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Was Abraham Lincoln an Abolitionist?

Wood engraving, Lincoln abandoning African American, Oct. 12, 1864, LoC

"Was Abraham Lincoln an Abolitionist?" shows students engaged in reading primary and secondary source documents as a means of better understanding Abraham Lincoln’s views on slavery. Although the lesson takes place in an 8th grade mixed-ability class, it is appropriate for both middle and high school classrooms.

This video provides examples of two promising practices:

  • Engaging students in using primary sources to answer a historical question
  • Challenging students to support their answers with evidence from primary sources

This is a 3-4 class period lesson from a unit on the Civil War, focusing on the question of identifying Lincoln’s real position on slavery. Students begin by reading the stories of ardent anti-slavery advocates in order to understand the term “abolitionist.” Then, using primary documents from the Library of Congress’s American Memory website, students explore Abraham Lincoln’s position on slavery by reading several primary and secondary source documents, including personal letters and public statements by Lincoln. Ultimately, students are asked to create an oral position statement on the question of Lincoln’s abolitionism.

What’s Notable?

Many teachers ask students to read primary source documents. But doing so is often tangential to the main focus of what is going on in the classroom. What makes this class unique is that the use of primary sources is central to the class activity. The instructor motivates students to dig into the documents as a means of solving a historical puzzle, then assesses their work by having students establish interpretations based on the evidence they find.

Viewing Instructions

To view this video, follow the link in "At a Glance," to the left, and scroll to "Level Two Winter Institute January 2009." From there, select "Videotape of Lesson Plan Implementation" under "Unit Plan by - David Hollander."