War and Liberty: Lincoln and the Constitution
A lesson by Gary Emerson of Newfield Central School

By reading and listening to the information on the web pages, the students will gain a better understanding of the ways that civil liberties were restricted during the Civil War, and they will better understand some of the difficult choices that President Lincoln faced in prosecuting the war. This is a leson planned for one 43 minute class period.

Learning Standards:

Standard 1: History of the United States and New York

Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in the history of the United States and New York.

Standard 5: Civics, Citizenship, and Government

Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the governmental system of the United States; the United States Constitution; the basic civic values of American constitutional democracy; and the roles, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship, including avenues of participation.

  1. Tell the class that during wartime, a president will exercise broader powers to carry out the war. Ask how has the President (and by extension the federal government) exerted more power as a result of the 9/11 attack in 2001? Discuss some of their answers. Point out that President Abraham Lincoln also exerted broad powers during the Civil War, and that Lincoln was heavily criticized for his use, some would say abuse, of power.

  2. Next, explain to the students what they must do, and show them how to get to the web site, War and Liberty: Lincoln and the Constitution, where materials for this lesson are located. Point out to them that the directions are on the first page of the site, and that they must read them so that they understand what they must do. Remind that they can scroll over with their mouse any words they see in red on the pages to find out the definition of the word. Also remind them that they have one period to complete the lesson.

  3. Each Student will have his/her own computer in the computer lab to complete the lesson. If there are not enough computers then students can work in pairs.

  4. When the students have finished working their way through all of the web site pages, they are to begin the task on the last page. Their task is to write a letter to editor Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune newspaper. In the letter they are either to explain why President Lincoln's actions are wrong, or to justify his actions as constitutional. They are to use examples from the web pages to support their answer. The letter should be no longer than the front and back of one sheet of lined paper. They can turn in their letter when finished. If some students need more time, they can finish it for homework and turn it in the next day.
Follow-up Assignments:

  • Political Cartoon

    Use the web to find a cartoon that was critical or supportive of Lincoln. Print out the cartoon and attach it to the NARA cartoon analysis sheet provided. Complete the analysis sheet and turn it in.
  • Draw your own political cartoon either criticizing or supporting Lincoln's actions.

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