At a Glance

President Lincoln and Jewish Americans during the Civil War
Focus on historical thinking, Inclusion of multiple perspectives, Multiple Sources, Opportunity to analyze causation, Scaffolding of close analysis of text, Useful for differentiating instruction
90 minutes

Lesson Format


Abraham Lincoln and the Jews

Students analyze letters, speeches, and other manuscripts to better understand how Abraham Lincoln interacted with Jewish Americans in a time of heightened anti-Semitism. 


In this engaging teaching module from the Shapell Manuscript Foundation in collaboration with the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media teachers are provided resources to help students better understand how Lincoln governed as president and the role of religion during the Civil War. Students will engage with primary sources including rare letters by Lincoln that are part of the Shapell collection. Other primary sources include letters by Civil War generals including Benjamin Butler, George McClellan, and William Tecumseh Sherman which demonstrate the anti-semitic attitudes held by many at the time. 

Students work in groups to analyze sources with the goal of creating an exhibit that addresses the compelling question "What were Abraham Lincoln’s attitudes toward religious minorities such as Jews and Catholics and how did it differ from others at the time?" Teachers have the option of assigning students to create physical exhibits or digital exhibits on their topic. Students will also be asked to consider the context of nativist attitudes as expressed by group's such as the Know Nothing Party. An optional extension for the lesson is to have students read the Gettysburg Address to find connections between Lincoln's ideas in that text and in the manuscript sources they have analyzed. The modules also contain guidance on differentiation for diverse learners and connections to standards


Notes Lesson Plan Rubric
Field Criteria Comments
Historical Content Is historically accurate?


Includes historical background?


Requires students to read and write?


Sources are handwritten but transcriptions are available on the site.

Analytic Thinking Requires students to analyze or construct interpretations using evidence?


Requires close reading and attention to source information?

Requires close reading and attention to source information.

Scaffolding Is appropriate for stated audience?


Includes materials and strategies for scaffolding and supporting student thinking?


Lesson Structure Includes assessment criteria and strategies that focus on historical understanding?


Defines clear learning goals and progresses logically?


Includes clear directions and is realistic in normal classroom settings?