Slavery: No Freedom, No Rights (Lesson Plan)

Examine the history of slavery in the United States. Trace the development and expansion of slavery in the 19th century and learn about the conflicts and compromises that occurred prior to the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.

From the basics about slavery to the attitudes that defended it and the efforts of those who wanted to see it abolished, in this lesson students learn about this dark part of America’s past.

** Please note: The section about the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850 has been moved to a new mini-lesson called Slave States, Free States that explores the debate about the expansion of slavery. We recommend teaching this mini-lesson along with the Slavery lesson. Find it in our Geography Library.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8

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.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Legislative Branch/Congress
  • Grades: 10, 11, 12

States, Slavery, and the Constitution

This short video assesses sectional differences at the Convention about slavery. New England delegates saw slavery as a moral issue beyond the scope of their deliberations; representatives from the Middle States were generally opposed to slavery on moral and economic grounds; and Southerners were insistent on protection for both slavery and the slave trade. Professor John Kaminski analyzes how the conflict was resolved by denying Congress any power to regulate the trade until 1808.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Citizenship
  • Grades: 10, 11, 12

The Constitutional Convention: Slavery and the Constitution

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific contexts. This simulation places students at the Constitutional Convention and asks them to engage in the most problematic issue the framers faced: how to deal with slavery. Although most delegates believed slavery was deplorable, it was so deeply entrenched that any attempt to abolish it would likely keep several states from approving the proposed Constitution. By confronting this issue, students will experience for themselves the influence of socioeconomic factors in the political arena, and they will see how political discourse is shaped by arguments based on morality, interest, and pragmatic considerations, often intertwined.

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

Arguing Against Slavery

What arguments did abolitionists make against slavery? How did abolitionists propose to end slavery? These historical questions are at the center of this two-lesson unit focused on seven primary documents. In engaging with these questions and these documents, students will consider the impacts and the limits of abolition, a social movement that spanned hundreds of years.

  • Resource Type: Primary Sources
  • Subject: Citizenship
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Slavery a Positive Good, John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun was a U.S. statesman and spokesman for the slave-plantation system of the South. He explains in this article that slavery gives people more serious opportunities to better themselves because of slaves. This source allows students to examine the supposed justifications for slavery and challenge the assumptions made by slaveowners.

  • Resource Type: Primary Sources
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

American Paradox: Freedom & Slavery in the Early Republic

This lesson provides students an opportunity to use primary source documents as they examine the paradoxical support for both freedom and slavery during the late colonial and founding periods. Many different perspectives on the social studies themes of power, authority, and governance and civic ideals and practices are found in this lesson.

  • Resource Type: Assessments, Essays, Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Thomas Jefferson and Slavery

Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote the famous line “all men are created equal,” was a life-long slave-owner. Over the course of his life, he would own 600 human beings, and at any given time there would be roughly 100 slaves living and working on and around Jefferson’s plantation and farms. This handout describes Thomas Jefferson’s views on slavery.

  • Resource Type: Descriptive Text, Media, Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12