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Unit 4 Civics Connection: Equality, the Civil War, and Reconstruction

80 min
  • Students will analyze descriptions of documents, speeches, laws, and events from documents related to the Civil War and Reconstruction to evaluate to what extent the promises of the Founding were fulfilled with respect to equality.
  • Students will analyze a Thomas Nast cartoon to show how various factors, including the principles of federalism and checks and balances, were related to the degree to which African Americans could exercise their inalienable rights by 1876.

If this is the first time your students have considered constitutional principles, have them begin by focusing specifically on equality, federalism, and checks and balances.

Ask students to write their own short definitions of equality, federalism, and checks and balances. Depending on your students’ background and familiarity with constitutional principles, you may or may not allow them to consult the Glossary of Principles and Virtues. After allowing for a few minutes of discussion, write on the board the class definitions of these three principles for student reference throughout the lesson. Distribute Student Handout A: Equality and the Civil War Student Packet.

Have students read the Timeline 1848–1876: Events Related to Equality, marking the following characteristics on their copy. You may prefer to have your students work individually, in pairs, or in small groups as best suits your classroom needs.

  • Whether each timeline entry advanced the principle of equality or failed to do so.
  • Whether each event, document, or speech involved the principles of federalism and checks and balances.
  1. Depending on the method you used to have students do the initial reading and analysis, conduct a discussion that allows students to consider the timeline events and share their responses to the tasks in the packet. They may share their responses as a whole class, in the second stage of jigsaw groups, through inner/outer circle fishbowl discussion, and so forth
  2. As a class, discuss the Thomas Nast cartoon questions at the end of the Student Handout. After brief discussion, have students compose written responses if appropriate for your classroom needs.

Conclude by having students write an individual response to the guiding question and collect their responses. Civics Connection Unit 4 Guiding Question: To what extent did the Civil War and Reconstruction lead to the fulfillment of the promises of the Founding regarding the proposition that all men are created equal? In your response, be sure to consider how differing approaches to the principles of federalism and checks and balances over time affected the ability of African Americans to exercise their inalienable right to equality by 1876.

You might instruct students to write only a thesis statement and outline, or write a full essay, as best suits your schedule and classroom needs.

  • Study additional Thomas Nast cartoons and consider how Nast approached the principle of equality and other constitutional principles. See Cartoon Analysis: Thomas Nast on Reconstruction, 1869–1874 in Chapter 8.
  • Have students choose a document, speech, or event in their handout and create a political cartoon that reflects the event’s failure or support of the ability of African Americans to exercise their natural right to equality.
  • Have students construct a graph that plots the success or failure of the events listed in the timeline on a scale of equality.
  • In addition to African Americans, American Indians, immigrants, women, and other minorities faced challenges to their enjoyment of natural rights by the end of the nation’s first century. To explore these topics, students might start by researching the following: the destruction of the bison in westward expansion, the Indian Appropriations Act of 1871, the Know Nothing Party, and Married Women’s Property Acts.
  • Explore the application or the lack thereof regarding additional constitutional principles, such as Rule of Law. For example, students might review the timeline to identify events in which Rule of Law was directly violated, listing the rush of settlers to Kansas, Black Codes, race riots, and KKK activities, among other possible responses. They may also point out events that fulfilled the Rule of Law.
  • At a later date in the course, review this material to explain how federalism, along with checks and balances, have been a means to achieving equality.