Civic Literacy Curriculum
This curriculum guide is intended to cover questions 92, 93 and 96.
Q92: Name the U.S. war between the North and the South.
A. the Civil War or the War Between the States
B. the Revolutionary War
C. the French and Indian War
D. the Independence War
Q93: Which of these was not an important event in the Civil War?
A. Battle of Fort Sumter
B. Surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomattox
C. Battle of Gettysburg
D. Treaty of Paris
Q96: What U.S war ended slavery?
A. The Civil War
B. The War of 1812
C. The Mexican American War
D. World War I
Over the course of the 19th century, slavery polarized American politics. Where once most political leaders from across the country had looked forward to the day slavery would die out, in the early 1800s Southerners such as John Calhoun began defending it not as a necessary evil but as a positive good, even for the slaves themselves. In the North, the abolitionist movement gained traction and grew increasingly intense in its rhetoric, as members of the movement argued for the immediate and complete elimination of slavery in the United States. Many other Americans, especially in the North, sought to arrest slavery’s growth in order to bring about its eventual collapse, and thus the newly formed Republican Party sought to end slavery in federal territory (that is, land that had not yet become a state).
The Civil War
Southerners, long used to using the power of the federal government to protect slavery over the protest of anti-slavery Northern states, feared the loss of this power. Thus, they responded to the victory of Abraham Lincoln and the anti-slavery Republican Party in 1860 by seceding from the Union. This triggered the Civil War.
Although later generations rehabilitated the Confederacy to be fighting for “states’ rights” as part of the Lost Cause romanticizing the South, and some of the secession declarations by the states alluded to additional secondary grievances, most historians today do not take those claims seriously, and certainly not for the cause of the first set of states seceding. Many of the seceding states’ declarations in fact protested against northerners using states’ rights to resist slavery within their borders (such as prohibiting southerners to bring their slaves with them on vacations). Moreover, the Republican platform explicitly adopted states’ rights and sought only to stop the spread of slavery into federal territories while leaving the practice untouched within the states where it currently existed, and after the war Republicans remained broadly committed to federalism.
The Civil War began when Confederate forces fired on the Union base at Fort Sumter in 1861. The war, which many expected to be over quickly, rapidly became a stalemate. Eventually, however, Union forces began amassing victories, such as the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg, Maryland) in 1862, the Battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) and Battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi (both 1863). General William T. Sherman’s march through the South demoralized Confederates, while the military strategy of the Union army’s eventual overall commander, Ulysses Grant, to cut off the Confederacy by focusing on the western front proved successful. Eventually, the leading Confederate General, Robert E. Lee, surrendered his army to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.
While the South seceded and launched the Civil War to defend slavery, the Union initially did not wage war to end it. Lincoln famously observed that “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.” This statement of Lincoln’s policy was consistent with his position throughout the 1850s – to restrict the spread of slavery into federal territories in the hopes of its eventual elimination, but not to interfere with it in the states where it already existed. His Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves within states currently in rebellion, and even then, only after giving those states time to surrender, only applying to parts Union forces did not control and only after Lincoln had determined that emancipation was indispensable to the Union war effort. But as the war continued, and in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, the cause increasingly included ending slavery. Some of the slave states that remained in the Union began ending the practice, and toward the end of the war, Republicans in Congress pushed through the Thirteenth Amendment that ended slavery throughout the Union.
Lincoln did not see the results of these victories, however, as he was assassinated at war’s end by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer who raged at Lincoln’s support for black suffrage.
Why did the South secede and start the Civil War? This has long been a contested question, and how Americans have answered it has changed over time. This exercise will have students look to contemporary primary source documents—the packet contains, from the Confederate side, two states’ secession declarations and a prominent speech by the Confederate vice president, and on the Union side, the party platform they so feared and the inaugural address of President Lincoln.
Provide each group with a copy of the following:
- Have the students work in pairs. Divide the class into pairs based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group that has mastered the material. Group C students are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
- This works equally well as an individual assignment.
- Depending on time or student level, you could assign fewer of these, or different documents to different groups or students.
For example, you could assign Group A students the Mississippi Declaration and the Republican Platform or the Lincoln Inaugural Address; Group B students the Lincoln Inaugural and/or Republican Platform and the Mississippi and Georgia Declarations, and Group C students all of them.
- Explain to the students that they are going to read and discuss the arguments for secession, raised by the states that seceded. They will also read documents from the party platform and president that concerned the southerners. Depending on the class, you may choose to assign the reading the night before and have them review it now. This will allow slower readers or those who might struggle with the text the support they need to understand the content and draw conclusions from it.
As they read the documents, they should look for answers to these four questions:
- What were the Southern states afraid would be changed?
- What did Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party say they were going to change?
- Which of those fears seemed justified? (That is to say, did Southerners have reason to be worried those changes would happen?)
- What goals did the Southern states hope to achieve by seceding?
(The handout provided has space to enter each of these.)
- When finished, regroup for a class discussion. Use the groups’ answers to guide the discussion—ultimately asking them to identify a cause or causes that led to the Civil War. You might discuss or share the background above at this point.
The Civil War remains one of the United States’ most brutal wars—and still one of its most divisive. How it has been remembered has changed over time—in the early part of the 20th century, historians adopted the position pushed by defeated Confederates, that it was about “states’ rights,” but today most historians, across the ideological spectrum, argue that slavery was ultimately the cause.
In 1861, war broke out in the United States between the North and the South, when the Confederacy fired on a Union base at Fort Sumter. What was this war called? And what was a problem that caused it?
There is an effort to remove monuments to Confederates on grounds that they were fighting for an evil cause-- the right to enslave the ancestors of other Americans—, or that they promote division or hate. Even Robert E. Lee, for example, argued against commemorating the Confederacy with memorials, saying the South should accept defeat and move on as a part of the Union. On the other hand, while the protection of slavery was indeed the animating goal for the Confederacy, many rank-and-file soldiers viewed themselves as defending their home from invasion. Some argue that removing monuments erases history and they should be preserved but contextualized with a placard, or evaluated on a case by case basis (perhaps allowing monuments to rank-and-file soldiers to stand, but not to notoriously pro-slavery leaders). How should we treat Confederate monuments? Use current and past events to support your answer.