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 > U.S. > Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Demographic Changes
  • History and Social Studies > People > Women
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Economic Transformation
  • 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

Competing Voices of the Civil Rights Movement (2 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

When most people think of the Civil Rights Movement in America, they think of Martin Luther King, Jr. Delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and receiving the Nobel Peace Prize the following year secured his fame as the voice of non-violent, mass protest in the 1960s. But "the Movement" achieved its greatest results—the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Ac—due to the competing strategies and agendas of diverse individuals. Even black Americans, the primary beneficiaries of this landmark legislation, did not agree on the tactics that should be used to secure the equal protection of their rights. This unit presents the views of several important black leaders who shaped the debate over how to achieve freedom and equality in a nation that had long denied a portion of the American citizenry the full protection of their rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. first came to national prominence through his leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955-56, which helped desegregate public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama. A gifted preacher and committed pacifist, King thought that non-violent, direct action against racial segregation provided the best means of securing the full integration of blacks into the mainstream of American life. As he wrote in his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," "I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek."

The connection between means and ends was not lost on a competing voice in the debate over civil rights—Joseph H. Jackson. The president of the National Baptist Convention from 1953 to 1982, Jackson argued that black Americans could not afford to use methods that would "substitute panic and anarchy in the place of law and order." In particular, Jackson thought that civil disobedience undermined the very goal of the Civil Rights Movement—the full protection of the law for all citizens. More constructive, less provocative, means should be pursued by black Americans to promote progress in a nation with a majority-white population.

It was precisely the white population of America that Malcolm X took issue with in the years he served as chief spokesman for the Nation of Islam (sometimes referred to as the Black Muslims). Believing that blacks were God's chosen people, Malcolm X preached that they should separate from whites, who were destined for divine punishment because of their longstanding oppression of blacks. As he once remarked, "You don't integrate with a sinking ship." Whites had proven they were long on professing and short on practicing their ideals of equality and freedom, and so Malcolm X thought only a separate nation for blacks could provide the basis for their self-improvement and advancement as a people.

Upon completing this unit, students should have a better understanding of the diversity of voices that shaped the debate over civil rights in 1960s America.

Guiding Questions

  • Was King's nonviolent resistance to segregation laws, as opposed to working within the bounds of the law and courts, the best means of securing civil rights for black Americans in the 1960s?
  • Is the separate black nation proposed by Malcolm X a better or nobler goal than "the beloved community" of Martin Luther King, Jr.? What would Americans need to believe, and how would they need to act, in order to achieve Malcolm X's goal as opposed to King's goal?

Learning Objectives

  • Explain Martin Luther King, Jr.'s concept of nonviolent resistance and the role of civil disobedience within it.
  • Articulate the primary concerns of the Alabama clergymen who rejected King's intervention in Birmingham's racial conflicts in 1963.
  • Describe how King defended his nonviolent campaign to the Alabama clergymen.
  • Explain why the president of the National Baptist Convention, Joseph H. Jackson, thought King's protest methods were unproductive and un-American, and articulate the alternatives he recommended to secure civil rights for black Americans.
  • Evaluate the merits of the argument between King on one side of the debate, and the Alabama clergymen and Jackson on the other, and decide which view could better secure civil rights for black Americans.
  • Explain why Malcolm X believed black Americans needed a nation of their own-separate from the United States-to improve themselves, and why he thought integration was a false hope for blacks in America.
  • Articulate the reasons why Malcolm X thought integration was a false hope for blacks in America.
  • Explain why Malcolm X disagreed with both the goal and the method of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s nonviolent protest strategy.
  • Give reasons for the hope Martin Luther King, Jr. had that America could be peacefully integrated.
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments of both King and Malcolm X, and judge which approach better secures civil rights for black Americans.

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 PDFss.

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.

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > People > African American
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Debate
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Oral presentation skills
  • Report writing
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
  • Visual analysis
  • Writing skills
Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

The Battle Over Reconstruction (3 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

As the Civil War drew to a close, the social, political and economic conditions within the rebellious southern states fueled discussion about how to restore them to the Union. This series of lesson plans will examine the nature and extent of some of these social, political and economic conditions and how they worked to shape the debate about restoring southern states to the Union as well as their lasting impact in shaping the national debate in the years following Reconstruction.

