• 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.

  • Lesson 3: The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854: Popular Sovereignty and the Political Polarization over Slavery

    Stephen A. Douglas

    Popular sovereignty allowed the settlers of a federal territory to decide the slavery question without interference from Congress. This lesson plan will examine how the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 affected the political balance between free and slave states and explore how its author, Stephen Douglas, promoted its policy of popular sovereignty in an effort to avoid a national crisis over slavery in the federal territories.

  • Lesson 2: The Battle Over Reconstruction: The Politics of Reconstruction

    Abolitionist Frederick Douglass

    In reviewing events, documentary evidence, and biographical information, students come to understand the complex nature of political decision-making in the United States. In this lesson, they consider the momentous questions facing the country during the Reconstruction debate by weighing the many factors that went into the solutions offered. Students also think critically as they consider whether and how other solutions might have played out.

  • Lesson 3: The Battle Over Reconstruction: The Aftermath of Reconstruction

    President Ulysses S. Grant presided over the waning days of Reconstruction.

    In this lesson, students examine the development of new constitutions in the reconstructed South. They also consider the political and social realities created by a dramatically changed electorate. In gaining a firmer grasp of the causes for the shifting alliances of this time, students see how far-reaching the consequences of the Civil War and Reconstruction era were and how much these events continue to shape our collective destiny today.

  • Picture Lincoln

    Anthony Berger of the Brady Studio, President Lincoln and his son Tad,  February 9, 1864.

    In this lesson students will learn about Abraham Lincoln the individual and the President. By examining Alexander Gardner's February 5, 1865 photograph and reading a short biography of Lincoln, students will consider who the man on the other side of the lens was. Students will demonstrate their understanding by writing an "I Am" Poem and creating their own multimedia portrait of Lincoln.

  • The Massachusetts 54th Regiment: Honoring the Heroes

    Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907)

    The focus of this lesson is the Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Students will put themselves in the shoes of the men of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment as they read, write, pose, and then create a comic strip about these American heroes.

  • 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: 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 First Inaugural Address (1861)—Defending the American Union

    Photo of Lincoln’s first Inauguration, March 4, 1861. The Nation was on the  brink of war.

    Abraham Lincoln felt that the attempt of seven states to leave the American union peacefully was, in fact, a total violation of law and order. This lesson will examine Lincoln's First Inaugural Address to understand why he thought his duty as president required him to treat secession as an act of rebellion and not a legitimate legal or constitutional action by disgruntled states.

    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

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

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    The Unit

    Overview

    This unit explores the political thought of Abraham Lincoln on the subject of American union. For him, the union was not just a structure to govern the national interests of American states; it also represented a consensus about the future of freedom in America—a future where slavery would eventually be eliminated and liberty protected as the birthright of every human being. Students will examine Lincoln's three most famous speeches—the Gettysburg Address and the First and Second Inaugural Addresses—in addition to a little known fragment on the Constitution, union, and liberty to see what they say regarding the significance of union to the prospects for American self-government.

    Although Lincoln did not attend high school or college, he possessed a logical and inquisitive mind that found clarity in working out legal and political problems on paper. One fragment he wrote after the 1860 presidential election addressed how the Constitution and union were informed by the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln wrote that while America's prosperity was dependent upon the union of the states, "the primary cause" was the principle of "Liberty to all." He believed this central ideal of free government embraced all human beings, and concluded that the American revolution would not have succeeded if its goal was "a mere change of masters." For Lincoln, union meant a particular kind of government of the states, one whose equality principle "clears the path for all—gives hope to all—and, by consequence, enterprize, and industry to all."

    As president of the United States, Lincoln used his First and Second Inaugural Addresses to explore the meaning of the American union in the face of a divided country. Upon assuming the presidency for the first time, he spoke at length about the nature of union, why secession was antithetical to self-government, and how the federal constitution imposed a duty upon him to defend the union of the states from rebellious citizens. When he was reelected four years later, and as the Civil War drew to a close, Lincoln transcended both Northern triumphalism and Southern defiance by offering a providential reading of the war and emancipation in hopes of reuniting the country.

