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NEH Landmarks of American History Series: Abraham Lincoln and the Forging of Modern America (July 21-25, 2008) 

Lesson Plan: Lincoln's Views on Race

Grade Level: Eleven

Subject: United States History

Time Frame: 2-3 class periods

Number of Students: 20

I. Objectives: This lesson will help students

· Gain an understanding of different perspectives on race during the Civil War period

· Learn more about Lincoln's views on race relations

· Distinguish between argument and evidence in secondary source articles

· Analyze primary sources, including documents and political cartoons

· Practice analytical writing by utilizing the Document Based Question (DBQ) format

· Compare mainstream views of race relations in the 1860s with mainstream views of race relations today

II. Standards [1]

· Analyze, synthesize, and evaluate historical sources by understanding the literal meaning of historical passages, interpreting visual evidence, and grasping different historical perspectives (PA Standards 8.1.9.B and 8.1.12.B)

· Analyze and evaluate the fundamentals of historical interpretation (PA Standards 8.1.9.C and 8.1.12.C)

· Analyze and evaluate important political leaders in United States history (PA Standards 8.3.9.A and 8.3.12.A)

· Analyze and evaluate primary sources in United States history (PA Standards 8.3.9.B and 8.2.12.B)

· Analyze and evaluate conflict and cooperation between social groups in United States history (PA Standards 8.3.9.D and 8.3.12.D)

III. Materials and Resources:

· Excerpts from Benjamin Quarles, Lincoln and the Negro (Da Capo Press, 1962).

· Excerpts from Lerone Bennett, Jr., "Lincoln, A White Supremacist," in Donald Fehrenbacher, ed. The Leadership of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Wiley Press, Problems in American History Series, 1970), 129-140. (This article can also be found under the title, "Was Abraham Lincoln a White Supremacist?" in Ebonymagazine, February 1968.)

· Newsprint (or chart paper) and markers

· Political cartoons and images (below and on the American Memory web site at subject heading "African Americans" to find the cartoons I have included here.)

· LCD Projector

· Political cartoon analysis guide (

· Document Based Question (below)

· Rubric for DBQ (below)

IV. Background Information

· For the teacher:

i. In his biography of Lincoln, David Herbert Donald suggests two articles that focus on this issue:

1. George M. Frederickson, "A Man But Not a Brother: Abraham Lincoln and Racial Equality" in The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 41, No. 1 (February 1975), 39-58.

2. Don E. Febrenbacher, "Only His Stepchildren," in Lincoln in Text and Context (Stanford University Press, 1988), 95-112.

· For the students:

i. Before the lesson, the students and I will already have discussed the following subjects:

1. Antebellum slavery (including white Southerners' justifications and the experience of slaves)

2. The abolition movement (including documents such as excerpts from Frederick Douglass's Narrative)

3. Northerners' perspectives on slavery and African Americans (including Republican Party platform and some of the laws from free states prohibiting immigration of free blacks)

4. The Emancipation Proclamation

5. The role of African Americans in fighting the Civil War (including excerpts from Susie King Taylor's "Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33 rd United States Colored Troops Late 1 st S.C. Volunteers")

V. Implementation:

· On the day before this lesson begins, students will read excerpts from the two sources listed in the "Materials and Resources" section. I will also ask them to address the following questions:

i. What is each author's argument or thesis?

ii. What types of evidence does the historian use to support his argument? Make sure to underline or write out several examples to share with the class.

iii. Which aspects of the argument do you find convincing? Which aspects trouble you?

· Day 1 (45 minutes):

i. Divide the students into four groups of five. Give each group a sheet of newsprint and a marker. One person in the group should agree to be the scribe. The other four members of the group will be in charge of explaining their findings. [5 minutes]

ii. Groups 1 and 2 will discuss the Quarles article. Each group should come to a consensus on the argument and three pieces of evidence that support the argument. Students should include page numbers and quotes to support their ideas. [10 minutes]

iii. While groups 1 and 2 write out their ideas, groups 3 and 4 will discuss the Bennett article.

iv. On one side of the room, group 1 should present their findings to group 3. On the other side of the room, group 4 should present their findings to group 2. Then, group 3 should present to group 1 and group 2 should present to Group 2. [10 minutes]

v. The class will then come together for a roundtable discussion guided by the following questions [20 minutes]:

1. What did you learn about Lincoln's views by reading the historians' analyses? What were you unable to learn?

2. How did the historians support their arguments? When did you find them most convincing? Least convincing?

3. What questions do you have about Lincoln after reading these articles?

4. What are the benefits and drawbacks of using secondary sources? How might these benefits and drawbacks apply to the textbook? To my lectures?