Beyond the obvious material destruction, there was more to reconstruct in the South than buildings, farms, manufacturing and railroads—there were social and political relationships to rebuild. Yet, it is impossible to understand Reconstruction fully without a grasp of the social and economic upheaval the war brought with it. For the people living through the times, this upheaval created a situation that demanded immediate attention. Economically, the South had been shattered, with much of its capital—formerly invested in slaves—lost. Fields remained untilled and fallow. Capital that during the war had been invested in manufacturing to a much larger extent than it had been before the war, was now laid to waste with many of the South’s factories in ruins. Beyond these tangible losses there was the devastating cost in human life. More than one-fifth of the South’s adult white male population (some 260,000) was lost fighting for the Confederacy. In addition, the great majority of black soldiers who had fought and died in the Union army were from the South. Its losses in manpower, therefore, was monumental.

Another consideration in post-bellum America was a new question for southern society: What would be the role of the newly freed black population of the South? What would be the social relationship between this new community and its former white masters? The South faced a newly freed workforce that grew more and more recalcitrant, refusing to work for former masters (very often with good cause), whatever the pay. Old habits of social interaction had to be reconsidered and, most often, unlearned. Thus, even if the South could quickly show some signs of economic recovery, solving the problems posed by social reconstruction would prove to be a much more difficult and lengthy proposition.

The political process of Reconstruction, on the other hand, had begun before the war ended. In some states—like Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana—where earlier Union victories had been so complete as to take them out of the Confederacy for practical purposes, the populations had already taken steps in the direction of re-establishing former relations with the Union. For Abraham Lincoln, it was impossible to separate Reconstruction policy from war policy. Reunification was the central object of the war for Lincoln. Because of that, Lincoln believed that a swift procedure for Reconstruction—taking place, in effect, as Union victories gradually spread throughout the South—would aid in the effort to bring the war to a speedy end. In order to encourage a speedy process of Reconstruction, Lincoln argued for generous terms of amnesty to former rebels and encouraged lenient processes for restoring states to their former relations with the Union.

Many in Congress, however, had a different view. Upon receiving Lincoln’s “Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction” these members were indignant. Apart from the content, which a number viewed as too gentle toward the South, some legislators argued that Lincoln’s proclamation flew in the face of Congress’ presumed sovereignty in the matter. Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania argued that Lincoln’s plan for allowing only 10% of a state’s electorate to put forward a constitution was contrary to democratic theory and the principle of majority rule. Further, many members argued that the states joining the Confederacy had, in effect, “committed suicide” and had to be re-established from the ground up in the same way territories or conquered foreign lands would be organized.

Whatever virtues there were in Lincoln’s less strident and less specific plan for Reconstruction, however, may also have contributed to its weakness. Because its success depended so much on Lincoln’s own judgment, discretion, and persuasive abilities, his assassination on April 14, 1865 was a devastating loss to its operation. Lincoln’s Vice President, Andrew Johnson, shared Lincoln’s view that reconstruction ought to be directed from the White House, but he lacked much of Lincoln’s political savvy and understanding and shared almost none of his forgiving nature or charm with the people.

After the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and the ascendancy of Congress in directing Reconstruction policy, the realities of enforcing their well-meaning goals soon dimmed the enthusiasm of many Republicans. Though Republicans made quick and huge political gains in the South as newly enfranchised black voters rushed to their support, it was clear that the party and its ideals of peace through racial and sectional harmony on Republican terms remained unpopular with large segments of the population—particularly with those who were disenfranchised because they could not take the “oath” or otherwise prove their loyalty to the Union. This meant that the huge majorities Republicans then enjoyed were, so to speak, operating on borrowed time.

Southern governments frequently were in the hands of political novices: for example, inexperienced (and sometimes illiterate) freedmen and—worse yet, from the point of view of many Southern loyalists—Northerners who had moved south in the wake of war to assist in the recovery effort. These conditions made it quite difficult for the Republican Party to get much of a foothold in the South among any except black voters and those who had relocated from the North. It also made it difficult to enforce Republican plans for Reconstruction and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

As resistance and violence continued to spread in the South, Republican resolve began to weaken. Maintaining a visible and active presence of Union troops in the South to facilitate the peaceful operation of government and Reconstruction was expensive and frustrating to many in Congress. Moreover, the horrors of the late war were alive in the memories of most Americans and the real or imagined threat of resumed and open hostilities operated with more persuasive force than the best of arguments.

President Ulysses S. Grant had been elected partly because he seemed to show promise of strong executive leadership, but also because he was viewed in the afterglow of his wartime success. But in his first showdown with Congress upon being elected, Grant backed down and accepted a compromise proposal with the Senate even after the House had voted to join him in his opposition to the Tenure of Office Act. This show of weakness seemed to set the tone for Grant’s administration (1869-77) which, though it seemed to offer some promise to restore order and sanity to the South, actually accomplished very little in this realm.

