We the Teachers

Crafting Freedom

CraftingFreedom.org is a new resource exploring the African American experience during the era of slavery. Featuring lesson plans and a variety of classroom resources including  videos, slide shows, and student handouts, Crafting Freedom relates the slave experience through the narratives of those who lived it. Based on these primary source documents, the site is an excellent way to apply Common Core standards in your classroom.

Crafting Freedom grew out of a popular National Endowment for the Humanities workshop, Crafting Freedom: African American Artisans, Entrepreneurs, and Abolitionists of the Upper South. Additional web resources will be released at NEH’s EDSITEMENT website in 2014.

New! Ashbrook’s 50 Core American Documents in paperback

You’ve likely seen Ashbrook’s 50 Core American Documents project online at TeachingAmericanHistory.org50core. We’re pleased to release a new paperback book edited by Ashland University professor Christopher Burkett. The book contains all fifty documents, a brief introduction to establish context, and several questions suitable for your own private musing or for classroom discussion.

Looking for a gift for that teacher, student, or history buff in your life? Order a copy today!

Bill of Rights Day resources

BRI DuelBill of Rights Day, the day on which the first ten amendments to the constitution went into effect upon their ratification, is December 15th. In addition to TeachingAmericanHistory.org’s own interactive resources on the Bill of Rights, our friends at the Bill of Rights Institute have a plethora of related interactive and documentary resources designed for use in secondary school classrooms.  Among these are animated games and exercises, quizzes, videos, SMARTboard activities, and lesson plans.

Learn more at the at BRI’s Bill of Rights Day page.

Could Lincoln Be Elected Today?

FlackCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, has put together a series of mock political campaign ads for the 1864 presidential election pitting the incumbent President Abraham Lincoln against General George B. McClellan. Developed with the assistance of veteran campaign advertising strategists from the 2004 campaigns of John Kerry and George W. Bush, the ads and a series of accompanying classroom lesson plans are designed to help teacher show the role of mass media advertising in modern campaigns and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to separate fact from distortion.

Visit FlackCheck.org to see the complete set of ads and lesson plans.

Daniel Webster Urges Sectional Compromise


Daniel Webster (Library of Congress)

As a result of the War with Mexico, the United States acquired a large area of western land, and at once controversy arose over whether the states organized in these territories would enter the union as “freesoil” or slave-holding. Southern states were anxious to maintain the equivalence between free and slave states and territories that obtained after the admission of the Oregon Territory, in which slavery was prohibited. But California was applying for admission as a free state, and the New Mexico and Utah territories were yet to be organized. Southerners began to talk of a Northern intent to restrict slavery and eventually abolish it; some went so far as to threaten secession. Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, as he had done in 1820, fashioned a compromise; he offered a number of resolutions designed to appease both sides while arranging for the admission of California as a state and setting terms for the organization of the other territories acquired from Mexico. While free states would now outnumber slave states, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed to stiffen existing requirements that slaves who had escaped to the north be returned to the south.

Joining Clay, another aged statesman who spoke out at this time to encourage compromise and denounce talk of secession was Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster. His “Constitution and Union” speech covered wide ground. Continue reading

New Resource from the Bill of Rights Institute

Our friends at the Bill of Rights Institute have introduced a new documentary resource written by teachers for use in K-12 classrooms. Documents of Freedom: History, Government, & Economics through Primary Sources is designed to be used as a supplement (or even as a substitute) for traditional government, civics, and economics textbooks. Each lesson unit highlights key primary sources and is indexed to the standards of many states, the Common Core, and the College Board.  Best of all, it works equally well across all platforms: Windows, Mac, tablets, smartphones, and other devices.

Access to Documents of Freedom is free (registration is required).

150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address: A Few Well-Chosen Remarks

Lincoln Gettysburg.jpgWhen Abraham Lincoln was invited in the fall of 1863 to speak at the dedication of a national cemetery on the site of a pivotal Union victory at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, it was not to give the main speech. That oration was delivered by Edward Everett, a Massachusetts statesman, vice-presidential candidate of the Constitutional Union Party in 1860, and the most famous orator of his day. Everett spoke to the crowd of 15,000 without notes for over two hours, giving an example of the kind of ornate, learned, and transcendentalist rhetoric that was expected at such ceremonies.

The president used only 272 words in his dedication of the cemetery grounds, with most American newspapers taking little notice of the now famous speech. But the day after the ceremony, Everett wrote Lincoln to say, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Lincoln’s spare, poetic, and biblical speech buried the old rhetorical style of Everett and set the standard for a new kind of speech, which is still the model for such solemn commemorative occasions. If all American literature comes out of Huckleberry Finn, as Ernest Hemingway suggested, all modern American speeches come out of the Address.

