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Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation

50 min
  • Did President Abraham Lincoln have the constitutional power to free the slaves in the Confederacy?

Students will:

  • Trace the development of Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation
  • Analyze the Proclamation’s significance as a turning point in the development of the nation.
  • Evaluate Lincoln’s understanding of the Emancipation y Proclamation as “an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity.”

• Handout A: Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation
• Handout B: Setting the Scene

To create a context for this lesson, students complete Constitutional Connection: Slavery and the Constitution.

Have students read Handout A: Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation and answer the questions.

Students who are not familiar with the document should also read the Emancipation Proclamation. This document can be found at www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation/transcript.html.

Have four students perform the dialogue on Handout B: Setting the Scene to introduce the lesson.

ACTIVITY I [15 MINUTES]

A. Have students work in small groups to discuss their answers to the questions on Handout A.

B. Reconvene the class and have groups report their answers. Continue the discussion and evaluate the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Was it a turning point in the development of the nation? If so, how?

ACTIVITY II [20 MINUTES]

A. Have students work with a partner to write a brief dialog in which “James” and “William,” who were in the crowd at Lincoln’s inauguration, meet again later to discuss and evaluate the Lincoln presidency. Divide the class so that a few students write about such a meeting on each of the following dates: May, 1863; May, 1864; May, 1865.

B. Ask for volunteers to perform their dialogues for the class. After at least one group from each date has performed, debrief the class on their impression of the evolving nature of Lincoln’s views.

Write the following lines from the Emancipation Proclamation on the board:

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

In a large group discussion, ask students to what degree was the Proclamation:

  • an act of justice?
  • warranted by the Constitution?
  • a military necessity?

Have students read the following quotation from Lincoln’s Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862, and write two paragraphs explaining the meaning of the following phrases: “We cannot escape history,” and “the last best hope of Earth.”

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present… Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history… In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth.

Have students conduct additional research on Lincoln and his times. Make a timeline to reflect additional significant constitutional questions that arose during the Lincoln presidency. Consider such issues as suspension of habeas corpus, presidential pardons, and separation of powers as the President and Congress planned for Reconstruction. Students may begin their research at: lincoln.lib.niu.edu/chronology/abraham_lincoln_chronology.html.