    In his most famous speech, delivered upon the dedication of a national cemetery at the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Lincoln gave a brief but profound meditation on the meaning of the Civil War and American union. With the Emancipation Proclamation as a new and pivotal development of the federal war effort, Lincoln sought to explain why the war to preserve the Union had to become a war to secure the freedom of former slaves. The nation would need to experience "a new birth of freedom" so that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

    Upon completing this unit, students should have a better understanding of why Lincoln revered the union of the American states as "the last best, hope of earth."

    Guiding Questions

    • How did Lincoln understand the principles of the Declaration of Independence as the goal of the American union?
    • How did Lincoln defend the Union from states seeking to leave or "secede" from the Union?
    • How did Lincoln see the Civil War as an opportunity for the nation to bring forth a "new birth of freedom" (or liberty for all), and why was this necessary for the survival of American self-government?
    • How did Lincoln seek to restore the American union as the Civil War drew to a close?

    Learning Objectives

    • Explain what Lincoln thought was the chief cause of America's prosperity.
    • Explain the principles of human equality and government by consent expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
    • Show how the principles of the Declaration represent the aim of the American union and constitution.
    • Articulate how Lincoln used a verse from Proverbs to symbolize the relationship between the principle of individual freedom and the practice of constitutional self-government.
    • Explain provisions of the federal constitution that Lincoln believed empowered him to defend the American union from attempts at secession.
    • Explain how South Carolina, as the first state to try to leave the Union, defended her attempt to secede upon Lincoln's election to the presidency.
    • Articulate why Lincoln thought he had a constitutional obligation as president to preserve the Union from attempts at secession.
    • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the pro-Union and pro-secession arguments, and decide which argument is the most philosophically defensible.
    • Explain why some Northern Democrats criticized Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
    • Explain why Lincoln thought July 4, 1776, was the birthday of the United States.
    • Articulate the connection Lincoln made between emancipation and preserving the Union.
    • Describe the "unfinished task" that Lincoln presented to the American people at Gettysburg.
    • Describe the historical context for Lincoln's second inauguration as president.
    • Articulate some of the concerns of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, a leader of the Radical Republicans, who controlled Congress after the election of 1864.
    • Describe the mood of the South as reflected in Confederate President Jefferson Davis's rhetoric in early 1865.
    • Explain Lincoln's understanding of how the war began, its relation to slavery, and the role of God in the conflict.

    Preparation Instructions

    • Review the lesson plans in the unit. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and links from EDSITEment-reviewed websites used in this lesson. Download and print out selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing. Alternatively, excerpted versions of these documents are available as part of the downloadable PDFs listed on the left-hand sidebar under "Additional Student/Teacher Resources."
    • Download the Text Documents for the lessons, available as PDFs. These files contain excerpted versions of the documents used in each lesson, as well as questions for students to answer. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of the handouts you plan to use in class.
    Analyzing primary sources

    If your students lack experience in dealing with primary sources, you might use one or more preliminary exercises to help them develop these skills. The Learning Page at the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress includes a set of such activities. Another useful resource is the Digital Classroom of the National Archives, which features a set of Document Analysis Worksheets.

    Unit Lesson Plans

    Each lesson in this unit is designed to stand alone; taken together they present a robust portrait of how Lincoln viewed the American union. If there is not sufficient time to use all four lessons in the unit, either the first or third lesson convey Lincoln's understanding of the American union as a means to securing "Liberty to all"—with the first lesson focusing on the principled connection between the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and the third lesson addressing the practical connection between the Union war effort, the freedom of the newly emancipated slaves, and the preservation of American self-government. Adding the second lesson would show why Lincoln's understanding of the union and Constitution obliged the president to defend the nation from secession. Adding the fourth lesson would explore how Lincoln thought that only a common memory of the war as the chastening of God to both sides for the national (not Southern) sin of slavery could restore national unity.

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    9-12

    Subject Areas
    • History and Social Studies > People > African American
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Culture
    • History and Social Studies > People > Other
    • History and Social Studies > People > Women
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Reform
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Religion
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Slavery
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
    Skills
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Developing a hypothesis
    • Historical analysis
    • Interpretation
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Textual analysis
    • Using primary sources
    • Writing skills