This lesson traces the rise of Abraham Lincoln from his humble beginnings to the presidency. It examines Lincoln’s ideas and decisions regarding slavery and the use of presidential power to preserve the Union during the Civil War. After the lesson, students should be able to explain how Lincoln overcame daunting disadvantages to become a great president, analyze and evaluate his decisions in response the critical constitutional issues of the Civil War, and understand and appreciate his legacy to American constitutionalism and citizenship.
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
In the years leading up to the Civil War, the issue of slavery divided the Democratic Party and newly formed Republican Party. One of the most prominent Democrats was the U.S. Senator from Illinois Stephen Douglas. When he ran for re-election in 1858 against Republican Abraham Lincoln, the two men held a series of debates. In the activity, students read statements made by Douglas in the debates, discuss how Lincoln would respond, and create responses to each statement.
Abraham Lincoln’s Fragment of the Constitution & the Union (1861): The Purpose of the Union
District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862
The 150th anniversary of the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862
occurred in 2012. This bill was introduced to Congress to end slavery in the District of
Columbia. Many citizens and members of Congress alike noted that the legality of slavery in
the District of Columbia was inconsistent with the ideals and aspirations of the nation. Congress
approved the bill, and President Abraham Lincoln signed the act.
This activity features the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862 and
other primary and secondary sources that tell the story of Congress’s role in this first major step
toward the freeing of enslaved African Americans. While intended for 8th grade students, the
lesson can be adapted for other grade levels.
African American History Month Resources
African American History Month evolved from the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass in the second week of February. Historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson framed the concept that became the first Negro History Week in February 1926. It developed into a monthlong commemoration of the struggles and triumphs of the African American community. On this page, learn the stories of Autherine Lucy Foster, the first African American student to attempt to integrate the University of Alabama; Frank M. Johnson, Jr., the federal judge who ruled in the Rosa Parks case; and Linda Brown, the 9-year-old who became the face of children caught in the crossfire of the fight for social change. The Pathways to the Bench video series features profiles of African American federal judges who offer perspectives on their experiences during the Civil Rights era.
Commemorating Presidents’ Day Resources
Teach your high school students about the constitutional legacy of George Washington, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan this Presidents’ Day. These free, ready-to-use lessons will engage your students in learning about these important presidents and how they shaped the history and Constitution of our nation. Each lesson was written and reviewed by scholars and contains questions to test student knowledge.
The American Presidency: Core Documents
This collection of documents on the presidency begins with Alexander Hamilton’s commentary on the sections of the Constitution related to the executive branch and ends with President Barack Obama’s address to the nation defending his interpretation of executive authority under the Constitution to use force against the Syrian regime. The documents cover the executive’s role and the specific topics of presidential selection, term limits, and impeachment.
Documents and Debates in American History and Government – Vol. 2, 1865-2009
The Core Documents Collection – Documents and Debates is structured around a series of topics, each based on a question for debate. For each topic, there is a collection of documents that, together, form the basis of argument over that topic – from those who debated it at a given point in American history. Volume One covers 1865-2009.
The goal is to explore a series of critical moments in American history by asking questions for which there are not simple yes/no answers, but instead call for informed discussion and rational debate. The Documents and Debates readers also include appendices of additional documents, and together are a perfect fit for any American History survey course, including AP U.S. History.
The Civil War (CKHG Unit)
This unit explores the political, historical and cultural causes and consequences before, during and after the Civil War, one of our nation’s greatest crises. Across 24 lessons, students engage with the material through primary sources and consider the influence of abolitionists and other intellectual as well as military and political figures.
This unit includes 24 lessons that are about 45 minutes each.
How Did the Constitutional Convention Deal with Slavery?
This short video explains the differing perspectives that emerged about the Constitution and slavery. Some, like Frederick Douglass, believed that the Founders put slavery on the road to extinction while others, like Roger Taney, believed that the Constitution was a slaveholders’ document. Professor Gordon Lloyd contends that the slavery clauses in the Constitution both limited and expanded slavery’s impact, and that the Founders alone do not bear responsibility for slavery’s later expansion.