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George Washington and Religious Liberty
George Washington and the Problem of Slavery
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Lesson Plan
George Washington and the Problem of Slavery

Suggestion on how to use this lesson plan:

Print copies of the lesson and distribute them to the students. Divide the number of students in the class by three, and have the students count off up to that number. (For example, if there are 30 students in class, 30÷3=10, have the students count off 1 through 10, so that there are three #1’s, three #2’s, three #3’s, etc.) Remind the students to remember their number (or have them write it down) because they will later form a group with the other students of the same number.

Next have the students form three groups or circles, preferably in separate corners of the room. Ask the students in one group to read through part one of the essay below and discuss it with each other. Ask the students in the second group to read part two of the essay below and discuss it with each other. Ask the students in the third group to read part three of the essay below and discuss with each other. The students in each of the three groups should possess a fair understanding of the material in the essay section assigned to them before leaving the group. The students should be allowed 10-15 minutes for this part of the lesson. Now have the students break into smaller groups of three with those who share assigned numbers. That is, all the #1’s form a group, all the #2’s form a group, all the #3’s form a group, all the #4’s form a group, etc. In each group there will be one student who read through part one of the essay, one student who read through part two, and one student who read through part three. Ask the students to share with each other the information they learned from their section of the essay. The students should be allowed approximately ten minutes for this part of the lesson. At this point all the students in the class should have a fairly comprehensive understanding of the material presented in the essay. Ask the students to return to their own seat. Go through the eight questions at the end of the essay in class, writing the answers given by students on the chalkboard. This should facilitate a general discussion of the material presented in the essay. Total time for this exercise is approximately one hour. **As an extra exercise, a teacher can print off copies of George Washington’s Last Will and Testament, or have the student read it online, and identify the language in that document by which Washington declares his slaves to be freed.


George Washington and the Problem of Slavery

George Washington and the other Founders are often criticized for speaking and writing about freedom and equality while at the same time owning slaves. Some critics claim that the Founders did not really believe that all men were created equal. Abraham Lincoln on the other hand disagreed with this view. Rather than reject Washington and the other Founders, Lincoln embraced the principles of the American Founding in his own attacks against slavery, as well as his defense of the Constitution. In his famous Gettysburg Address, Lincoln referred to the Declaration of Independence when he said that the United States was “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

In order to understand George Washington and slavery one needs to consider several things:
  1. The problem of slavery in Washington’s world.
  2. Washington’s writings about the problem of slavery.
  3. Washington’s actions in relationship to slavery.
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