David L. Hollander
8th grade U.S. history teacher
Kennedy Junior High School
Naperville District 203
TEACHING WITH PRIMARY SOURCES – LESSON PROPOSAL OVERVIEW
A. Lesson Plan Title : Was Abraham Lincoln an Abolitionist?
B. Lesson Overview :
The purpose of this lesson is to engage the students in the complex
questions of slavery and abolition in the 1850s and 1860s. Students
will encounter the stories of ardent abolitionists like Charles
Sumner, Frederick Douglass, Elijah Lovejoy, John Brown, and William
Lloyd Garrison, using these stories to carefully define the term
“abolitionist”. Then, using the primary documents
available on the Library of Congress–American Memory site,
students will investigate the position of Abraham Lincoln, made
clearer through his own writings, on the subject of abolition.
C. Goal of the Lesson: The goal of the lesson is to provide students
with the opportunity to examine primary source documents, extract
meaning from them on a topic, and to then take and defend a position
on an historical question.
D. Objective: After completing the lesson, students should be able
Define the term “abolitionist”
Summarize the stories of significant abolitionists
Efficiently navigate the Library of Congress–American Memory
Satisfactorily analyze Lincoln’s writings for evidence of
Establish a position on Lincoln’s abolitionism
Present a case for or against Lincoln’s abolitionism
E. Investigative Questions:
What criteria would need to be present for someone to be rightly
called an abolitionist?
Did Abraham Lincoln, in his writings, express his commitment to
the identified criteria?
Was Abraham Lincoln an abolitionist?
F. Primary Sources Learning Practices:
1. Analysis Methods: PROP Test and primary source documents
2. Inquiry-Based Activities: Students will work in groups to evaluate
and extract evidence from primary sources (particularly letters
and other documents written by Lincoln). The evidence will form
the basis of an oral position statement on the question of Lincoln’s
3. Use of Primary Sources: Students will read correspondence and
official documents in the hand of Abraham Lincoln or verifiably
ascribed to him. From these readings, students will gather quotes
where Lincoln offers insight into his views on slavery and abolition.
Students will develop an opinion about Lincoln’s abolitionism
through their understanding of his writings.
G. Time Required: 150 minutes (3-4 class periods)
H. Recommended Grade Range: 8th - 12th grades
I. Subject(s): Social Sciences
J. American Memory Era: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library
K. Standards Addressed:
McREL 4th edition Standards and Benchmarks http://www.mcrel.org/compendium/browse.asp
United States History
Standard 14. Understands the course and character of the Civil
War and its effects on the American people.
Level III (Grades 7-8)
1. Understands the circumstances that shaped the Civil War and
its outcome (e.g., differences between the economic, technological,
and human resources of both sides; the impact of the Emancipation
Proclamation on the outcome of the war)
2. Understands how different groups of people shaped the Civil
War (e.g., the motives and experiences of Confederate and white
and African American Union soldiers, different perspectives on
conscription, the effects of divided loyalties)
Standard 4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes
Level III (Grades 6-8)
1. Uses a variety of resource materials to gather information
for research topics (e.g., magazines, newspapers, dictionaries,
schedules, journals, phone directories, globes, atlases, almanacs,
2. Determines the appropriateness of an information source for
a research topic
Standard 7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and
interpret a variety of informational texts.
Level III (Grades 6-8)
1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety
of informational texts (e.g., electronic texts; textbooks; biographical
sketches; directions; essays; primary source historical documents,
including letters and diaries; print media, including editorials,
news stories, periodicals, and magazines; consumer, workplace,
and public documents, including catalogs, technical directions,
procedures, and bus routes)
Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different
Level III (Grades 6-8)
1. Makes oral presentations to the class (e.g., uses notes and
outlines; uses organizational pattern that includes preview, introduction,
body, transitions, conclusion; uses a clear point of view; uses
evidence and arguments to support opinions; uses visual media)
Illinois State Board of Education Learning Standards
United States History
State Goal #16 - Understand events, trends, individuals and movements
shaping the history of Illinois, the United States and other nations.
A. Apply the skills of historical analysis and interpretation
16.A.3b - Make inferences about historical events and eras using
historical maps and other historical sources.
State Goal #4 – Listen and speak effectively in a variety
B. Speak effectively using language appropriate to the situation
4.B.3a - Deliver planned oral presentations, using language and
vocabulary appropriate to the purpose, message and audience; provide
details and supporting information that clarify main ideas; and
use visual aids and contemporary technology as support.
