• Lesson 3: U.S. Neutrality and the War in Europe, 1939–1940

    Famous aviator Charles Lindbergh

    The outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 posed a serious challenge to U.S. neutrality. On the one hand, Americans' sympathies lay overwhelmingly with Great Britain and its allies; on the other hand, public sentiment overwhelmingly favored staying out of the war. Through a study of contemporary documents, students learn about the difficult choices faced by the Roosevelt administration during the first fifteen months of World War II, culminating in the decision to provide direct military aid to Great Britain.

  • Lesson 3: The Gettysburg Address (1863)—Defining the American Union

    Photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg dedication. Lincoln is highlighted in this image  in the middle of the crowd at the dais.

    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.

  • Lesson 1: Fragment on the Constitution and Union (1861)—The Purpose of the American Union

    Library of  Congress image of 1860 campaign illustration of Republican nominee Abraham Lincoln

    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.

  • 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae: Herodotus's Real History

    “Μολον Λαωε!”

    Students may be familiar with this famous battle from its depiction in Zack Snyder's movie 300, based on Frank Miller's graphic novel. In this lesson students learn about the historical background to the battle and are asked to ponder some of its legacy, including how history is reported and interpreted from different perspectives.

    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    The Debate in the United States over the League of Nations (3 Lessons)

    Tools

    Share

    The Unit

    Overview

    Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American . . . America is the only idealist nation in the world.”
    —President Woodrow Wilson
    National I must remain and in that way I, like all other Americans, can render the amplest service to the world.”
    —Senator Henry Cabot Lodge

    American foreign policy continues to resonate with the issues surrounding the debate over U.S. entry into the League of Nations-collective security versus national sovereignty, idealism versus pragmatism, the responsibilities of powerful nations, the use of force to accomplish idealistic goals, the idea of America. Understanding the debate over the League and the consequences of its ultimate failure provides insight into international affairs in the years since the end of the Great War and beyond.

    In this lesson, students read the words and listen to the voices of some central participants in the debate over the League of Nations.

    Note: This lesson may be taught either as a stand-alone lesson or as a sequel to the complementary EDSITEment lesson U.S. Entry into World War I: A Documentary Chronology.

    Guiding Questions

    • What was Woodrow Wilson's role in and vision for peace and the League of Nations after World War I?
    • What were the central issues in the debate in America over the League of Nations?

    Learning Objectives

    • Describe Wilson's concepts for peace and the League of Nations and efforts to foster American support for it.
    • Discuss the opposition to the League in the Senate.

    Preparation Instructions

    The Lessons

    • Lesson 1: The Debate in the United States over the League of Nations: League of Nations Basics

      Woodrow Wilson for League of Nations

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

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

      Woodrow Wilson for League of Nations

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

    • Lesson 3: The Debate in the United States over the League of Nations: Five Camps: From Voices of Consent to Voices of Dissent

      Woodrow Wilson for League of Nations

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

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    9-12

    Subject Areas
    • History and Social Studies > Place > Europe
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
    Skills
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Debate
    • Discussion
    • Evaluating arguments
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Historical analysis
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Textual analysis
    • Using archival documents
    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    What Made George Washington a Good Military Leader? (4 Lessons)

    Tools

    Share

    The Unit

    Overview

    …tactics…is only a small part of generalship. For a general must also be capable of furnishing military equipment and providing supplies for the men; he must be resourceful, active, careful, hardy and quick-witted; he must be both gentle and brutal, at once straightforward and designing, capable of both caution and surprise, lavish and rapacious, generous and mean, skilful in defense and attack; and there are many other qualifications, some natural, some acquired, that are necessary to one who would succeed as a general.

    —Attributed to Socrates in The Memorabilia (3.1.5-3.1.6) by Xenophon on the EDSITEment resource The Perseus Digital Library

    I cannot insist too strongly how I was surprised by the American Army. It is truly incredible that troops almost naked, poorly paid, and composed of old men and children and Negroes should behave so well on the march and under fire. —Attributed to a French Officer in George Washington: Life Before the Presidency on the EDSITEment-reviewed website The American President

    George Washington's early military career (1754-1758)—during the Seven Years' War—was not uniformly successful. In his first battle, he and his men were ambushed and forced to surrender Fort Necessity on the Pennsylvania frontier. Washington's reputation for leadership and courage was based on his actions in another defeat at the hands of the French. In that battle, at Fort Duquesne (1755, often called the "Battle of the Wilderness" or "Braddock's Defeat"), Washington had two horses shot from under him and eventually had to assume command from the mortally wounded General Edward Braddock. Washington led the surviving British and Colonial soldiers on a successful retreat.

