• Lesson 5: Consequences of the Sedition Act

    Headline from a broadside protesting the Sedition Act.

    In 1798, Jefferson predicted the consequences of the passage of the Sedition (and Alien) Act. In this lesson, students will look at documents reflecting some of the consequences of the Sedition Act. How close was Jefferson's prediction?

  • Lesson 4: James Madison: Internal Improvements Balancing Act: Federal/State, Executive/Legislative

    James Madison.

    There was general agreement at the beginning of the 19th century that the U.S. would greatly benefit from some internal improvements of a national nature, such as a nationwide network of roads and canals. But how should the funds for such projects be raised? Who should be in control of the projects—that is, who should administer them?

  • Images of the New World

    Detail of an engraving by Theodor De Bry (printed 1590)

    How did the English picture the native peoples of America during the early phases of colonization of North America? This lesson plan will enable students to interact with written and visual accounts of this critical formative period at the end of the 16th century, when the English view of the New World was being formulated, with consequences that we are still seeing today.

  • Magna Carta: Cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution

    King John of England (right) and an English baron agreeing to Magna Carta

    Magna Carta served to lay the foundation for the evolution of parliamentary government and subsequent declarations of rights in Great Britain and the United States. In attempting to establish checks on the king's powers, this document asserted the right of "due process" of law.

  • 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 4: The Second Inaugural Address (1865)—Restoring the American Union

    Photograph of Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural. Lincoln is at the very center  of the picture surrounded by dignitaries.

    The newly re-elected Abraham Lincoln sought to unite the American people by interpreting the waning conflict as a divine judgment upon both sides of the war. This lesson will examine Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address to determine how he sought to reunite a divided country through a providential interpretation of the Civil War.

  • Lesson 1: On the Eve of War: North vs. South

    Created July 17, 2010
    A Confederate artillery battery at Charleston, South Carolina

    This lesson will examine the economic, military and diplomatic strengths and weaknesses of the North and South on the eve of the Civil War. In making these comparisons students will use maps and read original documents to decide which side, if any, had an overall advantage at the start of the war.

  • Lesson 1: 1828 Campaign of Andrew Jackson: Expansion of the Voting Base

    John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson in 1824

    Did changes in state constitutions tend to affect the voting population? In this lesson, students discuss the general trend in the first half of the 19th century to extend the right to vote to more white males.

    Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5
    Curriculum Unit

    What Happens in the White House? (3 Lessons)



    The Unit


    "At the White House, President Truman Announces Japan's Surrender." Abbie Rowe,  Washington, DC, August 14, 1945.

    "At the White House, President Truman Announces Japan's Surrender." Abbie Rowe, Washington, DC, August 14, 1945.

    Credit: Image courtesy of the National Archives.

    The “President's House,” built under George Washington's personal supervision, was the finest residence in the land and possibly the largest. In a nation of wooden houses, it was built of stone and ornamented with understated stone flourishes. It did not fit everyone's concept for the home of the leader of the young democracy. Abigail Adams found it cold; Thomas Jefferson thought it too big and impractical. He added gardens, a cooking stove, and storage.

    Whatever one's opinion of the original design, our nation is now inseparably associated with the White House. There, the essential business of the land is conducted every day. There, our history has been made and reflected.

    In this unit, students take a close look at the White House in recent times and throughout our history.

    Note: This lesson may be taught either as a stand-alone lesson or as a complement to the EDSITEment curriculum unit From the White House of Yesterday to the White House of Today.

    Guiding Questions

    • What functions does our presidential residence serve?
    • How has the White House been touched by the great events of our nation's history?

    Learning Objectives

    • List activities that take place at the White House.
    • Create a chronology of important events that have occurred at or directly affected the White House.

    Preparation Instructions

    • Review the lesson plans. 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.
    • Download and make one copy each of the archival images for the activities. Many images have been selected to facilitate flexibility. Use as many or as few as appropriate. Assign them to groups as best suits your class. Keep some aside, for example, for groups that finish more quickly, or use all of them to make groups as small as possible.
    • Prepare a place in the classroom for a History of the White House Timeline, on which you will post the images. You or your students with technical expertise may wish to create an html document with links to relevant images.
    • Extensive background information on every aspect of the White House is available from the White House Historical Association, a link from the EDSITEment resource Explore DC.

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level


    Subject Areas
    • Art and Culture > Medium > Architecture
    • History and Social Studies
    • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Art History
    • History and Social Studies > Place > The Americas
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Culture
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. History
    • Analysis
    • Cultural analysis
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Historical analysis
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Oral Communication
    • Oral presentation skills
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Summarizing
    • Synthesis
    • Using primary sources
    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    The Sedition Act: Certain Crimes Against the United States (5 Lessons)



    The Unit


    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


    Subject Areas
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
    • History and Social Studies
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
    • 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
    • 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