5. You will now be looking at a set of primary sources regarding Lincoln and race. What strategies will you use to read and analyze these documents?

vi. Homework: Document Based Question (DBQ) (see below). I will give my students two nights to work on this assignment. However, AP teachers may want to shorten some of the documents and require students to write the essay in one night or one class period. Because I do not teach AP, I do not feel compelled to put as strict a time limit on my students. However, academic honesty is always a concern. Therefore, I will remind my students of our school's academic honest policy. I will also require students to cite sources, work independently, and turn in a copy of their documents with underlining and notes so that I can see some of the thought process that has gone in to their composition.

· Day 2 [45 minutes]: Looking at Political Cartoons and Images to Understand Race Relations in Civil War America. (Optional if students are writing DBQ in class or overnight.)

Pass out the cartoon analysis guide. Have students read as they settle in. [5 minutes]

As a class, discuss the significance and usefulness of political cartoons. What different types of cartoons are there? Why might cartoons be a useful source of information for historians? What makes them interesting? Difficult? [5 minutes]

Based on our previous readings, what do we expect to find regarding race in these cartoons?

Set up purpose of looking at cartoons today: to practice analyzing images, as well as to learn about popular views of race relations between 1860-1866 (leading us into the post-war era)

Put students in groups of 4. Have each group examine one political cartoon. Use the list of questions on the political cartoon guide to help guide your discussion as a group. [5 minutes]

§ Cartoon 1: 1862, "I'm not to blame for being white, Sir!" Some background information (you may or may not want to share with students before handing them the image): The cartoon was published in Boston, and the main figure in the image is Charles Sumner, abolitionist and Senator from Massachusetts.

§ Cartoon 2: 1863, "Emancipation." This cartoon is not at American Memory. Instead, it can be found at information about the cartoon is quoted directly from the above web site: "The Emancipation Proclamation culminated the antislavery movement. President Abraham Lincoln promulgated the act on January 1, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. At the top of his cartoon celebrating this event, Nast links emancipation to patriotism with the cheering female figure of Columbia, an early symbol of the United States. As he seeks to answer those who utilized racism to oppose abolition, Nast predicts that free (and northern) institutions will make self-reliant, respectable, and cheerful workers of the formerly brutalized slaves. At the bottom right-center, a plantation owner treats his workers with respect, tipping his hat to them, in contrast to whip-wielding master pursuing a runaway slave opposite. But also note that Nast assumes that freedmen will continue to work as farm laborers who remove their hats completely in respect to their employers. As laborers they will remain subordinate, while planters will learn that fair treatment will make their workers more reliable and productive."

§ Cartoon 3: 1864, "How the Free Ballot Is Protected." Caption information and description quoted directly from the Library of Congress web site [2] : The artist charges the Republicans with electoral corruption and extremism in their efforts to defeat Democratic presidential nominee George B. McClellan. Oblique reference is also made to Lincoln's supposed advocacy of equal rights for blacks. A ragged black soldier points a bayonet at a maimed white Union veteran, preventing him from placing his vote for McClellan in an already stuffed ballot box. The former says, "Hallo dar! you cant put in dat you copperhead traitor, nor any other except for Massa Lincoln!!" McClellan ran on the Peace Democrat or Copperhead ticket. The one-legged, one-armed soldier replies, "I am an American citizen and did not think I had fought and bled for this. Alas my country!" A worried election worker wearing spectacles tells his heavy-set colleague, "Im afraid we shall have trouble if that soldier is not allowed to vote." But the second responds, "Gammon, Hem just turn round. you must pretend you see nothing of the kind going on, and keep on counting your votes." Two townsmen converse in the background beneath a sign "Vote Here."

§ Cartoon 4: 1865, "John Brown Exhibiting His Hangman." Description and caption information comes directly from the American Memory web site [3] : Northern rejoicing at the end of the Civil War often took the form of vengeful if imaginary portrayals of the execution of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Here abolitionist martyr John Brown rises from the grave to confront Davis, although in actuality the latter had nothing to do with Brown's 1859 execution. Brown points an accusing finger at Davis, who sits imprisoned in a birdcage hanging from a gallows. Davis wears a dress and bonnet, and holds a sour apple. Below, black men and women, resembling comic minstrel figures, frolic about. (For Davis's female attire, see "The Chas-ed "Old Lady" of the C.S.A.," no. 1865-11.) Since the beginning of the war Union soldiers had sung about "hanging Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree." Davis's actual punishment was imprisonment at Fortress Monroe after his capture on May 10, 1865.