    Later (1775-1783), Washington would lead the Patriots to a surprising victory over Great Britain, "…the best-trained, best-equipped fighting force in the Western world. …Although he lost most of his battles with the British, year after year he held his ragtag, hungry army together"—from the EDSITEment resource The American President.

    What combination of experience, strategy, and personal characteristics enabled Washington to succeed as a military leader?

    In this unit, students will read the Continental Congress's resolutions granting powers to General Washington; analyze some of Washington's wartime orders, dispatches, and correspondence in terms of his mission and the characteristics of a good general; and study—with frequent reference to primary material—four battles. In the final lesson in the unit, students will take one last measure of Washington. They will examine his words in response to a proposal that he become the head of a military dictatorship and a movement among some disaffected soldiers to circumvent civilian authority.

    Guiding Questions

    • What qualities made George Washington an effective military leader? These qualities should be reflected in discussions of the following:
      • What was Washington's military background before the American Revolution?
      • What was Washington's approach to military discipline?
      • What was Washington's basic strategy for defeating the British?
      • What were some specific tactics Washington employed in battle?
      • How important was Washington's personal charisma to the success of the Patriots?
    • How were the responsibilities of the Commander-in-Chief affected by conditions during the Revolutionary War?
    • How did Washington's responses to these challenges demonstrate his ability to handle a wide range of problems? These conditions included:
      • The uneasy relationship between civil authorities and the military, including the inability of the military or the Continental Congress to compel individual states to assist the war effort.
      • The advantages of fighting on home soil.
      • The problem of keeping troops supplied.
      • The presence of many colonists loyal to the British crown.
      • The difficulty of defeating the powerful British.

    Learning Objectives

    • List qualities they believe made George Washington an effective military leader.
    • List some practical lessons Washington may have learned from his early military experiences.
    • Discuss some difficulties Washington faced as Commander-in-Chief.
    • Discuss how Washington responded to the difficulties he faced as the leader of the Continental Army.
    • Give examples of Washington's leadership during one or more Revolutionary War battles.
    • Summarize briefly the Newburgh Conspiracy.
    • Describe Washington's response to the Newburgh Conspiracy.

    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.
    • For a general introduction to George Washington, the man, read The Surprising George Washington by Richard Norton Smith from Prologue Online Magazine, Spring 1994, Vol. 26, No. 1, available on the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom. For a condensed but complete summary of the life and achievements of George Washington, read the complete entry for George Washington on the EDSITEment-reviewed website The American President.
    • For background on the nature of the Revolutionary War, read the essay The Wars of the American Revolution on Liberty! The American Revolution, a link from the EDSITEment resource American Memory. You may wish to have students read this essay as well, particularly if they have not had recent background on the Revolutionary War.
    • The qualities that make anyone an effective leader, military or otherwise, are difficult to pinpoint. Washington's many leadership successes commanding the Continental Army, heading the Constitutional Convention, and serving as President of the United States make him an obvious choice as a subject for analysis. But there is no comprehensive list of Washington's leadership qualities to use as a standard to evaluate student responses. The process of historical research is at the center of this unit. Students will benefit in other ways as well. In scrutinizing the challenges Washington faced, they will better understand the Revolutionary War, especially the problems faced by the Patriots.
    • In this unit, students read and analyze a variety of primary documents. The following materials from EDSITEment resources may be useful to teachers seeking 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 > Place > The Americas
    • Literature and Language Arts > Place > Modern World
    • History and Social Studies > World > The Modern World (1500 CE-Present)
    • History and Social Studies > People > Other
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
    Skills
    • Compare and contrast
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Debate
    • Discussion
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Historical analysis
    • Interpretation
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Map Skills
    • Using primary sources
    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

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

    Tools

    Share

    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 resource Digital Classroom

    …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, from James Madison Debates the Constitutionality of a National Bank on The James Madison Center, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website The American President

    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. (available on the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom)

    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 > 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
    • 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 American War for Independence (3 Lessons)

    Tools

    Share

    The Unit

    Overview

    The decision of Britain's North American colonies to rebel against the Mother Country was an extremely risky one. Although each colony had its own militia—of varying quality—there was no Continental Army until Congress created one, virtually from scratch, in 1775. This army, placed under the command of a Virginian named George Washington, would have the unenviable task of taking on the world's largest empire, with a first-rate army, supported by what was at the time the most formidable navy in history. Indeed, it was no doubt with these risks in mind that the Continental Congress waited until July 1776—more than a year after the outbreak of hostilities—to issue a formal Declaration of Independence.

