Q94: What was one important thing that Abraham Lincoln did?

A. Freed the slaves (Emancipation Proclamation)
B. Saved (or preserved) the Union
C. Led the United States during the Civil War
D. All of the above

Q95: What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?

A. Freed slaves in the Union states
B. Freed slaves in the Confederate states
C. Created new job opportunities in the North
D. Declared independence from Great Britain

Question Background Information


Abraham Lincoln led the United States during the Civil War and is credited with saving or preserving the Union, while also helping end slavery. 

As Lincoln explained to the seceding states, anxious that he would destroy slavery within their borders, Lincoln was firmly opposed to slavery, but he also took seriously the Constitution’s limits on both federal and executive power. Lincoln thus sought to use those powers wherever he could against slavery and its effects—defending the power of Congress to ban slavery in the territories, issuing passports to free blacks—but he resisted efforts by more hardline abolitionists to move more aggressively, arguing it would not only be lawless but politically counterproductive.  (For example, he feared a backlash in the slave-holding Union states like Kentucky.) At one point, Lincoln even blocked a congressional effort to pass the Wade-Davis bill that would ban slavery in states after they had rejoined the Union at war’s end—arguing that no federal power existed to do so.

Perhaps nothing illustrates Lincoln’s careful balancing of his anti-slavery convictions and his constitutional fidelity as well as his handling of the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln specifically disavowed any power to destroy slavery in the Union at large—but he argued that he could, as commander-in-chief, free slaves in rebelling southern states. Even then, he did so only after giving those states time to surrender, and only once he came to the conclusion that such an action was an “indispensable necessity” for the war effort, as he later wrote in a letter to Albert G. Hodges. He had rejected earlier efforts to emancipate the slaves, but he thought that actions like the Emancipation Proclamation, unconstitutional in ordinary circumstances, “might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation.”

As the war continued, the country turned increasingly against slavery. Some of the slave states that remained in the Union began ending the practice. Toward the end of the war, Republicans in Congress—encouraged and lobbied by Lincoln-- pushed through the Thirteenth Amendment, changing the Constitution to definitively end slavery throughout the Union.

Lincoln was assassinated the week after the largest Confederate army surrendered— before he could see the states’ ratification of the amendment abolishing slavery, or the final end of the Civil War. But due to Abraham Lincoln, the Union was preserved, and slavery ended—giving  America the “new birth of freedom” he had once dreamed of.

Additional Content

Offline Activity


The Emancipation Proclamation was a short document, just five handwritten pages, but it contained a powerful message.  Not only did it free all slaves in the Confederate states, but it also stated that the freed slaves were welcome to serve in the military–-thus expanding the Northern troops by tens of thousands of men and giving the Union a considerable edge in battle.  


Provide each student a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, which also includes:

  • Letter to James C. Conkling, August 26, 1863
  • Letter to Treasury Secretary (and future Chief Justice) Salmon Chase, September 2, 1863
  • Letter to Albert G. Hodges, editor of Frankfort (KY) Commonwealth, April 4, 1864 


  1. Divide the class into groups of 3-4 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 who have mastered the material and are prepared to extend their knowledge. Each group should have at least one student from Group A, one from Group B, and one from Group C. 
    • If students are in pairs rather than groups, divide them based on ability as well, pairing 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 activity for older students who are more familiar with the document and the era. 
  2. Provide each group/pair with a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. 
  3. Explain that they are to read the decree and each group member should annotate their copy. 
    • Tell students to write at least three questions and three comments/observations. The notes should be written in the margins of the document provided. 
      •   Examples of questions: 
        • “I wonder if people in the South obeyed this order?” 
        • “Why did he only free those in the Confederate states?
      • Examples of comments: 
        • “I can’t imagine people in the South being very willing to comply.” 
        • “That was a good idea to say that freed slaves could serve in the Northern army!” 
    • Emphasize that there is no “wrong” question or observation, and encourage them to write down any question or observation that comes to mind, even if they go over the required total. 
  4. Provide the groups/pairs with time to annotate and discuss, 15-20 minutes depending on the class and the amount of content to annotate. 
    • Circulate and talk briefly with each group. If they are having trouble coming up with questions or observations, ask questions to stimulate their conversation. 
  5. At the end of the activity, facilitate a class discussion, allowing the students to lead with the questions and comments/observations that they wrote in the margins. 

Discussion Prompts


Lincoln served little more than one term in presidential office—and yet accomplished more than perhaps anyone. His influence and leadership helped win the Civil War, set the nation on the course of extinguishing slavery, and preserve the Union.

Prompt 1a:

President Abraham Lincoln played a crucial role in American history during his time in office. What were some important things that he did? 

Prompt 1b:

What did the Emancipation Proclamation do and to what parts of the nation did it apply

Prompt 2 

The Emancipation Proclamation is the document that freed many of the slaves in the United States.  However, technically, it only applied to states that made up the Confederacy, and it did not go into effect until nearly two years into the war, although there were those advocating emancipation measures much earlier.  Both the timing and the scope of the proclamation were very intentional decisions on the part of Lincoln.  Why do you think he did not include Northern states in this proclamation? Why do you think he waited until 1863 to issue the Emancipation Proclamation?  Do you think Lincoln made the right decision in these respects, or would you have acted differently if you had been in his position?   Use current and past events to support your answer.