How Lincoln turned a perfunctory eulogy at a cemetery dedication into a concise and profound meditation on the meaning of the Civil War and American union is the focus of the EDSITEment lesson The Gettysburg Address: Defining the American Union. The lesson, part of a  curriculum unit on the political thought of Lincoln, will deepen student understanding of the momentous themes of freedom, equality, and emancipation so central to any strong understanding of the Civil War experience. Continue reading

The Founding of the First National Anti-Slavery Organization

William Lloyd Garrison, an early spokesman for and eventual leader of the American Anti-Slavery Society

William Lloyd Garrison, an early spokesman for and eventual leader of the American Anti-Slavery Society

The American Anti-Slavery society was founded in Philadelphia 180 years ago, in December of 1833. The group agreed to a simple “constitution,” prefaced by a brief but eloquent “manifesto” that quoted both the Biblical commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself and the central idea of the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.” Arthur Tappan became the society’s first president, while William Lloyd Garrison, who had already founded his abolitionist weekly The Liberator, was asked to write a “Declaration of Sentiments” expressing the organization’s aims.

Although the American Anti-Slavery Society was the first national organization of its kind, similar state organizations had already formed. Most of the earliest of these were organized by the Society of Friends, or Quakers. The very first one, The Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, had formed in 1774 and helped to pass Pennsylvania’s Gradual Abolition Act of 1780, the first anti-slavery legislation in the United States. Continue reading

“Created Equal”–a new NEH Resource

From our friends at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), we’ve learned that Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle, a special initiative of the NEH, was launched in mid-September to provide free access to documentary films on the civil rights movement. The documentaries, made with NEH support, have been gathered here to mark the anniversaries of the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington in 2013. There are four outstanding films:

  • The Abolitionists
    One of the films in the "Created Equal" collection

    One of the films in the “Created Equal” collection

  • Slavery By Another Name (on the “Black Code” laws enacted as Reconstruction ended)
  • Freedom Riders (on the interracial group who in the summer of 1961 challenged segregation by travelling through the deep South on interstate buses)
  • The Loving Story (on the couple who challenged Virginia’s racial intermarriage laws)

The website also offers scholars’ essays, questions for classroom discussion, and lesson plans. You can find there a lesson plan co-written by MAHG professor Lucas Morel: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nonviolent Resistance.

Heroes & Villains – A new resource from the Bill of Rights Institute

Heroes & Villains

Our friends at the Bill of Rights Institute have developed a new resource to help schools explore civic virtue in a functioning democratic society. Heroes & Villains: The Quest for Civic Virtue contains a series of 10 lessons designed for use in the classroom.  Two free workshops are offered to aid schools in implementing these lessons.  One workshop is scheduled for Thursday, October 17 in Topeka, Kansas, and the other will be held Friday, November 15 in Houston, Texas.  Each workshop is designed for school administrators, curriculum coordinators, and classroom teachers.

To learn more about these free opportunities, visit the Bill of Rights Institute website or contact Laura Vlk, the institute’s manager of programs and events.

On Constitution Day, an Essay on Federalist 51

Last week we posted links to a number of representative documents in the debate between “federalists” and “anti-federalists” over whether to ratify the Constitution. One was Federalist 51. In the last part of  Federalist 51, Madison returns to the argument he made in Federalist 10, explaining more fully why a majority faction that oppressed a minority would be unlikely to develop in an “extended republic.” Professor David Foster of Ashland University analyzes Madison’s argument, hailing it as a unique contribution to the history of political thought.

For a lesson plan suggesting ways of teaching this key Federalist paper, see “Federalist 51 – Protecting the Rights of the People?” by Professor Gordon Lloyd of Pepperdine University and high school teacher Natalie Bolton.

Continue reading

The Federalist-Antifederalist Debate

After the Constitutional Convention finalized a plan of government in September 1787,  a long public debate began. Each state would call its own convention to deliberate and vote whether to ratify the new Constitution. In the meantime, opponents of the Constitution aired their objections in essays published in major newspapers and circulated in pamphlets; those supporting the new plan did the same, most famously in the collection of essays (coauthored by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, but appearing under the shared pseudonym Publius) called The Federalist.

Today, scholars regard The Federalist as the most thorough exposition of our Constitutional form of government ever written, and students of politics continually mine these essays for insights into the problems representative government must overcome if it is to survive. But the arguments of the antifederalist writers are also worth examining, since they spell out some very practical worries facing those who had to decide whether to ratify the Constitution. Moreover, it is easier grasp the ingenuity of the arguments made in The Federalist if one is familiar with the other side of the debate.

