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The Time of the Lincolns

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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

Abraham Lincoln
The film Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided and this companion Web site, The Time of the Lincolns, offer insights into topics in American history including women's rights, slavery, abolition, politics and partisanship, the growth of the industrial economy, and the Civil War. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into 3 parts, corresponding with sections of the film, and within each part into 4 categories: history, economics, geography, and civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Use with the first two hours of the film, "Part One: Ambition" and "Part Two: We Are Elected"

Using what you learned from the film about the backgrounds of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln, briefly describe the economic situation in which each person grew up. Why might the difference in the two families' wealth have made it less likely that Todd and Lincoln would have married? Why, do you think, did this potential problem not stand in the way of their marriage?

1. Review the three maps showing the nation's changing policies toward slavery in the territories between 1820 and 1854. (a) What were the three acts of Congress that marked these changing policies, and when did they take place? (b) How did the last of these acts undo the compromise achieved in the first one?

2. Using a photocopy of a map of the United States, label the following locations. Next to each label, briefly explain its importance in events leading to the Civil War.

  • Kansas Territory
  • Illinois
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Richmond, Virginia
  • Harpers Ferry, Virginia
  • Fort Sumter, South Carolina

1. After viewing the film and reviewing the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on the Lincoln-Douglas debates, conduct your own version of these debates on slavery in the territories. A team of two or three people should portray Lincoln, a second two- or three-person team should portray Douglas, and the rest of the class should act as the audience. The persons representing Lincoln and Douglas can learn about their characters' speaking styles and obtain quotes for use in the debate by reading parts of the actual debates. Set a time limit for the debate, which should consist of an initial statement by one group of debaters, a reply by the other debaters, and a final statement by the first speakers. At the end of the debate, have the class comment on whether the actors accurately portrayed Lincoln's and Douglas's views.

2. Read about Antebellum Women's Rights and Literary Women Then select one of the women discussed in these essays and prepare an oral presentation on her. Your presentation should cover her early life and education, the issues she believed in, and her major accomplishments. Illustrate your presentation by creating a poster using a photocopy of the person's portrait.

Read the excerpts from Angelina Grimké, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs. How do these passages show that religion was used both to support slavery and to attack it?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Use with the second two hours of the film, "Part Three: Shattered" and "Part Four: The Dearest of All Things"

Compared to the Southern states, the Northern states had a larger population (21.5 million, compared to 9 million), more factories (110,100, compared to 20,600), larger bank deposits ($207 million, compared to $47 million), and more horses (4.2 million, compared to 1.7 million). Using this data, create four pie charts showing what proportion of the United States' total of each of these four resources belonged to the North and to the South.

Read about the Battle of Fredericksburg. Now prepare an oral presentation on a different Civil War battle of your choice. You can find helpful summaries of Civil War battles on the Web site of the National Park Service and in other sources. In your presentation, explain briefly when the battle was fought, how many soldiers fought on each side, who the commanding officers were, and what the outcome of the battle was. Also explain why the battle occurred when it did. For example, was it part of a Confederate invasion of the North, or a Union attempt to take control of the Mississippi River? Your presentation must include a map of the battlefield; you may use a photocopy or printout of an existing map or draw one yourself. Your presentation should explain how the natural features of the battlefield (such as high or low ground, forests, and so on) affected the battle.

1. Read the excerpts from three newspapers on the start of the war. (a) For each of the three excerpts, write one sentence that summarizes the argument it is making. (b) Choose one of the three excerpts and imagine that you read it in today's newspaper. Write a letter to the editor explaining whether you agree with the article and why. Be sure to provide support for your opinion.

2. (a) Using a dictionary or encyclopedia, define "habeas corpus" in your own words. (b) Read the articles about Confederate spy Rose O'Neal Greenhow. Where in Greenhow's letter to Secretary Seward does she refer to the issue of habeas corpus (though she does not use that term)? (c) Lincoln received heavy criticism, from Northerners as well as Southerners, for his decision to suspend habeas corpus. Do you think the government should be permitted to restrict civil liberties during wartime? Explain your position.

1. Read the excerpt from George Fitzhugh's book defending slavery and the description of what slavery's supporters called "wage slavery." (a) To what group does Fitzhugh compare slaves? (b) What is his point in making this comparison? (c) In what ways was this comparison misleading?

2. Have a volunteer read Frances Harper's poem, The Slave Mother, to the class. At the end of every sentence, the reader should stop and ask a member of the class to summarize the stanza in his or her own words. Then, everyone should answer the following questions: (a) What is the subject of the poem? (b) What does the statement "he is not hers" mean?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Use with the final two hours of the film, "Part Five: This Frightful War" and "Part Six: Blind With Weeping"

1. In what way were the "total war" tactics employed by the Union army, in which soldiers deliberately destroyed civilian property, a form of economic warfare?

2. Hold a class debate on whether the use of total war tactics can ever be morally justified. First, select a group of students to serve as judges of the debate. Then divide the rest of the class into two equally sized groups, one to defend total war tactics and one to oppose them. Each member of both groups must write a one-sentence explanation of why total war can, or cannot, ever be justified; in the first part of the debate, team members should read their statements aloud. In the second part of the debate, a member of one team should ask a question that a member of the other team must answer; the answering team then asks a question, and so on. After this question-and-answer period, the judges should explain which arguments they found most convincing.

Issues that one or both sides might want to consider in forming and defending their positions include: Does the morality of total war tactics depend on the cause for which the side that uses them is fighting? Are total war tactics more morally acceptable if it could be proved that they would help shorten the war and thus reduce the total number of casualties? Does a government have a higher obligation to protect the lives of its own soldiers than the lives of enemy civilians?

The Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment were only first steps in dealing with racial injustice in this nation, in part because that injustice was not confined to the South. Find out more about the difficult lives of slaves in the South and about heroic African American Regiments in the war. Then read the Charles Mackay excerpt, We Are of Another Race. How does this excerpt help explain why the issue of racial injustice would continue to be a serious problem for the United States, in both Northern and Southern states, even after slavery had been abolished?

1. Read about African American Regiments and then visit the National Archives' Web site on the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the best-known units of black soldiers that fought in the Civil War. Imagine that you are a member of this unit and write a letter to a friend or relative explaining why you volunteered. Before you write, consider how the feelings of black soldiers who volunteered for black units like the 54th might have differed from the feelings of white soldiers who volunteered to fight for the Union. Also consider how the feelings of black and white volunteers may have been alike.

2. Review the events listed in the timeline of presidential elections. (a) How many major candidates competed in 1864, as compared to 1860? (b) How did the number of major candidates in 1860 contribute to Lincoln's victory that year? (c) How did the number of major candidates in 1864 make Lincoln's task of winning re-election more difficult?

1. Look at the Camera Goes to War gallery and learn more about the people behind the lens. Then visit the Library of Congress's site of selected Civil War photographs and browse some of the photographs. After viewing at least a dozen of the photographs, select the one that you found most interesting or meaningful. Print the photograph and write a caption explaining when and where it was taken, what it shows, and why you selected it.

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