Civil War
Lesson Plan

The Winding Path to Emancipation

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You will need the following materials for this Lesson Plan:

  • 8 sheets of poster paper
  • Enough online access for 8 groups to do basic research on historical figures
  • Journals or note paper for your students
  • Spirits of History passages (printout included)
  • “What to the Slave is the 4th of July” speech (printout included Handout A)
  • Samuel Cabble letter (printout included Handout B)
  • Lincoln’s editorial (printout included Handout C)
  • 32 event cards and 8 personality cards (printout)
  • Optionally, a projector to show a video to start the lesson
  • To prepare, print and cut out the event and personality cards.  Put the event cards in chronological order with the earliest event on top.
  • You should print or prepare to project the 4 primary source documents (d-g, above)

Review the core questions asked throughout the activities in the lesson plan and get ready for a hot-button issue!

Activity 1:

Break the students into groups based on the historical personality cutouts and provide each group with a piece of newsprint and a marker.
Using a set of classroom text books, digital devises, or laptops, ask each group to write on their newsprint:

  • The significance of each person in American history
  • Their relationship to the concept of abolition and emancipation
  • One quote from their person that either addresses their attitudes towards slavery and/or emancipation.

When finished have the newsprints posted around the classroom.

Activity 2:

Ask students to come up to the Event cutouts one at a time, read the name of the next event and the related notes aloud.  Then, ask each group to explain how they think their historical personality would have reacted to the event (even if they were not alive at the exact time). 
After the events are all read aloud, ask students to write 3 sentences in their journals in response to each question below:

  • “By 1860 how did Americans feel about slavery and abolition/emancipation?”
  • “How did their experiences shape their views?”

Activity 3:

Next go to the board or project on the screen the term “self-emancipation.” Brainstorm with students what they think that term means. Ask the students to journal on the topic: “When have you felt most free? When have you felt most confined?”

Activity 4:

Next have students read Frederick Douglass’ speech, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?”
Then write or project the following quote from Frederick Douglass on the board or screen:
“Once let the black man get brass buttons on his breast, bullets in his pocket, and a musket on his shoulder and there is no power on earth that can deny him the right to be called a citizen.”
Brainstorm with students what they think Douglass meant.
Explain that the Emancipation Proclamation also legalized black enlistment in the army.  Explain that 180,000 black soldiers and sailors served.  Some of these were free northern men, but many of them were former slaves who had escaped during the war and clustered around army camps.  Many wives followed their husbands and supported their units as well, though this was due to the army’s initial reluctance to issue full pay to the soldiers. 
Next, ask students to read the Samuel Cabble letter.  Challenge them to put each sentence into their own words.  Then, have them journal on the topic: “Self-emancipation was important to the African American community during the Civil War era because…”

Activity 5:

Provide each student with a copy of Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 New York Tribune editorial.
After students read it, ask them how this alters their view of Lincoln’s view of slavery.  After they discuss, explain that the editorial was written in August 1862, at a time when Lincoln had already written the Emancipation Proclamation and was waiting for a politically expedient time to proclaim it to the nation.  Ask them how this changes their view of the editorial.

Activity 6:

Project on the screen or provide each student with an image of Lincoln’s Emancipation Inkwell (Smithsonian, p. 171) and explain that Lincoln sought peace and quiet in an army office to draft the Emancipation Proclamation. Ask students to journal on why they think he may have wanted that?