Below are a selection of antifederalist and federalist documents that students might consider in whole or in part. (For suggestions on ways to excerpt and examine key portions of these documents, including plans for dividing the task among various study groups, consider this lesson plan written by Ashland University Professor Christopher Burkett and West Virginia high school teacher Patricia Dillon: The Federalist and Anti-federalist Debates on Diversity and the Extended Republic (2 Lessons). The unit includes an interesting role playing exercise that allows students to test the federalist arguments about legislative factions.)

On the Antifederalist side of the ratification debate:

Brutus No. 1, October 18, 1787: Consolidating the states under one unified government will lead either to despotism or anarchy, Brutus says, citing the political philosopher Montesquieu. Either the government will fall apart because the representatives split into many factions, or a single wealthy person will seize an opportunity to dominate everyone else. Law enforcement will be difficult because of the distance and time separating the seat of government from the furthest states, leading either to anarchy, or the forcible execution of the law by military means.

Brutus No. 4, November 29, 1787:  Support for federal law will be lacking because of the diversity of interests among the people of various regions and because those making laws will deliberate at a distance from their constituents and not be personally known to or trusted by them.http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/federal-farmer-ii/, October 9, 1787: A powerful central government would favor the states near the seat of government and disadvantage the “remote states,” who could not adequately represent their interests.

The Federal Farmer (Richard Henry Lee) No. 2, October 9, 1787: A powerful central government would favor the states near the seat of government and disadvantage the “remote states,” who could not adequately represent their interests.

On the Federalist side:

Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist No. 9: Hamilton gives another interpretation of Montesquieu, countering the argument in Brutus No. 1 that large republics soon break down into anarchy or yield to despotism.

James Madison, The Federalist No. 10: Madison says that one may hope a small number of representatives drawn from a large population will be more likely to legislate with a mind to the general public good than would those who represent fewer people. But in cases where representatives stubbornly pursue factional interests, the combination of representatives of many different interests will prevent any particular faction from getting the upper hand.

James Madison, The Federalist No. 51: Madison’s long discussion here covers both the danger that one part of the government (legislative, executive, or judicial) will dominate over another and the danger that within the legislature, a majority faction will suppress the rights of a minority. He outlines the safest way of dividing the three powers and then elaborates his argument in No. 10 that the multiplicity of factions represented in the central government will prevent a single faction from dominating.



Why the Founders Called a Constitutional Convention

During the Revolutionary War and in the first years following independence, the new American states were joined in a loose confederation with a weak central government, spelled out in the Articles of Confederation. The weaknesses of this original plan for government are revealed in letters circulated between many of those who would later attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787.  Below are a collection of these letters, found in our online library.

Some are short enough to use entire; others could be usefully excerpted. For a practical way of using these documents in class, consult this lesson plan written by Ashland University Professor Christopher Burkett and veteran high school teacher Patricia Dillon, The Road to the Constitutional Convention—Activity One: The Problem of Congress’ Lack of Authority.”

  • Robert Morris, Letter to the President of Congress, March 17, 1783: Morris, the National Superintendent of Finance, writes to the presiding officer of the Continental Congress to explain that there is no more money in the public treasury to cover obligations, and no likelihood of obtaining further loans from such foreign allies as France.
  • Gouverneur Morris to John Jay, 1 Jan. 1783: Gouverneur Morris, Assistant Superintendent of Finance, writes to John Jay—who was then in Paris helping to negotiate the treaty that would end our war of independence—to advise him that the Continental Army have not been paid and that if the situation persists it will lead to a crisis.
  • Rufus King, Letter to Elbridge Gerry, April 30, 1786: King, a representative to the Continental Congress from Massachusetts, writes to former Massachusetts representative, Gerry. He bemoans the inability of the Continental Congress to compel the states to contribute to the shared treasury.
  • George Washington to John Jay, 15 August 1786: Washington replies to a letter from the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, John Jay, who has pointed out that several of the states have violated parts of the 1783 Treaty of Paris.
  • John Jay to Thomas Jefferson, 27 October 1786: Following the outbreak of Shays’ Rebellion, Jay writes to Jefferson, then serving as US Minister to France, to update him on difficulties in Congress that reflect “an impatience of government” observable in the states.

For a good overall presentation of the problems that the 1787 Constitution sought to overcome, see Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist, No. 15especially the third paragraph.


American Military History resources

American Military History e-book

The Foreign Policy Research Institute, in collaboration with the First Division Museum at Cantigny, has released a new e-book entitled American Military History: A Resource for Teachers and Students.  This new volume features a selection of materials presented at FPRI’s series of weekend seminars for high school history teachers.

Download the new e-book at no cost at the FPRI website.

50 Documents That Tell America’s Story

Required reading for students, teachers, and citizens.

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