§ Cartoon 5: 1866, "The Freedman's Bureau!" Description and caption information is quoted directly from the American Memory web site [4] : One in a series of racist posters attacking Radical Republicans on the issue of black suffrage, issued during the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election of 1866. (See also "The Constitutional Amendment!," no. 1866-5.) The series advocates the election of Hiester Clymer, who ran for governor on a white-supremacy platform, supporting President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction policies. In this poster a black man lounges idly in the foreground as one white man ploughs his field and another chops wood. Accompanying labels are: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread," and "The white man must work to keep his children and pay his taxes." The black man wonders, "Whar is de use for me to work as long as dey make dese appropriations." Above in a cloud is an image of the "Freedman's Bureau! Negro Estimate of Freedom!" The bureau is pictured as a large domed building resembling the U.S. Capitol and is inscribed "Freedom and No Work." Its columns and walls are labeled, "Candy," "Rum, Gin, Whiskey," "Sugar Plums," "Indolence," "White Women," "Apathy," "White Sugar," "Idleness," "Fish Balls," "Clams," "Stews," and "Pies." At right is a table giving figures for the funds appropriated by Congress to support the bureau and information on the inequity of the bounties received by black and white veterans of the Civil War.

Project each political cartoon on the board. Have each group briefly describe what they see, how they've analyzed the cartoon, and what questions they have. [10 minutes]

Choose two of the political cartoons to discuss in more depth. Talk about the way Americans in the nineteenth century might have viewed these cartoons. [10 minutes]

Project The New Yorker cover from July 21, 2008., accessed July 28, 2008) Talk about the way political cartoons still play a role in our political discourse. [10 minutes]

Homework: Finish DBQ.

· Day 3 [45 minutes]: Wrap-Up Discussion

After students turn in their DBQ, ask them to share the arguments they developed. Also have them discuss the difficulties they faced as they tried to devise their own analysis of Lincoln's views on race. Finally, begin to transition to thinking about Reconstruction. Some guiding questions:

§ You're at a coffee shop with your friends, and because you are just too cool, you like to discuss history. A friend of yours - not lucky enough to be in this class - says, "Lincoln was a racist!" In a sentence or two, how do you respond? What evidence do you use to agree or disagree with your friend's statement?

§ How would you compare Lincoln's views of race relations with those of his contemporaries?

§ How much should the context of the period matter in our evaluation of Lincoln? Does it matter that most white Americans held what we would today consider racist views?

§ How might these various perspectives on race impact what happens after the Civil War? If you were a black American in 1866, what might be your hopes and fears?

Document Based Question: Lincoln's Views on Race

Using the documents and any prior knowledge, evaluate Lincoln's beliefs on race and equality. How might his views on race have impacted his policies regarding slavery and citizenship?

Document A: Abraham Lincoln, First Debate with Stephen Douglas, August 21, 1858

I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that, notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects-certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man.

Document B: Abraham Lincoln, Speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, February 22, 1861

I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here and adopted that Declaration of Independence-I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army, who achieved that Independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the mother land; but something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. This is the sentiment embodied in that Declaration of Independence.

Document C: Abraham Lincoln, "Address on Colonization to a Committee of Colored Men," August 14, 1862, Washington, D.C.

You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated…. Your race are suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people. But even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race. You are cut off from many of the advantages which the other race enjoy. The aspiration of men is to enjoy equality with the best when free, but on this broad continent, not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours. Go where you are treated the best, and the ban is still upon you….I know that there are free men among you, who even if they could better their condition are not as much inclined to go out of the country as those, who being slaves could obtain their freedom on this condition. I suppose one of the principal difficulties in the way of colonization is that the free colored man cannot see that his comfort would be advanced by it. You may believe you can live in Washington or elsewhere in the United States the remainder of your life, perhaps more so than you can in any foreign country, and hence you may come to the conclusion that you have nothing to do with the idea of going to a foreign country. This is (I speak in no unkind sense) an extremely selfish view of the case. But you ought to do something to help those who are not so fortunate as yourselves.

Document D: "Political caricature. No. 4. The miscegenation ball," Lithograph published in New York, New York, 1864. Captions read as follows: "Universal Freedom, One Constitution, One Destiny. Abraham Lincoln Prest" and "The Miscegenation Ball at the Headquarters of the Lincoln Central Campaign Club, Corner of Broadway and Twenty Third Street New York Sept. 22d. 1864 being a perfect fac simile of the room &c. &c. (From the New York World Sept. 23d. 1864). No sooner were the formal proceedings and speeches hurried through with, than the room was cleared for a "negro ball," which then and there took place! Some members of the "Central Lincoln Club" left the room before the mystical and circling rites of languishing glance and mazy dance commenced. But that Many remained is also true. This fact We Certify, "that on the floor during the progress of the ball were many of the accredited leaders of the Black Republican party, thus testifying their faith by works in the hall and headquarters of their political gathering. There were Republican Office-Holders, and prominent men of various degrees, and at least one Presidential Elector On The Republican Ticket."

