Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

The Campaign of 1840: William Henry Harrison and Tyler, Too (3 Lessons)

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Overview

After the debacle of the one-party presidential campaign of 1824, a new two-party system began to emerge. Strong public reaction to perceived corruption in the vote in the House of Representatives, as well as the popularity of Andrew Jackson, allowed Martin Van Buren to organize a Democratic Party that resurrected a Jeffersonian philosophy of minimalism in the federal government. This new party opposed the tendencies of National Republicans such as John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay to invest more power in the federal government. Van Buren built a political machine to support Jackson in the 1828 election. Van Buren's skills helped give the Democrats a head start on modern-style campaigning and a clear advantage in organization. The Democrats and Jackson defeated the National Republicans in 1828 and 1832 and maintained their hold on the presidency when they bested the Whigs—a union of former National Republicans, Antimasons, and some states' rights advocates—in 1836. But a major economic depression in 1837 finally gave the Whigs their best chance to occupy the White House. They faced Andrew Jackson's political organizer, vice president, and handpicked successor, President Martin Van Buren, vying for a second term in the midst of hard times.

As they prepared for the election of 1840, both Democrats and Whigs were organized for campaigning on a national scale. In an election that would turn out an astounding 80 percent of a greatly expanded electorate, campaigners sought to appeal to a wide range of voters in a variety of voting blocks. The contest between Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison marked the first truly modern presidential campaign, with methods today's students are sure to recognize.

Lessons in this unit allow students to become familiar with the issues and personalities and to review an assortment of primary documents. As students analyze them, they reflect on the presidential campaign of 1840. How was it conducted? What was the role of campaign advertising? How crucial were issues to the election of William Henry Harrison? How crucial was image?

Guiding Questions

  • What issues were important to the presidential campaign of 1840?
  • In what ways was the campaign about issues? In what way was it about image?
  • What in William Henry Harrison's background made him the choice of the Whig Party in 1840?
  • How did the Whigs promote Harrison's image in 1840?
  • In what ways did Harrison's background correspond with or contradict his image?
  • What made Martin Van Buren the choice of the Democratic Party in 1836?
  • How did the Democrats promote Martin Van Buren's image?
  • In what ways did Van Buren's background correspond with or contradict that image?
  • Why is the campaign of 1840 often cited as the first modern campaign?

Learning Objectives

  • List some issues important during the campaign of 1840.
  • Compare and contrast the careers of Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison before they became president.
  • Explain why the Whigs wanted to find a candidate in the mold of former president Andrew Jackson.
  • Discuss the ways in which Harrison did and did not fit the mold.
  • Identify some basic differences between the Democrats and Whigs.
  • Discuss the use of visual images in the 1840 campaign.
  • Take a stand as to whether the campaign of 1840 was based more on substance or image.

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.
  • Links to graphics on the EDSITEment resource American Memory, which are used throughout this lesson, lead to a page with a low-resolution image and links to bibliographic material and higher-resolution images.
  • Andrew Jackson's enormous popularity greatly contributed to the ability of the newly constituted Democratic Party to win three consecutive terms in the White House (1828, 1832, 1836). There are many similarities between Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison, a fact that did not escape the notice of those who backed Harrison's candidacy. Both Jackson and Harrison acquired national reputations as war heroes. Both, at one time or another, embraced the contradictory goals of fair treatment of American Indians and the acquisition by the U.S. of land from the American Indians. Both men led troops in important victories in the War of 1812. Though Jackson was the first presidential candidate to use a variety of campaign novelties such as buttons, posters, flasks, matchboxes, and mugs, Harrison's campaign took such promotion to new heights. Harrison won election by a wide margin in a year when about 80 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.

    Additional information may be found in the document "Background for the Teacher" (see  Pages 1-4 of the Master PDF), and in the introduction to each lesson below.
  • Students will learn about the careers of Jackson, Harrison, and Martin Van Buren, when they read the following essays on the EDSITEment reviewed website The American President: NOTE: The section of The American President about William Henry Harrison is accompanied by an essay entitled A Manufactured Hero (From Philip Kunhardt, Jr., et. al., The American President [New York: Riverhead Books, 1999], pp. 18-23). It raises many questions that were the impetus for this lesson. What would it mean to manufacture a hero? Were Jackson and Harrison truly heroes in their time? Would their deeds be considered heroic today? Were either Jackson or Harrison manufactured heroes? How were the similarities and differences between Jackson and Harrison reflected in the content and conduct of the campaign of 1840? How were issues and image used to promote Harrison (and, to a lesser extent, Van Buren)? Was the campaign of 1840 focused more on image or substance? In what ways? Why?
  • For background on prior presidential election history, consult two complementary EDSITEment curriculum units. The Election Is in the House: The Presidential Election of 1824 reviews the several serious contenders for president, all claiming allegiance to the Democratic-Republican Party. It also covers the vote in the House of Representatives after no contender received a majority of electoral votes. Students are given the opportunity to reflect on the corruption claims of Andrew Jackson's supporters and how historians gather evidence and draw conclusions. The expansion of the electorate and the contest of 1828 are covered in The 1828 Campaign of Andrew Jackson and the Growth of Party Politics. In this unit, students study the personalities and issues in the election of 1828, and analyze statistics reflecting voting participation rates from 1824 to 1836 and voting results in 1828 to gauge the impact of both the new trends in the electorate and the candidacy of Andrew Jackson.

