Closer Readings Commentary
Slavery, the Crisis of the Union, the Civil War, and Reconstruction
- Slavery and African Americans in Antebellum America
- Causes of the War
- Abraham Lincoln and the Course of the War
- The Art and Literature of the Civil War
- Reconstruction and After in Art and Culture
- Related EDSITEment Websites
Slavery and African Americans in Antebellum America
- Taking Up Arms and the Challenge of Slavery in the Revolutionary Era
Was the American Revolution inevitable? This lesson is designed to help students understand the transition to armed resistance and the contradiction in the Americans’ rhetoric about slavery through the examination of a series of documents. While it is designed to be conducted over a several-day period, teachers with time constraints can choose to utilize only one of the documents to illustrate the patriots’ responses to the actions of the British.
- Slavery and the American Founding: The “Inconsistency not to be excused”
This lesson focuses on the views of the founders as expressed in primary documents from their own time and in their own words. Students see that many of the major founders opposed slavery as contrary to the principles of the American Revolution. Students gain a better understanding of the views of many founders, even those who owned slaves – including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – who looked forward to a time when slavery would no longer mar the American Republic.
- African-American Communities in the North Before the Civil War
Fully one-third of Patriot soldiers at the Battle of Bunker Hill were African Americans. Census data also reveal that there were slaves and free Blacks living in the North in 1790 and after. What do we know about African-American communities in the North in the years after the American Revolution?
- From Courage to Freedom: Frederick Douglass's 1845 Autobiography
Curriculum Unit overview. In 1845 Frederick Douglass published what was to be the first of his three autobiographies: the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. As the title suggests, Douglass wished not only to highlight the irony that a land founded on freedom would permit slavery to exist within its midst, but also to establish that he, an American slave with no formal education, was the sole author of the work.
- Families in Bondage
Learn how slavery shattered family life through the pre-Civil War letters of those whose loved ones were taken away or left behind.
- Perspective on the Slave Narrative
Trace the elements of history, literature, polemic, and autobiography in the 1847 Narrative of William W. Brown, An American Slave. This Lesson Plan was revised 01/19/2006
- Slave Narratives: Constructing U.S. History Through Analyzing Primary Sources
The realities of slavery and Reconstruction hit home in poignant oral histories from the Library of Congress. In these activities, students research narratives from the Federal Writers' Project and describe the lives of former African slaves in the U.S. -- both before and after emancipation. From varied stories, students sample the breadth of individual experiences, make generalizations about the effects of slavery and Reconstruction on African Americans, and evaluate primary source documents.
Causes of the War
- Life in the North and South 1847-1861: Before Brother Fought Brother
Curriculum Unit overview. More Americans lost their lives in the Civil War than in any other conflict. How did the United States arrive at a point at which the South seceded and some families were so fractured that brother fought brother?
- The Growing Crisis of Sectionalism in Antebellum America: A House Dividing
Curriculum Unit overview. 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.
- Lesson 1: An Early Threat of Secession: The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Nullification Crisis
- Lesson 2: Slavery's Opponents and Defenders
- Lesson 3: The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854: Popular Sovereignty and the Political Polarization over Slavery
- Lesson 4: Abraham Lincoln, the 1860 Election, and the Future of the American Union and Slavery
Abraham Lincoln and the Course of the War
- Lincoln Goes to War
Relive the decisions that led to the attack on Fort Sumter to determine whether Lincoln aimed to preserve peace or provoke the hostilities that led to the Civil War.
- Lincoln's First Inaugural Address: We Must Not Be Enemies
Students explore the historical context and significance of Lincoln's inaugural address through archival documents.
- The American Civil War: A “Terrible Swift Sword”
This curriculum unit introduces students to important questions pertaining to the war: strengths and weaknesses of each side at the start of the conflict; 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; Abraham Lincoln's wartime leadership.
- The Emancipation Proclamation: Freedom's First Steps
(Formerly titled "Attitudes Toward Emancipation.") Why was the Emancipation Proclamation important? While the Civil War began as a war to restore the Union, not to end slavery, by 1862 President Abraham Lincoln came to believe that he could save the Union only by broadening the goals of the war. Students can explore the obstacles and alternatives America faced in making the journey toward "a more perfect Union."
- Evaluating Eyewitness Reports
Practice working with primary documents by comparing accounts of the Chicago Fire and testing the credibility of a Civil War diary.
- Images at War
Explore American attitudes toward conflict through Civil War photographs and World War II poster art.