Document E: Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Albert Hodges of Frankfurt, Kentucky, April 4, 1864

I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think, and fee. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was the oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States….When, in March, and May, and July 1862 I made earnest, and successive appeals to the border states to favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable necessity for military emancipation, and arming the blacks would come, unless averted by that measure. They declined the proposition; and I was, in my best judgment, driven to the alternative of either surrendering the Union, and with it, the Constitution, or of laying strong hand upon the colored element. I chose the latter. In choosing it, I hoped from greater gain than loss…

Document F: William Lloyd Garrison, May 20, 1864

As the stream cannot rise higher than the fountain, so the President of the United States, amenable to public sentiment, could not, if he wished to do it, far transcend public sentiment in any direction. (Applause.) For my own part, when I remember the trials through which he has passed, and the perils which have surrounded him-perils and trials unknown to any man, in any age of the world, in official station-when I remember how fearfully pro-slavery was the public sentiment of the North, to say nothing of the South-when I remember what he has had to deal with-when I remember how nearly a majority, even at this hour, is the seditious element of the North, and then remember that Abraham Lincoln has struck the chains from the limbs of more than three millions of slaves (applause); that he has expressed his earnest desire for the total abolition of slavery; that he has implored the Border States to get rid of it; that he has recognized the manhood and citizenship of the colored population of our country; that he has armed upwards of a hundred thousand of them, and recognized them as soldiers under the flag…

Document F: Abraham Lincoln, Public Address, April 11, 1865

It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers….

Document G : Frederick Douglass, "Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln," (Delivered at the Unveiling of The Freedmen's Monument in Memory of Abraham Lincoln) April 14, 1876, Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C.

[Lincoln] was preeminently the white man's President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country. In all his education and feeling he was an American of the Americans. He came into the Presidential chair upon one principle alone, namely, opposition to the extension of slavery. His arguments in furtherance of this policy had their motive and mainspring in his patriotic devotion to the interests of his own race. To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government. The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration. Knowing this, I concede to you, my white fellow-citizens, a pre-eminence in this worship at once full and supreme. First, midst, and last, you and yours were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity…. But…we entreat you to despise not the humble offering we this day unveil to view; for while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage, according to Jefferson, one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose.

Exercise for Day 2: Political Cartoons Dealing with Race:

1. 1862, "I'm not to blame for being white, sir!"

Cartoon 2: 1863, "Emancipation"

Cartoon 3: 1864, "How the Free Ballot Is Protected"

Cartoon 4: "John Brown Exhibiting His Hangman"

Cartoon 5: 1866, "The Freedman's Bureau!"

Rubric for DBQ


  • Format: Typed, 12-point font, 1.5 spacing, parenthetical citation
  • Length: 2-3 pages
  • Use of sources: You must quote from or refer directly to at least five of the sources provided.

This assignment will graded based on the following criteria:

  • Argument: Do you answer the question by providing a specific and relevant thesis? [15 points]
  • Sources and Evidence: Do you make use of the documents provided? Do you make sure to consider all of the evidence so that your argument is not contradicting or ignoring a major piece of evidence? If you quote directly from the source, do you cite it? Do you integrate the quote smoothly? Do you use the quote correctly (not out of context)? [35 points]
  • Analysis: Do you connect your evidence to your thesis? Do you explain the significance of your quotes (without repeating the meaning of the quote)? Do you analyze (explain the how and why) rather than summarize? Does your conclusion tie all of your ideas together and provide significance without repeating the introduction?[35 points]
  • Style: Is your prose clear, concise, and grammatically correct? [15 points]

[1] I am not bound by a certain set of standards beyond our school's "scope and sequence," which calls for teaching U.S. history in the eleventh grade and focusing on skills such as primary source analysis and on concepts such as race relations and citizenship. However, I will include a few of the relevant Pennsylvania state standards to connect my lesson plan to a larger audience.

[2] Summary for cartoon 3 can be found at

(accessed July 28, 2008).

[3] Summary for cartoon 4 can be found at

(accessed July 28, 2008).

[4] Summary for cartoon 5 can be found at (accessed July 28, 2008).

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