State Goal #5 - Use the language arts to acquire, assess, and
B. Analyze and evaluate information acquired from various sources.
5.B.3a - Choose and analyze information sources for individual,
academic and functional purposes.
5.B.3b - Identify, evaluate and cite primary sources.
C. Apply acquired information, concepts, and ideas to communicate
in a variety of formats.
5.C.3b - Prepare and orally present original work (e.g., poems,
monologues, reports, plays, stories) supported by research.
L. Materials Used:
1. Primary Source Set Theme: Abraham Lincoln Papers at the LOC
2. Examples of Primary Sources:
Abraham Lincoln, A Bill for Abolishing Slavery in the District
of Columbia [Draft], [January 1849] –
Rationale – This document offers personal and political
reaction to the existence of slavery in the Washington, D.C.,
area while a young legislator.
Abraham Lincoln, [September 1860] (Memorandum on Lincoln's 1837
protest against slavery) [Fragment] –
Rationale – This document shows that Lincoln’s anti-slavery
was not unconditional, as he desired to clarify his position in
Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Handwritten Draft of the Emancipation
Proclamation, July 22, 1862 –
Rationale – In this document, Lincoln sets the legal machinery
in motion for the emancipation of all slaves held in the United
States. This document carefully crafts that emancipation so as
to mollify several competing factions in the debate.
Abraham Lincoln to Horace Greeley, Friday, August 22, 1862 (Newspaper
Clipping from Aug. 23, 1862 New York Tribune) –
Rationale – This document clearly develops Lincoln’s
position with regard to slavery within the larger context of the
Abraham Lincoln to James C. Conkling, Wednesday, August 26, 1863
(Draft of letter to be read at Union mass meeting in Springfield)
Rationale – This document suggests that Lincoln continually
was called upon to act on the matter of slavery, but remained
misunderstood regarding his position.
Abraham Lincoln to Albert G. Hodges, April 4, 1864 (Autographed
Rationale – This document is another effort on Lincoln’s
part to advance his nuanced position about public governance and
personal feelings about slavery.
M. Additional Resources Used:
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals. New York: Simon and Schuster
(Blithedale Productions), 2005.
Sculle, Keith (ed.). Lincoln Bicentennial Issue of Illinois History
Teacher (vol. 16:1). Springfield, IL: Illinois Historic Preservation
Wilson, Douglas. Lincoln’s Sword. New York: Random House
(Vantage Books), 2006.
N. Description of Procedures:
1. Students would first receive historical accounts of the efforts
of abolitionists during the pre-Civil War era. A careful reading
of these accounts would allow for a definition of “abolitionist”
to be generated through Socratic Method.
2. Students would then receive a dossier of primary sources and
secondary quotes collections of Abraham Lincoln’s words
with typewritten transcriptions. Additional materials would include
a copy of the PROP test for evaluating reliability of sources,
a source analysis sheet for each document in the dossier, and
a written assignment to evaluate these documents for clues to
answer the question, “Was Abraham Lincoln an Abolitionist?”
Students would work in small groups to evaluate the documents
and begin to gather evidence to support a positive or negative
answer to the assigned question.
3. With evidence, students will develop an oral argument that
creatively presents their position. This presentation could take
the form of a brief debate, a breaking news report, an interview,
or any other engaging medium.
1. Students could follow up with written evaluations or classroom
Socratic discussions to explore how different groups of students
came to argue opposite sides of the question.
2. Students could research various historical or current, cultural
perspectives on Lincoln’s management of the slavery issue
(U.S. South, African-American, even European, Asian, or African)
3. Students could further explore the Library of Congress website
and other print and electronic sources to uncover additional statements
Lincoln made on the subject of slavery (an example might be the
texts of the Abraham Lincoln-Stephen Douglas Debates of 1858)
P. Evaluation: Students would present a short oral argument answering
the primary question about Lincoln’s abolitionism based on
his own quotes and writings. This presentation would be evaluated
with a rubric focusing on public speaking qualities (voice, eye
contact, diction), use of the primary sources (specific quotes from
Lincoln’s writings to support position), creativity (how did
the students share what they had learned? Did the effort create
interest and hold attention?), and persuasion (do the choices of
primary source evidence make a compelling case for the position?)