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School of Education, Health and Human Behavior
School of Education

Abraham Lincoln: Transformations in Troubled Times

National Endowment for the Humanities Workshop:

Abraham Lincoln and the Forging of Modern America

This one-day lesson plan for fifth grade students will examine the internal and external changes that Lincoln experienced before and during the Civil War years from 1855-1865. Students will first explore Lincoln's physical changes during this difficult time, and then further explore the actions and issues that brought about changes in his thinking about slavery, emancipation and full citizenship for freed black Americans. Using photographs and primary documents relating to the Civil War, students will understand that change is an important and necessary characteristic of moral and political leadership.

I. Overview

A. Concepts

1. Students will consider some causes of physical change in an individual, including changes brought by the passage of time as well as external circumstances.

2. Students will examine how an individual might change policies, actions and beliefs while still remaining loyal to their core values.

3. Students will learn some of the key events concerning slavery in the years just before and during the Civil War.

4. Students will learn biographical information about Abraham Lincoln.

B. Objectives - U.S. History Standards, Grade 5-12

1. Theme I, Culture - Standard D: Students explain why individuals respond differently to physical and social environment and changes to their beliefs.

2. Theme IV, Individual Development and Identify - Standard F: The students identifies and describes the influence of perception, attitudes, values and beliefs on personal identity.

3. Era 5- Civil War and Reconstruction: 1850-1877 - The student understands how the North and South differed and how politics and ideologies led to the Civil War.

C .Materials

1. 1860 photograph of Abraham Lincoln (Appendix A)

2. 1865 photograph of Abraham Lincoln (Appendix B)

3. Key Lincoln statements and quotes on slavery and emancipation (Appendix C)

4. Letter found at

5. Handout of cartoon strip assignment, one per student (Appendix D)

II. Background

A. This lesson should be delivered once students have completed the fifth grade unit on the American Civil War. They should be familiar with the following facts about Abraham Lincoln

1. Lincoln was president during the Civil War

2. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation

3. Slavery as a key issue in the Civil War

4. More than 600,000 people died in the Civil War

5. Civil War was the greatest crisis ever faced by the United States

III. Primary Sources

A. 1860 photograph of Abraham Lincoln

B. 1865 photograph of Abraham Lincoln

C. Quotes by Lincoln

D. Letter from Grace Bedell

E. Text of 13 th Amendment

IV. Lesson

A. Activate prior knowledge

1. Show 1860 picture of Abraham Lincoln. Ask students to identify the picture. What do you know about this person? Why do we remember him?

B. Introduce concept of change - Compare and Contrast

1. Show students the 1865 picture of Abraham Lincoln. Ask students to identify any changes they may see. Ask other questions for discussion: How are the pictures different? How are they the same? What do you think caused these changes?

2. Students will mention beard during this conversation. Ask students why he might have grown a beard.

C. Hand out letter from Grace Bedell (1 per student) or project an image of the letter on the screen. Read the letter aloud with the students. Ask them if Lincoln was right to follow the advice of a 12-year-old girl. Should he have been influenced by what other people said? Did the beard help his appearance? What was the result of following this advice?

D. Ask students if they notice anything besides the beard. Questions for discussion: Does he look older? Does he look four years older? More? Why would this be? (Lead students to discuss the horrors of the war, the loss of his child, the fight over slavery, and discuss how these things might change his looks.)

E. Ask students if Lincoln might have changed internally as well as externally. Lead discussion on what these changes might have been. Ask students how we would know if he had changed his beliefs and thinking.

F. Hand out the page of quotes, or project them on a screen. Read the quotes with the students, asking questions to be certain they understand the context of the quotes. Ask students, "Do you notice a change in Lincoln's beliefs as the war progresses?" Lead discussion on what these changes might be and what influenced them. What changes were positive, and were any of them negative changes? When Lincoln changed some of his ideas, did he remain loyal to his basic beliefs?

V. Processing and Assessment

A. Have students complete the cartoon strip assignment and share their work with the class.


How Lincoln Changed

In each box below, draw a picture of how Lincoln looked at that period in his life. In the box below each picture, write a statement that Lincoln might say or think about slavery at that point in his life.

Before the Civil War - 1859 During the Civil War - 1863 After the Civil War - 1865

Text Box:

Text Box:

Lincoln Quotes

"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people. Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois (September 18, 1858).

I have always hated slavery, I think as much as any Abolitionist. I have been an Old Line Whig. I have always hated it, but I have always been quiet about it . Speech at Chicago, Illinois, July 10, 1858

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. Speech from first inauguration, March 4, 1861

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. Letter to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862

That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free;

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863


Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, approved December 6, 1865 (strongly supported by Lincoln before his death)

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