• 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 3: George Washington on the Sedition Act

    George Washington.

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

  • Lesson 3: President Madison's 1812 War Message: Answers Lead to More Questions

    The "Western" frontier for the United States in the early 19th century

    Students review the contents of the War Message and consider what documents might be useful in making further analyses of the text.

  • Lesson 1: President Madison's 1812 War Message: A Brief Overview

    James Madison felt compelled by events to declare war on Great Britain.

    Students will read President Madison's War Message (in either an edited/annotated or full-text version) and be given the opportunity to raise questions about its contents.

  • 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: 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

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



    The Unit


    …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


    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
    • 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