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

The Growing Crisis of Sectionalism in Antebellum America: A House Dividing (4 Lessons)

Created July 17, 2010

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The Unit

Overview

Our political problem now is “Can we, as a nation, continue together permanently—forever—half slave, and half free?” The problem is too mighty for me. May God, in his mercy, superintend the solution.

—Abraham Lincoln to George Robertson, August 15, 1855

In this unit, students will trace the development of sectionalism in the United States as it was driven by the growing dependence upon, and defense of, black slavery in the southern states. Initially seen as contrary to freedom but tolerated in order to produce the U.S. Constitution, by the 1830s the "peculiar institution" found advocates who saw it as a "positive good." Its expansion into Missouri, southern outrage over federal tariffs, and westward expansion into new territory produced a volatile and persistent debate over slavery that increasingly threatened to divide the American union. By 1860, the nation found an old Democratic Party split over the right to extend slavery into federal territory, and a new Republican Party nominating an anti-slavery, though not abolitionist, president. When Abraham Lincoln's election produced no national consensus to settle the matter of slavery's future, a southern "secession" sealed the fate of the Union.

What characterized the debates over American slavery and the power of the federal government for the first half of the 19th century? How did regional economies and political events produce a widening split between free and slaveholding states in antebellum America? Who were the key figures and what were their arguments regarding the legitimacy of slavery and the proper role of the national government in resolving its future in the American republic? This unit of study will equip students to answer these questions through the use of interactive maps, primary texts, and comparative biographies.

Guiding Questions

  • How did the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Nullification Crisis a decade later illustrate the widening divide between northern and southern states?
  • What were the leading arguments against slavery in the antebellum era and how did slaveholders defend the "peculiar institution"?
  • How did Senator Stephen Douglas try to reduce the growing sectionalism of America over the slavery controversy through the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and its policy of popular sovereignty?
  • In the 1860 presidential election, what political options regarding the spread of slavery did the American people face, and how did Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party differ from advocates of immediate abolition, popular sovereignty, and national slavery?

Learning Objectives

Upon completing the lessons in this unit, students should be able to do the following:

  • use maps of the 1820 Missouri Compromise and the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act to understand political and economic changes in the U.S. and why those changes provoked a debate over the expansion of slavery in America
  • list the main provisions of the 1820 Missouri Compromise and 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act
  • highlight the basic economic differences between the commerce of the North and the South
  • explain John Calhoun's theory of nullification, Andrew Jackson's view of national sovereignty, Stephen Douglas's policy of popular sovereignty, and Lincoln's understanding of constitutional self-government
  • identify influential opponents and defenders of American slavery
  • explain the reasons given for and against the morality and legitimacy of slavery under the U.S. Constitution
  • articulate the different solutions to the controversy over slavery in the territories proposed by Abraham Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and William Lowndes Yancey
  • distinguish the priorities of the Republican Party from those of the two factions of the Democratic Party and the Constitutional Union Party during the 1860 election
  • explain how the differing views regarding slavery in the territories eventually produced a southern secession and a civil war
  • discuss whether or not the American Civil War was an avoidable war or "an irrepressible conflict"

Preparation Instructions

Review each lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.

Download the blackline masters for this lesson, available here as a PDF. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.

Each activity in this unit of study is designed for use as a stand-alone lesson, comprising three forty-five minute class periods. Taken all together, the lessons provide an overview of the causes of sectionalism that led to the American Civil War. Since available time and curriculum needs vary by classroom, the following guidelines for use are provided:

Another approach you can use is to skim each lesson plan to see what specific activities each offers and choose only those that suit specific course objectives and content. Each lesson plan indicates how best to streamline that lesson's content and will suggest essential versus more rigorous treatment of a given subject.

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
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • 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 > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Reform
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Slavery
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
Skills
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Debate
  • Discussion
  • Essay writing
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Online research
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Using primary sources
  • Visual analysis
  • Writing skills
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 (3 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

On the last day of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin observed that he had often wondered whether the design on the president's chair depicted a rising or a setting sun. "Now at length," he remarked, "I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun."

Franklin's optimism came only after many months of debate and argumentation over the form of government that would best secure the future safety and happiness of the young American republic. At times it seemed that the Convention would fail as a result of seemingly irreconcilable views between the delegates, especially on the questions of selecting representatives to Congress, the relationship of the national and state governments, and the powers of the president. After a month of deadlock over the issue of representation, Franklin himself had called for a prayer because "mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom."

The delegates at the 1787 Convention faced a challenge as arduous as those who worked throughout the 1780s to initiate reforms to the American political system. Even before the Convention was authorized to convene, the road to reform was paved with resistance, especially from those who believed that the Articles of Confederation were in little or no need of amendment. In the end, the Convention met, and by the almost miraculous "Connecticut Compromise" was able to fulfill its task of recommending improvements to the American form of government, with only three delegates refusing to sign the final document. Although many challenges to ratification lay ahead, the work of the Convention placed the Union on a more stable basis, and the Constitution continues to be the foundation of American government and political thought to this day.

In this unit, students will examine the roles that key American founders played in creating the Constitution, and the challenges they faced in the process. They will learn why many Americans in the 1780s believed that reforms to the Articles of Confederation were necessary, and the steps taken to authorize the 1787 Convention in Philadelphia. They will become familiar with the main issues that divided delegates at the Convention, particularly the questions of representation in Congress and the office of the presidency. Finally, they will see how a spirit of compromise, in the end, was necessary for the Convention to fulfill its task of improving the American political system.

Guiding Questions

  • Was the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, called for by Congress to recommend amendments to the Articles of Confederation, necessary to preserve the Union?
  • Why was the question of representation such an important issue to the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and what led them to eventually compromise on the question?
  • Why was creating the office of the presidency such an important and difficult task for the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787?

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the steps taken by Americans to bring about the 1787 Convention by placing key events in historical order in a timeline.
  • Discuss actions by several state governments that violated the Articles of Confederation and acts of Congress.
  • Identify the powers of Congress under the Articles of Confederation, and explain why those powers were insufficient to ensure the prosperity and security of the United States.
  • Articulate the views of several American founders about the problems of the American political system in the 1780s.
  • Explain and discuss the schemes of representation in the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Hamilton Plan.
  • Explain the significance of the Connecticut Compromise in resolving the question of representation.
  • Understand and discuss the proposals for the office of the presidency in the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Hamilton Plan, and how these differed from but contributed to the office of the presidency as established by the U.S. Constitution.
  • Articulate how the debates over the office of the presidency often revolved around the American rejection of monarchy.
  • Understand the significance of the Brearly Committee's recommendations in resolving disagreements over the office of the presidency.
  • Explain the tension between the need to give the president sufficient "energy" (i.e., power and independence) and at the same time establish sufficient limitations and controls to prevent the abuse of executive power.

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 (see sidebar under "Additional Student/Teacher Resources" for full list of files).

Download the PDFs for each lesson, 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: 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 2: The Question of Representation at the 1787 Convention

    Signing of Constitution, by Howard C. Cristy

    When the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention convened in May of 1787 to recommend amendments to the Articles of Confederation, one of the first issues they addressed was the plan for representation in Congress. This lesson will focus on the various plans for representation debated during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

  • Lesson 3: Creating the Office of the Presidency

    Signing of Constitution, by Howard C. Cristy

    As the delegates at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 continued to develop a plan of government that would remedy the defects of the Articles of Confederation, one of the most difficult challenges was creating the office of the presidency. This lesson will focus on the arguments over the various characteristics and powers of the office of president as debated during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

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
  • 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
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Historical analysis
  • Internet skills
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Online research
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
  • Writing skills
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

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