In part, Grant’s administration suffered because of some real and some exaggerated charges of corruption—most of which did not directly involve Grant but tarnished him (and, eventually, Congress) nonetheless. The impact of scandal on the national political debate was real. It contributed to a chastening of Republican ambitions in the South and forced the party to concentrate on maintaining its base of support in the North rather than growing the party in Dixie. This helped to shape the national political debate for generations.

The “official” era of Reconstruction came to a close with the Compromise of 1877. In that “compromise,” Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won a tight race for the Presidency with just one electoral vote—on the condition that all federal troops be removed from the South and a southern Democrat be named to his cabinet.

In all, the history of Reconstruction was an object lesson in the limitations of persuasion in politics—as was the history of the Civil War that preceded it. The great political battles of the era were full of interesting reflections and assertions about the nature and purpose of America and American government. The passage of the 14th Amendment and Civil Rights legislation were great victories for the advocates of equality under the law. But in the end, events overpowered the best thinking on both sides of this divide and the impact of these great victories was left to be felt and interpreted by a new generation of Americans. Much of the legislation enacted in the name of racial equality was to be undone in the coming years by rulings coming from the Supreme Court (Plessy v. Ferguson, The Civil Rights Cases, etc.) and then to be taken up again in the Civil Rights struggles of the 20th century. In many ways, we continue these struggles in our politics today.

Guiding Questions

  • How did the experience of social and political upheaval from the Civil War influence people to think about the process of Reconstruction?
  • What were the leading differences between Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, and the Radical Republicans in Congress when it came to Reconstruction?
  • Which of the leaders had the best and most realistic understanding of what was needed?
  • How did the results of Reconstruction policy shape the politics of the reconstructed states and the nation at large?

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the general character of the social conditions within the nation in the aftermath of war.
  • Demonstrate the ability to navigate through a statistical map interactive and use information gathered there to inform an understanding of the political, social, and economic crisis confronting the nation during Reconstruction.
  • Distinguish the central and driving ideas at work in original documents surrounding Reconstruction and be able to discuss their impact on events.
  • Identify specific problems that may have emerged given the attitudes and conditions prevalent in the defeated South.
  • Discuss how these attitudes and ideas may have helped or hindered Reconstruction.
  • Describe the constitutional claims of both the President and the Congress (in the generic rather than specific sense) for controlling Reconstruction policy.
  • Give a general accounting of the differences between some of the leading representatives in Congress and both Presidents Lincoln and Johnson.
  • Distinguish between the purposes of Johnson and Lincoln in advocating a stronger executive role.
  • Explain how the divisions between President Johnson and the Congress eventually led to his impeachment.
  • Distinguish between the main and competing visions for Reconstruction as they began to emerge at the end of the Civil War.
  • Distinguish the central and driving ideas at work in original documents surrounding Reconstruction and be able to discuss their impact on events.
  • Describe the general character of the social conditions within the nation in the aftermath of Reconstruction.
  • Demonstrate the ability to navigate through a statistical map interactive.
  • Use information gathered from the interactive maps to inform an understanding of the political, social, and economic problems confronting the nation in the wake of Reconstruction.
  • Distinguish the central and driving ideas at work in the documents used to illustrate this lesson.
  • Identify specific problems that may have emerged as a result of Reconstruction policy in its many and varied permutations.
  • Discuss how these policies may have affected attitudes in the country and, subsequently, how these attitudes helped or hindered politics upon the conclusion of the Reconstruction era.

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 PDF files.

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.

Finally, familiarize yourself with the interactive maps and timeline that accompany this lesson. The interactive maps explore the impact of the war and Reconstruction on the South, while the interactive timeline examines the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and his troubles with the Congress. These interactives are incorporated into several of the activities for this lesson.

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.

The Lessons

  • Lesson 1: The Battle Over Reconstruction: The Aftermath of War

    President Andrew Johnson presided over the early days of Reconstruction.

    This lesson covers two essential aspects of Reconstruction: the condition of the southern states at the close of the war and Lincoln’s plan for restoring them to the Union. In examining the conditions of the southern states, students consider both the physical conditions (i.e., the impact of the devastation of war) and the political condition of these states (i.e., what was the proper relationship between southern states and the Union upon their surrender at Appomattox?)

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

    Abolitionist Frederick Douglass

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

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

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

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

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > People > African American
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
Skills
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical thinking
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Using primary sources
  • Visual analysis

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