    This is not to say that the Americans lacked advantages of their own. In order to fight the colonists the British had to maintain a large army on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean—over 3,000 miles away from home. Moreover, this army actually had to conquer an area much larger than Great Britain itself; the Continental Army, on the other hand, could win simply by preventing this from happening. Even so, the first years of war were difficult ones for the Americans, and ultimately it required substantial aid from France to bring the war to a successful conclusion.

    In this unit, consisting of three lesson plans, students will learn about the diplomatic and military aspects of the American War for Independence. Through an examination of original documents and an interactive map they will learn about the strategies employed by both sides, and how those strategies played out in reality. They will study the most important military engagements, both in the North and the South. Students will also become familiar with the critical assistance provided by France, as well as the ongoing negotiations between the Americans and Great Britain.

    Guiding Questions

    • What hardships and difficulties did the Continental army face in the early years of the war, and how were they able to sustain the war effort in spite of those challenges?
    • Why did the decision of the British leadership to move the war into the South prove unsuccessful?
    • How successful were the Americans in obtaining their goals in the Revolutionary War?

    Learning Objectives

    • Explain the significance of the battles of Lexington and Concord on both America and Great Britain.
    • List the expectations that the Continental Congress had of George Washington, and assess how well he met them.
    • Articulate the problems that the Continental Army faced during the early phase of the war.
    • Explain how Washington and his men turned the tide in the North in 1777-78.
    • Identify the most important military engagements and explain their significance.
    • List the major terms of the Franco-American alliance, and explain their importance to the cause of independence.
    • Identify the most important military engagements in the South and explain their significance for the outcome of the war.
    • Explain the role that African-Americans played in the southern phase of the war.
    • Describe the American peace feelers of 1775, and why the British rejected them.
    • Describe the British peace offers of 1776 and 1778, and why the Americans rejected them.
    • Explain why Britain was willing to grant American independence by 1782.
    • Articulate the main provisions of the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

    Preparation Instructions

    Review each lesson plan. 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 Text Document.

    Download the Text Document for this lesson, available here as a PDF. This file contains excerpted versions of the documents used in the various 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.

    Perhaps most importantly, study the interactive map that accompanies this lesson. This map will walk students through the major campaigns in the North (for the first lesson) and the South (for the second lesson). In addition, students can use this interactive to map the borders of the new United States of America, as determined in the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

    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. Finally, History Matters offers helpful pages on "Making Sense of Maps" and "Making Sense of Letters and Diaries" which gives helpful advice to teachers in getting their students to use such sources effectively.

    The Lessons

    • Lesson 1: The War in the North, 1775–1778

      George Washington in the uniform of the Continental Army, by Rembrandt  Peale.

      Lacking any organized army before 1775 (aside from local colonial militias), the Continental Congress had to assemble a more or less improvised fighting force that would be expected to take on the army of the world's largest empire. This lesson will trace events in the North from 1775 to 1778. By looking at documents of the time, and using an interactive map, students will see how an army was created and understand the challenges that Washington and his men faced during this critical early stage of the war.

    • Lesson 2: The War in the South, 1778–1781

      The battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, 1781.

      The failure to restore royal authority in the northern colonies, along with the signing of an alliance between the American rebels and the French monarchy, led the British to try an entirely new strategy in the southern colonies. This lesson will examine military operations during the second, or southern, phase of the American Revolution.

    • Lesson 3: Ending the War, 1783

      Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown.

      During the Revolutionary War there were several attempts made to end the fighting. In this lesson students will consider the various peace attempts made by both sides during the Revolutionary War.

    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 > People > Other
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
    Skills
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Discussion
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Historical analysis
    • Interpretation
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Map Skills
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Role-playing/Performance
    • Textual analysis
    • Using primary sources
    • Writing skills
    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    Anticommunism in Postwar America, 1945–1954: Witch Hunt or Red Menace? (3 Lessons)

    Tools

    Share

    The Unit

    Overview

    Americans emerged from World War II with a renewed sense of confidence. They had, after all, been part of a global alliance that destroyed the military power of Germany and Japan. Moreover, as the only major combatant to avoid having its homeland ravaged by war, the U.S. economy was clearly the strongest in the world. And, of course, the United States was the only country in the world to possess that awesome new weapon, the atomic bomb. Surely, they believed, they were witnessing the dawn of a new golden age.