- Picture Lincoln
In this lesson students will learn about Abraham Lincoln the individual and the President. By examining Alexander Gardner's February 5, 1865 photograph and reading a short biography of Lincoln, students will consider who the man on the other side of the lens was. Students will demonstrate their understanding by writing an "I Am" Poem and creating their own multimedia portrait of Lincoln.
- Abraham Lincoln on the American Union: “A Word Fitly Spoken”
Curriculum unit. By examining 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, students trace what these documents say regarding the significance of union to the prospects for American self-government.
- Lesson 1: Fragment on the Constitution and Union (1861)—The Purpose of the American Union
- Lesson 2: The First Inaugural Address (1861)—Defending the American Union
- Lesson 3: The Gettysburg Address (1863)—Defining the American Union
- Lesson 4: The Second Inaugural Address (1865)—Restoring the American Union
The Art and Literature of the Civil War
- Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, and the Unreliable Narrator
Help your students consider a variety of narrative stances in Edgar Allen Poe's short story, "Tell Tale Heart," and Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."
- Homer’s Civil War Veteran: Battlefield to Wheat Field
Students will compare and contrast Winslow Homer’s painting The Veteran in a New Field with Timothy O’Sullivan’s photograph A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, 1863. Students will imagine what a returned Civil War veteran might think and remember as he tends his wheat fields back home. Students will read a Civil War soldier’s diary excerpt prior to writing and acting out a monologue.
- The Red Badge of Courage: A New Kind of Courage
In The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane presents war through the eyes—and thoughts—of one soldier. The narrative’s altered point of view and stylistic innovations enable a heightened sense of realism while setting the work apart from war stories written essentially as tributes or propaganda.
- The Red Badge of Courage: A New Kind of Realism
The Red Badge of Courage’s success reflects the birth of a modern sensibility; today we feel something is true when it looks like the sort of thing we see in newspapers or on television news.
- The Massachusetts 54th Regiment: Honoring the Heroes
The focus of this lesson is the Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Students will put themselves in the shoes of the men of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment as they read, write, pose, and then create a comic strip about these American heroes.
- Walt Whitman to Langston Hughes: Poems for a Democracy
Walt Whitman sought to create a new and distinctly American form of poetry. His efforts had a profound influence on subsequent generations of American poets. In this lesson, students will explore the historical context of Whitman's concept of "democratic poetry" by reading his poetry and prose and by examining daguerreotypes taken circa 1850. Next, students will compare the poetic concepts and techniques behind Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" and Langston Hughes' "Let America Be America Again," and will have an opportunity to apply similar concepts and techniques in creating a poem from their own experience.
- Walt Whitman's Notebooks and Poetry: the Sweep of the Universe
Clues to Walt Whitman's effort to create a new and distinctly American form of verse may be found in his Notebooks, now available online from the American Memory Collection. In an entry to be examined in this lesson, Whitman indicated that he wanted his poetry to explore important ideas of a universal scope (as in the European tradition), but in authentic American situations and settings using specific details with direct appeal to the senses.
Reconstruction and After in Art and Culture
- The Battle Over Reconstruction
This curriculum unit of three lessons examines the social, political and economic conditions of the southern states in the aftermath of the Civil War and shows how these factors helped to shape the Reconstruction debate as well as the subsequent history of American race relations.
- Martin Puryear’s Ladder for Booker T. Washington
Students examine Martin Puryear’s Ladder for Booker T. Washington and consider how the title of Puryear’s sculpture is reflected in the meanings we can draw from it. They learn about Booker T. Washington’s life and legacy, and through Puryear's ladder, students explore the African American experience from Booker T.'s perspective and apply their knowledge to other groups in U.S. History. They also gain understanding on how a ladder can be a metaphor for a person’s and a group’s progress toward goals.
- Birth of a Nation, the NAACP, and the Balancing of Rights
In this lesson students learn how Birth of a Nation reflected and influenced racial attitudes, and they analyze and evaluate the efforts of the NAACP to prohibit showing of the film.
Related EDSITEment Websites
- An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia
- Crafting Freedom
- Documents of Civil War Women
- Exploring Amistad
- Frederick Douglass Papers Project
- Freedmen and Southern Society Project
- The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
- Valley of the Shadow
- Voyages—The Transatlantic Slave Trade
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database is the culmination of several decades of independent and collaborative research by scholars drawing upon data in libraries and archives around the Atlantic world.