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Culture
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Immigration/Migration
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Using primary sources
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

The Presidential Election of 1824: The Election is in the House (3 Lessons)

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Overview

John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson in 1824

John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson in 1824 by garnering more electoral votes through the House of Representatives, even though Jackson originally received more popular and electoral votes.

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.

The presidential election of 1824 represents a watershed in American politics. The collapse of the Federalist Party and the illness of the "official candidate" of the Democratic-Republicans led to a slate of candidates who were all Democratic-Republicans. This led to the end of the Congressional Caucus system for nominating candidates, and eventually, the development of a new two-party system in the United States. In the election, Andrew Jackson won a plurality of both the popular and electoral vote. But John Quincy Adams became president. Four crucial elements of our election system were highlighted in the election of 1824: the nomination of candidates, the popular election of electors, the Electoral College, and the election of the president in the House when no candidate receives a majority in the Electoral College.

In this unit, students will read an account of the election from the Journal of the House of Representatives, analyze archival campaign materials, and use an interactive online activity to develop a better understanding of the election of 1824 and its significance.

Guiding Questions

  • Why was the election of 1824 decided in the House of Representatives?
  • Who were the candidates in 1824?
  • What were the important issues in the campaign of 1824?
  • How did John Quincy Adams win election in 1824?

Learning Objectives

  • Summarize relevant portions of the Constitution on presidential election procedures.
  • Explain why the election of 1824 was decided in the House of Representatives.
  • Cite examples from presidential campaign materials from 1824.
  • Explain how John Quincy Adams won election in 1824.
  • Take a stand, supported by evidence, on whether or not there was a "corrupt bargain" between Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams.

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.
  • Each of the lessons below can be used as a stand-alone. Taught in order as a unit, the lessons are structured like a mystery in which the author reveals the solution-that is, the results of the 1824 election-at the beginning. The fun is coming to understand what led up to that conclusion. Lesson 3, "Was There a Corrupt Bargain?" offers a culminating activity that is enhanced by an understanding of the issues covered in Lessons 1 and 2.
  • If possible, choose student volunteers for the transcript reading for the first activity the day before teaching Lesson One, below, to allow time for them to review their parts.
  • In Lesson One, hypothetical examples of what could happen in a close election are offered as a check for understanding the numerical results of the 2000 election. Take care not to get embroiled in the politics of the 2000 election.
  • For a comprehensive introduction to the history of the presidential election process, consult Presidential Elections in the United States: A Primer HTML or Presidential Elections in the United States: A Primer PDF on the website of the United States Senate, a link from the EDSITEment resource Congress Link. Students will read material from the introduction to the Teaching With Documents Lesson Plan: Tally of the 1824 Electoral College Vote, on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Digital Classroom, for background on the election of 1824, the history of presidential elections prior to 1824, and modern issues surrounding the electoral college.
  • In Lesson Three and Extending the Lesson, students will look at a variety of evidence to see if it indicates whether there was a "corrupt bargain" in John Quincy Adams's victory in the presidential election. Considering that there is no agreement among historians about the "corrupt bargain," all student conclusions should be accepted as long as reasonable evidence is offered to support ideas.
  • Extending the Lesson requires that students work on computers to use the Interactive Election Results activity, found on Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, available via a link from the EDSITEment resource Explore DC.
  • Some new trends in the electorate were apparent in the election of 1824. The franchise, or right to vote, was being extended to more white males as income-related eligibility requirements were being dropped by more states. The major change was the elimination of property requirements. Later, tax-paying requirements were also dropped. Direct election was replacing selection by state legislatures as the method for choosing electors, increasing the importance of the popular vote. Political campaigns felt more strongly than ever the need to appeal to the masses. The nation was expanding as western states joined the Union bringing their own issues and a desire for full participation. The Kentucky legislature in joint session unanimously nominated favorite son Henry Clay, looking to a time "when the people of the West may, with some confidence, appeal to the magnanimity of the whole Union, for a favorable consideration of their equal and just claim to a fair participation in the executive government of these states" (Hopkins, James F., "Election of 1824," History of American Presidential Elections, Volume 1. Ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. editor. 5 vols. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1971, 363.). With no more national heroes of the Revolution left to succeed Monroe, regional figures and regional issues were becoming even more important. In the presidential election of 1824, regionalism and regional issues predominated. Choosing the president in the House became a matter of political deal-making. One important result was the eventual development of a new two-party system. By 1828, the expanded electorate, with all its implications, became significant on a national level. Voter participation in almost every state rose dramatically. In the complementary EDSITEment lesson, "The 1828 Campaign of Andrew Jackson and the Growth of Party Politics," students review the election of 1824, study the personalities and issues in the election of 1828, and analyze statistics reflecting voting participation rates from 1824 to 1836 and voting results in 1828 to gauge the impact of Andrew Jackson's election and the new trends in the electorate.
  • It may be necessary to clarify for students party names during the period covered in this lesson and the period just beyond. What follows is, in the interest of brevity, a somewhat simplified explanation. In 1824, all of the candidates claimed allegiance to the Democratic-Republican Party (often called Republican) which linked back directly to Jefferson and Madison. When Jackson became President in 1828, he ran as a Democrat. Members of the new second party that rose in opposition called themselves National Republicans at first. Later, the core of that opposition to Jackson took the name Whigs. So someone like Henry Clay, at one time or another, was a member of the Democratic-Republicans, National Republicans, and Whigs. In addition, The Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans are not the same as either our modern Democrats or Republicans, though our Democrats lay claim to the Jefferson legacy through their connection to Jackson's Democrats.
  • Many links to the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory, used throughout this unit, lead to an index page that includes a digitized image of an original document. On that page will be found links to higher-quality image files and transcriptions of text.
  • Throughout 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:

This succinct but valuable lesson offers three basic steps for analyzing primary sources:

  1. Time and Place Rule
  2. Bias Rule
  3. Questions for Analyzing Primary Sources

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Culture
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Reform
Skills
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Developing a hypothesis
  • Discussion
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Oral presentation skills
  • Using primary sources
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

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

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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 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 American War for Independence (3 Lessons)

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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

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 1828 Campaign of Andrew Jackson and the Growth of Party Politics (4 Lessons)

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Overview

Changes in voting qualifications and participation, the election of Andrew Jackson, and the formation of the Democratic Party—due largely to the organizational skills of Martin Van Buren—all contributed to making the election of 1828 and Jackson's presidency a watershed in the evolution of the American political system. The campaign of 1828 was a crucial event in a period that saw the development of a two-party system akin to our modern system, presidential electioneering bearing a closer resemblance to modern political campaigning, and the strengthening of the power of the executive branch.

In this unit, students analyze changes in voter participation and regional power, and review archival campaign documents reflecting the dawn of politics as we know it during the critical years from 1824 to 1832.

Guiding Questions

  • How did changes in the electorate affect the election of 1828?
  • How were party politics reflected in the campaign of 1828?
  • What was the source of Andrew Jackson's popularity?
  • What was the importance of Andrew Jackson's popularity?
  • What were the positions of the fledgling Democratic Party and its opposition?

Learning Objectives

  • Give examples to indicate how the franchise was extended in the first half of the 19th century.
  • Discuss possible effects of the extension of the franchise on the election of 1828.
  • Make a connection between changes in voting participation and the election of 1828.
  • Describe regional factors evidenced by the voting results in the election of 1828.
  • Analyze campaign materials from 1828.

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.
  • This unit is one of a series of complementary EDSITEment lessons on the early growth of political parties in the United States. Some student knowledge of the events and issues covered in the following complementary lessons is essential to a complete understanding of the presidential election of 1828.
    • The Growth of Political Parties covers such issues and events as the negative attitude among the Founders toward political parties, as reflected in Washington's Farewell Address; the differences in philosophy and policy between followers of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (who favored a less active federal government and eventually formed the Democratic-Republican Party) and the followers of Alexander Hamilton (who espoused a more powerful and active federal government and eventually formed the Federalist Party).
    • Certain Crimes Against the United States: The Sedition Act deals with—among other issues and events—foreign affairs during the Federalist presidency of John Adams, and the political differences that contributed to the creation of the Sedition Act, which led, in turn, to the demise of the Federalist Party.
    • The Election Is in the House: The Presidential Election of 1824 touches on events in the presidential campaign of 1824, in which every candidate belonged to the Democratic-Republican Party, throwing the election into the House of Representatives, and thus setting the stage for the election of 1828. The lesson also discusses the Electoral College and the procedure to be used when an election is thrown into the House of Representatives.
  • The first three lessons in this unit look at different aspects of the changes in the electorate that were occurring in the first half of the 19th century. With that background, students are better prepared to study the election campaign of 1828 in the final lesson. It is also important for students to have some knowledge of the controversial election of 1824. For relatively brief yet comprehensive background on the election of 1824 and the election of 1828 and its aftermath, read the following one-page articles from Digital History, a project of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed resource History Matters:

If time permits, some students would benefit from the background gained through reading the essays as well.

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 > U.S. > Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
  • History and Social Studies > People > Native American
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Reform
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
Skills
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical thinking
  • Historical analysis
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Using primary sources
  • Visual analysis
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 > 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
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 (3 Lessons)

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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