time.

      The Federalist Papers were written and published to urge New Yorkers to ratify the proposed United States Constitution, which was drafted in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. In lobbying for adoption of the Constitution over the existing Articles of Confederation, the essays explain particular provisions of the Constitution in detail. For this reason, and because Hamilton and Madison were each members of the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers are often used today to help interpret the intentions of those drafting the Constitution.
    • George Washington became President-reluctantly-at a critical time in the history of the United States. The Confederation had threatened to unravel; the weak central government (which included a weak executive with the sole responsibility of presiding over meetings of Congress and no special power to initiate laws beyond that of any member of Congress, enforce laws, or check acts of Congress) created by the Articles of Confederation had failed. As part of its goal to form a “more perfect” government, The Constitution of the United States defined a new role for the executive, the President, in a much stronger federal system. However, a definition on paper and a President in practice could be two very different things. In this activity, students review the responsibilities and powers of the President as intended by the Founders and as practiced during Washington's precedent-setting terms in office.
    • Students with an understanding of the fears of the Founders-especially the Anti-Federalists-regarding a powerful executive will benefit the most from this lesson. When discussing the structure of the Executive sketched in the Articles of Confederation, it is useful to refer back to the complaints of the colonists as summarized by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Help students understand why and how the Founders were cautious. Consult the following EDSITEment lessons for grades 6-8 for more information on:
    • The unit uses very brief excerpts from Alexander Hamilton's The Real Character of the Executive (Federalist Paper #69), provided in the handout The Real Character of the Executive on pages 1-2 of the PDF (see download instructions, above). Hamilton's essential statements about the Executive have been grouped together. Definitions for a few difficult terms are provided in parentheses and some spelling has been modernized, but all of the text is Hamilton's. In many classes, students should be able to work with the passages in small groups. Classes can also work through the document together.
    • For further reading, consult the Recommended Reading List provided here as a PDF.

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    6-8

    Subject Areas
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
    Skills
    • Compare and contrast
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Discussion
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Historical analysis
    • Interpretation
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Using primary sources
    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 > Themes > Civil Rights
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
    • 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

    The First American Party System: Events, Issues, and Positions (3 Lessons)

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    The Unit

    Overview

    Jefferson's revolutionary viewpoints soon shaped the beginnings of a profound split in American politics. On one side, centering on the figure of the secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, were those favoring an energetic federal government, a strong presidency, and ties to England. On the other side, centered on Thomas Jefferson, were those favoring a less dynamic national government, a limited presidency, and ties to revolutionary France.
    —From His Empire of Liberty on the EDSITEment resource The American President

    The idea of a legitimate opposition—recognized opposition, organized and free enough in its activities to be able to displace an existing government by peaceful means—is an immensely sophisticated idea, and it was not an idea that the Fathers found fully developed and ready to hand when they began their enterprise in republican constitutionalism in 1788.
    —Richard Hofstadter in The Idea of a Party System (University of California Press, 1970. p. 8.)

    Fear of factionalism and political parties was deeply rooted in Anglo-American political culture before the American Revolution. Leaders such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson hoped their new government, founded on the Constitution, would be motivated instead by a common intent, a unity. Though dominant, these sentiments were not held by all Americans. A delegate to the Massachusetts ratifying convention, for example, asserted that “competition of interest…between those persons who are in and those who are out office, will ever form one important check to the abuse of power in our representatives.” (Quoted in Hofstader, p. 36) Hamilton argued from a slightly different perspective in Federalist #70: “In the legislature, promptitude of decision is oftener an evil than a benefit. The differences of opinion, and the jarrings of parties in that department of the government, though they may sometimes obstruct salutary plans, yet often promote deliberation and circumspection, and serve to check excesses in the majority.”

    Political parties did form in the United States and had their beginnings in Washington's cabinet. Jefferson, who resigned as Washington's Secretary of State in 1793, and James Madison, who first began to oppose the policies of Alexander Hamilton while a member of the House of Representatives, soon united, as Jefferson wrote in his will, "in the same principles and pursuits of what [they] deemed for the greatest good of our country" (on the Thomas Jefferson Digital Archive, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website The American President). Together, they were central to the creation of the first political party in the United States. In the meantime, those who supported Hamilton began to organize their own party, thus leading to the establishment of a two-party system.

    In this unit, students will read the philosophical and policy statements of Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and others to better understand the nature and positions of the first political parties in the United States.

    Guiding Questions

    • What constitutes a legitimate opposition in a democracy? What is a political party in a democracy?
    • What differences in philosophy led to the development of the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties?
    • What events and issues were important in causing the differences in opinion?
    • What were the key positions of the parties?
    • What are the essential elements of an organized political party?

    Learning Objectives

    • Cite critical factors leading to the development of the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans.
    • Summarize the key positions of the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans and the reasoning behind those positions.

    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.
    • The philosophical differences that arose during the Constitutional Convention and the ratification process that followed laid the foundation for the political divisions that emerged and solidified once the new government was in place. Article VII of the Constitution provided for ratification by the states, stipulating that approval by nine states would be sufficient for adoption. Support for the new government was mixed. Supporters called themselves Federalists and dubbed their opponents Anti-Federalists. These labels referred to groups that formed for the sole purpose of debating the merits of the Constitution, deciding whether it should be adopted, and, if so, determining what conditions should be placed on its acceptance. Though sharply divided on issues relating to the new framework of government, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists did not adopt the organizational elements associated with formal political parties. Furthermore, the divisions that arose during the ratification process were different from the alignments that emerged during Washington’s administration. Madison, for example was closely aligned with Hamilton during the struggle for ratification but led the opposition to Hamilton’s Federalist Party throughout the 1790s. Exactly when philosophical differences coalesced into recognizable political parties is open to debate. According to the Encyclopedia of American History (Morris and Morris, Harper Collins, 1996):

      Competent latter-day authorities differ over the approximate date of origin of these parties. Among the dates indicated for their definite emergence are 1787-88 (C.A. Beard), 1791-92 (J.S. Bassett: D. Malone), 1792-1793 (N. Cunningham) and 1798 (O.G.Libby).

    Additional information on the positions of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists may be found in the EDSITEment lessons Before and Beyond the Constitution: Chief Executives Compared: The Federalist Papers and The Constitutional Convention: Four Founding Fathers You May Never Have Met.

    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 > Themes
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
    • 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
    • Debate
    • Discussion
    • Historical analysis
    • Interpretation
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Textual analysis
    • Using archival documents
    • Using primary sources
    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 > Themes > Culture
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Demographic Changes
    • 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 > Economic Transformation
    • History and Social Studies > People > Other
    • History and Social Studies > People > Women
    • 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