    It was not long before these glorious expectations were dashed. Over the next five years relations between the United States and the Soviet Union went from alliance to Cold War. To make matters worse it seemed like the Soviets might be winning. In 1948 a communist government seized power in China, the world's most populous country. The following year Moscow successfully tested an atomic device of its own, and in 1950 troops from the Soviet satellite state of North Korea launched a war of aggression against South Korea. To many, it seemed as though a new and infinitely more destructive world war was on the horizon—and this time the United States might actually lose.

    How could these setbacks be explained? The arrest and prosecution of a number of Soviet spies in the United States seemed to provide at least a partial answer. Perhaps it was the activity of disloyal Americans—in the Federal Government, in Hollywood, in the schools, etc.—that allowed China to "go communist," that handed Russia the bomb, and invited Stalin's puppets in North Korea to attack their neighbors to the South. But what constituted disloyalty? Was it only to be defined as outright spying or sabotage? Might someone who belonged to the Communist Party be considered disloyal, whether or not he had committed any overt act against the United States? And what about a screenwriter who interjected pro-Soviet themes into a Hollywood movie, or a songwriter who criticized some aspect of American society in one of his songs?

    These were the sorts of questions that were on the minds of plenty of Americans in the late 1940s and early 1950s, an age in which Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, the House Un-American Activities Committee, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and of course Joseph McCarthy become household words. In this curriculum unit students will study this turbulent period of American history, examining the various events and ideas that defined it, and considering how much of the anticommunist sentiment of the era was justified, and how much was an overreaction.

    Guiding Questions

    • Why was Soviet espionage such an important issue in the late 1940s and early 1950s?
    • What constitutes an "un-American" activity? How did the House Un-American Activities Committee go about defining and investigating such activities?
    • What impact did Joseph McCarthy have on American anticommunism?

    Learning Objectives

    • Identify the primary subjects of FBI investigation on espionage charges.
    • Explain the Venona project, including how it worked and what purpose it served.
    • Articulate the reasons why the Rosenbergs were convicted of espionage.
    • Identify HUAC, and explain its goals and methods
    • Explain why HUAC targeted Hollywood, and offer an opinion regarding whether this investigation was justifiable.
    • Articulate the issues involved in the Alger Hiss case.
    • Evaluate whether HUAC lived up to its stated purposes.
    • Enumerate the charges that McCarthy made against the Truman administration, and explain why they had such an impact.
    • Articulate the views of McCarthy's critics, namely Truman and Margaret Chase Smith, and assess their validity.
    • Explain Eisenhower's attitude toward McCarthy, and give an informed opinion as to whether Eisenhower should have done more to stop him.
    • Articulate the reasons for McCarthy's downfall in 1954.

    Preparation Instructions

    Review each lesson plan. 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 Text Document.

    Download the Text Document for this lesson, available here as a PDF. This file contains excerpted versions of the documents used in the various 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.

    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.

    The Lessons

    • Lesson 1: Soviet Espionage in America

      Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of supplying the Soviet Union with  nuclear bomb secrets, and subsequently executed.

      The hunt for Communists in the United States clearly reached the point of hysteria by the early 1950s, but what is often overlooked is that it had its origins in a very real phenomenon. This lesson will expose students to recently declassified FBI documents and transcripts of the Rosenberg trial. It will encourage them to think seriously about the extent of the Soviet espionage network in America, thus setting the stage for a proper understanding of later hearings by the House Un-American Activities Committee and Joseph McCarthy.

    • Lesson 2: The House Un-American Activities Committee

      Alger Hiss, a State Department official, was accused of spying for the Soviet Union in 1948

      In the late 1940s and early 1950s, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union had deteriorated to the point of "cold war," while domestically the revelation that Soviet spies had infiltrated the U.S. government created a general sense of uneasiness. This lesson will examine the operations of House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the late 1940s.

    • Lesson 3: The Rise and Fall of Joseph McCarthy

      The excesses of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's anti-communist crusade led to his eventual censure by the U.S. Senate

      A freshman senator from Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy, shocked the country in 1950 when he claimed to possess evidence that significant numbers of communists continued to hold positions of influence in the State Department. In this lesson students will learn about McCarthy's crusade against communism, from his bombshell pronouncements in 1950 to his ultimate censure and disgrace in 1954.

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    9-12

    Subject Areas
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
    Skills
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Debate
    • Developing a hypothesis
    • Discussion
    • Evaluating arguments
    • 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
    • Role-playing/Performance
    • Textual analysis
    • Using primary sources
    • Vocabulary
    • Writing skills
    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

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

    Tools

    Share

    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 > Themes > Culture
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
    • 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