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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.


“I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” So wrote Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1963 as he served a ten-day jail term for violating a court injunction against any “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing” in Birmingham. He came to Alabama’s largest city to lead an Easter weekend protest and boycott of downtown stores as a way of forcing white city leaders to negotiate a settlement of black citizens’ grievances. King wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to a public statement by eight white clergymen appealing to the local black population to use the courts and not the streets to secure civil rights. The clergymen counseled “law and order and common sense,” not demonstrations that “incite to hatred and violence,” as the most prudent means to promote justice. This criticism of King was elaborated the following year by a fellow Baptist minister, Joseph H. Jackson (president of the National Baptist Convention from 1953-1982), who delivered a speech counseling blacks to reject “direct confrontation” and “stick to law and order.”

By examining King’s famous essay in defense of nonviolent protest, along with two significant criticisms of his direct action campaign, this Edsitement lesson will help students assess various alternatives for securing civil rights for black Americans in a self-governing society.

Happy Birthday Common Sense

The Thomas Paine version that is. This pamphlet was originally published anonymously, and advocated independence for the American colonies from Britain and is considered one of the most influential pamphlets in American history.  Credited with uniting average citizens and political leaders behind the idea of independence, “Common Sense” played a remarkable role in transforming a colonial squabble into the American Revolution.

At the time Paine wrote “Common Sense,” most colonists considered themselves to be Englishmen.  Paine fundamentally changed the tenor of colonists’ argument with the crown when he wrote the following:  “Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.  This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe.  Hither they have fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still.”

This Edsitement lesson looks at Thomas Paine and at some of the ideas presented in Common Sense, such as national unity, natural rights, the illegitimacy of the monarchy and of hereditary aristocracy, and the necessity for independence and the revolutionary struggle.

Emancipation Proclamation at 150

As the new year dawns another Civil War sesquicentennial can be celebrated with the Emancipation Proclamation.  There are a number of great resources to be found at TAH to aid in the teaching of this great document. Check out this lesson developed by Professor John Moser and High School Teacher Lori Hahn. Through primary documents, students examine Abraham Lincoln’s role as a wartime president.  Students will focus on Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, the Emancipation Proclamation, his decision to arm the freed slaves, his refusal to accept a compromise peace with the South, and the election of 1864.

This podcast of a lecture devlivered at the Ashbrook Center by Professor Allen Guelzo from February 28th of 2004 tells of the complicated story of the first of January, 1863, Lincoln’s “Emancipation Moment,” and the greatest moment of the American Civil War.


Woodrow Wilson and the Versailles Treaty

On this day in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson arrived in France to take part in World War I peace negotiations and to promote his plan for a League of Nations, an international organization for resolving conflicts between nations.

In an Edsitement lesson created by Professor David Krugler (University of Wisconsin-Platteville) students can study this event as well as the formation, application, and successes/failures Wilson’s foreign policy. Students will subsequently appreciate the profound legacy of Wilsonianism in U.S. foreign relations as they continue their study of modern U.S. history.

12/12/1787 and Ratification

On this day in 1787, Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the Constitution, by a vote of 46 to 23. Pennsylvania was the first large state to ratify, as well as the first state to endure a serious Anti-Federalist challenge to ratification.

If you didn’t already know, Professor Gordon Lloyd of Pepperdine University has created a website in collaboration with the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University on the Ratification of the Constitution. Professor Lloyd organizes the content on the Ratification in various ways on the website. One lesson plan has been created to align with the content of the “in doors” conversations of ratification. There are four main component parts to the “in doors” coverage on the website. 1) A Commentary that breaks down the “in house” ratification into The Six Stages of the Ratification of the Constitution. 2) Elliot’s Debates is the major source for learning what took place at the various state ratifying conventions. 3) We have provided a day-by-day summary of each of the three ratifying conventions Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York. This summary highlights the particular clauses of the Constitution that were under consideration on that day along with a synopsis of the main points that were made by the delegates. Each of the three Day-by-Day Summaries is preceded by a brief overview of the entire ratifying convention. 4) A set of individual Maps along with a comprehensive map that shows the location of Federalist and Antifederalist strength throughout the thirteen states.

The full lesson can be found here.

50 Documents That Tell America’s Story

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